Monday, April 7, 2014

Let Us Not Talk Falsely Now: Good News and Bob Dylan

Then Jesus said to those who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
John 8:31-32

“’So let us not talk falsely now for the hour is getting late.’ That line was written by Bob Dylan in the late 60’s. But it is appropriate for The United Methodist Church in 2014. The hour is getting late. And it’s time to speak the truth.”

Those sentences comprise the opening paragraph for an editorial by Good News president Rob Renfroe. The Dylan quotation fits well with Renfroe’s appearance. With his (relatively) long hair and a beard, he looks like a refugee from the late 60’s. But appearances can be deceiving.

Good News describes itself as a reform movement. They say they are “a voice for repentance, an agent for reform, and a catalyst for change within the United Methodist Church. They say that they are Christ centered, faithful to the scriptures, and committed to the Kingdom. In fact, they are committed to a judgmental and legalistic interpretation of the scriptures that is at odds with the teachings of Jesus. They are, sadly, bad news. And they have been bad news for a long time.

The truth, according to Renfroe, is that unless our bishops act swiftly and decisively to punish the clergy who are defying church law and violating their ordination vows by performing “homosexual marriages,” our church will face schism.

Renfroe says that a bishop once told him that there was nothing that a bishop could do about pastors celebrating gay marriages. It was, the bishop claimed, an issue for the Board of Ministry and for a jury of the pastor’s peers. Renfroe then asked, “Bishop, if you were to discover that I was cheating on my wife and I told you I had no intention of stopping, would I be leading worship in my church next Sunday?” When the bishop said that he would remove such a pastor, Renfroe responded, “Then, Bishop, you can do something about pastors who perform gay marriages.”

Of course, that would be a very good point if cheating on one’s spouse had anything in common with officiating at a same sex wedding, other than the fact that both are forbidden by the Book of Discipline.

Our church is declining, Renfroe says, because “many of our people cannot abide to stay in a local church or an Annual Conference where the Gospel is not preached, the Bible is not respected, and the Book of Discipline is disregarded.”

This, too, would be an excellent point, except that we are talking about less than one tenth of one percent of what is in the Bible and the Book of Discipline and zero percent of what is in the Gospel. This assumes that we ignore the fact that there are legitimate arguments to be made over those small fractions, and one can make the case that the Gospel and the Bible taken as a whole are on the opposite side from the Discipline.

The issue is not that complicated. The basic problem is that the Book of Discipline is simply wrong. It is wrong in calling “the practice of homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching,” wrong in prohibiting equal marriage, and wrong in calling for sanctions against clergy who perform such marriages. This should not be surprising. One of the reasons we amend the Discipline every four years is that we expect to have things that need to be changed. We expect it to be an evolving document.

The question is, what do we do in the meantime? What do we do in the time when we know that the Discipline is wrong, but before it is amended? The answer is that when the Discipline is in conflict with the Gospel, we obey the Gospel.

The truth is that the few passages condemning same sex relationships are no more valid for us today than the passages telling us that women should not speak in church, or those that assume it is alright to have slaves as long as we treat our slaves according to the rules.

For Good News and for Rob Renfroe it is all about following the rules and punishing those who stray. The times are not changing. Moreover, our task is to keep things from changing.

And he says all of this in the name of Bob Dylan. He starts the editorial with Dylan and he comes back to Dylan at the end. The Alpha and the Omega.

He concludes, “The hour is getting late. So, let us not talk falsely. The truth is our bishops can act. The truth is our church needs them to act. The truth is, if they do, there is hope for the UM Church. If they do not, we are standing at the beginning of the end. I pray such is not the case.”

For forty years Good News has been trying to claim Jesus as their own personal property. Now they want to steal Bob Dylan.

It's easy to see without looking too far
That not much
Is really sacred.

                It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleedin’

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