A Home for Everyone? (#OneChurchPlanMyths #UMC)

Does the so-called One Church Plan create a “home for everyone” in the United Methodist Church? That’s the question in this second installment of #OneChurchPlanMyths. The claim comes in this video where the suggestion is made that the so-called One Church Plan makes a home for everyone by removing language in the Book of Discipline that says same-sex practices are incompatible with Christian teaching. The idea is that the removal of that sort of language also removes a barrier to some from full participation in the life of the Church. With this post I argue that the removal of one barrier actually creates another, which means the so-called One Church Plan doesn’t actually create a “home for everyone.” That claim is a myth.

Except for them

The problem with the myth in question is the untold numbers of people who’ve said they won’t be at home in a denomination that makes such a change. Many who affirm the current stance of the Church have being saying for decades that they will be forced to leave the UMC, if it were to change its position, a position that (as is noted in the video) has been in place almost 50 years. I vividly recall as a ministry candidate twenty years ago how other traditional folks were saying that if the Church changes its position on sexuality, they could not stay. Their conviction was that such a change would mean the UMC could no longer be their denominational home.

More recently, the Wesleyan Covenant Association has reminded the larger Church that the adoption of the so-called One Church Plan is “untenable” and would force the formation of a new Methodist denomination. It’s worth remembering that this is not a new posture taken by these folks. Conservatives have been saying this for a very, very long time. What’s new is the amount of pressure and influence being presently given to changing the Church’s definition of marriage and its ordination standards. So, the question is: how can the so-called One Church Plan be a home for everyone when a significant number of United Methodists have been saying for decades that they cannot live under such a plan? And therein lies the myth. The so-called One Church plan doesn’t make a home for everyone. It makes a home for everyone except the people who can’t live with it.

What’s even more striking is that the so-called One Church plan is the only plan (to my knowledge) that any major group has officially said it cannot live with. No one has said they’ll feel forced from their home if the Connectional Conference Plan passes. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t know of any Progressive groups who’ve officially said they’ll leave if a version of the Traditional Plan passes. I do know of some individuals who’ve said as much, but no group-as-a-whole. Again, leave a comment and let me know if I’ve missed an announcement of that sort. Somehow, the only plan under which a significant constituency has publicly said it would feel forced out of its home is the one plan that alleges to be a home for everyone. Curious that.

It’s not working

The video also rationalizes the so-called One Church Plan with the suggestion that we are already living in a situation that resembles the results of that plan. The idea is that we currently live in a Church where people disagree on the matter of human sexuality. We’ve now have Progressives, Centrists, and Traditionalists in one Church. The so-called One Church Plan makes adjustments to affirm this and moves us forward. The argument is supposed to make you think: Oh, well if we already have it, what’s the problem with passing it? What’s strange about this line of reasoning is that what we have now isn’t working. At the risk of sounding repetitive, we are living in conflict that has spanned nearly 50 years. Why should we think a plan that reflects where we are will resolve that conflict? Why should we think it won’t exacerbate the conflict instead?

Earlier this week we sorted out the myth of neutrality. You can call this one the  myth of “a home for everyone.” And the point is this. Whether you support the so-called One Church Plan or not, let’s at least be honest about what it does and doesn’t do. The so-called One Church Plan is the quickest and most likely route to a full split. It will make a substantial number of United Methodists feel as if they’ve lost their home. It’s doesn’t make a home for everyone. Don’t believe the myth.

Stay tuned. More #OneChurchPlanMyths to come.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

 

The Myth of Neutrality (#OneChurchPlanMyths #UMC)

The people called Methodists are feeling the pressure right now. We are just over a month away from a special session of General Conference called to settle our decades-long conflict over the matter of human sexuality. Folks familiar with this conflict likely already know that a proposal known as the “One Church Plan” is being promoted with vigor by a number of bishops and a group known as the “Uniting Methodists.” In fact, the so-called One Church Plan is said to have the support of a majority of bishops, which is unsurprising, though the exact number of that majority is unclear.

Among other things, this plan would remove the current restrictions on UMC clergy and churches from blessing same-sex unions. It would change the definition of marriage from the union of one man and one woman to the union of two persons. It also provides protections for clergy who choose not to solemnize same-sex unions. The plan is supposed to be a compromise because it removes restrictive language without adding an  explicit affirmation of same-sex unions. By neither condemning nor approving same-sex unions, this plan gives the appearance of neutrality and offers freedom to clergy to follow their convictions. In this post, I will argue that such neutrality is a myth. If the so-called One Church Plan passes, it would constitute a full-affirmation by the United Methodist Church of same-sex practices.

