Editorial: Doing the Hard Things

It’s hard to do hard things. And people don’t like doing things that are hard. So often they do nothing or turn to something easy that only makes matters worse.

What has Congress done to address our national debt that is now over $18 trillion and growing by more than a billion dollars a day? Nothing of substance. What have our representatives done to address what everyone agrees is the long-term underfunding of Social Security? Nothing of substance. Why? Because there’s no easy solution. And politicians know that if they talk seriously about the problem, much less propose a responsible and difficult way forward, their plan will be misrepresented by those on the other side of the aisle and they themselves will be demonized as heartless and reactionary. So it’s easier and less risky to do nothing.

It’s the same in our families. I don’t know how many times men have told me, “I didn’t think our problems were that serious.” But when I spoke with their wives, they reported that over and over they said as clearly as possible, “If things don’t change, this marriage is over.” Why didn’t the husband hear? Because what was being said was a hard reality, and if the marriage was going to get better he was going to have to do some difficult things —become less selfish, go to counseling, start making his marriage a priority. The easiest — and most disastrous — solution was to deny reality, do nothing and be surprised when the marriage crashed.

It’s the same with The United Methodist Church. We are in a hard place, and we must be prepared to recognize and admit that difficult things must be done. My guess? Most will deny the reality of where we are or opt for an easy way out that’s no solution at all.

Recently, what I have heard from bishops and leading pastors about the potential for separation within the UM Church is, “Well, I just have to believe that if we keep talking, we can find a way to stay together. I live by hope not fear.” We have been talking about our differences for nearly 50 years and we are more divided than ever. Talking hasn’t kept progressive pastors from increasingly performing same sex marriages. Nor has it kept radical bishops from tearing at our covenant by doling out petty sanctions to those who violate our Book of Discipline.

Can’t we do something hard and admit the truth that we can talk until there are no more words to say, but progressives will not change what we traditionalists believe the Bible teaches about same-gender sexual relations? Nor will more conversation change the minds of progressives or their commitment to perform same-sex marriages.

“But maybe talking will help us find a way to live together.” That sounds so good, but it’s nothing more than avoiding the hard truth that we are irreconcilably deadlocked. Talking will provide a solution only if it sways traditionalists to deny their consciences and live with UM pastors performing gay marriages or if it convinces progressives to walk away from what they believe is the justice issue of our time. Neither is likely to happen. That’s not being pessimistic, that’s simply acknowledging the hard reality of where we find ourselves. If our bishops will not act with integrity and unity to uphold our covenant, believing that more talk will resolve our problems is not being hopeful. It’s being naïve.

We who are being asked to abandon our biblical beliefs about marriage and sexuality are mindful of what has regrettably taken place in our sister mainline denominations. Talking did not save the United Church of Christ, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America or The Episcopal Church from being decimated by the same issues that divide us. What has taken place within these denominations has been crippling. The aggressive and persistent progressive special interest groups won — if you can call it that. The result of their “victories” has been dramatic declines in their membership and attendance.

Do we want to follow in the footsteps of division, decline, and disarray set forth by the UCC, Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Presbyterians? Are we willing to ignore the hard realities of where we are and where we’re headed and pass more meaningless resolutions about valuing unity — while refusing to do the difficult things that could make real unity possible? I hope not. But at General Conference in Portland next year we’ll find out.

Traditionalists and evangelicals have been asking our bishops to act with integrity and unity to uphold our covenant. Instead, we have seen progressive bishops finding creative and disingenuous ways to let renegade pastors off the hook when they break the Book of Discipline. Meanwhile, many moderate and conservative bishops refuse to speak up while their colleagues make a mockery of our covenant. They say they want to be bridge builders, and therefore don’t want to come out too strongly for our traditional position on marriage and sexuality or in defense of our covenant. I understand it’s hard to speak out against your colleagues. But when your colleagues are undermining the future of the church, it’s time to do some hard things.

