Friday, May 19, 2017

What's the Scenario, Crusty? Breaking down United Methodist Proposal

One of the things you might not know about Crusty is that he is old school, and thinks hip hop peaked around 1982-1994, or before the West Coast sound took over -- and though Crusty has no desire to revive that beef, he is thoroughly with the East Side (miss you, Biggie).  Crusty can opine on Me Phi Me, Public Enemy (Crusty saw PE live, only time he's been frisked; he once got to meet KRS-One), Melle Mel, Doug E. Fresh,
Here we go yo.
Boogie Down Productions, and so on.  In fact, one of Crusty's proudest moments was when he and two friends were thrown out of a bar in New York City in the early 1990s.  As we were removed against our will and escorted out a side door, while we offered an alternative narrative to the bouncer of the events which precipitated our removal, someone on the sidewalk pointed at us and said, "Hey, are those guys 3rd Bass?" So when getting ready to break down the United Methodist Church-Episcopal Church full communion proposal, COD kicked it hard, and started off the only way possible:  "Scenario", by Tribe Called Quest.

So what's the scenario? 

A.  Excursions:  a little background and two preliminary comments.

The United Methodist Church and The Episcopal Church have formally released a proposal for full communion called "A Gift to the World: Co-Laborers for the Healing of Brokenness; The Episcopal Church and The United Methodist Church – A Proposal for Full Communion."  The document is now being circulated for comment, discussion, and feedback.  Links to materials may be found here.

A tentative timeline would have a possible, potential vote for full communion at the 2020 United Methodist General Conference (roughly = General Convention), and the 2021 General Convention of The Episcopal Church.   Crusty strongly urges everyone to read this document, "A Theological Foundation for Full Communion," which summarizes the first round of the dialogue, and represents
Don't you know things go in cycles?
10 years' worth of discussion, dialogue, and theological heavy lifting.  The full communion proposal should be seen as the direct outgrowth and successor to "A Theological Foundation," just like Bobby Brown was ampin' like Michael, and hip hop reminded my Pops of bebop.  Other materials, including collected works of the dialogue since 2002, may be found here.

1)  In interests of full disclosure, Crusty is not a neutral party.   I have served on the bilateral dialogue since 2002,  alongside nearly 30 different people on both sides over the years, including four different co-chairs and five different United Methodist ecumenical staff persons.  I am the only person left from that initial group meeting in July of 2002 still serving.  I am the co-lead drafter of the full communion proposal, and εγω ειμι a primary drafter and editor of "A Theological Foundation for Full Communion" which provides the background and rationale for the proposal.

To put it in perspective: when I started on this dialogue, my father was alive.  He's been dead for 9 years.  When I started on this dialogue, my son had not been born.  He's now in sixth grade.  When I started on this dialogue, Barack Obama was an Illinois state senator. Crusty has put 15 years of his life into this dialogue.  I have done so because I feel it is perhaps the most important thing the Episcopal Church can consider at this time in our collective life together.  Do not read this blog expecting a CNN-like equivalency.  Crusty feels it is imperative that The Episcopal Church consider this proposal and approve it. 

2)  However, COD doesn't hold it against anyone who disagrees.  Everyone is perfectly welcome to come to their own mind and decision about this proposal.  Part of the problem in the church is that we seem to be unable to disagree, with many seeing anything less than acceptance and endorsement of their opinion by others as somehow a negation of them.  This is not always the case; there are places where people of sincerity and good will can come to different conclusions.

Crusty has never expected anything to pass with 100% vote in General Convention and be universally adored.  All that Crusty asks is you read the materials and make your decision after thoroughly engaging the process.  Offhand comments that don't even engage the material run the risk of being reflections of ignorance, prejudice, projection, and uninformed blather.  By all means, hate this proposal.  But read the materials -- hey, it may help you hate it more efficiently and convincingly.

 B.  Don't Believe the Hype: what the document actually proposes.

1)  The document proposes a relationship of "full communion."  This relationship is defined in the proposal, and is like unto the understanding of "full communion" from Called to Common Mission, approved by General Convention in 2000.  The definition is in the proposal, and is worth quoting in full:
Full communion is understood as a relationship between two distinct ecclesiastical bodies in which each maintains its own autonomy while recognizing the catholicity and apostolicity of the other, and believing the other to hold the essentials of the Christian faith. In such a relationship, communicant members of each would be able freely to communicate at the altar of the other, and ordained ministers may officiate sacramentally in either church. Specifically, this includes transferability of members, mutual recognition and interchangeability of ministries, mutual enrichment by one another’s traditions of hymnody and patterns of liturgy, freedom to participate in each other’s ordinations and installations of clergy, including bishops, and structures for consultation to express, strengthen, and enable our common life, witness, and service, to the glory of God and the salvation of the world.

Let me explain.  No: Let me sum up.

Full communion is:

  Not merger

  Has interchangeability of ordained ministers

  Churches remain distinct

  Commitment to common witness, mission, worship, and service

  Members may freely receive the Eucharist in one another’s communions

  Pledge to mutually enriched by one another’s traditions

To those who may object, "I don't want to be a Methodist!":  Just step off, I'm doing the hump.  You
People say Yo Crusty, you're really funny looking.
don't have to be a Methodist.  Nobody is asking you to be a Methodist, just like nobody asked or forced you be a Lutheran.  You can be convinced in your own rightness and completeness in a church that is just as flawed and imperfect in its own way as every other expression of Christianity and not be challenged.  You're not being asked to do anything, and you don't have to do anything.  But this will allow for those who do wish to engage in mutual ministry and mission to do so in a fuller way.

Full Communion is, in a sense, an eschatological vision, an already-but-not-yet hope that is at the heart of what it means to live as a Christian.  We pledge to enter this relationship, acknowledging it is not merger, but hoping that as we work together in common mission and ministry, we will grow into new ways of relating to one another.