Is Neutrality Possible?

The notion of neutrality in the so-called One Church Plan comes with the newly proposed definition of marriage. The imprecise “union of two persons” allegedly steers the narrow way between condemning same-sex unions and affirming them.  When inquisitive souls ask what the UMC stance on marriage is, proponents of the so-called One Church Plan want to be able to say that we’re not taking sides. You know, like Switzerland. The truth is that neutrality – like so much else –  is easier said than done.

Ecclesial Sleight of Hand

There is a simple reason United Methodist neutrality with regard to sexuality  will be impossible (despite the definitions in the so-called One Church Plan). The reason is that neutrality isn’t real. It’s a myth. There’s no such thing. “Why is that?” you ask. Because the proposed and allegedly neutral definition of marriage invites us to put all our attention on one question without considering another. Consider an analogy. The so-called One Church Plan is like a magician asking school children to look at his left hand while his right hand drops a rabbit in a hat. What I mean is this. While it is important, the key question is not how the UMC defines marriage (the magician’s left hand). The key question is what General Conference authorizes clergy to do (his right hand). What pastoral authority does General Conference authoritatively grant?

Remember that line you used to hear near the end of a wedding ceremony: “…by the power vested in me by the United Methodist Church…” It isn’t said as often anymore, but you’ll understand the point. When a United Methodist clergy person performs a wedding, she or he is acting as an instrument and on behalf of the United Methodist Church. Clergy do not have the inherent authority to solemnize a marriage covenant. That authority is delegated. The body that delegates that authority is responsible for defining how it is used. And if the General Conference authorizes United Methodist clergy to solemnize same-sex unions, the the General Conference is giving it’s blessing to those unions. And it is giving that blessing on behalf of the global United Methodist Church for which it speaks. To summarize the point, if General Conference authorizes clergy to perform same-sex unions, then General Conference is offering positive affirmation to those unions. There is no neutrality there.

Don’t Believe the Myth

Whether you like the so-called One Church Plan or not, you need to understand what it is and what it isn’t. Don’t believe the myth. The plan is not neutral. Rather, it constitutes an affirmation by the United Methodist Church of same-sex unions as good, holy, and right in the eyes of God and the Church. If you have difficulty understanding why traditional folks refuse to abide the so-called One Church Plan. This is why. We see through the myth of neutrality.

If you’d like to read more, consider Matt’s chapter “What Makes Sex Beautiful? Marriage, Aesthetics, and the Image of God in Genesis 1-2 and Revelation 21-22,” in Beauty, Order, and Mystery: A Christian Vision of Sexuality (IVP Academic).

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

John Wesley on Voting (and American Politics)

To state the obvious, American politics are polarized. That polarization has cultivated a lack of civility. That incivility has resulted in both sides demonizing the other and, at times, engaging in acts of violence. When citizens begin engaging in violence against political opponents, their society is in danger. A republic cannot be maintained without debate marked by civility and charity.

How to Vote

The temptation to speak evil of those with whom we disagree politically is not new. John Wesley was concerned about it in the 18th century. And he had some wisdom for the people called Methodists as they considered the candidates for whom they would vote. As we head into the midterm elections next week, we would do well to follow his advice. Wesley had three points to keep in mind, which he recorded in his journal from October 6, 1774. He wrote: “I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them,

  1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy:
  2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against: And,
  3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side.

Don’t sell your vote. Don’t speak evil of your opponents. Keep a generous spirit toward those who disagree with you. Three essential elements of healthy and constructive political engagement.

Can the Church lead?

What is perhaps most tragic is that the demonization of political opponents has been perpetuated by many in the Church. And this is true on both sides of the aisle. Christians on the left and Christians on the right have both participated in less than charitable tactics and speech in the effort to advance their political views and agendas.  Rather than leading the way in robust political discourse, the Church has sadly participated in the degradation of healthy debate.