We are at a time when the church needs to stand against the cultural tide. We must take our stand on the truthfulness and authority of the Bible. Some pastors and bishops have told me that the Spirit is speaking to the church about sexuality through our culture. Evidently they find it easy to believe that a hedonistic, post-modern Western culture understands the will of God better than did the prophets and apostles whom God inspired to write the Scriptures. Apparently, it’s difficult for some to hold onto biblical doctrines that differ from our culture’s comfort zone — such as Jesus’ being the way, the truth and the life; the reality of an eternity without God; sex being reserved for heterosexual marriage. I know it’s never easy to tell people what they don’t want to hear. But our task is not to make the gospel easy; it’s to make the gospel plain.

Evangelicals are now being accused of making an idol of the Bible. Of all the issues that are threatening the UM Church, taking the Bible too seriously and believing its message too literally are pretty far down the list. More of an idol for many United Methodists is seeking the approval of a lost and self-destructive culture. Having the “cool kids” think that we’re “with it” and hip — for that some are willing to discard 2,000 years of Christian teaching and some of the most important truths of the Bible.

More of an idol than wanting to be faithful to Scripture is the call for unity — a unity that is so all-mighty important, we’re told that, if need be, traditionalists should be willing to sacrifice our beliefs and our consciences. More of an idol within the UM Church than the Bible is the false Jesus that many progressives have remade into their own image — a Savior who is little concerned with sexual sin, who is much too enlightened to believe in hell, who taught that his teachings might work for some but never intended them for everyone, and who certainly never felt it essential that people believe in him for the forgiveness of their sins. In other words, they have determined that a first century Middle Eastern Jew who claimed to be the Messiah was actually a 21st century, postmodern western progressive. If you want to worry about an idol in The United Methodist Church, that’s the one you should be concerned with.

Renfroe

Renfroe

Closing our eyes and ignoring the depth of our division is easy. Hoping against hope that more of the same will resolve our differences isn’t difficult. Refusing to speak out contrary to the prevailing current when you’re a leader is very do-able. (Many will love you for it.) And exchanging the Jesus we find in the Bible for one more to the liking of our Western culture doesn’t appear hard for many.

All easy to do. But Methodism won’t be saved by doing easy things. It will take the hard work of admitting the depth of our divisions and acknowledging that more of the same will not keep us together. We must accept the challenge of enforcing our covenant and being true to the Scriptures. These difficult things must be done with love and grace, but they must be done. Or the result will be another denomination that splits over the issue of sexuality. I pray to God that will not happen. But that prayer will be answered only if we are willing to do some hard things.

Rob Renfroe is president and publisher of Good News 

Comments

  1. William T says

    Yes, those attempting to to mold Jesus into their secular image, and those claiming prophetic powers that contradict Scripure are in the United Methodist Church at all levels. It is shocking, yet a reality. Blasphemous behavior is alive and well in our church. And, those engaged in it are using every psychological means at their disposal to pressure others into conforming to their agenda. Of course grounded orthodox believers will not yield, but fence straddllers can and are being persuaded. And, the vunerable young are their favorite targets and, if polls are any indication, are being won in troubling numbers to their message. These people are wolves in sheep’s clothing preaching and teaching what too many itching ears seem to want to hear. The true prophecy being fulfilled in this age is the warning of Paul to young Timothy.

    Preaching the Gospel has, indeed, become a hard sell. Therefore, the first order of business at General Confefence 2016 should be some real Gospel preaching culminating with calls for repentance, invitations to come to Jesus for the actual first time, and invitations for a renewed relationship with Jesus. The UMC so desperately needs Jesus at this hour. Beginning in Portland and spreading like a wildfire all the way down to the local church is our only hope for real unity. All other attempts by Methodists outside of that are doomed to fail.

  2. Well put. I am with you and will stand at my church meeting and bring forth my support of NOT changing the Book of Discipline on marriage!