Crusty realizes that "full communion" is a term used primarily in ecumenical documents, and is reflected in the Constitution and Canons in Title I, Canon 20 (which Crusty was the primary drafter of, he would like to add).  Crusty would prefer that a definition of full communion also appear in the canons, it seems odd to state which churches we are in full communion with but not explain what that relationship is.  

2)  What about apostolic succession?

i)  Well, what about it?

Apostolic succession is not defined in any doctrinal or governance documents of the Episcopal Church.  It is not mentioned in the Book of Common Prayer. The Prayer Book speaks of "bishops duly qualified to confer holy orders." It is mentioned once in the Constitution and Canons, Title I, Canon 17, Section 1 (d):  "Any baptized person who received the laying on of hands at Confirmation (by any Bishop in apostolic succession) and is received into the Episcopal Church by a Bishop of this Church is to be considered, for the purpose of this and all other Canons, as both baptized and confirmed."  No where in the Constitution and Canons is not defined as to what "apostolic succession" means, so this reference is virtually useless.

It is not mentioned in the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, which specifically uses the term "historic episcopate, locally adapted."  Since 1886, the Quadrilateral has been the basis on which Anglicans enter into dialogue with other churches.  As modified by the Lambeth Conference of 1888, the Quadrilateral states that the following points are to be the basis of discussions with other churches:
(a) The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as "containing all things necessary to salvation," and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.
(b) The Apostles' Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed, as the sufficient statement of the Christian faith.
(c) The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself--Baptism and the Supper of the Lord--ministered with unfailing use of Christ's words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him.
(d) The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of its administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.
The Episcopal Church has never insisted or made apostolic succession a ground or basis of any ecumenical dialogue or partnership.  It's hard to demand from another church as a basis for a relationship what is mentioned only once and never defined in our governing documents.

ii)  The Constitution and Canons and the Quadrilateral speak of "historic episcopate" and "historic succession."  While apostolic succession is not part of discussions with ecumenical partners as a basis of shared ministries, the historic episcopate most certainly is and has been addressed in full communion proposals with the Old Catholic Churches of the Union of Utrecht, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Moravian Church, the Mar Thoma Church, and The United Methodist Church.

The document proposes sharing in the historic episcopate by having three bishops already in the historic succession be present and lay on hands at all future consecrations of bishops in The United Methodist Church.  This would be done by mandating at least one Episcopal bishop, one Moravian bishop (Moravian bishops share in the historic succession as part of the full communion proposal approved by General Convention in 2009 and in the reconciliation of episcopal ministries service in 2011), and one ELCA bishop (all current ELCA
There's three of us in historic succession but we're not the Beatles!
bishops have been installed according to Called to Common Mission with three bishops in historic succession participating and laying on of hands). There would be a gradual incorporation of all United Methodist bishops in sharing the historic succession.  This is the same process laid out in Called to Common Mission, which passed overwhelmingly in the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops, and has been followed by the ELCA.

The proposal has sharing in the historic episcopate, since that is part of our canons and part of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral.  It does not have sharing in apostolic succession because we may as well share in rainbow unicorns as share in apostolic succession since neither really exist.

iii)  But, but, what about apostolic succession?

Crusty hates to break it to you, sunshine, but apostolic succession is an historical canard, and not sustainable theologically or historically. To whit:

--It simply cannot be proven.

Crusty finds it astounding the same Episcopalians who would dismiss as uncultured rubes people who believe in six days of creation nonetheless have embraced a notion of an unbroken succession of laying on of hands back to Jesus without a shred of evidence.  In fact, the earliest evidence we have does speak of a succession but does not stress any kind of episcopal succession.  Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons, who died in 202, knew Polycarp, who knew John the Apostle, who knew Jesus.  But Irenaeus as a bishop and a first-person eyewitness who knew someone who knew the Apostle John does not say, "I had hands laid on me by Polycarp, who had hands laid on him by John, who had hands laid on him by Jesus."  No:  he says I was taught by Polycarp, who was taught by John, who knew the Lord.  Our earliest evidence places no emphasis on a tactile laying on of hands, but instead actually presents a very different understanding of succession, that of teaching the apostolic faith.  While there is no evidence, none, absolutely zero, of a succession of ordinations back to Jesus, we do have very early, first-hand evidence of a different kind of succession in passing on the apostolic faith.

Apostolic succession as a succession of ordinations is not even held by a growing number of mainstream Roman Catholic and Orthodox historians and theologians; a magisterial refutation of the concept may be found in Jesuit historian Francis Sullivan's "From Apostles to Bishops."  It's simply an unproveable fable, a folktale spread through the church to make ourselves feel that we are somehow magical and special.  Before the Oxford Movement, the term was next to non-existent in Anglican sources.  In fact, one of the things that horrified many Anglicans about the Oxford Movement was not just knee-jerk anti-Catholicism, but the fact that the Movement seemed to say that those who were not in apostolic succession were not real churches.

The only apostolic succession from Jesus that counts is being baptized into Christ, and proclaiming the faith of Christ crucified.  

--Apostolic succession is sexist.

It has, and continues to be, deployed to marginalize women. Since Jesus only ordained men, so say the Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches, only men may be ordained.  Some Anglicans have explained away this as somehow not really apostolic succession while clinging to a differing historical fabulism and saying that our interpretation is the actual apostolic succession, not the understanding that the majority of churches that talk about apostolic succession mean by the term.

--Apostolic succession is racist. 

Are those African American Episcopalians in Southern dioceses at fault for not being in apostolic succession, when, after the Civil War, when they wished to remain in the Episcopal Church, and asked for clergy to be ordained for their congregations, and, when refused by the Episcopal Church, joined the Reformed Episcopal Church?

