Sunday, November 02, 2008

Vows of Ordination and Change in the UMC

This is something that I've been thinking about for a while as it pertains to the homosexuality debate within the United Methodist Church:

Recently, we discussed how candidates for the ordained ministry take vows to support the doctrine, Discipline, and liturgy of the UMC while those same candidates oppose categorizing homosexual behavior as sinful. Jayson Dobney argued that candidates should essentially lie in order to get into the system, so that the system can be changed. He justifies this deception under Jesus's command to pay taxes to Caesar that which he was due.

My commentors have unanimously (thus far) rejected this deception as a distortion of the gospel. I agree.

Here's the problem with our conclusion:

In 1956, the General Conference of the Methodist Church authorized the ordination of women. This change did not some suddenly, but after many years of reflection, study, and debate. Many clergymen advocated this change long before it was passed by General Conference.

Now let's say that it's 1954, and a candidate for the ordained ministry takes his vows as an elder in full connection. He promises to uphold the doctrine, Discipline, and liturgy of the UMC. But he advocates the ordination of women.

1. By doing so, is he not violating his vow to uphold the Discipline?

2. And how would this clergyman be any different from a candidate today advocating the normalization of homosexual behavior, and yet pledging to uphold the Discipline?

3. And how can the UMC make changes in the discipline (e.g. the ordination of women, racial desegregation of churches), whether good or ill, if they are not allowed to oppose the Discipline, without violating their vows of ordination?

15 comments:

Keith Taylor said...

I think not.

The Disciple is a "living document" just like the US Constitution is a "living document".

It is created by men (and women) and it can be changed.

From its conception and thru the 1860's, The US Constitution had a horribly, evil error in that it declared that slaves in Southern States only counted as 3/5 of a human being.

Guess what, there were a lot of good Christian members of the Methodist Episcopal Church who believed at that time that black people did not have souls.

The King James Bible is also a living document but it doesn't need to be ammended since it is perfect and given to us by God. The Bible gives us examples of women as pastors of early churches, the Bible tells us that all men and women are created in equal standing before God and Christ. The Bible also defines what sin is and how to escape the wages of such.

I'm not doing a very good job of articulating this, but basically, if the Disciple of the UMC is out of line with the message and instruction of the Holy Bible, then there is nothing wrong with opposing it.

If I had been a pastor in the early 1950's I think it is completely correct that I would support the ordination of women as pastors, but until the Disciple was changed, I would not do so.

It is the same as in previous discusions I have had. Christ commands all Christians to preach the Gospel and baptize the lost in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. I am commanded by Christ to celebrate communion with fellow Christians to remember the work of the Lord. However, as a methodist layman, I am banned by the Disciple from doing such unless I am functioning purely as a Christian with no connection to the UMC. I personally think the church is wrong on this and in error with the written instruction of the Lord. However, I agree to it when I signed up to be a United Methodist Christian and not some other denomination.

Anonymous said...

When you say that your hypothetical 1954 clergyman "advocates" the ordination of women, do you mean that he advocates changing the rules to allow the ordination of women, or that he holds extra-legal ceremonies in which he ordains women?

John said...

When you say that your hypothetical 1954 clergyman "advocates" the ordination of women, do you mean that he advocates changing the rules to allow the ordination of women, or that he holds extra-legal ceremonies in which he ordains women?

The first one. The latter is inexcusable.

John said...

Keith wrote:

I'm not doing a very good job of articulating this, but basically, if the Disciple of the UMC is out of line with the message and instruction of the Holy Bible, then there is nothing wrong with opposing it.

Yes, but ordinands don't swear to uphold the Bible, but the Discipline of the UMC.

[snicker]

The Bible is open to far more interpretations than the Discipline, as the Bible cannot be changed and was written in now-dead languages, whereas the Discipline can be changed and is written in modern English. And a few other modern languages, as well. There's a whole lot less wiggle room on interpreting the Discipline.

If I had been a pastor in the early 1950's I think it is completely correct that I would support the ordination of women as pastors, but until the Disciple was changed, I would not do so.

But if no one is advocating for change in the years leading up to a change in the Discipline, how does a change ever take place?

Anonymous said...

I don't have a problem with this as long as the canidate and newly ordained minister doesn't advocate a change in the ordination qualifications by anything other than vocal arguement [ i.e. no illict ordinations, etc]and they don't lie about what their beliefs are [i.e. they dont LIE and say they oppose oridation of women or homosexuals to get approved if they think that's what the board wants to hear].

johnmeunier said...

There is a distinction between practice and advocacy.

If a pastor does not perform marriages for gay couples, then he or she is keeping his or her vow to uphold the administrative rules in the BoD.

