Theological malpractice

I have tried to soften my response but haven’t found an honest way of doing it. So here goes.

What happened recently among Methodists in Florida was an act of theological malpractice and organizational malfeasance.

Simply put, Florida clergy voted against approving 16 people for advancement toward ordination because two of them were gay.

Here’s some explanation of the admittedly cumbersome process in the United Methodist Church.

Candidates for ordination first must be reviewed and approved by a committee in their local church; then approved by the local church as a whole; then be interviewed by their district superintendent; then be reviewed and approved by the district board of ministry; then be reviewed and approved by the conference board of ordained ministry; and finally be approved by a vote of clergy at a meeting of the annual conference.

Even this final vote is not final. It is for “provisional” membership. Candidates are commissioned but not ordained until after two more years of scrutiny – and, yes, another vote of clergy colleagues.

Usually, the vote on commissioning is routine. Having themselves come up through the system, clergy know how rigorous it is and they tend to trust the system, so they vote to approve candidates.

Also, many of them either know the candidates personally or have watched them come through the system over the several years required to get this far. Most of them know who they are considering. Their vote may be routine, but it is not blind.

But at the recent annual conference in Florida, the system came unglued. You can guess what issue caused the problem. Two of the 16 candidates were homosexual. The vote of clergy came up just short of the 75 percent required for approval.

It should be noted that not all conferences vote on candidates as a group. My conference, Great Plains, votes on each candidate individually. Usually the vote is unanimous. Though the candidates are present during the vote, they have their backs to clergy voting on them, so they can’t see how individual clergy members vote.

But Florida clergy chose to vote on candidates as a group, and the vote fell short. So 14 “straight” candidates were denied commissioning because two others were gay.

Just about everybody agrees that this outcome is a tragedy, but of course each side in the ongoing debate blames the other for causing the tragedy.

Traditionalists say the two should never have been allowed to get this far in the process. Progressives say the two were up for commissioning because the system worked the way it should.

At issue is the part of the United Methodist Book of Discipline that bars homosexuals for ordained ministry. This little time bomb was inserted into the Discipline by “conservatives” right after creation of the UMC in 1968 and has been a source of division throughout the church’s history.

Apparently the full 16-member group would have been approved had it not been for the negative votes of several pastors whose churches were allowed to disaffiliate from the conference shortly after the vote. They just had to get their digs in on the way out.

It should be noted that all 16 candidates will continue to serve in ministry positions as appointed by their bishop. They will just not serve as commissioned candidates for ordained ministry.

The UMC is currently fracturing. “Conservatives” are leaving, many for the new Global Methodist Church, because they can’t get their way anymore. I don’t think they will be much happier under the new system than under the current one. But at least they will, presumably, have their way on homosexuality.

I wish they were just hurry up and go infect some other church with their narrow theology. I wish they would just get the hell out of my church and let us do ministry without their constant undermining of everything we all say we value.

But even on their way out, they seem to be working to spread lies about those of us staying in the UMC. Why next thing you know, they say, we’ll be ordaining atheists or Buddhists or who knows what sort of alien critter.

Yet they call themselves followers of John Wesley. And Jesus Christ. Actions speak louder.

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