Are those African Americans who were rejected from white seminaries and told to go to their segregated African American seminaries, only permitted to serve in African American congregations, and not given voice or vote in their majority white denominations, and who left for black Methodist churches to be now be considered lacking in apostolic succession from the churches that marginalized them?

While thankful for the witness of Absalom Jones, George Freeman Bragg, Alexander Crummell, and many others who remained within the Episcopal Church, there's the hard reality that many African Americans left for other denominations because of the racism of the predominantly white Methodist and Episcopal churches.  Prior the the Civil War, nearly 40% of the communicants of the diocese of South Carolina were enslaved Africans.  That number collapsed in the decades that followed, in part because of the refusal of whites to ordain leaders for African American congregations.

Are we really going to hold it against African Americans that they left predominantly white churches where they were excluded and marginalized to join other churches where they were not?

Crusty had to cringe once when an Episcopal priest said to an African American Methodist bishop, who had been a stalwart in the civil rights movement, been attacked at Selma, faithfully served as a bishop and pastor for over forty years: "You must be excited about this proposal so we can normalize your irregular orders."  The presumption, arrogance, racism, condescension, and historical myopia needed to produce such a statement demonstrate the corrosive aspect of holding to apostolic succession as defining element in what makes a church a church.

--Apostolic succession reflects the racial, class, and gender divisions of the church.  To much of American Christianity, we look like a small, historically privileged, overwhelmingly white church saying we have something which makes us real and valid and others do not.  If there's one thing Crusty learned from anti-racism training, it is the significance of intent vs. perception.  While we may not intend for apostolic succession to be racist, sexist, and classist, in many ways the perception and reality from others is that it is.

--Apostolic succession properly means a succession in the apostolic faith:  to preach and teach what the apostles preached and taught.  The landmark ecumenical document  of the World Council of Churches "Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry" was endorsed by over 300 churches, including The Episcopal Church (A061, 1985 General Convention).  It states that

"The primary manifestation of apostolic succession is to be found in the apostolic tradition of the Church as a whole."

BEM also acknowledges that there is a succession of bishops from the early church in some churches, and that this succession is a "sign, but not a guarantee" of a succession in the apostolic faith.  Just having bishops doesn't guarantee one's fidelity to the apostolic faith.  Not having bishops does not mean one does not hold to the apostolic faith.  As one Orthodox theologian once told me, "All the best heretics were ordained in historic succession, so on its own it's not worth much unless hand-in-hand with the apostolic faith."

Apostolic succession is a fairy tale.  But Crusty's not anti-bishop.  Crusty is firmly in favor of the historic succession in episcopal office and a threefold ministry: the threefold ministry and a succession of bishops is part of the ancient tradition of the church and followed by the majority of the world's Christians and will be a part of any realignment global Christianity.

So: either make a clearly defined understanding of apostolic succession a requirement for our ecumenical dialogues, or else acknowledge this is just an interpretation that has never been required as part of any ecumenical conversations, and let's talk about sharing in the historic episcopate, which this document does. 

3)  How does the document address issues of LGBTQ persons?  How can we be in full communion with a church that has a prohibition against openly gay persons serving as clergy?

This is a very, very important question.  COD would like to point people to the relevant sections of "A Theological Foundation for Full Communion" which address this question.  Here's another link to it.  Seriously.  Download and read it, then get back to me.  We have had LGBTQ persons serve on this dialogue over the years and have honestly and openly raised these questions around differences in human sexuality as part of the dialogue.  The dialogue is suggesting the following path forward:

--Differences in understanding human sexuality are not church dividing.  We in The Episcopal Church have dioceses which permit openly LGBTQ persons to serve, and some that do not, and have remained in communion with one another.  The majority of the Anglican world does not permit the service of openly gay persons as clergy, and we consider ourselves to be in communion with them,
Jesus said something about this...
even though we do not have full interchangeability of ministry.  We must be as attentive to struggling for full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in our own denomination and not presume that this struggle is over.  If we do not see these differences as church dividing internally, how can they be inherently church dividing with another church?

--We were in full communion with the ELCA from 2001-2009 when they did not permit the service of openly gay LGBTQ persons and had a constitutional prohibition on blessing of same sex unions. Our precedent with the ELCA is that we do not consider differences in this area to be an impediment to full communion. 

Also, the ELCA showed patience with the Episcopal Church.  In 2009, the ELCA voted to permit blessing of same sex unions.  The Episcopal Church did not do so on the same scale as the ELCA until 2015.  The ELCA, graciously, did not insist on marriage equality as part of our full communion relationship from 2009-2015, but allowed us to work through our internal processes to come to a common consensus.

--Since we do not demand unanimity internally within our own church on this matter, we do not feel we can demand it from another church as part of a prerequisite for full communion.  

--We continue to witness to our continued need for full inclusion in our church, and stand in solidarity with the significant minority within The UMC which is seeking a broader commitment to full inclusion. 

4)  What about the Eucharist?  

i)  We will have to use grape juice?  Will United Methodists have to use wine?

 The Quadrilateral states that we must have consensus on "The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself--Baptism and the Supper of the Lord--ministered with unfailing use of Christ's words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him."

While thankful, apparently, that William Reed Huntington was present at the Last Supper and knew what elements were ordained BY HIM, we should first acknowledge a little humility here: it ain't no joke, let's back up off it and set that chalice down:  Jesus didn't use tawny port and wafers, so we don't use the
Port and wafers are better than tanqueray and chronic.
exact elements ordained by Him.  Yes, we use bread and wine -- but even we treat this as anamnesis, and not mimesis.

OK, so back to wine and grape juice.

Both churches have in their disciplines clear identifications of the elements which must be used in Holy Communion.

