Today an article from United Methodist Reporter (UMR) circulated amongst my friends. It is a good piece (in my opinion) by Jay Vorhees that asks some good questions of Tom Lambrecht, the Vice President and General Manager of Good News. Within the UMC world there has been large discussion about schism and the breaking of covenant mostly surrounding the issue of homosexuality which is often is narrated as a larger disagreement around the inspiration and authority of scripture. This post isn’t going to get into the larger issue, but rather two quick thoughts that I had in response to some of Mr. Lambrecht’s answers.
First, I was very troubled by the following question and answer:
Isn’t withholding financial support of the denomination also a breaking of the covenant?
We believe that the actions of dozens of clergy to perform same-sex unions without a corresponding accountability for those actions have already broken the covenant. Some progressive groups have already pledged to not only withhold financial support but to disrupt church meetings and impose their agenda upon the church. To the extent that the covenant is already broken from one side, we believe that to that extent those on the other side are not bound by it any longer.
What really got my attention was that last sentence in the answer: “To the extent that the covenant is already broken from one side, we believe that to that extent those on the other side are not bound by it any longer.” If one is attempting to uphold the importance of the covenant that we have promised to maintain isn’t it an issue to also then break that covenant based upon the condition of the other parties upholding it? The Book of Discipline states:
Ordained persons exercise their ministry in covenant with all Christians, especially with those whom they lead and serve in ministry. They also live in covenant of mutual care and accountability with all those who share their ordination, especially The United Methodist Church, with the ordained who are members of the same annual conference and part of the same Order. The covenant of ordained ministry is a lifetime commitment, and those who enter into it dedicate their whole lives to the personal and spiritual disciplines it requires. (Paragraph 303.3)
The way I understand the last sentence of Lambrecht’s answer he is basically saying it isn’t a lifetime commitment but rather a commitment as long and to the same extent that others uphold that commitment. If we are called to maintain the covenant then we are called to be faithful to it no matter what others may do. Based upon Lambrecht’s response it would seem to me that by breaking the covenant also this move then justifies future breaking of the covenant by those on “the other side” (who up until this point have maintained and upheld the covenant) to the extent that “his side” has now broken the covenant. It becomes a tit-for-tat nullification of the covenant all-together.
The power of the baptismal covenant is the fact that despite our unfaithfulness the covenant remains because of God’s faithfulness. If one is to care about the “other side” in a covenantal relationship then one maintains the faithfulness to the covenant in hopes of bringing the other part back into the covenantal relationship. I can only imagine this argument given by a husband or wife in response to an unfaithful spouse: “Well I believe I am now justified to cheat on you because I am no longer bound by the fidelity portion of our covenant.” A spouse who wants to uphold the covenant and remain in relationship is going to remain faithful (in all aspects of the covenant) in hopes of returning that upheld covenantal relationship.
Basically, that response scares me if this is how any of us are going to respond to the actions of “this side” or “that side.”
Second, I was also troubled by this question and following response:
There are some who have said that the phrase “…those of us who are biblical Christians…” was condescending and suggests that you believe that anyone who disagrees with your positions is not biblical nor Christian. Isn’t the central issue that divides us a different way of approaching and interpreting the biblical text? Are you saying that those who disagree with your positions are non-biblical? Where is there room for disagreement on biblical interpretation?
Progressive groups have adopted the mantra “biblical obedience,” implying that those of us who support the church’s teaching are not obeying Scripture. How is our statement any different? We recognize that Christians of good will can disagree on matters of biblical interpretation. However, the real division in our church today is not over issues of sexuality, but over our views on the inspiration and authority of Scripture. There are many clergy and laity in our church today who reject the deity of Christ, the atonement, the bodily resurrection of Christ, and other cardinal doctrines of the faith based on the same approach to Scripture that leads them to reject the church’s teaching on human sexuality and marriage. Those who adopt such an approach are not operating biblically. Our statement does not claim that we are the only biblical Christians. It says that “those of us who are biblical Christians AND who have agreed to live by The Book of Discipline” are needing to examine what options are available to us.
I am a bit troubled by the simplicity by which Lambrecht divides the “sides” in this response. There is not really any space for those in the middle (i.e. those who are biblical Christians AND who have agreed to live by The Book of Discipline” but still disagree with the church’s teaching on human sexuality and marriage). This is where I begin to find it a bit disingenuous when Lambrecht states, “However, the real division in our church today is not over issues of sexuality, but over our views on the inspiration and authority of Scripture.” I know more than one evangelical Christian that maintains a high regard and orthodox position around the inspiration and authority of Scripture but has arrived at a different conclusion around homosexuality that is the crux of this disagreement. The final thing that troubles me is that his earlier response to the first question above seems to me to be contrary to his last statement about “those of us who are biblical Christians AND who have agreed to live by The Book of Discipline” since he said neither side was now bound to uphold that covenant to the degree it was violated.
Each and every day that I read more surrounding the divisions in our church I grow more and more thankful for the grace of God and the faithfulness of God in our own unfaithfulness. My hope is that we may be inspired to hold one another accountable but to do it with faithfulness and love towards God and one another.
Image by Flickr user Katie Tegtmeyer. Licensed under Creative Commons. Cropped and Resized from Original.