  3. Agree completely!!! I was accused of being a Bible idolator by one whom I love very much and which is graduating with a MA to become a Deacon in our conference. That was the first time I had ever heard of such a thing, I didn’t know it was a commonly used condescending remark. Personally, I don’t see how remaining together is possible with so many verbal bombs like that thrown.

  4. Rev. John Dunnack says

    My concern is with the new “process” for General Conference 2016 to handle proposed legislation in the sexuality realm. It sounds good until the part where a committee of 6 (?) Drafts final proposals. Is this a railroad game to remove evangelical conservative proposals? We are impossibly divided as you say. And there is no easy or even possible way out. Apart from a massive reversal on the left a division has to happen. But will it be the fracturing of the pre civil war era? A clean split seems also hardly possible. Some will transfer or jump to another denomination, some will go independent, some will start a new thing. It may be very ugly. So pray mightily tor revival.

  5. Trey Harris says

    Rob,

    You, too, are only talking. Talk, talk, talk. And then talk some more. “Conservatives” have been talking about this since my seminary days in the 1990’s. Talk, talk, talk. And then talk some more. For decades, I’ve heard and read leading conservative pastors ramble on infinitum about the irrevocable differences in the various “camps” of the UMC. It’s easy for you pastors at mega churches to do all the talking, you’re protected by big apportionment checks. It’s the pastors in smaller churches that get hammered when they speak out after being whipped into a frenzy by articles like this one. How about some action? What’s your hold up? Go ahead and lead a split. Bring a motion to the floor. DO SOMETHING! But please, with all due respect, stop just talking. We’ve heard enough.

    • William T says

      Trey,
      Frustration is boiling over all around. But, you make a crucial point. 40+ years of talking is enough. Are those of us who keep beating this dead horse engaged in sin? Are we enjoying the debating more than searching for a real solution? God help us.

    • Bill Reincheld says

      Trey is right. Next year will probably prove that.

  6. Alan Darby says

    Amen Rob! I wish I could read your whole article on the floor of our Greater New Jersey Annual Conference! (maybe I’ll try…) You expressed exactly what I feel.

  7. David Vaughn says

    I think the hard thing to do to end this struggle is for the church to get out of the marrying business all together. There is no way that either side in the debate is going to give in. Conservatives will never allow gay marriage in the church, and advocates for gay marriage will never give up the struggle. The reality is that when the Supreme Court makes gay marriage a civil right, then we, as pastors will lose our right to decide who can and cannot be married in our churches. Judge Alito questioned the lawyers today who were pushing for acceptance of gay marriage. He questioned them what would happen to churches who refused to marry gays- Would they lose their tax-exempt status? The lawyers had to admit that it would become an issue if gay marriage is ruled as a civil right by the SCOTUS.
    If SCOTUS rules in favor of gay marriage, marriage becomes purely a civil contract. The UMC should state that there will be no marriages held in our churches. That will protect our tax exempt status; will keep gay marriages from being held in our churches; and will protect pastors who would have refused to marry gays from being prosecuted.
    Just like we have been tossed out of the graduation ceremonies in our schools, and we now have had baccalaureate services, we can let civil authorities to sign marriage certificates, but then we can have a ceremony (if we so desire) to acknowledge the marriage in the church.
    Just thinking.

    • William T says

      David,
      I cringe. The church out of the Christian marriage (one man and one woman as Jesus mandated) business? And, because of government intimidation and intrusion? Radically un-American. We would be in a time of tyranny in the USA if we lose our First Amendment rights here — justI can’t fathom thiat prospect. Secular liberals have used “separation of church and state” for a long time to get the church out of the public arena, as you note. Of course I would not be at all surprised If they suddenly switched gears and saw the government coming into the church to push the gay agenda as perfectly fine while arguing that this would have nothing to do with “separation of church and state”. After all, their agenda trumps fair play and even the Constitution of the United States. But, after all is said and done — this would be the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back, and Christians would be forced to take an uncompromising stand.

