Category Archives: United Methodist Church

The Way Forward – My Two Cents on Current Models

I’m sure every blogger in the UMC is probably going to end up posting something about which of the Way Forward Commission’s current proposed options they like and why. So, I might as well put in my two cents.

Let me start with a couple of disclaimers and statements of fact. I’m an Elder in Full Connection in the UMC. I’m only representing my personal opinion. One of my opinions, that I’ve worked hard to be clear about with everyone including my own congregation, is that I support same sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ persons and changes to the Book of Discipline that will allow for both. I support the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the life of the church. (In fact I said so just this Sunday in a “Way Forward Conversation” at my church.) I’ve said this before on my blog. But, again, now is not a time to be wishy washy or dodge being clear about what we believe. (And yes, I do find support for my views in Holy Scripture. And, I’d be happy to talk about that in another post or with you personally, as long as we can do so civilly.)

As the Way Forward is now progressing the Council of Bishops is working on two options. The original first option of leaving everything the same, but with greater enforcement of the rules, has been laid aside at least for the time being. So I won’t spend a lot of time on that option now other than to say it is a terrible idea as it isn’t a fix at all. I would amount to us all collectively sticking our heads in the sand and pretending nothing is happening.

The two remaining options now are:

1. The One Church Model – which largely involves removing the language form the Book of Discipline regarding homosexuality and then allowing clergy, conference, Boards of Ordained Ministry and local churches to make their own choices as to if same sex marriages are performed, LGBTQ clergy ordained, or local church facilities used for same sex weddings. This model could be directly adopted by the General Conference without change to the constitution of the UMC.

2. Multi-Branch One Church Model – Briefly, the US would lose its current jurisdictional structure and replace that with three overlapping jurisdictions over the entire US. Then each annual conference would choose if they join the Progressive, Moderate, or Traditionalist Jurisdiction. After such votes local churches could choose to affiliate with a different jurisdiction than their annual conference, presumably joining a different conference as well. But I’m fuzzy about that. Also clergy would make themselves available in one (or more) of the jurisdictions they feel compatible with. One of the realities of this model is that it would require 28 amendments to the UMC constitution to be implement. (That is very very difficult as it requires an aggregate 2/3rd majority of all voting members of all annual conference world wide, twenty-eight times no less!)

There is a great deal more to these options than I’ve written. For a fuller discussion check here. (Way Forward Article)

As I’ve looked at the two models what I notice immediately is how much simpler the “One Church Model” is. It allows for a great deal of flexibility and matching of your context. It is not a perfect solution. Many progressives will remind you that, like other denominations that have a congregational solution to sexuality issues, not every church will be “reconciling” (welcoming of all people no matter what their sexuality.) But, the truth is, that was never going to happen. There is not a denomination out there of any size where every pastor and every congregation holds a reconciling viewpoint. There are not, and probably have never been, the votes at General Conference to make that happen now.

If you are someone who holds traditional views of marriage it means you will have to live with a UM church down the road whose ministry and beliefs vary about sexuality from yours. But the truth is that has always been true. There have always been local variations in theology, ministry, and mission from one UM congregation to another.

The multi-branch model might appear to give greater justice for progressives and greater upholding of traditional values for traditionalists. But, that is largely an illusion created by an organizational separation. Birds of a feather can flock together and, while they can pretend they are 100% reconciling (or traditional) that “other” jurisdiction and and churches in those other jurisdictions will be around. We will just kind of pretend they are not there to enjoy the value of our flocking together with like UMCers.

The multi-branch model does have some advantages. LGBTQ persons seeking ordination might have a clearer path in their current local if their current annual conference is one which might vote not to ordained them because of their identity. But it may not be much different if they are in an Annual Conference where few churches choose to affiliate with the progressive jurisdiction. Traditionalists can be together feel that they’ve maintain their theological integrity.

The multi-branch model adds a lot of polity complications to our structure. My experience is that the more complicated a proposal and more you have to change you current model of ministry the more difficult it is to actually implement the plan. Yes, big changes can cause big shifts and make a big difference. But the Church often does better with incremental change. Good change has to be planned, it has a timing, it has a pace and it has to be done with great care to avoid just sinking the ship rather than turning it.

Again, neither plan is fully inclusive, fully progressive, fully traditional, etc. For some people that is a deal breaker. But for me, as someone who has been pastoring more years of my life than I’ve not pastored, (30 years soon) I know that church is messy. The decisions we make are messy. They are not perfect but always in need of perfecting. Either of the above plans would be more just than what we have now. And, better is a good thing!

So right now, I believe that a “Way Forward” (though not a way to immediate perfection of course) would best be served by the simpler plan “One Church Model.” It is not all many of us hope for.It is not a final answer, as we will still have a General Conference every four years when we always change the Discipline. But it would be a solid step to allowing pastors to follow their consciences, local churches to follow their own and Boards of Ordained Ministry to be able to clearly vote to be more inclusive.