The Social Principles are "intended to instructive and persuasive ... they are not church law."

Even the Social Principles say they do not have to be followed by Methodists. So preaching and teaching at odds with them should not be considered a problem.

Preaching and teaching non-Trinitarian theology would be another matter.

Tom Jackson said...

That first "anon anon" was me; apparently your system now requires Javascript, which I keep disabled whenever possible.

John M. has made the point I was trying to get at, which is that, in a civilized legal system, one may be required to obey the laws, but one must also be permitted to change the laws through some legal process. I don't see that there is a contradiction here.

(I must also apologize for thinking you had gone completely off the rails a few days ago; apparently you're still approximately sane and have not yet slaughtered thousands.)

Anonymous said...

However, you cannot demand of local churches that they accept your views or be willing to be led by someone they perceive to be undermining the moral order of the church. There is conflict, there is suffering and many will not be willing to be led by someone who so fundamentally disagrees with this issue.

Larry B said...

I served as an SPRC chairman under a pastor who had been a district superintendent prior to pastoring our church. She disagreed with the churches position on both the ordination of homosexuals and performing weddings. However, she also understood that good and faithful christians disagreed with her position, as well as the church discipline itself. She also understood that she had agreed to serve the church as asked and that meant enforcing the discipline when called to do so.

One of the pastors under her superintendency, who thought he could be cavalier about the discipline in regards to homosexual weddings because he new of the DS's views performed a same sex wedding in violation of the discipline. The DS promptly defrocked him in accordance with the discipline. He was shocked because he thought she was sympathetic to his cause - however she explained to him that he had abused both her goodwill and the integrity of the church by expecting that he would somehow be protected when he made a deliberate attack on the church's discipline. More than likely, from the viewpoint of hoping to change the position on homosexuality, the rogue pastor set the debate back several years in that particular district because of his actions.

I think our Pastor showed how one can be in disagreement with the discipline yet faithfully carry forward one's vows.

John said...

Yes, there is definitely a difference between advocating change and enacting that change yourself without proper authorization.

I would make one exception: if an elder or deacon advocates an impossible change, such as one prevented by one of the Restrictive Rules.

the reverend mommy said...

In fact, I believe that is "Our Theological Task" to continually examine our practices to see if they truly fall in line with the Scripture and the Articles of Religion.

Our practices -- adiophoria. The Articles of Religion -- absolutely essential. Growth will be found in the struggle.

Rev. J said...

The UMC is not a doctrinal denomination and when we are ordained we are asked to uphold the Discipline not agree 100% with it. Larry B demonstrates a great example.

I love the fact members and clergy can disagree with Discipline but still be members of the church. Now there is a difference between moving through the proper channels to evoke change and being belligerent and undermining the teachings. To do that is very wrong. Once again see Larry B’s example.

John said...

Rev. J wrote:

The UMC is not a doctrinal denomination and when we are ordained we are asked to uphold the Discipline not agree 100% with it. Larry B demonstrates a great example.

If the UMC is not a doctrinal denomination, then what do you call the Articles of Religion and the Confession of Faith? And, in fact, the entire section of the Discipline entitled "Doctrinal Standards and Our Theological Task"?

Rev. J said...

You are correct, the UMC does have doctrine but belief in every aspect of that doctrine is not essential to membership in the UMC. That is was I mean by “not a doctrinal denomination.” In other denominations it is essential for their members to believe and follow through with all aspects of their denomination’s doctrine; for example, the Roman Catholics belief on divorce, contraception and others. When we ask the membership questions we are not asking them to abide by and follow to the tee our doctrinal statements, we ask them “to be loyal to the UMC and do all in your power to strengthen its ministries.”

Now I understand clergy are held to another level but there are clergy who don’t believe fully in the every aspect of our Doctrine as well. Let me rephrase the point I was attempting to make. The social principals are not considered doctrine and both clergy and members can disagree with them and still be called United Methodists. If people are willing to work with the system to get those things changed then all is well. Yet if they attempt to undermine the church and do it with great malice, then there is a problem. Once again, Larry B provides a good example.

lorna (see throughfaith) said...

it can and ought to be changed as the church develops.After all the church is supposed to be alive and grow -that in itself means change :)

I'm coming back (also here after a long absence) to the idea that any discipline, doctrine or whatever is pretty much useless if we act like Pharisees and miss God in our midst.

I don't know what the honest answer is to the homosexual issue but I do think it's hardly the main issue and if we'd get on with doing what Jesus told us to do-empowered by the Spirit - loving God, loving ourselves and making disciples we'd all be a lot better off.