United Methodist Bishop, J. Michael Lowry of the Central Texas Conference, recently addressed a gathering of the United Methodist Scholars for Christian Orthodoxy Conference at Armstrong Chapel United Methodist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. He has put his address, “In a Mirror Dimly”: The Future of the United Methodist Church”© on his website as a four-part posting.
Bishop Lowry seems to argue that the Methodist Church should (or at least, likely will) split over the issue of the inclusion of LGBT people. As you might guess, given that he’s speaking to people who claim to be “orthodox,” that he is, as southerners might say, “agin it.” And of course, that would mean that, while I don’t disagree a split may happen, I don’t agree with his position on the topic at hand.
Part 3 – Deeper Reflections & Observations in a Fog
Now Bishop Lowry begins to come out into the open about where he is in all this. In the opening paragraph in this part, he says, “First, whatever your position on same-gender marriage & ordination, a decision should not be made on the grounds of losing or gaining members! I cannot say this strongly enough.” (Emphasis Lowry’s) I think we are both in agreement on this point, but our motivations differ.
I agree the UMC shouldn’t do it based upon the effect on membership. I think we should do it, because it is just the right and biblical thing to do. I suspect, based on his writing so far, that Bishop Lowry would be afraid of this test given that he likely knows the demographics don’t work in his favor, so sticking with the orthodox view isn’t going to help membership numbers in the long-term.
It’s in the second paragraph where the curtain really gets pulled back.
“Secondly, you know better than I, that our current warfare over gender ordination and marriage is the presenting issue where the far deeper issues of theology and practice meet. What is really at stake is what it means to be a biblically faithful church and individual disciples of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Pointedly we are wrestling with deeper issues of authority; how do Christians relate most faithfully to the culture and the future of the Wesleyan orthodoxy in America? I find myself constantly reminded of the phrase ‘he (or she) who marries the present age will be a widow in the next.’” (Emphasis Lowry)
Here’s where the Bishop adds more bricks to his wall, by making it clear that only by sticking to the exclusionary practices now enshrined in the Discipline are we being “biblically faithful” and acting as “disciples of Jesus Christ.” Which, of course raises the old saw, “who would Jesus hate.” Bishop Lowry’s pretty clear on that, the LGBT community.
He goes on to say that we must pray and work for unity, but it cannot be the highest value. That to him is faithfulness, which he calls the “higher biblical virtue.” I’m pretty sure he and I disagree on what it means to be faithful. That’s another of those evangelical dog-whistles which says, “faithful to my interpretation of scripture and no other can possibly be correct.”
He goes on to list eight observations. I’ll address some of them. The first is:
“We have underestimated the magnitude of the tsunami of secularity that has already washed over Europe and is now crashing on the shores of America. It would behoove us to go back and read Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. High culture evidences distain for cultural Christianity. Casual Christianity will not survive the impact of the secular wave battering the church.”
High culture itself (they always have to have a demon, and the educated are always a great target) isn’t trying to “distain” Christianity (by the way, I don’t know if he meant “disdain” or what he wrote, but it’s an incorrect sentence if he did), Christianity is doing a fine job of bringing down itself. Especially in America, we see the Catholic Church corporate ignoring the abuse scandal, and doing all it can demonize those that wish to call the responsible parties to accountability. We see other Christians trying to use laws to legalize their bigotry, and desire to discriminate, and less and less do we see the mega churches engaging in those things Jesus called us to, caring for the sick and poor. We see more and more Christians taking to social media to shame the poor, and demand the social safety net be pulled out from under the needy. Bishop, the “high culture” doesn’t need to do anything to destroy Christianity. You’re doing a fine job all by yourself.
Lowry complains about anti-institutionalization within the church, such as churches wanting more control of their appointments, and the growing number of “acts of disobedience to Church Law.” Here, of course, he’s referring to those clergy who elect to treat gay people with the same dignity they extend to everyone else. Can’t be having any of that now, can we. Also, is it any wonder the local churches want more say in who their Pastor is. Bishops do not, they really cannot, appoint based on the best fit for the church, they have to appoint based on the salary system we have.
He also says we’re in financial trouble, which we may be. I’m not well-informed on that, and said we’ll need fewer seminaries, but in the very next item complains there are not enough people coming into the ministry. I’m pretty sure he won’t be clamoring for the closing of Asbury or the other “orthodox” seminaries.
While complaining of the lack of new ministers, combined with closing seminaries, he also thinks the guaranteed appointment system has to be ended. Now I’m not a Methodist Minister, and just don’t feel qualified to discuss that concept, but I’m enough of an intelligent human to know that, if the goal is to try to get more people into the ministry, reducing job security isn’t one of the ideas I’d come up with to support that goal.
One of his last points is:
We have to relearn how to engage in evangelism. This is not option. It is biblical and practical. We won’t be here if don’t! Obviously, I think the issue is tied to the reassertion of an orthodox theology. Lovett Weems’ “more people, younger people, and more diverse people” is prophetically accurate. If we evangelize more people they will by definition be younger and more diverse.
So he seems to believe that taking an orthodox theology, which to him means continuing the exclusionary treatment of some people, and the offering only conditional grace to everyone else is going to somehow attract more young people to the church, and magically cure all our ills. I’m just going to wrap this part up by saying, I believe all the evidence point to that just not being true, so I’m saying, “ah, no!”