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Should the #UMC ask King Solomon how to cut a baby in half?

Two women stood before King Solomon in 1 Kings 3:16-28 with one baby, both claiming it was theirs. So Solomon offered to cut it in two. The woman who actually loved the baby was willing to give it up rather than see it die. The other woman had become so embittered by their argument that she didn’t care if the baby lived or died; what mattered to her was to see the other woman get punished so that they would both suffer the same grief. It’s an excellent metaphor for today’s conversation about schism in the United Methodist Church. Thinking that we can “amicably separate” and create two denominations out of one given the theological diversity within each of our thousands of congregations is about as wise as cutting a living baby in half. It’s a question of whether our ideological commitments, whichever side we’re on, trump the value of the lives and communities that will be torn apart. The question each of us in our respective vantage points face is what control we are willing to renounce unilaterally so that the baby can live. Continue Reading

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Is there any #UMC accountability for resisting injustice and oppression?

It seems like in United Methodism as with many things, there are unspoken rules about which things we say for nicety sake and which things actually have teeth. One of the things that sounds pretty to say but doesn’t actually have any covenantal teeth to it is the second question of our baptismal vows, “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever form they present themselves?” If this question had any danger of being enforced with accountability, then I imagine the Good News voting bloc would be strategizing right now to get it struck from the United Methodist Hymnal at General Conference 2016. But what would it look to be held accountable for resisting injustice and oppression in whatever form they present themselves? Continue Reading

antigay umc

Let them go in peace and start over from scratch like Wesley did

The United Methodist blogosphere has been fired up after a recent announcement that 80 prominent pastors and theologians have called for planning a split in the United Methodist Church on account of our differences over the homosexuality issue. Differing perspectives on this announcement have included David Watson, Joel Watts, Kenneth Pruitt, Steve Manskar, Chad Holtz, Drew McIntyre, Tom Lambrecht, and Jeremy Smith. I think that the United Methodist Church should help facilitate the departure of those who do not feel they can continue in ministry with United Methodism because of their frustration with the bishops’ unwillingness to come down hard on pastors who marry gay people. When John Wesley had problems with the Church of England, he didn’t try to orchestrate its breakup; he built his own evangelical parachurch movement from scratch which was of course a wild success because the Holy Spirit was with him (it’s an imperfect analogy, but Wesley didn’t expect the Church of England to bankroll his holiness movement). So that’s what those who want a breakup should do if their concern is genuinely a matter of conscience and not of control. Continue Reading

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Some ambivalent thoughts on Sovereign Grace, the Gospel Coalition, and Twitter

The evangelical twittersphere has been reverberating over the past few days with the hashtag #IStandWithSGMVictims. Last Thursday, Nathaniel Morales, a former youth leader at Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland, was convicted of sexual abusing three boys between 1983 and 1991. Covenant Life Church was the founding church of the Sovereign Grace Ministries network. Prominent national neo-Calvinist leader and very recently removed Gospel Coalition council member CJ Mahaney was senior pastor at the time of the abuse. Another pastor within the church, Grant Layman, confessed in court to withholding information from law enforcement officials about the abuse. It’s obviously a very ugly situation. I wanted to reflect cautiously about how Christians should respond to ugly situations like this in social media. I’ve seen a lot of righteous zeal, and righteous zeal makes me very nervous no matter who it’s coming from. This is definitely a case in which I don’t have good answers, but I’m trying to write my way to greater understanding, so if I’ve gotten something wrong, please don’t be offended but offer loving correction instead.

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Would Jesus pray at a city council meeting?

The more that I think about the recent Supreme Court ruling defending the use of explicitly Christian prayer to open government meetings, the more it offends me. I have no problem praying in public. I do it all the time walking on the sidewalk mumbling the Jesus Prayer to myself with my prayer beads. When somebody else needs prayer, I don’t have any problem laying hands on them in the middle of a Walmart or any other public space. I don’t want to be the pastor who says, “I’ll pray for you” in the disingenuous way that we say “Let’s do lunch sometime” instead of actually praying for people right then and there. But prayer as a pro forma function of “civic religion” really bugs me. And Jesus himself had something to say about it in the sermon that is more widely ignored by supposedly “Biblical” American Christians than any other Biblical text.

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Anti-semitism, apartheid, and sensitivity in talking about Israel

John Kerry got in trouble. His crime, as Israeli columnist Noam Sheifaz put it, was “speculating that theoretically, in the distant future, Israel could do something bad.” Specifically, he said that unless a two-state solution can be brokered between Israel and Palestine, Israel will either end up with a democratic society without a Jewish majority or an apartheid state in which Palestinians don’t have equal rights. The problem was that he said the word apartheid. And the right-wing pundits have pounced, calling him an anti-Semite and saying that he should resign as secretary of state. So what’s with these words “apartheid” and “anti-Semite”? Is it anti-Semitic (racist against Jewish people) to say anything about Israel that isn’t cut-and-pasted from the Israeli lobby’s talking points? I wanted to share some perspective that I gained after a conversation with a rabbi friend that began very heated but ended well. Continue Reading

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Would Obama be “winning” in the Ukraine if he “baptized” more terrorists?

Sarah Palin told a recent crowd at an NRA rally that “if [she] were in charge, they would know that waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists.” It’s a quote that’s gotten a lot of attention in the past few days for several reasons, one being that it’s a complete mockery of Christian theology which has drawn criticism from conservatives like Mollie Hemingway and Joe Carter. The psalmist says that blessed is the one who “does not sit in the seat of the scoffers” (Psalm 1:1), Sarah Palin is exhibit A of what a scoffer looks like. She’ll throw her own religion under the bus as part of a joke glorifying torture in order to get applause. It shows how culture war can eat a person’s soul from the inside out. But what’s even more disturbing to me is the realization that this mockery represents a widely-held perspective on foreign policy: that the reason behind every crisis in the world, whether it’s Putin threatening the Ukraine or Nigerian Muslim terrorists kidnapping schoolgirls or even the Malaysian airliner and the South Korean ferry crisis, is that Obama isn’t “baptizing” enough terrorists and showing the world that ‘Mur’ka is in charge. Continue Reading

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Donald Sterling and the Tyranny of the Outrage Police

One of the best things that I’ve read about the drama surrounding cranky racist white guy of the week Donald Sterling was a post by Hall of Fame former NBA player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He writes, “Moral outrage is exhausting. And dangerous. The whole country has gotten a severe case of carpal tunnel syndrome from the newest popular sport of Extreme Finger Wagging. Not to mention the neck strain from Olympic tryouts for Morally Superior Head Shaking.” I’m so tired of all this pageantry, which has little to do with authentic moral outrage and everything to do with the desperate scandal-chasing of today’s bloggers, pundits, and “cultural analysts” who get hits for their pieces by making bold demands for basketball players and fans to obey. Continue Reading

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Six ways that capitalism fails the church

The religion blog forum Patheos is hosting a Public Square conversation called “Has Capitalism Failed?” largely in response to Pope Francis’ scathing critique of capitalism in his Evangelii Gaudium. One blogger made the point that the answer to the question depends on what we call “capitalism.” There’s a difference between the free market system itself and what might be called the worship of the market. It’s possible to navigate the free market system without worshiping the market. The problem is that passive participants in the capitalist market do end up making it their god insofar as they allow the market to determine the value of the created objects in our world in place of God. So here are six examples of how market forces can corrupt the church’s agenda when we are not actively resisting their dominion. Continue Reading