Saturday, November 01, 2008

Render Unto Caesar

Jayson Dobney argues that Jesus' command to pay taxes to the Roman state can be used to justify taking ordination vows that one does not fully support:

The other night I had dinner with a close friend who is in the ordination process. She is preparing for a meeting with her Board of Ordained Ministry and shared with me her struggles with taking the vows necessary to become ordained. Her struggle, as I have heard from others in the ordination track, is how she can take these vows, while at the same time remaining authentic to her own faith and her role to seek justice for all of God's people.


As we talked about what it meant to stay in the United Methodist church and take different paths, it reminded me of the story in the Gospels where Jesus is confronted with the question about whether his followers should pay taxes to the Roman government. Implicit in the question, is that by paying taxes, they were participating in the unjust actions of the institution of the state. His response was to Give to Caesar what was Ceasar's and to give to God what was God's.

As a gay man, I see the United Methodist church as another unjust institution. These vows that we are compelled to take to be a member or to become ordained are the price we must pay to be a part of this system. It is the tax. We give to the United Methodist Church that which is of the United Methodist Church - empty, hollow words. At the same time, we give to God our hearts and our lives, including our work that requires us to work within the unjust sytem of the United Methodist church so that someday we will have justice for All People.

I've written previously on the subject here.


Larry B said...

I personally don't see the comparison. Paying what is legally required by the government is acting in accordance with the laws of a society that one is a part of.

Lying to get into the church is deliberate deception designed to abrogate the laws of the church.

The instructions in the referenced verse were not to pay counterfeit money to the government. To me if someone thinks it's ok or even necessary to lie when taking vows of membership or ordination, then that would be the equivalent of paying counterfeit money for taxes. It seems clear that neither of these would be the right choice, unless one subscribes to the philosophy that the ends justifies the means.

Steve said...

I think to differ with the church's stance on something is anyone's right, and disagreement and diversity should be accepted and understood. But to take an ordination vow is a matter of integrity. You may not agree with the Discipline on something(nothing wrong with that) but when you are ordained, you take a vow to support the Discipline and live within it (that's a sacred vow). So like Larry, I don't see a valid comparison here.

Keith Taylor said...


You are dead on. Excellent comment.

When one takes them, who do you take your ordination vows to, anyway?

If you are lying when you take them, then aren't you lying to God the Father, to Christ, and to the Holy Spirit?

The ends will never justify the means in this matter. Not if I got to lie to God, Himself, to get there.


Mitch Lewis said...

Here are the words that come to mind when reading the RMN post: disingenuousness, evasion, deception, mental reservation, mental gymnastics. Let's build justice on those.

Every single United Methodist who has taken vows of membership or ordination since 1972 has voluntarily done so in a church that explicitly rejects homosexual conduct as incompatible with Christian teaching. This includes “life long” UMs who were born after about 1960, who would have come to confirmation age no earlier than 1972.

We've moved well beyond the issue of homosexuality itself into the issue of institutional integrity. The recent extraordinary ordination is part of this same assault on fabric of the institution.

John said...

Yup. It's all about integrity. Like Jesus said, "Let your 'ye's be yes and your 'no' be no. Anything else is of the devil."

I've noticed that the comment that I left at the RMN post hasn't survived the moderation queue.

John said...

Okay, let me play Devil's advocate here:

Let's say that it's 1954 and a candidate takes his vows as an elder, promising to uphold the Discipline. Now he supports the ordination of women, although in 1954, the Methodist Church does not. Is he being dishonest in his vows?

Michael said...

Is the 1954 elder intent on undermining the Discipline? Is this new elder making plans to ordain women because he feels it is the right thing to do? Or is he hoping, perhaps, that one day he may be an effective part of change from within while abiding by the existing rules?

One other note: I am not aware of a specific biblical reference that exclusively denies women to serve as preachers and pastors. However, I am aware of several passages that make explicit reference to homosexual conduct.

John said...

Michael, let's say that this elder opposes the Discipline's stance on the ordination of women and openly advocates for change.

Is this elder being any more dishonest than one who vows to support the Discipline, but only advocates the ordination of homosexuals?

Michael said...

No fair using logic!!

I think being an advocate for change is not the same as being actively engaged in undermining existing laws or statutes. It's like you stated earlier: it comes down to the integrity of the vow. I don't think integrity is being comprised by promising to uphold a system while working within that existing system.

John said...

think being an advocate for change is not the same as being actively engaged in undermining existing laws or statutes.

How are these different?

Michael said...

Having the integrity to defend a system while advocating a change within that system, to me, differs in intent and response. I doubt there is a doctrinal system that exists in which all agree on every fine point. Recognizing a deficiency in that system is merely recognizing the fallibility of the human mind: we could be wrong about something but blinded by mindless traditions just because that's the way it's "always been done". Being willing to work within that system, even with disagreements, is a matter of integrity and does not negate one's commitment to something greater.

Anonymous said...

The Discipline seems to have been rendered into the feel good doctrine. It needs to be put back into its original version for a few years to see what it originally said. Then, learn from it.

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