Morgan Guyton recently posted the following questions on his blog as “An Open Letter with 12 Honest Questions for the Wesleyan Covenant Association”. Now, as a lay person (and as one who would be opposed to the goals of the WCA anyway) I would not get invited to the meeting that is currently being planned. But I felt that it was important to think about what it means to be a United Methodist.
These are my thoughts on the questions and I welcome your thoughts.
- How have you benefited from being in community with progressive United Methodists?
This is perhaps a very difficult question for me to answer simply because I think I associate with the progressive United Methodists to begin with. But to be in community with just one group of people, no matter who they are, leads to a limited view of the world. And you cannot judge your effectiveness of what you are doing when the only people you are with are the ones who agree with you to begin.
- Do you think it’s more missionally effective to be in covenant with other Christians who are theological diverse or have a tighter sense of orthodoxy?
While I think that one has to be in community with other United Methodists and people with other denominational backgrounds, I don’t think you can be effective if there are disagreements within that community about what one is going to do.
If the mission is make sure that people have at least one good meal a week (one that is nutritionally sound), then other activities such as Bible reading or worship have to come second. Even John Wesley recognized that those who were hungry probably were only going to go along with a worship service if that was a necessity to eating.
I am not saying that you can’t have a worship service as part of the meal (which then transform the meal into communion) but attendance at the worship service can’t be a requirement for having the meal.
If there are those who inquire about things because of the worship service, then be prepared to have the appropriate answers.
- How do you decide what the non-negotiables of orthodoxy are for you?
I believe in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. I understand and have come to believe that my choice to follow Christ has meaning to me and I cannot force others to make that same choice. Our destination may be the same but our journeys will take different paths.
I can’t accept the notion that words of the Bible are exact and perfect. I think that they were written with regards to specific situations and we need to understand how those situations apply in today’s world.
I hold to the notion/idea/concept that all people, no matter who they are or who they may be, are children of God, created in His Image. You cannot tell by looking at someone who they may or what they may be so let us accept everyone and go from there.
- Can Wesleyan theology expand and evolve or does it need to conform permanently to John Wesley’s 18th century context?
If we are to conform permanently to John Wesley’s 18th century context, we shall surely die. As the Preacher wrote so many years ago, “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” The Preacher understood that things change and we need to adapt with the times. The basic ideas stated in the Bible will always remain the same; it is up to us to find ways to make them work in today’s society and times.
- Do you think our world is biologically or socially corrupted by original sin?
Someone once pointed out that if we did not know what sin was, we would not need Christ to save us from our sins.
In that moment of evolution when we became human, we begin to differentiate between good and evil. We needed to know why death was a part of our life and why things change in the world. But even as we have a better understanding of why we die, we still do understand why there is good and evil in this world. And we may never know why but, if nothing else, this gives us the opportunity to seek a better world.
- How do you understand the nature of Christian salvation?
To be honest, I don’t totally understand the nature of Christian salvation. At times, I see my life condemned and at other times, I know I have been set free. I know that God’s grace is freely given but I also think there are times when I abuse that knowledge.
And in the end, this will be one area in which I continually strive to better understand.
- Do you think God can justify and sanctify people “accidentally” who don’t explicitly identify Jesus as their savior?
We start with the statement that there is only one God. And we know that many, if not all, faiths have that basic idea (or at least that is what I think).
I understand that I have chosen to follow Jesus. I understand that others may choose to follow a different route. If they are since in what they believe and they live a life that expresses what they believe, then I have to believe they will complete their journey at the same location that I do.
On the other hand, if you choose to follow a path more out of convenience than true belief, you will find yourself lost and need of help.
- Do you think faithful discipleship depends upon correct doctrine?
To me, correct doctrine is about following a set of rules. And if we are more concerned about the rules than we are what it is we are doing, then we have a problem. There is a need for rules because that allows you to do things. But you cannot let the doctrine be outdated for it then turns into restrictions and not guidelines. I think that is one of the main things Jesus pointed out during His ministry, how the laws had become restrictions and there was more to life. The restrictions made it a little harder to lead the life one needed to live.
- What do you think the purpose of holiness is?
This is another area where I am still learning. Many years ago it was pointed out that it wasn’t what I had done that granted me access to God’s Table but rather the simple act of God’s grace. Nothing I said or did was ever going to change that.
It was also pointed out to me that, having accepted Christ as my Savior, then it was incumbent on me to strive for perfection in all that I do, even if I never did reach that level. If, as Wesley wrote, holiness is the state in which our heart is filled with the love of God and humankind, then that is the state we must strive to reach in our search for perfection.
- Is gender complementarity essential to human community?
Are we to assume that there are some jobs that one group of people can do and other jobs that only others can do? As the father of two daughters, I would never say to them that they cannot be what they want to be.
We live in a world where the traditions of society are maintained, no matter why said traditions were that way.
The only limitation that can be place upon a person as the limitations that a person puts on themselves or when circumstances dictate (you cannot have a very tall person working in a very small space).
I think one of the points that Jesus made throughout His ministry was the unlimited nature of the kingdom on earth and each person had all the opportunities they needed.
- Do you think gay people are able to live holier lives when their identity is socially taboo or socially normalized?
The matter of holiness is not for us to decide. One cannot tell what is inside a person simply by looking at them so saying that their lives is limited because of who they are comes from us and not from God.
- How are you investing your resources into promoting celibate singleness as a viable life vocation?
I have a friend who is a Catholic priest. At the time that I first met him, we were in graduate school and most people did not know his vocation. When I asked him how he was able to lead the celibate life of a priest, he replied that, in effect, it was in his mind and what he thought.
But by the same token, we cannot expect one group of people lead a celibate lifestyle while others do not.
Our understanding of human sexuality has changed over the years but, sadly, there are many in the church who hold onto thoughts from long ago.
We also cannot maintain the definition of what a family is when what constitutes a family in today’s society is often fluid.