aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Still chewing the same tough dough

The Jehovah Witnesses dropped by this morning again. I was polite. They gave me a flyer, and I thanked them for it. It went into the trash as soon as I got back inside, but still. They were nice guys, trying to do something good out of love for others or conviction of the truth or both. Besides, what has a United Methodist elder got to brag about anymore?

Sure, JW doctrine is screwy and their reading of the Bible is weird. But: I can point you to any number of United Methodist clergy whose doctrine is even screwier and whose treatment of the Bible is even weirder. Yes, we as a denomination have established standards of doctrine that are, I believe, among the best ever articulated. But the sign out front of a UM church doesn't tell you anything about what's being proclaimed inside, nor does the ordination certificate of my colleagues tell you anything about their personal beliefs or professional teaching.

I find myself surrounded by -- what do I call them: heathens? heretics? apostates? -- who all have the same credentials I do. For a long time, they would pretend that we all still followed the same faith. A lot of them aren't pretending any longer. And it's not just about sexuality. That's only the most prominent fault line, the current presenting issue. "What think ye of Christ?" is still the fundamental question. "Not much" might sum up a lot of what I hear them say. Many seem never to talk about Jesus; they are balanced by those for whom he is a sock puppet, mouthing the slogans (political or otherwise) they really care about. Sometimes, the only thing I think we have in common is a pension plan.

I will never be embarrassed to acknowledge my relationship with Jesus Christ. But any more, there are times when I am embarrassed to acknowledge my relationship to The United Methodist Church. Up until recently, I could always say that those other guys and gals were an aberration; that the official teaching was good and right and that all of us who were laboring to present it far outnumbered the kooks and con artists. Given what I hear from the mouths of bishops and other poo-bahs these days, and looking at recent election results for General Conference (not merely how people voted, but whom they actually elected), I would have to say that the unofficial teaching is what's in the driver's seat.

I try to take the long view. When the Council of Ariminum (AD 359, 1,660 years ago this month) opted to write a new creed, St. Jerome said, "The whole world groaned, and was astonished to find itself Arian." It took a long time, but Nicene orthodoxy eventually won out over Arianism. And yet, Arianism has never gone away. You can get yourself a heaping helping of it, not only in the Jehovah's Witnesses, but in many UM churches. And there are worse things than Arianism on offer.

We are past the point where we can paper this over. And as much as I want to trust God and keep on fighting for a return to good teaching within The UMC, no matter how long it takes, I don't think it's in the cards. After GC 19, my thinking shifted. When I saw how deep the rot was, how astonishingly easy it was for people whose job was interpreting and upholding the rules to simply discard the rules they didn't like, something in me died. I can no longer pretend that we share the same faith. Some of that is theological, some of it is disciplinary, but we can no longer function as representatives of the same institution.

Some very hard choices lie ahead, for all of us.

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