(Not) just another week in the UMC

Come, Lord Jesus.

It was the prayer of the early church as they strained toward the Kingdom against tides of conflict and persecution. “Come, Lord Jesus!” This week, I find myself praying that prayer with fresh energy as we in my tribe brace for a judicial ruling concerning a bishop elected to the western jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church.

To be clear, I do not believe the bishop in question is within biblical bounds, nor am I in step with those who believe the best course of action at this point is to simply disregard the structures and covenants of the UMC in order to get where they’d like to go. More important still, I don’t think the issue that will have our attention this week is the core issue that divides us.

I remain convinced that the real issue at stake in the United Methodist Church (as with most mainline denominations today) is what we do with the Lordship of Jesus and the authority of the Bible. What has energetically driven Methodists apart for decades is an inability to unite around John 14:6. Many who serve as United Methodist pastors consider Jesus as a way, but not the way. This is neither suspicion nor recent trend. Pluralism has been seeping into Methodism since the early twentieth century, and is ultimately responsible for all our talk about tolerance and unity. If ours is a one-issue conflict, then it is about how Jesus and the Bible influence all our other choices.

Progressive theology would have us focus on tolerance; yet, our core value as Christians is not tolerance but holiness. God commanded, “You are to be holy, because I the Lord your God am holy” (Leviticus 20:26, 1 Peter 1:16). Holiness informs my response to the culture around me. My opinions must be rooted in the values of holiness as I find them in the Bible. I don’t interpret the Bible in light of how the world turns. I interpret the world in light of the Bible, even when it means I will look a little crazy by the world’s standards.

Let’s be clear on this: holiness reminds me that my primary call is to lead people to Jesus, not get them to “act right.” Jesus, not behavior, is the key to salvation; until a person knows Jesus, nothing else matters. I don’t get to “save” anybody (Jesus already has that job), but my behavior will determine another person’s openness to Jesus. Holiness demands — among a host of other character-defining traits — patience, humility, gentleness, endurance, bearing with one another in love. When followers of Jesus take this call to holiness seriously then eventually, they will look less like the world and more like the Kingdom of Heaven in the ways they live life. I pray like crazy that as I live the art of holiness, I will “do no harm,” as Wesley counseled.

But I admit frustration. As our debates over issues surrounding human sexuality continue to boil, I find myself praying the prayer of the frustrated: “How long, O Lord, how long?” I wonder why we haven’t made more before now of our differing views on the nature of Jesus. I become discouraged when I hear the conversation lean toward tolerance and unity as our key values, rather than holiness and respect. I hope we have not made an idol of “big tent” structures when God may be up to something else entirely. What if a return to theological integrity is the better move for us all?

So … what to do with the events of this week when our collective eyes will be focused on an issue, a person and a situation that so obviously obscures our bigger fissures? The world is watching and our collective response will be noted. I am praying for a response among United Methodists that proves our commitment to the values of Christ. I am praying for the values of holiness to prevail. I am also praying for gracious commentary. I am praying for the spirit of Jesus to descend and give us a better answer than the ones we’ve fashioned. I’m praying that we will all commit to a posture of humility. After all, whatever our separate views we are still responsible for treating one another with holy love. The Bible doesn’t give us an option on that.

For me, the spiritual association of eleven million people is worth the time and effort it takes to stay in the conversation and stay in prayer. It is tempting to check out, but I believe orthodox Wesleyan theology is worth the fight. Whatever the ruling this week, there is much else in our church that desperately needs our attention. The biggest irony is that most lay people (and not a few clergy) have no idea what is happening to our beloved tribe. Most don’t realize how close we’ve already come to a full-fledged split, or how likely we are to end there. That is a conversation every Methodist ought to be having, and the conversation must move beyond symptoms to root causes. The Body of Christ deserves our utmost. It is the great gift of Jesus to his people, and I intend to do all I can on this earth to make his Bride ready.

Come, Lord Jesus. May your Kingdom come, may your will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.

Carolyn Moore

I follow Jesus within the communities of Mosaic Church, Asbury Seminary and the Moore household.

19 thoughts on “(Not) just another week in the UMC

  1. The fly in the buttermilk as it were with a focus on holiness (Which is absolutely necessary for us as disciples of Jesus) is that eventually you have to make hard and permanent choices concerning what Scripture says is holy and what it says is not. The human fear of loss keeps us from realizing the relevance of 1 Cor. 6 to people who continue to ignore the centrality of Jesus and the Word. At some point preserving “orthodoxy” requires asking the “heterodox” to depart. Because this seems unloving and is harsh, those who are heterodox continue to push and eventually will have their way. Remember, you who stand on Jesus as The Way and the Bible as foundational did not start this process of division. It was begun by those who snuck in and coopted the language of your faith for their father’s purposes. Pray for the Spirit to move, but then be as unfailing as the sword bearing Levites of old to be obedient to His call.

  2. I guess my question would be how do you define holiness? It would help me in my understanding of your thoughts. Thanks

    1. 1 Peter 1:15-16 English Standard Version (ESV)

      15 but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 16 since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” I think that sums it up. Trying our very best to live up to God’s word. He made it simple but we as the church have complicated. Paul said to the church at Corinth that we have the mind of Christ! That’s awesome! And to be filled with the Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth.