    • I agree David. I would rather get out of the “marrying business” rather than have the government tell me who to marry! Where in the Bible are ministers required to perform weddings? This was a ministerial act adopted by a state church to begin with. The excess at weddings is sinful anyway. How can Christians justify spending tens of thousands of dollars on weddings when people are starving around the world? And like you said, the government has an agenda of removing Christianity from public life anyway.

      • David Vaughn says

        Thanks, Kemper,
        Ministers are only able to conduct a wedding ceremony because the government allows them to. We can’t issue a marriage license. It is not like Christian baptism in which is totally a religious ceremony, which we are able to perform without needing any state approval. People can get married without any religious influence at all. They can get married by a judge, JP, local mayor, etc.., And, in fact, even weddings in a church are often by people who really aren’t interested in the church itself, but want a ‘traditional’ service, or a beautiful, roomy place for the ‘event.’ I’ve conducted a number of weddings thinking it was an outreach to people who weren’t active in the church, believing that after required hours of counseling, required church attendance, listening to a marriage sermon, and doing my best to have a beautiful ceremony that they might be deeply moved and continue to attend. NOT!
        I certainly believe that we should preach about having Christ in our homes, living as good Christian wives(women) and husbands(men), and honoring God and each other in our relationships. But, we need to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s. If the government changes the definition of marriage, I think we should step back and let the governmental body that issues the marriage license conduct a civil ceremony, and sign the marriage certificate. I would contemplate a policy of not having any weddings in my church. That way no one can accuse me of discrimination. If I want to conduct a service for a grandchild outside the church, that would be my decision and not pull my church into litigation by someone looking to force their acceptance upon my congregation. And, if I wanted to do some kind of celebration to acknowledge a couple who went to a civil authority to be married, that again would be my choice. These are just some thoughts as I see the government about to redefine marriage. If the definition of marriage, in the eyes of the state, becomes anything that any 2 people want it to be, then I don’t want any part of it.

  8. Jim Womack says

    You folks do understand that virtually the same arguments were made in the 1960’s and 1970’s when the southern conferences. most particularly in the Southeastern Jurisdiction, were resisting integration with black Methodist Conferences. There was also wailing and gnashing of teeth when the Methodist Church became the United Methodist Church after merging with the foreign sound EUB’s. Some folks thought the latter was a monastic order. And then when divorce was allowed and then land sakes women were allowed ordination and given equal status in appointments. Get over it! Change is Christian. Change is coming and it is good. We are reminded in Hebrews 12: 1 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. “

    • TS Reeves says

      Brother Jim, while I support your freedom to speak your mind, I must respectfully disagree…..in this case with same sex “marriage,” we are not talking about a minor, simple change…..moving onto this pathway of changing the definition of marriage will open up the spectrum for any “marriage” that any one could imagine……same sex is just the first, small step towards the day when anyone can marry anyone or anything else….that is already occurring in those countries which have re-defined marriage in this way and history shows this inexorably happens. Conversely, the issue of marriage is not equitable with the issues of arbitrary racial and gender barriers which existed in the church in previous decades. Looking back toward the early, first days of Christianity, there were no such barriers to race and gender…..the first century church had no arbitrary barriers against different skin colors or genders BUT there were restrictions against marriage as being anything but between a single male and single female, These arguments being applied toward same sex marriage today ARE NOT the same arguments used in the 1960-70’s to support the arbitrary barriers of race and gender. The progressive liberal wing of the UMC likes to make those statements but they simply are not true. Again, we need to study our history to learn …or we are destined to repeat history’s mistakes. Same sex marriage is a mistake, because it deviates from God’s plan for humanity as touted over and over in the Bible (Scripture), and reinforced by tradition, reason and experience. No country or culture that has gone down this road of re-defining marriage by human standards has ever survived once it took that step. Again, we can learn from history and experience of others…such as the disasters now known as the UCC, ELCA, PCUSA and Episcopal churches, and make an informed and logical choice. As Pastor Rob points out, this is a hard choice to make…and requires unemotional, factual, real conversation and not the emotionally tainted type of discussions we have had in the UMC these past 40-plus years.