As these plans develop further, I might change my mind if the details change significantly. And I know still that many of you not only disagree with me about human sexuality but, also about how the UMC should be organized. But, would we really be United Methodists if we all had to agree with each other on everything?

What plan do you believe would be the best for our General Conference to adopt? I’d love to hear your views?

Tim Bonney

Uniting Methodist Movement – Staying Together

I attended the Uniting Methodist Movement’s event in Atlanta, GA last week. I attended because I wanted to hear directly from the leaders of this movement and their vision for unity. I had an immediate attraction to this movement because, having grown up in one denomination that split and served previously in another denomination that nearly split some years ago, my experience is that Church splits benefit very few people, and not usually the people you would hope would benefit. Mostly you end up with a smaller less diverse, less capable and less vital denomination.

When I attended the event I had two primary questions that I needed answered to decide if I would continue to support the values expressed by the Uniting Methodist Movement.

1. Is the Uniting Methodist Movement truly diverse? – I needed to know if there are really progressive United Methodists and traditionalist United Methodists who are willing to talk about how we can get along with each other, how we can respect each other’s views, and how we can make space for each other to live up to our own understandings of the issues we all face around varying understandings of human sexuality.

I was please that yes, those in attendance, those in leadership, and those speaking at the event were even more theologically diverse than I hoped for. There were voices from all sides of the spectrum at the event who argued passionately for the gospel witness of unity as well as concerns for justice not only in the areas of human sexuality but also race and gender. It was powerful to hear both progressive and more conservative voices tell us why we are better together and why they believe the gospel mandates that we find ways to figure our our divisions together. There was no tokenism here. All voices were welcomed, encouraged and lifted up.

2. Is this about real unity or just about institutional preservation? – Friends and colleagues of mine have expressed concern that the Movement is just about preserving the organized church and all the flaws that go with it. And that people of privilege are simply trying to preserve their privilege within the organization.

I always have to speak carefully about issues of privilege because as a white male clergy person, I am privileged in almost any system of the Church. I want to acknowledge that. So, I wanted to be very sensitive to any whiff of “preservationist” behavior at the event that might be pandering to privilege. Also, to honestly evaluate my own motives to make sure I’m not just trying to preserve the status quo.

What I saw in the theological presentations, the preaching and other presentations was not at all about institutional preservation. Instead I heard impassioned messages about the theological imperative of unity. I was particularly moved by the sermon by the Pastor of First UMC Atlanta, the first African American pastor and the first woman pastor of that church. I hope to get recordings of the event so I can listen to her sermon again. She spoke honestly about the struggles of trust in a denomination that has struggled with racial justice, and justice for women. She encouraged us to bold witness and personal sacrifice for the sake of the gospel and the sake of unity. It was powerful, riveting, and spirit led!

We also heard from the pastor of Foundry UMC in DC. She preached about the importance of not participating in the divisions within our culture and not allowing the Church to be caught up in the “us versus them” disease that plagues the US right now. Again, her preaching was powerful, Biblical, and convincing.

Splitting – The Easier Answer, Not the Best Answer

I became even more fully convinced that splitting our denomination is really the easier answer rather than the best answer.

For progressives – the Uniting Methodist Movement wants you to be able to follow your conscience and have the ability for your pastor and church to legally perform same sex marriages in the UMC. The UMM also wants it to be possible for willing conferences to ordain LGBTQ clergy with integrity.

What progressives do not get is uniformity of acceptance in every conference and every church. I know that is a huge sacrifice in the minds of many progressives. But it is fairly similar to the current situation in the UCC and ELCA whom we often hold up as progressive examples. Is it everything progressives want/need? No. Would it be a huge challenge to our polity? Yes. But so is splitting.

For “Traditionalists” – For traditional United Methodists (I know my terminology isn’t perfect. But I have to use something!) You and your church will be able to follow your own consciences as well in reference human sexuality. Will you get everything you want? No. You won’t get to maintain the status quo. And United Methodists who disagree with you will, as always, still be doing ministry differently down the street than you are.

Is this a Way Forward?

All I can give is my own opinion. If the Uniting Methodist vision caught hold I do believe it is a Way Forward. It is a way to being family together, not agreeing with each other. It is a way of finding space for each other, not a way for one side or the other to “win.”

And make no mistake about it, if we split there will be no winners. We will all lose! Many churches will split or splinter. Many ministries will no longer be supportable. Some churches may close. We may or may not be able to support other ministries of justice that we support now. And for years and even for generations we well may limp along as yet another little set of fractious factions of a body of Christ that cannot be all that God has called us to be.

As always, “Though we can’t think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may” ~ John Wesley

Submitted Prayerfully,

Tim Bonney

Where the Road Forked – Revisited

This is excerpt from a blog post I made in 2012 about my choice to become a United Methodist. Again, I’m coming up on the anniversary of that choice which made all the difference!