For Episcopalians:  the Quadrilateral has been endorsed by General Convention.  We must have bread and wine in a celebration of Holy Communion.

For United Methodists:  the Book of Discipline states that unfermented grape juice must be used.

The dialogue has chosen to interpret these as limited to what they actually, literally say:  they only say what must be used.  The Quadrilateral states that wine must be used.  It does not forbid grape juice be part of the celebration of Holy Communion.  The Book of Discipline states that grape juice must be used.  It does not forbid wine.  We have chosen an expansive, permissive interpretation of these matters of discipline.  At a joint celebration by both churches, wine and grape juice must be used.  At a service in one church or the other, local practice is to be followed, and both wine and grape juice may be used.  In a number of Episcopal Churches, as a concession to persons in recovery or for other reasons, grape juice and de-alcoholized wine are already part of the celebration.

In 2006, the General Convention approved a relationship of Interim Eucharistic Sharing.  Under certain guidelines, there may be joint celebrations of Holy Communion, with ordained clergy of both traditions standing together at the table.  Our churches have issued guidelines for such celebrations, which also address the issues of Eucharistic elements.  These guidelines may be found here.

ii)  What about real presence of Christ in the Eucharist?

The United Methodist Church has an official statement on the Holy Eucharist, "This Holy Mystery," adopted by their General Conference. It states:

"Jesus Christ, who 'is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being' (Hebrews 1:3), is truly present in Holy Communion. Through Jesus Christ and in the power of the
Let's talk about real presence, let's talk about Jesus and me.
Holy Spirit, God meets us at the Table. God, who has given the sacraments to the church, acts in and through Holy Communion. Christ is present through the community gathered in Jesus’ name (Matthew 18:20), through the Word proclaimed and enacted, and through the elements of bread and wine shared (1 Corinthians 11:23-26). The divine presence is a living reality and can be experienced by participants; it is not a remembrance of the Last Supper and the Crucifixion only."

It is not a remembrance; Christ is present through the elements of bread and wine.

We should note here The Episcopal Church has no corresponding statement defining how we understand the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.  Crusty could take an afternoon, cherry pick phrases from the Book of Common Prayer and combine them with liturgical atrocities he has seen in churches, and make the argument, "Why should anyone be in communion with Episcopalians, who are memorialists, since their Prayer Book says that we should 'feed on him in our hearts by faith, with thanksgiving'?  Plus I went to an Episcopal Church once where they fed the left over elements to ducks in the park afterwards, which shows they don't believe it's the body of Christ."

To be sure, there is a variety of practice within The United Methodist Church.  But we have to take them by their official statements.  After all, The Episcopal Church has varieties of practice but we ask that our Book of Common Prayer and Constitution and Canons be the basis of an understanding our theology and practice.  One thing COD has little patience with in ecumenical conversations is one church presenting an idealized portrait of itself to be contrasted with an amalgam of anecdotal representation of another church.   

5)  What about elders and priests?

The proposal notes convergence in our understanding of the office of minister of word and sacrament.  We have persons called to preside at the sacraments, preach the word, and participate in the councils of the church with bishops. Episcopalians call this office presbyter or priest; United Methodists call this office elder, though other members of the World Methodist Conference do use the term presbyter.

On the basis of

--A common understanding of an office of minister of word and sacrament, ordained by a bishop; and
--Sufficient agreement (not unanimity) in the first three parts of the Quadrilateral, and
--So that we can live into full communion,

Both churches agree that we will allow for interchangeability of elders and presbyters.  We are, in effect, grandparenting in all elders and presbyters/priests.

What!  How could we do that?

--Other Anglican churches have done so.  The Church of South India, a member of the Anglican Communion, is a merger of several Protestant and Anglican churches.  When the church was formed, all ordained ministers of word and sacrament were grandparented in, with the proviso that all future ordinations would be by bishops in historic succession.

--The Church of Ireland grandparented in ministers of word in sacrament in their agreement with the Methodist Church.

--We did so with the ELCA in 2001.

OK, well how, exactly, does it happen?

The proposal suggests a suspension of the provision in the Preface to the Ordinal that only those persons ordained by bishops duly qualified to confer Holy Orders, so that it does not "count" with
COD sometimes your ordinal suspensions hypnotize me.
regard to UMC elders as of a suggested effective date of full communion.  The argument goes that it is the church that added this restriction, so the church can alter it.  This provision was not in the Prayer Book until 1662, for instance.  

Since this counts as changing the Prayer Book, a suspension of the preface requires readings and approvals at two consecutive General Conventions.  Since it is considered changing the Prayer Book, it also requires a vote by orders in the House of Deputies.  It's possible we could have a first reading, debate, and vote in 2018 on ONLY the suspension of the preface, with a second reading and vote in 2021, along with the proposal itself.  To read how it sounded in 2000, click here.

However:  Crusty isn't married to this.  He's only married to CODW (Crusty Old Dean's Wife).  Crusty suggested it because there is precedent: we did this with the ELCA.  Crusty suggested this because we need to find a way to allow for service of over 40,000 UMC elders.  COD would be  open to, say, a constitutional amendment to permit grandparenting of clergy rather than suspension of the preface.

6)  What about John Wesley's ordinations?

As an emergency measure, since the bishop of London would not ordain any Methodist lay preachers in the colonies as deacons or priests, John Wesley ordained two "superintendents" for the Methodist societies in the USA. It's important to note the indeterminate, emergency situation here: both what would become the Episcopal Church and what would become the Methodist Episcopal Church were adrift in 1784-1785, trying to secure a succession in ministry in the new reality of the American context, with people wondering if it was even possible to consider oneself Methodist or somehow connected to the Church of England and not be a member of the established church.  Wesley saw this as an emergency measure, and was operating from an understanding of the early church where the office of presbyter and bishop was not clearly defined.  Seabury approached the non-juring bishops in Scotland as an emergency backup plan, since he had been refused consecration by Church of England bishops.

