Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.
For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.
Questions and conflict about homosexual practice and the church abound. We encounter media reports of same-gender unions and clergy trials. This leads to talk in congregations and district preacher's meetings, in the hallways at district, conference and general church gatherings, and in the deliberations of the Council of Bishops where we hear prayers, questions, and an outpouring of conviction or anguish.
We observe The United Methodist Church grappling with issues of importance that divide and confound us. We hunger for our church to engage hard questions and decisions in a spirit of generosity, gracefulness, and mutual respect.
This book could change the nature of the conversation. It encourages frank and constructive dialogue that will help us conference together and open ourselves to God's guidance. We seek faithful, fair, just, and loving resolution to issues that challenge our faith community.
Finding Our Way: Love and Law in The United Methodist Church is authored by several United Methodist bishops. These writers enunciate and clarify pathways that represent faithful, responsible, and constructive ways forward through the current controversies. Each bishop articulates a prescription for moving through current conflict about homosexual practice, same-gender unions, qualifications for ordination, and maintaining the "good standing" of elders. Go to www.ministrymatters.com/FindingOurWay to read the introduction and to comment.
Frame: An introduction about the guiding vision and theological framework as we seek together to be faithful to God and to our covenants. By Rueben P. Job, retired, from the Iowa Area, and by Neil M. Alexander, who is publisher for The United Methodist Church.
Part One: Options
Enforce (follow the Book of Discipline): The Discipline interprets scripture and contains the rule of law for UM congregations and elders. When sacred promises are violated, leaders must uphold the spirit and letter of the law and follow the process defined by the Discipline. By Gregory V. Palmer, who serves the Ohio West Area.
Emend (work to change the Book of Discipline): The General Conference legislative process must be engaged to emend the Book of Discipline -- or not. This is the responsible and thoroughly United Methodist way of moving through disputes and reaching consensus. By Hope Morgan Ward, who serves the Raleigh Area.
Disobey (biblical obedience): Scripture and the sanctity of love are a higher authority than the Book of Discipline. Therefore, the current impasse must be broken by loving acts of conscientious fidelity to higher principles. By Melvin G. Talbert, retired, from the San Francisco Area.
Disarm (suspending conflict between personal and social holiness): In many kinds of conflicts, in marriage and in war, the conflicted parties drop their weapons or grievances, agree to a cease fire, and search for a peaceful way to resolve their disagreement. By Kenneth H. Carter Jr., who serves the Florida Area.
Part Two: Responses
Order (supporting our covenant): Our sacred trust depends on keeping our promises. By J. Michael Lowry, who serves the Forth Worth Area
Unity (dwelling in God's church as a family of Christ followers): When two elephants fight, the grass suffers. By John K. Yambasu, who serves the Sierra Leone Area.
Diversity (coexisting with differences). By Rosemarie Wenner, who serves the Germany Area and is current president of the Council of Bishops.
Part Three: Steps
Trust God (discernment): Immerse ourselves in an intense process of prayerful discernment. This approach pleads for the guidance of the Holy Spirit and asks all to open themselves without condition or pre-judgment to the insight and inspiration that comes through deep prayer and listening. By Rueben P. Job, retired, from the Iowa Area.
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||1 MB|
About the Author
Rueben P. Job was a United Methodist bishop, pastor and acclaimed author and served as World Editor of The Upper Room publishing program. Best-known for the classic book, Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living, he also authored or co-authored A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants, A Wesleyan Spiritual Reader, Living Fully, Dying Well, Listen, and co-edited Finding Our Way: Love and Law in The United Methodist Church. Bishop Job also chaired the Hymnal Revision Committee that developed the 1989 United Methodist Hymnal.
Kenneth H. Carter Jr. is Resident Bishop of the Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. He is a moderator of the Commission on a Way Forward and in 2018–2020 will serve as president of the Council of Bishops.
Bishop Carter is the author of ten books, including Pray for Me, A Way of Life in the World, The Gifted Pastor, and Near the Cross. He is a contributor to Feasting on the Word and The Wesley Study Bible. He formerly served as senior pastor of Providence United Methodist Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, where his ministry was described by the American Religious Historian Diana Butler Bass in her Christianity for the Rest of Us, and superintendent of the Smoky Mountain District in Western Northern Carolina, which included seventy churches across seven counties, all in the region of Appalachia.
New Church Development and Transformation, Southwest Texas Conference, United Methodist Church.
Read an Excerpt
Finding Our Way
Love and Law in The United Methodist Church
By Rueben P. Job, Neil M. Alexander
Abingdon PressCopyright © 2014 Abingdon Press
All rights reserved.