  9. Wendie ingram says

    Pastor Rob,
    Thank you for your article that expresses how a lot of us feel about the continued issue in our UM Churches. God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He does not change. God is loving and just and he sent his son, Jesus, who walked on earth telling us to love God with our whole hearts, soul, mind and strength and love our neighbors. He told us the only way to his father was to believe in him and sin no more. UM should not change The Book of Disclipline. So let’s all pray that God changes the hearts,souls and minds of our UM Leaders who want to change The Book of Discipline and conform to worldly desires. I believe in my heart and soul that God blesses those churches who obey and teach his Commandments, Laws, Instructions and Precepts.

  10. I would presume to ask the following question: Is there a point at which a longsuffering spirit and intent becomes an affront to God? Or, if you will, if we continue to slice and dice scripture to conform to our “modern sensibilities”, how much longer can we claim God’s spirit is striving with us? Take a sober and objective look at the denominations already split by issues of 21st century social trends and fashions; then, look at the Assembly of God church. God uses people and churches who stay the course and live by his word. Those seeking to compromise, modernize or secularize scripture will some day belong to a very nice religious social club. But, they will not be part of the Church of Jesus Christ. We compromise and disregard scriptural guidance at our peril. I will not long be a member of a church which so arrogantly thumbs its collective nose at God. God pity your clouded minds and lost souls!

  11. M.E. Ram says

    I agree with most of this article. The divisions and fruitless arguing have gone on too long. We’ve seen other denominations split. However, I am more progressive/liberal. I would have concluded with the exact same paragraph only changing “enforcing” to “amending.” Praying that annual conferences will prayerfully re-read passages dealing with marriage, love, and how we are called to respond to God’s love as they approach this issue once again.

    • William T says

      M.E.
      Cricial passages that we need to read and head dealing with marriage are found in Matthew 19 and Mark 10. These are the words and teachings of Jesus on the matter. As Christians and followers of Jesus, these are the truth, are sufficient and are final if Scripture is our authority. Jesus dealt with the meaning of marriage unequivocally and emphatically. In answering a trick question about divorce, Jesus elected to offer a serious and somber answer. He first defined marriage by affirming God’s created order for it as that between a man and a woman. He then warned that man was not to harm or denigrate this unique union of one flesh by granting easy divorces since this union of love is of God and only for a man and woman in marriage.

  12. Satan Is laughing over this entire situation. First, he convinced Christians, under the guise of charity and a catholic spirit, to acknowledge unbelievers as “fellow Christians who simply have a different understanding”. This is to our shame; a little leaven leavens the whole and bad company corrupts good morals. Now, Satan delights in dividing the Western church over the odious sin of sodomy! Sodomy of all things! Given our Wesleyan heritage, with its uncompromising emphasis on personal and social Holiness and Righteousness as revealed in the Scriptures, acceptance and promotion of sin should be unthinkable!

    Unless we stop simply talking, and instead rise up as a church, and remove the unbelievers now, not wait until 2016, do it now, the UMC will continue to store up wrath against the day of wrath. However, unless the Africans rise up and lead us, I fear the opportunity is lost. We, as a denomination are top-heavy with unbelievers leading their congregations and charges on the wide and easy path to Hell. And our Bishops? They glory in their shame. And we who do believe, to our shame, remain mostly cowards.

    May God have mercy on us all.