I am reminded this month of Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken which end,

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”

In October 2009 I decided to take a new road in my life.  The road I’d been traveling on was familar and well worn for me.  I knew its ways well and understood all its mile markers and road signs.  But I came to a fork in the road and realized the road I was on wasn’t the road for me any longer.

The fork in the road I’m talking about was on October 22, 2009 when, after a memorable conversation with the Central District Superintendent, I dropped in the mail an application to the Iowa Conference of the UMC seeking appointment in the United Methodist Church.

I’d spent most of my life as a Baptist and much of my pastoral ministry in American Baptist life.  But for quite a few years I kept passing sign posts which pointed down another path that seemed inviting and, though not familiar as the path I was on, one that kept calling to me.

Some of the sign posts were my experence of the realization of the power of Prevenient Grace that I found in my pilgrimage and work with several Emmaus Communities.  Another sign post was my attraction to and membership in the UMC related Order of Saint Luke and my own personal love of sacramental theology that really doesn’t fit into a Baptist theological context, but now gives me great joy as I share in the Great Thanksgiving with the people of Grace UMC!

Other factors included my growing belief that connection is better than standing alone.  United Methodists are a connectional family in which the church is connected and works together at all levels from the General Church, in the Annual Conferences and districts, and at the local level.

For anyone standing near me in the post office that day it appeared I was just dropping a package in the mail.  But for me it was a powerful moment of decision in which I had finally chosen to take the path I’d wondered about for so long, a path I’d longed to experience, and a path that kept drawing me in. I took the road less traveled and it continues to make all the difference!

I’m always reminded in October of that life choice. It was one of the best decisions I ever made! God is often to be found outside our comfort zone on the road we fear, but long to travel.

I try not to take for granted how privileged and blessed I am to be able to stand in the pulpit each week and preach the gospel, share in the sacraments, and be a part of the life of the church I’ve been appointed to serve. God is good!

 

The Meaning of Membership

This Sunday I’ll be starting a sermon series on the meaning of membership using our United Methodist membership vows in which we promise to support the church with our “prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.” 

There is a tendency to think of church membership as just being a member of the club or part of an institution. But the intention of church membership is for us, as part of the body of Christ in an individual congregation of believers, to join together to be God’s family together. It is important to support each other in our daily lives, our struggles, our joys and our sorrows. 

I honestly do not think the church can emphasize prayer enough. You cannot pray too much. Spending time in prayer with God helps us to align ourselves with the purposes of God, live in God’s presence, pray for ourselves and the needs of others, and work with the Holy Spirit as God’s spirit works in our church.

I hope you’ll attend worship during the next fives weeks as we talk about the meaning of being members of the body of Christ together! 

At Indianola First UMC we worship at 8:30, 9:45 and 11a each Sunday.

In Christ,

Pastor Tim

Family and Tradition

This past Sunday I started a sermon series using the Wesleyan Quadrilateral to talk about basic Christian and Wesleyan/United Methodist faith. If you do not know, the Wesleyan Quadrilateral describes our United Methodist methodology for determining doctrine and practice in the church. It is a concept that pulls together the ideas of John Wesley, though the term “quadrilateral” really comes to us through Methodist historical Albert Outler. 

The quadrilateral is Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience. This past Sunday I preached on the place of scripture in the Church reminding us that Scripture is our primary source for doctrine but not our only source and that tradition, reason and experience interplay with scripture in the formation of our faith.

Right now First UMC is also emphasizing the importance of the church family with an annual theme “Family First.” By family we do not just member the members and attenders of First UMC but all people who are part of God’s family. (That’s everyone!)

So this week I’m thinking about how tradition and family interplay. One of the great traditions of the church the sacrament of baptism. This Sunday I’ll be officiating my first baptism at First UMC! The candidate for baptism happens to be a very cute infant boy. 

United Methodists have the tradition of baptizing people at any age from infancy into adulthood. That tradition has Biblical roots in Peter’s baptism of Cornelius’ family and in our understanding of God’s grace. Grace is God’s unmerited unearned love and favors. One of the ways we describe grace is that it is “prevenient.” That means God loved us and cared about us before we ever knew God, before we could ever respond to God, and before we even understand anything about God or faith. God’s love comes first, just like a family’s love for a small child comes first!

So one of the valuable traditions of our Church is welcoming children into the family of God through baptism. In that traditional ceremony of baptism parents will renew their own baptismal vows, and promise to raise their child in the faith. The church will promise to love and care for that child and family and do all in their power to also help lead that child to faith in Christ and into the family of God.

That are some negative aspects of tradition and we also need to examine those to determine what traditions should remain and what traditions should we lifted up again and again. But in baptism the family of God is connected to each other, the universal body of Christ, and Christians down through the ages as people enter Christ’s church by water and spirit!