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?