Gregory V. Palmer
We would rather not need yet another book about why some followers of Jesus Christ have reached an intractable impasse over this or that controversy. But unpleasant controversy is part of being both human and Christian, so this is not a new place for Christian thought or practice.
The current impasse for United Methodists Christians is human sexual practice and homosexual practice in particular. For more than four decades our psychic, emotional, spiritual, and political energy have been focused in one way or another on this conversation. To say it more accurately, this is a conversation where people don't actually talk to each other. We really are not in dialogue. We are and have been talking past each other for a long time.
Like every reader of this volume, I am weary. But I could not say no when given the chance to participate in a real conversation. I nearly said no when asked to reflect on the point of view in this chapter, to enforce the Book of Discipline, wishing I could be assigned one of the other points of view. But I am convinced that no matter what one's personal yearnings and convictions, a real conversation does not occur until each and every point of view can be taken up thoughtfully. So I choose to participate in spite of any derision and scar tissue that may come my way. More importantly, I believe in the church that is built upon the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. I believe in The United Methodist Church, while not blind to its failings. It is the church in which I have a heritage and a hope.
I struggle with the word enforce more than a little. It is a harsh word because it underscores juristic practices. The word gives too much attention to the reality that our entire process for accountability—to live within the covenant that binds us together and frames our life—seems as if it is imported from Western civil law. I am more drawn to the term uphold. The two words may convey the same range of meaning for many, but the term uphold is a term that we United Methodists prefer in our liturgical life together. In our liturgies, many solemn promises are made and many aspirations are expressed. We are called to uphold (support) the church and each other, even as we "exercise" the discipline of the church.
Portions of our Book of Discipline may be a bit too dependent on language, processes, and rubrics from civil litigation, and when that is the case, we sacrifice the sensibilities that define a church. Enforce presses down upon a people. Uphold is about lifting and paying attention to important choices. Uphold is about implementing. It changes the tone. Given that we are stuck, we must make every possible effort to change the tone of our conversation and our practice. Even small and insignificant tones can make a difference. As one who is called to interpret the Book of Discipline and to see that it is meaningfully implemented, tone is critical. The choice is between using our book about church covenant as a club, a bat, or about opening it and inviting people to gather around it for conversation about mission and mutual accountability.
United Methodists choose to order their common life in a particular way. Every church does this. The ordering is established for the sake of the mission. A pattern is set so that the church knows where it is going and how it is going to get there. The template provides a means to address as many contexts and situations as can be anticipated, whether they are missional opportunities or occasions when congregations or individuals choose to operate outside of the agreed upon pattern for our common life. A book of polity exists to state history, doctrine, mission, and processes to sustain its ongoing life in witness to the world. One of the characteristics of order or orderliness is that we have applicable rules and regulations that can and should be applied fairly and without distinction for the sake of the mission.
The Book of Discipline and the General Rules convey the expectation of discipline within the experience of individuals and the life of the Church. Such discipline assumes accountability to the community of faith by those who claim that community's support.
Support without accountability promotes moral weakness; accountability without support is a form of cruelty (Book of Discipline, [paragraph] 102).
Every four years the General Conference of The United Methodist Church convenes to open the Discipline once more. Nearly one thousand delegates, half lay and half clergy, deal with a truckload of petitions, each addressing a specific paragraph in the Discipline. The delegates review the template, the pattern for our common life and witness, and render a judgment that this is who we are and what we should do in witness, mission, and ministry going forward for four more years. To be sure, it is a legislative experience accompanied by all of the bane and blessing of such a representative and democratic process.
It is by no means a perfect process. Any observer or participant of a United Methodist General Conference may wonder if it is a desirable process. But it is the process for setting the pattern or template that we agree to support. A less than perfect process is not likely to yield a perfect product. Even the Discipline assumes some imperfection. The Episcopal Greetings in the Discipline offers the following reflective and humble statement: "Each General Conference amends, perfects, clarifies, and adds its own contribution to the Discipline. We do not see the Discipline as sacrosanct or infallible, but we do consider it a document suitable to our heritage. It is the most current statement of how United Methodists agree to live their lives together" (p. v). This basic language and sentiment has been a part of the Episcopal Greetings of the Discipline for a number of successive quadrennia. We know that we are still on our way to perfection. This is as it should be. Acknowledging imperfection is not an exercise in self coddling or making excuses for ourselves. It is rather a humble acknowledgment of reality and a prayerful yearning for the help of the risen Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit to help us become what we cannot and will not become without divine aid or assistance.