John's brother Charles, incidentally, was adamantly opposed to this, and penned the following verse to lambast his brother:

So easily are Bishops made
By man's or woman's whim?
Wesley his hands on Coke hath laid,
But who laid hands on him?

"A Theological Foundation for Full Communion" reframes the issue in its proper historical context.  Both what would become the Methodist Episcopal Church and what would become the Protestant Episcopal Church adapted the traditions of episcopacy they received from their Anglican heritage to a new, and different, missional context.  True, what Wesley did was unusual and scandalous.  But what the Episcopal Church did was unusual and scandalous.  There is more convergence than divergence between Samuel Seabury and John Wesley. Many doubted the validity of Seabury's non-Juror consecration, so much so that one of the acts of the 1789 General Convention was to affirm its authenticity.  Things that we take for granted, and have been adopted by other provinces of the communion, like bishops being elected, and exercising oversight with lay persons and clergy, were radical innovations for their time by the Protestant Episcopal Church.  Indeed, the Church of England only officially recognized that Episcopal Church clergy could serve in the Church of England in 1874, with the Colonial Clergy Act.  Both churches had to make hard choices that they thought were best for their contexts. 

The proposal does not need to address the question of Wesley's ordinations because the document offers a way for United Methodists and Episcopalians to share in the historic episcopate, as outlined elsewhere in this blog post.

7)  What about the historically African American Episcopal churches?  Why aren't they a part of this?

The proposal addresses the question directly, COD urges you to read those sections.  The dialogue consulted extensively with the historically African American Methodist Episcopal churches.  They declined to join this dialogue in its first round, instead choosing a pan-Methodist focus which resulted in a declaration of common full communion between historically African American Methodist traditions and The United Methodist Church in 2012.  It is our fervent hope that approval of this proposal will result in formal engagement by the historically African American Methodist Churches.

Crusty wants to caution against seeking to extend this dialogue without further conversation and consultation.  In 2006, when the General Convention was debating Interim Eucharistic Sharing with The United Methodist Church, a deputy rose to amend the resolution to include historically African American Methodist churches.  While fervently hoping for this, we must keep in mind it is not within our purview to unilaterally extend this proposal -- to do so could exacerbate notions of power and privilege between historically caucasian and historically African American churches.  While we will continue to work to extend and expand this dialogue, who are we tell historically African American Methodist Churches they are in full communion with us?  It must be something we come to together, as we engage in mission, ministry, and dialogue.

C.   So why should we do this?

Glad you asked!

1)  Because disunity is a sin against the body of Christ.  Crusty knows it's not popular to say this, but our disunity is a sin against the Gospel and hinders our mission in the world.  In practical terms, our divisions are costly and inefficient.  To the world, our divisions inhibits our witness.

2)  Denominationalism, as we know it, is over.  And thanks be to God.  Our denominations are haphazard reflections of race, class, gender, and geography, and are shaped by colonialism.  The Church of England, and the expansion of Anglicanism, are accidents of history.  We are seeing new configurations and realignments of global Christianity in the 21st century.  

We need not fear this new reality, but rather help shape it. There are ways to preserve those aspects which are special to Anglicanism and are in continuity the church catholic -- a succession in historic episcopate, the threefold ministry, the liturgy of the Western church -- and offer these in service to new ways of being Christian in the 21st century.

3)  This is an opportunity to make real, tangible strides towards racial reconciliation.  Absalom Jones and Richard Allen were both members of St. George's Methodist Church, and both walked out when African Americans were pulled off their knees at the altar rail and told to go sit in the gallery.  They made different decisions:  Jones formed a community in the Episcopal Church which treated him as a second-class priest and his parish a second-class parish, neither with voice or vote.  Allen formed the African Methodist Episcopal Church.  Methodist and Anglican legacies are reflected in the sin of race and racism.  The United Methodist Church has singificant Asian/Asian-American, Hispanic/Latino, and African American constituencies.  This is an opportunity to make efforts to overcome how race has been, and continues to be, the real church-dividing issue in American Christianity.

4)  This is an opportunity to heal a schism that never should have happened.  With a little patience, and grace, and charity, the Anglican-Methodist division might not have happened.  Every major ecumenical dialogue between Anglicans and Methodists has concluded there are no major church dividing doctrinal issues.  

This is an opportunity to heal a historic divide within the Anglican family. To address race and class as church-dividing issues.  To reshape a portion of North American Christianity.  We should not underestimate that this relationship will be unlike any ecumenical partnership the Episcopal Church has engaged; most people simply do not encounter Moravians or Mar Thoma churches on a regular basis, to name some of our other other full communion relationships.  

This is also different from the ELCA partnership, for several reasons.

--We had a different kind of history with the ELCA prior to Called to Common Mission.  We came from different parts of Europe, were different ethnic groups, clustered in different parts of the country, had some interactions on the local level, but no real sustained dialogue until the one that ended up producing full communion.  Some of the predecessor bodies of the ELCA were not episcopally ordered, let alone in historic succession.

--The ELCA full communion proposal has had significant impact in certain areas, and not as much in others, given the way our churches are clustered in different regions.  

On the other hand,

--Episcopalians and Methodists are birthed from a common Anglican tradition.  We have had numerous bouts of dialogue, in the USA, in Britain, and globally.

--The United Methodist Church has been episcopally ordered since its inception, and we do not need to convince them to adopt bishops.

--There are United Methodists everywhere.  There will be no town where there is an Episcopal Church that this proposal will not have an impact.

Like Crusty said at the outset, by all means feel free to disagree.  But do so by engaging the materials
No..sleep..till full communion!
the dialogue has produced.  Simply saying "I don't like it" or "I don't want to be a Methodist" are cop outs, born of our own fears, anxieties, projections, or hangups. 