Love your (political) enemies

Wesley’s three points are only an application of Jesus’ command to “love your enemies.” (Matthew 5:44). It is absolutely impossible to obey our Lord’s command to love your enemies and, at the same time, speak evil and sharpen your spirit against political opponents. That is not to suggest we avoid political debate. Rather, it is to avoid unhealthy shouting matches in order to make space for rigorous, yet charitable, political debate. Detest is not synonymous with debate. To the contrary, it’s actually quite difficult to debate people we detest. What we need is political discourse that is thoughtful, clear, and  charitable, all the while taking the points on which we diverge with the utmost seriousness.

My prayer is that we have not gone too far down the path of incivility. Perhaps we can repent and return to political debate that honors God and one another. Perhaps the people of God can even lead the way.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

3 Reasons to Reject the Rapture (1 Thess 4)

Arguments in favor of the rapture depend heavily on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. In this video, Dr. Matt O’Reilly provides three reasons we should not read the rapture into this key text.

Watch this to find out why it’s good to be left behind.

For more on problems with the rapture, read You WANT to be ‘Left Behind’ by JM Smith:

Read Matt’s research on bodily resurrection for free.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

Not Rapture, Rescue (It’s Good to Be Left Behind)

Plenty of people are expecting the rapture, an event in which Christians are all taken up from the earth into heaven. The problem is that the Bible knows no such event. Yep, that’s right. There’s no rapture in the Bible. And the passages sometimes thought to be about the rapture are about something else entirely. In this video, Dr. Matt O’Reilly walks us through one such passage – Matthew 24.36-42. He explains why these verses teach that it’s actually a good thing to be left behind.

Interested in more? Here are two books that critique the rapture.
The Rapture Exposed by Barbara Rossing
The Problem with Evangelical Theology by Ben Witherington

And here are two books for an alternative (and optimistic!) biblical eschatology.
Heaven Misplaced by Douglas Wilson
Deep Comedy by Peter Leithart

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.

Heaven Is Not Enough (Resurrection Matters)

Watch this video on YouTube.

Many Christians look forward to heaven. But the Bible doesn’t actually portray life after death as the heart of Christian hope. In this video, Dr. Matt O’Reilly walks you through Revelation 6:9-10 to introduce you to some people who went to heaven but weren’t happy about it. You’ll learn why heaven is not the sum and substance of Christian hope. Rather, Christian hope is always resurrection hope.

Did you enjoy this video? Give it a thumbs up. Then subscribe for more.

Check out Matt’s favorite books on (rethinking) heaven.
Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright: https://amzn.to/2pLLzTD
Heaven Misplaced by Douglas Wilson: https://amzn.to/2A1MzJd

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.

Q&A with Thom Rainer | Becoming a Welcoming Church

Thom Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources and author of the new book Becoming a Welcoming Church. Matt O’Reilly of Orthodoxy for Everyone (OFE) recently asked Thom six questions about the book. And check out Matt’s video review of Becoming a Welcoming Church at the end of the interview.

  1. What prompted you to write Becoming a Welcoming Church?
    It was one of the key topics that kept being discussed at my podcast, my blog, and ChurchAnswers.com.
  2. Several times in the book you mention the relationship between evangelism and being a welcoming church. How does intentional focus on becoming a welcoming church help us lead people to Jesus?
    A welcoming church is an outwardly-focused church. An outwardly-focused church is more likely to have opportunities for gospel conversations.
  3. What are the dangers of not being a welcoming church?
    The members will become inwardly-focused and miss opportunities to share the gospel. Also, guests will not return.
  4. What’s the difference between a friendly church and a welcoming church?
    A friendly church loves to take care of its members. A welcoming churches also loves those on the outside.
  5. If a church has little or no focused attention on welcoming guests, what are the most important first steps?
    Get your church’s website to be welcoming website for guests. That’s where they come first. Then train members to become welcoming members.
  6. What is the pastor’s role in becoming a welcoming church?
    Be the example. Keep the importance of becoming a welcoming church before the members.

Buy Becoming a Welcoming Church on Amazon.

Dr. Matt O’Reilly is pastor of Hope Hull United Methodist Church near Montgomery, AL, a fellow of the Center for Pastor Theologians, and Adjunct Professor of New Testament and Pastoral Ministry at Wesley Biblical Seminary.

For more from Matt, be sure to subscribe to the Orthodoxy for Everyone YouTube Channel, listen to SermonCast, connect on Facebook, and follow @mporeilly.