As a constitutional requirement, every four years we tend to "amending, perfecting, and clarifying" how we want to live our common life going forward. As new knowledge and fresh consensus emerge, the General Conference has not only the right but also the responsibility to respond on behalf of the whole United Methodist Church by affirming what is in the Discipline or by stating anew and afresh how we will live and organize our common life and implement the mission in every expression of the church. And if, for example, we want to reopen the Discipline more frequently, the means is already present through a constitutional amendment. Within our order and polity the means and processes already exist to make changes, even dramatic changes.
Our capacity to move together and speak with a clear voice on anything is threatened by an unwillingness to live with and within the order or pattern that we have set for ourselves on any particular issue. Of course, dissent from particular positions that the church holds is not news, and it is not especially unwelcome news. Diversity of opinion is expected and welcome because it may point the way to a conversation that the church needs to have. Even with dissent, where the church stands on any matter is yet another occasion for the position of the church to be restated, reexamined, and even reformed.
More importantly, a failure or unwillingness to live within our agreed covenant potentially undermines all the work of the General Conference. It seeks to substitute my wisdom or that of my tribe for the work and wisdom of a larger, deliberative body. It makes me and my viewpoints the center of the church's wisdom.
The Complaint Process
The church in its wisdom through the General Conference has a prescribed process to deal with breaches and violations of our covenant life. It is referred to as the complaint process. The procedures for the process are outlined in [paragraph] 363 in the Book of Discipline. While this section of the Discipline focuses on clergy, note that complaints can be filed against laypersons, too. In this process we assume that our life together in the church and through the responsibilities entrusted to us are a "sacred trust." When it is alleged that a clergyperson has "violated this trust," and a person or persons write and sign a statement to this affect, it sets in motion a review of the ministry of the clergyperson:
This review shall have as its primary purpose a just resolution of any violations of this sacred trust, in hope that God's work of justice, reconciliation and healing may be realized in the body of Christ.
A just resolution is one that focuses on repairing any harm to people and communities, achieving real accountability by making things right in so far as possible and bringing healing to all the parties ([paragraph] 363).
This background and aspiration for trust is important.
I believe the complaint process is an invitation to a conversation—though that conversation may not be welcome by all parties involved. The conversation and the review is an opportunity to seek clarity. Such clarity might indicate that a complaint is misplaced. There may be misunderstanding and misinterpretation of words and actions. With such clarity the parties involved can seek ways to move forward and heal the wound that opened between them. Not every disagreement meets the test of a chargeable offense. But the complaint process can create space to air and redeem a real relational disruption in the church.
In other cases, the review precipitated by a formal complaint does indicate that a chargeable offense is a real problem for the church and the parties involved. When a chargeable offense is alleged, allowing the complaint process to work, actually engaging it in pursuit of just resolution creates healthy boundaries for complainants, for respondents, and for the church, especially the local church(es) involved. There are ground rules for the process and framing for the congregation. A path is laid out, and none of the parties involved, especially those charged with implementing the process, should be left to their own devices in making up the rules as they proceed. Defined roles and time lines are to be observed. At every juncture of the process, all that are party to a complaint are enjoined to give themselves over to that which will make for a just resolution. So I say enforce, uphold, implement, and use the process that we have available for the good of the whole body.
Formal complaints and the attendant process are not the only means at the disposal of the church to address the challenges of disorder, dissent, and disagreement. But not allowing this process to work in the healthiest of ways when appropriate or demanded by complainants is short sighted at best. Thus the punditry that urges no more complaints or no more trials is mistaken about the discipline and governance of a complex religious body. Here is why.
In the first place, the frustration with complaints and trials in the present day is only focused on one issue, the focus of this book. To cast aside the process available to us for but one chargeable offense is to elevate this conversation above other violations and offenses in terms of moral importance. It suggests that complaints and trials are okay in the case of other chargeable offenses, but not if the complaint is based on one of the chargeable offenses related to human sexuality. The plea to stop the trials would have a more melodious ring if we as a church would call into question the entire judicial process, no matter what the breach in behavior, and ask ourselves: Does the church have a more excellent way of addressing matters of accountability? Have we imported something from another realm of conflict resolution, much like David trying to wear Saul's armor, which does not fit who we are and who we are called to be? Perhaps the next General Conference could spend time conceiving a new way forward in accountability processes for lay and clergy alike, rather than tweaking an already broken system that is often poorly administered—all good intention notwithstanding.