We need to know that if we enter into this partnership, this is not something to be begrudgingly tolerated.  We need to be willing to let ourselves be changed.  God is calling us to consider something transformative, a once in a generation opportunity. 

In the word of Charles Wesley, may Anglicans and Methodists sing together:

Come, Almighty, to deliver, let us all thy life receive;
suddenly return, and never, nevermore thy temples leave.

Thee we would be always blessing, serve thee as thy hosts above,
pray and praise thee without ceasing, glory in thy perfect love.

Finish, then, thy new creation; pure and spotless let us be;
let us see thy great salvation perfectly restored in thee:

Monday, May 1, 2017

WTF Is Happening With The United Methodist Church? Crusty Explains

WTF Just Happened in the United Methodist Church? An Explainer

In 2003, Crusty Old Dean was the young, idealistic associate ecumenical officer for the Episcopal Church.  He didn’t wear bifocals and didn’t need to trim his eyebrows with a hedge clipper.  For those of you who don’t remember how excited you were when they came out with a 33.6 modem,
Modem our cavemen forebears used.
2003 was the summer when The Episcopal Church’s General Convention consented to the election of V. Gene Robinson as the bishop of New Hampshire.

Those were heady days; regardless of where one stood on the question, there was no doubt that this was something momentous, and we were living through historic times.  The day the diocese of New Hampshire elected Gene as bishop, Crusty was finishing up a dialogue session with one of our ecumenical partners.  We didn’t have smartphones back then, so somebody actually called Crusty on my flip phone and left a voicemail saying Gene had been elected.  What do you think this will mean? My ecumenical colleague asked me.  Crusty replied, “The Anglican Communion will never be the same.”

If you were around back then, can you remember what odd mixture of anxiety, hope, dread, and exhiliration that seemed to fill the air, depending on who you were and where you stood on the issue?  Regardless of how one felt about the election, either for or against, everyone knew that we were at some kind of turning point in how Anglicanism understood itself.

OK.  Hold that.  And how imagine something very much like that sense of anxiety and dread has been going on for almost 20 years.  Our brothers and sisters in the United Methodist Church have been going through a slow burn, an escalating, tension-filled drama that seems to have been lasting as  long as it takes to read a Dostoevsky novel in the original Russian. The 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016 United Methodist General Conferences (for Episcopalians, that’s like their General Convention) have all been wracked with discussions around human sexuality, with a dreading foreboding that each General Conference might be the last of the entity that is called The United Methodist Church before it breaks apart.
Even I couldn't have made this Methodist stuff up.

Before we go any further, couple of important things to keep in mind before we get to the Explainers, with all your questions answered:

1)        The United Methodist Church, like The Episcopal Church, likes to capitalize the The in a really annoying and pretentious kind of way.  Crusty doesn’t like it.  The only people that can get away with this is the awesome 80s post-punk (NOT new wave) band The The.

2)        The United Methodist Church (hereafter UMC) is, like The Episcopal Church (hereafter not TEC, since people like to pronounce that as if it rhymes with “tech”, which is even more annoying than the The), an international church.  It has overseas annual conferences (for the purposes of this blog post, Episcopalians should read "annual conferences" as "dioceses" even though they are not perfectly analagous to diocese, because sometimes annual conferences group together to form an episcopal jurisdiction...but I've said too much for now), like The Episcopal Church has dioceses in Taiwan and Colombia and whanot.  But there's a couple of important differences.

            --The Episcopal Church’s overseas dioceses make up a fairly small percentage of overall members.  Recent figures list 1,817,000 members in domestic provinces and 139,000 members in non-domestic provinces.  Doing the math, 93% of The Episcopal Church’s membership is in dioceses in the 50 states.

            --UMC overseas annual conferences outnumber domestic annual conferences.  There are 56 Annual Conferences (remember, annual conference=diocese, except when it doesn't) in the USA, over 75 of them overseas.  There are about 7 million members in USA annual conferences, about 5.5 million overseas members of annual conferences (according to the numbers Crusty could find, quite likely current numbers are a little different).

            And, as in the Anglican Communion, overseas United Methodists tend to be more conservative theologically.

            So, the situation is completely different in The UMC than in The Episcopal Church (see how annoying it is to have to keep capitalizing The?): whereas overseas dioceses make up a small
There's a difference between post-punk and new wave.
percentage of Episcopal Church membership, they make up a considerable percentage of UMC membership, perhaps as high as 40-45%.

3)       How governing documents define  homosexuality.

            Whatever one’s opinion might be on the election of Gene Robinson, it was certainly within the boundaries of Episcopal polity.  Back when he was ecumenical officer, Crusty was in a dialogue meeting with the Reformed Episcopal Church and one of their bishops noted, “Well, even though we disagree on whether practicing homosexuals can be ordained, even we acknowledge that Bishop Robinson’s election occurred properly and canonically according to your Constitution and Canons.”  Though Anglican Christians may disagree on what the Bible says about human sexuality, in terms of governance it is crystal clear that there has been no explicit canonical prohibition of gay and lesbian persons from being ordained in the Episcopal Church, ever.

            The situation is very different in The United Methodist Church.  In fact, The UMC has one of the more sweeping prohibitions among the mainline Protestant denominations.  The Book of Discipline, as the governing document of The UMC is analagous to the Constitution and Canons of The Episcopal Church, states:

“The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”

There have been numerous efforts to try to change or amend this definition, but all have failed at General Conference (remember, General Conference = General Convention, but they don't know how to judge a decent mojito).  Given the growth of the overseas annual conferences (because representation at General Conference is tied to membership of the annual conference), it is also unlikely that there may ever be the votes to amend or change this, given the generally conservative theological stance of the overseas conferences, and the fact that the overseas annual conferences are showing more growth than domestic annual conferences.

