By Thomas Lambrecht-
I approached my first meeting as a member of the Bishops’ Commission on a Way Forward for the Church with trepidation, if not fear and trembling. The commission has an enormous and consequential task ahead of it — find a way forward to resolving the impasse between progressives and traditionalists over the church’s stance toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people. It was somewhat gratifying that nearly every other commissioner shared the same sense of the overwhelming challenge we face, yet remained open to the leading of the Holy Spirit to find that elusive path between the proverbial rock and hard place.
That sober, yet hopeful, attitude characterized our first meeting last month in Atlanta, Georgia. The commission is capably led by the commission’s moderators: Bishops Ken Carter, Sandra Steiner-Ball, and David Yemba, along with their staff resource person Gil Rendle. They crafted a productive agenda and we moved into work mode, as we discussed the outcomes we want to see from our work and began to sketch out what we will need to learn in order to achieve those outcomes. Small-group processes enabled us to both hear everyone’s voice and get to know each other more deeply a few at a time. The moderators adjusted the agenda and topics to address the needs and desires of the commission. Their goal really is to serve the commission and help our work to be effective.
With members from four continents, several ethnic groups, and a wide range of ages, theological perspectives, and multiple sexual orientations, the commission is indeed the most diverse body assembled in the church, other than General Conference itself. That is an appropriate reality, considering that our denomination experiences diverse realities, such as precipitous decline in parts of the United States and rapid growth in parts of The Philippines and Africa.
It will be a challenge for such a diverse group to come to agreement on a resolution of our crisis that allows us to move forward as a church. Strongly held, diametrically opposite views on essential matters will make consensus difficult. So far, the group is approaching the disagreements with goodwill and a desire to understand. As personal emotional investment comes to the surface, that goodwill will be tested, and the commission will continue to need the church’s prayers for a constructive relationship in the group that can lead to resolution. At the same time, from the beginning, the commissioners have acknowledged our need to settle on an approach that can pass General Conference. Members’ idealism will need to be tempered by pragmatism.
One commissioner recently wrote, “The Commission is not exploring ‘whether’ LGBTQ persons will be fully-included in the life of The UMC, but ‘how’” we include them.” Yet allowing same-sex marriage and the ordination of practicing homosexuals in some parts of The UM Church would violate the consciences of many traditionalists and be unacceptable. A variety of different approaches will be on the table. These are the kind of pragmatic realities that the commission will be wrestling with.
The commission is just beginning its work and has a lot of ground to cover, as we examine such things as the theological foundations of our unity and identity as global United Methodists and discover how other denominations have navigated the same challenge we face. While these issues take the forefront of our attention, we are also mindful of the worsening decline of membership and worship attendance in United Methodism in the U.S. and our need to provide a way for the revitalization of our church in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We face a tall challenge, and only the grace of God and the prayers of our church will enable us to work our way to a successful outcome.
Thomas Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergy person and the vice president of Good News.
The experiential and scriptural approach.
Several Hebrew resources suggest that the name for Lot’s wife is Edith. Going with that name, let’s take a look at what the scriptures say as well as the experiences of her family. Two of Wesley’s Spiritual references are Scripture and Experience.
Most of us know the story. We know how Abram bargained with God and how God kept lowering his terms by which He would spare the City. Abram could not find sufficient decent people in this town to warrant God’s sparing of the punishment the City deserved. As an experiential example, exclamation point; Edith and Lot try to save their male guests from male neighbors banging on their doors in the middle of the night saying they want to ” know” the visitors…Edith and Lot are so hospitable that they offer to serve up their daughters.
What an experience as recorded in Scripture!
God ends the failed effort by rescuing His agents and Edith and Lot. God gives them instructions similar to Jesus’ ” hands to the plow, unfit for Kingdom if you look back” passage. God destroys the City and, as Edith and Lot flee. Edith looks back, violating God’s instruction. She perishes.
Imagine you are a local Pastor taken back in time and have your office in a nearby town and you are visited by Edith’s mother and, later, by your own three daughters.
Edith’s mother asks you to defend what God did and she expresses how unfair God’s actions were. Edith’s mother even says that the destroyed City was not so bad and did not deserve such punishment from what all agree is a Holy God.
This is the experience as presented by Edith’s mother who questions a Holy God about His fairness.
After counseling Edith’s mother, your daughters walk into your office and proceed to describe their notion of fairness, as it applies to a Holy God. They challenge you for being an agent of the God who destroyed the City, as well as Edith.
What do you do?
Lift Scripture above experience? Lift experience above Scripture?
Consider the very real experience of Edith and Lot…or consider the experience of your daughters and Edith’s mother.
As Bible students, we have read about Edith’s experience and her choices, her lifestyle, her moral conduct and her obedience to God. We have also read the Scripture which had God flooding the earth, placing the bow in the sky and destroying Sodom and Gommorragh. His Holiness also sent His son, had Him betrayed and crucified, died and resurrected.
In addition to experience and Scripture, Wesley added reason and tradition.
Today’s Pastors are increasingly being asked to defend the actions of a perfect God. Sometimes, family members express their experience, proclaim that it was not fair and demand of the modern Pastor to walk away from God’s Scriptures and embrace a “fair” view which assuages their sensitivities.
Edith’s experience has much to tell us in 2017, if we are prepared to examine it while holding God in His proper status. He does not have to give us an account for what He does and we have no authority to modify His position in order to please Edith’s mother or our children
Phil Hannum, you start with “The experiential and scriptural approach.”
I’m afraid I would have to beg to differ from that point forward. I believe that the vast majority of United Methodists do take a scriptural approach. They then use reason,tradition and experience to understand the scriptures and their meaning in our lives. I would all say they also use their capacity to reason (at least I give that the benefit of the doubt). I think the difference is lies in their emphasis on experience and tradition. Some United Methodists prefer to place more emphasis on using two millennia of tradition to understand scripture. Some United Methodists prefer to place more emphasis on using current personal experience to understand scripture.
The genius of our quadrilateral is that it works best when reason, tradition and experience are in balance when understanding scripture. I believe that the problems we are experiencing have come about because some United Methodists have gone to extremes, toward experience or tradition. From that perspective, the Pastor who emphasizes tradition to the extreme is just as guilty of “walking away from God’s Scripture” as the pastor who emphasizes experience to the extreme.
God’s Blessings on you!
No real disagreement as I have recognized how emphasizing one, which is not scriptural, the topic can be changed.
You know the lawyer’s adage, “When the law is not in your favor, argue the facts; when the facts are not in your favor, argue the law.”
Some of the proponents for the reconciling/progressive outcome – even Pastors – know that they cannot stake their case upon Scripture, so they argue experience. Some Pastors have wealthy contributors, parents and grandparents visiting them, pleading the cause of the “unfairness” of God, scripture or Discipline because their relatives find that they may have drawn a line which places them outside what the Christian group articulates as Scriptural, by Discipline, Christian Teaching. What is a Pastor to do when confronted thus?
Rev. Lorena Schuler wrote: Amen.
Outlier coined the quadrilateral term, not Wesley, and no one ever assigned portions; Scripture could hold 97%. The balance you suggest is needed and Wesley did give more weight to Scripture. There are Methodists who swim in the other three areas because they reject Scripture for a variety of reasons.
I think we should forget about the quadrilateral and state plainly what the scripture says and define our doctrine as the Baptists and other do. There is too much in Methodist various beliefs that one cannot for sure say what Methodists believe. WE need something firm to state , “this is what we believe” end of story!