Secondly, it is simply untrue and inaccurate to convey that the process we have, however imperfect, for adjudicating complaints inevitably leads to trials. Any portrayal of the process as a type of inquisition or hunt for heresy is a form of pandering or fear mongering, whether intended or inadvertent. Furthermore, the Book of Discipline in "Division Four—the Judiciary," Article IV, [paragraph] 58 states: "The General Conference shall establish for the Church a judicial system that shall guarantee to our clergy a right to trial by a committee and an appeal, and to our members a right to trial before the Church, or by a committee, and an appeal." Therefore, while trials are not inevitable and certainly not desirable, to decree and declare that trials simply will not occur is a denial of rights to clergy who are at times falsely accused. Can we deny this right to some in the service of protecting or preserving the rights and guarantees of others? The right to trial is primarily intended to allow persons against whom there are chargeable offenses every opportunity to plead their case and establish their innocence. And, let's face it, there are church leaders who want trials for themselves or others as a platform or stage from which they can declare how they see the issues.
Whether as an outcome of the supervisory process or a trial, the worst of our fears need not be confirmed before the process is allowed to work.
A church which rushes to punishment is not open to God's mercy, but a church lacking the courage to act decisively on personal and social issues loses its claim to moral authority. The church exercises its discipline as a community through which God continues to "reconcile the world to himself" (Book of Discipline, [paragraph] 102).
Given the current process, could we enlarge the vision of the good that might come from the complaint process? Could it move beyond being a mere tool that creates boundaries and guarantees rights? Might we see the process, appropriate to the nature of the complaint, of course, as a means of having a larger conversation? This process is not the only means to have the important conversations that ought to command our attention. But might they be a means that transcends a pro forma process to get at crucial things? To rule out use of the complaint process is to shut down conversation rather than invite it. To dismiss the process may be a refusal to engage. For example, many times when I receive a complaint from a parishioner about their pastor, about the work of ministry, I always ask the complainant and the respondent if they are willing to meet with the other to have a facilitated conversation to see if they can resolve their differences. Of course, I wonder and I sometimes know why such conversations have not taken place already or have not been fruitful to date. But I have the opportunity to keep making every effort to encourage others to make a good faith effort to engage and keep conversation open. If I too easily treat every complaint as unworthy of such effort or deem it unimportant, I have become complicit in not playing a part in God's intention to redeem and reconcile all human relationships.
Some elders, local pastors, and deacons have had complaints filed against them for presiding at services that celebrate or bless same-gender unions. To ignore or short-circuit the complaint process that could lead to trial is to participate in shutting down a conversation that the church needs to have in a variety of venues, formal and informal. It is to assert that I am wiser than the church.
Feeble and fragile though it is, the Discipline should be observed because we are a community that makes solemn promises. We are born of and sustained by the promises of God, who has been made known in Israel and in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We affirm promises in our covenants because God continues to keep the promises that God made. In baptism, confirmation, and church membership we make promises to God as households and as individuals. The church makes promises to God and to households and to individuals. In the ongoing life of the church we make promises to each other especially as we are called and privileged to take on certain roles in ordered ministry.
Of course, one of our ongoing challenges individually and collectively is to struggle with integrity to discern in any given situation or context the most faithful response when some of our many promises seem to clash with other promises we have made. Not keeping our promises willfully or inadvertently undermines both the community and the mission. Even when we feel that the way in which we have approached particular matters of faith and practice is in need of a fresh look and a new approach and articulation, we have promised to go about the change in a particular way. In refusing to uphold our promises, we make a mockery of the process and the promise. We could well be unreliable partners for future covenant-making and promise-keeping. We depend on each other to have a truly hopeful future.CHAPTER 2
Hope Morgan Ward
The North Carolina Annual Conference began a Unity Dialogue in 1998. For over fifteen years, the Dialogue has continued. Faithful leaders stay at the table, engaging in conversation across differences.
In fifteen years, there is no memory of people changing their minds. There is better and richer fruit: The rancor of earlier times in conference plenaries subsides, deep friendships continue across divisions of view and opinion, and the ability to engage difficult conversations is strengthened.
The North Carolina Conference emended our life together through this process. We modified it through God's grace that flows when we convene and engage. The term emend, used in the parlance of editing and publishing, helps us reflect upon what happens in our life together. We revised our life from within. We persevered in the United Methodist family to make it better, more whole, more life-giving.
Excerpted from Finding Our Way by Rueben P. Job, Neil M. Alexander. Copyright © 2014 Abingdon Press. Excerpted by permission of Abingdon Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Frame Rueben P. Job and Neil M. Alexander,
Part One: Options,
Enforce Gregory V. Palmer,
Emend Hope Morgan Ward,
Disobey Melvin G. Talbert,
Disarm Kenneth H. Carter Jr.,
Part Two: Responses,
Order J. Michael Lowry,
Unity John K. Yambasu,
Diversity Rosemarie Wenner,
Part Three: Steps,
Trust God Rueben P. Job,