4)        The Supreme Court.

            One of the greatest historical canards The Episcopal Church tells is that there was some kind grand synergy that the people who shaped the US Constitution also drafted the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church in 1789.  This is, unfortunately, nonsense: a hangover of privilege   If anything, the founders of the Episcopal Church and the drafters of the U.S. Constitution may have been drawing from similar common ideas of liberty and local autonomy.  This myth can be disproven because the Constitution of The Protestant Episcopal Church in 1789 and the federal Constitution of 1787 frankly don’t have a lot in common (though they do have some common aspects, to be sure, but one can make a strong argument it’s not because of intentional overlap, but because they’re drawing from the same well).
No one man Episcopal wolf packs, please.

            One of the biggest differences is that all The Episcopal Church did was set up a legislative body: the General Convention.  Unlike the federal constitution, which set up three branches with checks and balances.  There was no separation of powers in the Episcopal Church because there were no other powers. The Presiding Bishop was senior bishop whose main job was presiding over the House of Bishops once every three years.  The church also didn’t set up any method to adjudicate different understandings.

            The United Methodist Church does have a kind of Supreme Court: it has a Judicial Court which can make rulings that clarify matters of polity and doctrine.  The closest thing the Episcopal Church has:

--General Convention, which can change the canons to clarify or resolve a dispute concerning doctrine or polity.

--A troubling tendency to use the clergy misconduct system to adjudicate thorny theological or polity questions.  For instance, in 1995 there was heresy trial for Walter Righter, a retired bishop, who was charged with violating the doctrine, discipline, and worship of this church by ordaining a non-celibate gay man.  It was through the disciplinary process that a ruling came down that dismissed the charge,
"You've got Core Doctrine ruling."
saying there was no “core doctrine” in the Episcopal Church that said ordaining a non-celibate gay man was not permitted. This was so long ago, Crusty didn’t hear about it on his flip phone, he read about it on AOL News using his 14.4 modem.

--Leaving things to local discretion.  We often give diocesan bishops, Standing Committees, even local Vestries and rectors wide latitude in determining whether something is permissible or not.  And they can come up with radically different interpretations, and there’s really nothing anyone can do to reconcile these wildly differing interpretations. Just to give one example…Crusty knows two Episcopal priests who have had a ministry of being intentional interim clergy, going in and helping congregations sort out issues. 

One of them was contacted about being an interim in a denomination the Episcopal Church is not in full communion with, and does not have interchangeability of clergy.  The person asked the bishop if this would be OK, and the bishop said that if the clergyperson did this the bishop would charge her with abandonment of communion.

The other was contacted about being an interim in a denomination the Episcopal Church is not in full communion with, and does not have interchangeability of clergy.  The person asked the bishop if this would be OK, and the bishop said that he would be glad to have her do it, and would use the canon for clergy engaged in non-parochial ministry for the duration of the assignment to cover this situation.

Both are perfectly within the boundaries of polity.  Maybe that Supreme Court isn't sounding so bad?

--A tendency to ignore the canons.  For example: whatever one may think about the practice, fact is we have a canon that specifically says unbaptized persons should not receive communion, but it’s just ignored (and Crusty weighed in this particular aspect of Communion Without Baptism  here).  The fatc that our canons more or less mean nothing is something The Episcopal Church will eventually need to address.  In our current context, where there is a majority or there is the will, canons just get overlooked.  Where there isn’t, they get enforced.  Crusty has argued elsewhere on this blog that ignoring the canons in the pursuit of justice can also lend itself to ignoring the canons to further injustice – the weaponization of resignation in some areas being precisely one example.

All right, so much for setting context.  This now leads us to… The Explainer!  Remember, the whole point of this blog posting was to be an explainer on WTF was up in The UMC?

Your questions answered! All answers guaranteed 100% correct or your money back!

 OK, as usual, it takes forever for you to get to the point (BTW, f**k you, Crusty, seriously, this was supposed to be an FAQ Explainer). 

 So: Crusty, WTF happened in the UMC in the past week?

            Unlike in the Episcopal Church, where each diocese elects its own bishops on its own timeline, in The UMC each annual conference does not elect its bishop directly.  Bishops serve over episcopal areas, some a grouping of several annual conferences, some based over a single annual conference.  Every four years bishops are elected in jurisdictional conferences, which are groupings of annual conferences, and the number of bishops to be elected is based on the number of openings.  Openings can be known with some regularity because, in addition to announced, age-related  mandatory retirements, United Methodist bishops must itinerate: they cannot stay in the same posting for more than a certain number of years (though a bishop may move to a different annual conference). The Jurisdictional conferences elect the bishops, who are then assigned to an episcopal area and then consecrated.  This would be roughly, though not entirely, analogous to electing the bishops for an Episcopal diocese at the provincial synod.  If Province IV  had openings, they would elect the appropriate number of bishops to fill those openings.  And then, after the election, those bishops would be assigned to a particular diocese (if there’s more than one opening and more than one elected) and consecrated.
Circuit Rider, (sex)texting while itinerating, circa 1806

             In July of 2016, the Western Jurisdiction, covering a good chunk of the West Coast, elected one bishop because it had one opening. They elected the Rev. Karen Oliveto, pastor at Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco.  Rev. Oliveto is married to a deaconess, Robin Ridenour.   After election, she was assigned to the episcopal area with a vacancy, the Mountain Sky Area (which covers Colorado, Montana, Utah, Wyoming and one church in Idaho) and consecrated.

What did the court do?

