Find another way…

Last month it was Frank Schaefer in Pennsylvania. In March it will be Thomas Ogletree in New York, in the latest trial for the United Methodist Church over the prohibition against performing same-sex marriage ceremonies. Ogletree, a 80-year-old minister, theologian, and former dean of Yale Divinity, will be placed on trial for presiding over the marriage ceremony of his son.

My intention is not to take issue with what is said in the Book of Discipline. The Discipline is very clear in what it states as being both the infraction and the consequences for that infraction. The issue that I have with this process is that the trial is not necessary. There are other means and avenues for disciplining an individual in violation of the church regulations.

Have any of these avenues been sought out? Did anyone stop to think how much more damage this will do to the church at large because we insist on making a public spectacle of what should be a private procedure? Are we so intent on upholding law and order on these issues that we are willing to damage the greater witness of the church?

This is certainly no easy issue to address and there is no black and white answer in every case for how to proceed with the circumstances. There must however be a way to address this without it coming down to an issue of holding the United Methodist Church up before the world as a place of intolerance. The world does not look at us as champions of orthodoxy, under the circumstances the world looks at us as champions of injustice.

I can already hear some of the arguments against this, arguments against the idea of being concerned with the world and what it would or would not think. However this is very myopic thinking. It important that we take that under consideration given that this is our witness to the world every time we ‘stand up for orthodoxy.’

In this case to discipline or not to discipline is not the question. The real question is how. How can this be done to uphold what the apparent majority of United Methodists believe without making the Methodist Church look like a place with close doors, closed hearts, and closed minds?

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Definitions…

Photo by Andrej Sevelin | Taken from stock.xchng (www.sxc.hu)
Photo by Andrej Sevelin | Taken from stock.xchng (www.sxc.hu)

I read an interesting quote today from Alastair McGrath which read, “The general phenomenon of ‘doctrine’ – although not specific doctrines – is linked with the perceived need for social definition, especially when other factors do not adequately define the group.”

I find this interesting because it places the general notion of doctrine within the scope of social creation. In other words, doctrine is something which is created by people but understood as being given/revealed by God. Not that McGrath is saying God is outside of this process, but that man has organized these concepts and ideas into the framework that makes sense to us. Doctrine, in that sense, is how we make sense of revelation, how we understand and sort what God is communicating to us.

That being said, doctrine then becomes a communal expression of belief rather than individual and as such cannot be limited to a singular set of ideas, given that there can be no true unanimity among any specific group if people. What happens when we ask a Pentecostal and Catholic about orthodoxy concerning Mary or a Baptist and an Episcopalian about the grace inherent in the sacrament of baptism? Doctrine, like orthodoxy, is at that juncture whatever the majority decides it to be.

Which begs the question: what is truly heretical when religious history, like all other forms, is written by the victor?

A good example of this is the Arian controversy of 325 CE. At the time, Arius may have had as many supporters for his perspective as did Alexander and Athanasius, so why did the First Council of Nicea condemn the priest from Alexandria? Ultimately, because the Alexanderian coalition at the Council of Nicea, with the emperor Constantine’s backing and blessing, decided that Arius interpretation was wrong, giving rise to the Nicene Creed in it’s present form.

While this is far from a thorough examination and really more of a thought teaser, it does bring up and hopefully begin dialogue on what the criteria should be for the acceptance of doctrine. Is it good doctrine to blindly accept the established position on a particular matter without questioning how it came to be the established position? Is it a matter of accepting the predominate opinion on the teachings contained in a book (the Bible) compiled by men who may or may not have had the most noble of intentions? If not, what is the alternative that allows for faith in God without having to acquiesce to belief in the Bible?

My intention is to answer each of these questions one at a time and to continue to develop this particular post with the hopes of finding a deeper faith.

Grace & Peace

Michael

Origins…

Another explosion in space by Flavio Takemoto
Another Explosion in Space by Flavio Takemoto

All things must have a beginning.

It is the inevitable law of existence that all things which are came to be from some place/moment in time. The same is true for all things of a religious nature. At some point there was no Tanakh, no New Testament, no Koran, no concept of Adonai, Christ, or Mohammed.

And then, a divine spark in the mind of a human being, a revelation, a moment perfect spiritual clarity and vision gave birth to these concepts of the divine. From the moment these things were conceived/revealed, man has sought to define and understand the nature of deity. It is my goal, using several methods of doctrinal, textural, and other disciplines of criticism, to seek out the origins of our religious beliefs. It is a journey to discover how we came to have the perspective we do and what those perspectives might mean for the future of religious thought.

In this respect, this is my origin.