Thomas Frank, the guy who wrote our textbook on United Methodist polity, has made a plea for UMC bishops not to put pastors on trial who conduct same-sex marriages (like the 50 who did so last weekend). I had been trying to lay low on this issue for a while. My position has been to honor what the Discipline says for me to do while being obediently prophetic regarding God’s truth as I have encountered it. I was actually going to write a post stating that if pastors engage in civil disobedience, then the consequences are part of the witness. However, I realized as I read Frank’s plea that the paradigm I was applying to our gay wedding crisis is to presume that United Methodism is appropriately analogous to our broken secular democracy: a two party majoritarian system with lobbyists, caucuses, and hyperventilating pundits.
The United Methodist Church is about to have a very significant international meeting called the General Conference where major changes are being considered that a lot of pastors like me are anxious about. I’m actually most concerned about an initiative that has already been adopted called “Vital Congregations.” Depending on the outcome of other proposals, Vital Congregations has the potential to do to the United Methodist Church what “No Child Left Behind” did to the public school classroom where I taught. I am not trying to impugn the motives or hard work of those who developed it. I’m sure that they were prayerful about it, and I imagine they sang praise songs to open their meetings and hopefully looked to the Bible for guidance (and not just the reports of church consultant industry thinktanks). But the way this initiative is being communicated makes it sound like United Methodism has replaced Father, Son, and Holy Spirit with a new Trinity –the Thinktank, the Consultant, and the Bubble Sheet. Continue reading