            Complaints were  lodged that this election clearly violated the Book of Discipline, which specifically forbids self-avowed, practicing homosexuals from serving in the ordained ministry.  These complaints went to the body charged with adjudicating these matters, the Judicial Council.  The Judicial Council held a hearing, heard testimony, and in a decision released April 28 voted 6-3 that the consecration violated the prohibition in the Book of Discipline.  The fact that Bishop Oliveto was married to a woman was seen as evidence of being“self-avowed” and “practicing” homosexual.  The Judicial Council confined itself only to the matter of consecration, saying it did not have jurisdiction over other matters, like the election itself (thus it could not declare the election invalid since it did not claim jurisdiction).

What did it not do?

            It did not defrock or depose Bishop Oliveto; in fact it specifically stated she was still in good standing.  It did, however, throw open the door to two potentially even more seismic issues:

OK, what could be more seismic than what they did?

While not ruling on the validity of the election, and not defrocking Bishop Oliveto, the Judicial Council dropped these two turds into the punch bowl:

1)        It stated that a bishop who is a self-avowed homosexual could be considered to be in violation of church law if a complaint was brought; and
2)        It stated that all bishops and clergy persons who participated in the consecration of a bishop who violated church discipline could also be considered to be in violation of church discipline.

So, while Bishop Oliveot was not defrocked or deposed, the court flung open the doors -- nay, literally begged people -- to not only bring charges against her, but against every single clergy person who “participated” in the consecration.

Commence the witch hunt!  Not only those who laid hands as part of the consecration – but does   
United Methodists be all like.
attending count as “participating”? Can dozens of bishops and pastors now have disciplinary charges brought against them?

What happens next?

Hold on, there’s more.  The same week the decision came down, The UMC announced it was holding a Special General Conference in 2019.  General Conference is normally held once every four years.  The last one was in 2016, so the next one should be in 2020.  However, the issue of human sexuality has been so contentious, and concerns about possible schism so prevalent, the 2016 General Conference appointed a Commission on a Way Forward that was, well, tasked with finding a Way Forward.  As part of this, the bishops of the United Methodist Church, in turn, called a Special General Conference in 2019 to deal solely with the question of human sexuality.

So not only might there be multiple ecclesial trials, there will be a gathering of the highest governing body solely to debate and address this question.

Translation:  it’s going to potentially get a lot, lot worse and a lot more contentious.

What should Episcopalians do?

Good question!  Thank you so much for asking, Straw Person Crusty.

Let’s start by saying what Episcopalians should NOT DO:  Please do not say any form of the following to a United Methodist friend:  “There’s a home for you in the Episcopal Church.” 

Frankly, this is akin to saying to someone who has lost a baby, “You can always have another child,” or to someone who has lost their grandfather, “You still have two other grandparents.”  Yes, I know that’s a bit of hyperbole.  But it’s an apt analogy because while all three statements are technically true, for people who may in feeling hurt, or grieving, or in despair, perhaps we should not leap to problem solving.

And, not only is this perhaps a little insensitive, it’s also rather arrogant and presumptive:  There are over 12 million United Methodists.  A good number, perhaps 4 million, might be considered moderate/progressive/open/welcoming on LBGTQI matters.  Who are we, as a church of about 1.8 million members, to think we can “welcome” numbers 3 times our size?  The notion that Methodists can come “home” smacks again of establishment and presumption.  This is like congregations who obsess over themselves as a "family."  A "family" decides to let other members into their club, instead of seeing where the kingdom of God is leading them.  Offering the asinine option of having a "home" in The Episcopal Church projects this presumption from the local to the national level.  After all, if anything, why aren't we asking why 1.8 Episcopalians shouldn't find a "home" with 4 million United Methodists? 

Dammit, Debbie Downer, what would you have us do?

Hey, thanks for asking.  How about this: Listen.  Let people share what they may be feeling.  As appropriate, share your own experiences.  Don't rush to problem solving or be presumptuous.  You know, be pastoral.

Damn.  OK, Anything else?  Is there anything we can do?

Why yes.  As timing would have it, The UMC and The Episcopal Church have a proposal for full communion that has been released for discussion and debate.  You can find it and a whole lot of other documents here.

Full disclosure:  Crusty not only has a dog in this hunt, Crusty has a whole f*****g pack of basset hounds in this hunt.  Crusty started serving as staff support for The UMC-Episcopal Church dialogue in 2002, helped draft a Congregational Study Guide in 2006, the resolution on Interim Eucharistic Sharing in 2006 which permits joint celebrations of the Eucharist, the summary of the first round of the dialogue titled A Theological Foundation for Full Communion, and the f****g full communion proposal itself.
Full disclosure.  Crusty at last dialogue session.

Read through this blog and you’ll see time and again that Crusty thinks that not only is denominationalism a sin that reflects our brokenness, it’s also bad for business.  Hey, here's over 10,000 words on this from six yars ago.  Enjoy.  The paradigm of church from the last 500 years is changing, as it does occasionally, and COD firmly believes we need to think about new ways of being church.  Ecumenical cooperation is part of that. 

And this is not through merger, or some people finding a “home” in the other, but through being called to mission and ministry, forming partnerships with like minded people, and finding ways to cooperate and collaborate.

The way forward is to give this proposal between The United Methodist Church and The Episcopal Church the time, consideration, and care it deserves.  Yes, there are certainly issues which will need to be addressed; no, this proposal is far from perfect.  Like every compromise it should leave everyone a little unhappy.

But I think the way of being church has undergone particularly profound change in the last thirty years, and will do so again in the next 30.  Do we really think there’s only one way of being church, and our denominationalism which reflects our racism, class stratification, and geographic accidents of history, is the only way?  Crusty’s not saying we can’t enjoy, treasure, and celebrate those aspects of what is spirit-filled about being a United Methodist or an Episcopalian.  But God is calling us to so much more.

Pray for our United Methodist brothers and sisters. Pray for the church. Pray we may overcome our hubris in the sin our division.