  3. I’m sure there are many things at the conference level that congregations SHOULD be aware of, but right now, it seems to be the forcing down our throats of same sex ‘marriages’. I do NOT care what sexual orientation people have- -that’s each person’s individual ideal- -and, as for ‘marriage’- -that is a man & a woman by Biblical stds, so call it a ‘civil union’ or some other name! However, the people ‘in charge’ of our congregations, should NOT be forcing their ‘rewriting’ of God’s word, upon us- -NOR on any of our pastors! WE have ‘rights’, too, and one of them is to go to another denomination, that has NOT changed God’s word! Where society has NOT tainted our bishops/superintendents!
    One more thing…..every congregation & pastor should have one more ‘right’….the right to vote to retain our pastor & not have them ripped from us, especially if they want to stay!! I continue to pray that the ones in charge will some day be forgiven for following the Devil so easily!

  4. I commented on this but apparently it didn’t go through. I was a pastor with the UMC. I preached a sermon on this subject with passion and love from our Bible. It was not liked as I posted the sermon on FB. Needless to say I am no longer a pastor with the UMC. There is more to say but not enough time tonight. I still love the UMC and will continue praying! God bless!

  5. I was a pastor with the UMC. I addressed this issue with truth and love. I preached a sermon on this issue about a month or so before my meeting with the leadership in my district. They decided to take me out of the candidacy process. I had two churches and a very full time job. According to the letter sent to me, I didn’t have enough time to properly outline a sermon on such a touchy issue. There is more to this story but to much to post here. I was really disappointed along with my two churches. Many pastors will not speak on this subject because of what happened to me. I pray for the UMC! It’s a great denomination. John Wesley was absolutely super!! I pray for revival!! God bless!!

  6. As our forefathers did, we must get on our knees and pursue the Father’s face, continue in fervent prayer for Him to be glorified, honored, and magnified by our lives and in our land. We must listen courageously for his voice and be empowered by it.

  7. Carolyn,
    I appreciate your wisdom and humility in writing this post. I agree with your analysis which concludes that the issue of Scriptural authority, holiness, and pluralism as it relates to the UMC. I have read many social media conversations seeking to join in a constructive conversation concerning one issue that I see has a failure of the clergy and church in guiding our congregations towards holiness. I am hoping that you may respond with wisdom or guidance as to how I, as an elder in the UMC, might address this area which I feel has been neglected or diverted to shield our members from having to be honest with themselves in this one crucial area of their journey towards holiness. In Revelation 21, we are given two identifying lists of those who will be with Christ in the New Jerusalem, and those who will be suffering the second death in the lake of fire. On the list of those who will be suffering the second death, one will find those who remain sexually immoral. It is my belief that we, the clergy, have a responsibility to help our members reach a clear understanding of how Scripture defines sexual immorality. Yet to enter into this type of conversation, I have found it impossible to engage other clergy because they seem to desire to jump to the conclusion that I am just using this to condemn a certain lifestyle. What I feel is crucial for us to define is a Scriptural understand, which is both teachable, preachable, and a tool to be used for accountability, of sexual immorality without the inclusion of terms which reference heterosexual, homosexual, pansexual, etc; as well as male, female, or any other gender identity; and also have it be void of references to marriage, since Jesus, in Matthew 24:29-30 proclaims that we will neither marry nor be given into marriage in the New Jerusalem. Do you have any thoughts on this?

  8. Good word! I believe Bishop Swanson will be bringing a word in Memphis that the entire church needs to hear, a word about the part of the Trinity we need guiding us – Holy Spirit. I continue praying for Holy Spirit fire to fall on us and rekindle the fire of our love. The fruits are gifts only Holy Spirit can work in us and that the world desperately needs to see…..

  9. Right on sister – you spoke truth in love. The issue as you state beautifully is scriptural authority and not cultural mores. Blessings!

    1. Amen! This was super encouraging to me. I serve 2 small local, rural churches and am praying for genuine revival. Your words echo my heart!. Thank you, Sister!

  10. Carolyn, thank you for your post and leadership throughout the Wesleyan family in many impactful ways. Do you think we as clergy should be sharing the inside story of issues in the denomination with our churches? Is it that important that our congregation knows how close we are to potentially splitting, for example? Or is it more important that we continue to press all our energy into teaching holiness and being faithful, despite trouble? Sometimes I feel somewhat convicted that our church does not address the problems going on in the UMC (that is the guidance of the senior leadership). Then other times I believe we should not distract the local congregation from the incredible things God is doing in our community…no matter what is going on at the denominational level and we should allow clergy to keep an eye on the issue…wait for some of these decisions to come out in the next couple of years. Thanks again!

    1. This is a great question, John. I do believe it is worth having a conversation. It is important for laypersons to make their theological and denominational decisions within the context of community. They need the shepherding of a pastor to help them navigate what comes out in the news. And they need to know where you as a pastor stand, so they can make educated decisions. This is a teaching moment. The WCA is currently working on a curriculum resource that will help local churches have that conversation, framed within the context of the bigger concepts that make us distinctively Wesleyan. Look for that resource coming in the fall. Meanwhile, start talking to your folks about what it means to be Methodist, so that when the news hits they won’t be surprised.

      1. I completely agree with Carolyn. When we ask ourselves how we arrived at this “precipice” could part of the answer be that clergy have “protected”, “shielded” the laity for so long? Having served small churches as a lay minister for many years, I can confirm that generally they were unaware of the struggle.

  11. Thanks for this post. I, too, am very concerned about the future of the UMC. I agree that the issue being decided this week isn’t the one which all of us need to be in prayer about. I’m sure many thoughts about this will be spoken at Memphis. May we keep seeking God’s kingdom and His righteousness first in these difficult days. See you there.

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