  13. Let’s just split and get it over with. The Liberals can call it the G & L Methodist Church and we conservatives and call it the Traditional Methodist Church. As you can tell I’m tired of it real tired. If you can change the word of God to fit your lifestyle what’s the use. To church all churches and the country have taken a real beating the last six years how painfully terrible

  14. Dan Boyd says

    I believe those that say the church will have to get out of the marriage business and stop doing weddings all together fail to understand that the American church may need to learn from the European churches. In one perspective the church will have to get out of the marriage business. Pastors may have to stop acting as agents of the state by stop signing marriage licenses. If a couple wants a civil marriage license they will have to go to their local court house and complete that process. But what freedom. We as the church can once again call couples to the truth of marriage. Marriage is a covenant relationship established by God. What we call for and recognize was sacred is their covenant commitment to each other and to the Lord in the midst of the community of faith. If couples take that step of faith and ritual expression of covenant then shows we in the church not recognize them as married? From a covenant and faith perspective who cares if they have a civil license or governmentally recognized contract. I don’t like the fact that there will be such a divide between the church and culture but if that what the culture wants then we can just be the church in a new old way.

  15. al milligan says

    Further reflections on the Bible as the word of God: “If religion were a thing the money could buy the rich would live and the poor would die.”
    The Bible is the ongoing assurance that thinking and knowledge is not something open just to the elites. It teaches the poor to read. It holds in remembrance all that has gone before it. It was the necessity of reading the “word of God” for oneself that brought about public education. The master does not want the slave to read that in Christ we are made free for soon they will be singing “We are climbing Jacobs Ladder.”
    It is the Bible that hands down from one generation to another the wisdom of the ages. So it is the Bible that must be learned anew by each generation. What would we put in its place? The philosophy of atheism? The Koran? The book of Mormon?
    So to rail against the Bible is to undermine Freedom itself. To rail against the Bible is to rail against Western Civilization and one’s own freedom. To rail against the Bible is suicide.
    The thing that so called progressives don’t want is for the poor to read the Bible. They want to tell the poor what is the will of God from their own understanding. If you can under-mind Jesus teaching on marriage (Mark 10:7) then you can undermine the teaching that Jesus died for our sins. These ideas are connected. I would venture to say that those who are proponents of same-sex marriage also, in fact, teach that Jesus did not die for our sins. Jesus is just a good fellow and certainly not the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. Thus, my charge is that proponents of same-sex marriage under-mind justice for the poor, sight to the blind, release to the prisoners.

  16. Michael Guertin says

    This is just one issue that scripture has foretold would happen: people are not willing to “endure sound doctrine, but having itching ears, will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” 2 Timothy 4:3-4 Are we not there? Sound doctrine is hard to adhere to, but it is worth doing if only for the sake of our own consciences. Those who cannot bear it will pursue their passions to their own sorrow no matter what.

  17. al milligan says

    Also, it may be too late to matter but I wonder how people would feel about a boycott. Our leaders might listen if there funds are cut off. Let every member who is opposed to same-sex marriage stop funding pastors and churches that promote. I would like to hear some responses on this. What can we do when our leaders act against our consciences?

  18. There is a way out of this mess and it’s not by ending marriage in the church. Just pay the taxes sure the government will waste it but just pay the taxes and you can do whatever you please.

  19. Guillermo says

    It’s high time to split. The entire western jurisdiction has shown itself to thumb its nose at the church as has the northeast. Let there be a new evangelical Methodist denomination come forth and let it “adopt” existing Methodist individuals or churches in these regions—and let the liberal, dying west and northeast adopt the liberal outliers in the south an Midwest.

  20. The teaching on marriage from Jesus is found at Mathew 19. We either follow the teaching of Jesus or we do not. Unfortunately the same sex advocates in the Church setting have adopted the political tools of same sex advocates in the political arena. These are separate. Same sex marriage can be allowed in the civil context–but the real issue for us is the Church context. We cannot expect the civil authorities to follow the Bible–even though that is the wise course. We do not “hate” homosexuals. We only point to the teaching of Jesus that marriage is between one man and one woman. Otherwise, we are casting our children to the winds of western American culture—figure it out are you gay, lesbian, bi, trans? without any teaching. We should be clear what Jesus teaches in the Bible–Mathew 19 and do not divorce.

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