UMC Thoughts: Authenticity and the Ordination Process

In the midst of the Chad Holtz controversy yesterday I had some great conversations and dialogue with friends. One thing that came up was the ability of a pastor to express thoughts/ideas that may disagree or wrestle with traditional thought.

One thing in particular struck me through the comment of a friend and colleague:

My next comment may sound jaded and/or cynical, but if this happened the way we are seeing it this is an example of why the guarranteed appointment should not be gotten rid of, and he made a mistake by posting it before he was ordained.

Now what I am about to write has nothing to do with the Chad Holtz situation, but it does have to do with the realities that came up in the above quote. Whether we like to recognize it or not, the United Methodist Church has to wrestle with the ordination process and authenticity. When I say this I mean that all parties involved in the ordination process including the candidate should be striving for authenticity.

I have heard more than once the statement, “I don’t want to say anything until I am ordained.” Or I have heard others tell candidates statements like: “Don’t rock the boat until you have passed ordination” or “Wait until you are ordained.” I am going to say this right now: I don’t think those statements or feelings are healthy for either the institution or the individual. To me it comes off as saying: “Do what you are told and what is expected of you even if you disagree” and to me that is not authenticity and it isn’t honesty and most of all it isn’t healthy for the church.

Here are some of my thoughts/reasons:

(1) It continues to keep the church from truly practicing “Christian conferencing” and a spirit of discernment. If the church isn’t capable of honestly and openly grappling with difference of opinion/thought then that is a problem. We must as a community of Christians be able to dialogue with one another as we seek to understand who God is calling us to be as individuals and an institution. If individuals are truly sharing their thoughts out of fear of repercussions then a voice is silent. As much as we as a denomination believe that the process isn’t about the “power over” we only hurt ourselves if we ignore the reality that it currently does play a part in the process (whether intended to or not).

(2) Candidates need to realize for their own good and for the good of the church they will be serving that they need to be open about who they are and what they believe. If you disagree with some aspect of United Methodist belief or the way something is done then you need to express it. Think about it this way: would you think it is okay to hide your true feelings from your fiancee until after you were married? I think most everyone would agree that this isn’t a good way to start out a marriage and yet so often this happens in the church and it ends up causing hurt for both parties.

(3) When someone says something like “don’t rock the boat” or “wait until you are ordained” it needs to be addressed. Period. If we want a healthy church where people can journey together to better understand who God is and how God has called us to be a people then we have to start practicing authentic dialogue and we need to speak out against these sentiments. Does this mean that some people might not get through the ordination process because their thoughts/beliefs didn’t align with the conferences? Yes and I would argue that is a good thing for the candidate and for the church because then they at least understand where one another are at that it wouldn’t be good for either party to enter into relationship with one another. It doesn’t mean that we won’t experience hurt, but at least we wouldn’t be living a lie and giving sin this ability to use “power over” in ways that it was never meant to be used.

I have to be honest, I am still fleshing this out but I wonder what others think about this and what experiences they have had. Am I off in my assessment? Is the process one that is authentic and open and I just don’t see it? What do you think?


Authenticity and Transparency: The UMC and Chad Holtz


Yesterday on Twitter I posted a link to reflections from a pastor in NC, Chad Holtz, about authenticity or “truth telling” and the implications it may have on your employment as a pastor. At that time Chad’s situation was an emerging story and today it has been picked up by national news outlets like MSNBC. (I wonder if Harper Collins is pleased with the extra publicity this is giving Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins because the story is connected to the controversy that was stirred over the book)

It is a sad story based on what we know at the current time (which is only Chad Holtz’ account of the situation). A pastor displays authenticity and questioning as he journeys through faith and leadership in the church and it ends up costing him his leadership position. The story as it is told now is one where authenticity is punished and a leader is forced to decide between telling people what they want to hear or sharing how they are understanding the Gospel’s interaction with beliefs of faith.

But here is the problem: we only know one side of the story.  We don’t have both accounts. We know why Chad believes he was dismissed from his position (which he believes stems from a series of blog posts and Facebook notes on controversial subjects), but we don’t know the church’s side or more importantly the side of denominational leadership of the UMC in the North Carolina Conference. I am not saying that Chad’s account is wrong (in fact that is probably how he understands it) but we just don’t know. We are told that Gray Southern, the District Superintendent of the area where Holtz was serving, says there is more to the situation but he won’t go into detail and is quoted as saying, “That’s between the church and him.”

This is where I have to say I fully disagree with Gray Southern: this story is no longer “between the church and him.” (one could argue it never was just “between the church and him” since we have the episcopal structure it would be more aptly described as “between the conference, church, and him”) The story now is between the church, Chad Holtz, the North Carolina Conference, The United Methodist Church, and a much wider body even outside the church now that it has hit the national stage.

Shane Raynor beat me to the punch on this, and he said exactly what I was thinking as I was reflecting on this situation:

According to wire reports, Gray Southern, the superintendent of Chad’s district in North Carolina said that there was more to Holtz’s dismissal than his posts on hell, and was quoted, “That’s between the church and him.” Fair enough, but we’re a connectional denomination, so Mr. Southern should explain these reasons to a UM news outlet, perhaps the UM Reporter or UMNS. I really want to know. If we’re suddenly dismissing pastors for controversial views, I know some who are ten times the heretic Chad Holtz is accused of being.

There are reasons for transparency because of our connection just as Shane states. Our polity doesn’t just allow a church to say “see you” and you are gone so transparency from all sides is important for the wider body of The United Methodist Church as it relates to pastoral appointments and employment. However, I don’t think that is the most important reason for transparency. A huge audience of people are reading this story and they are judging the church based on a one-sided story and that damages the church and the mission of the church. I am pretty sure some of my friends who are outside the church would be very hesitant to ever want to be a part of a church after reading a story like this. It is important for the conference and church leadership to share their account of the story. Right now it is very easy to interpret the silence as complicity.

Perhaps this is why so often I am troubled by the ways in which we sometimes deal with things within the church. We don’t value transparency (sometimes out of fear of litigation and sometimes out of good intentions of protecting all parties) and we allow the situation to remain in the darkness. I truly believe that as long as things are kept in the darkness and not brought out into the light the powers of sin are allowed to gain traction. That is why I believe transparency is key: it brings the situation out into the light and in that action God’s grace is allowed to move and the power of sin is minimized.

I am thankful for Chad and his authenticity and I pray that in this broken situation all sides may learn and grow through the power of God’s grace.

***More Information Posted Today 3/25***

So I am thankful that the UMC and the North Carolina Conference have given us a more in-depth look at the situation that transpired.  Here are the links:  UMC Story and North Carolina Conference Press Release

Well the situation has come out of the darkness and I am thankful for that. We could analyze the situation in more depth by looking at how it was handled both by Chad and the North Carolina Conference now that we know more, but I think we all can realize that these are learning situations. My hope is that this instance can serve as a notice to all of the United Methodist Connection on just how quickly things can move to a national spotlight and how important it is to have a quick response. In our world of quick snapshots and quick judgment this will become even more important.

I am thankful that we now know some more of this situation and I will continue to pray that through this situation Chad, the local church, and the North Carolina Conference will all experience God’s grace and growth in that grace.

***Further Update***

Go and check out Chad’s reflection here.