How many times have we heard someone say, “God helps those who help themselves”? As biblical as that may sound, it is not in the Bible, and it is not even true!
What is in the Bible is that God helps those who cannot help themselves.
Jim Wallis tells the story about an experiment he and some of his friends performed while they were in seminary. They made a study of every reference to the poor, to God’s love for the poor, and God being the deliverer of the oppressed. They determined that such verses were the second most prominent in the Old Testament (idolatry being first). One of every sixteen verses in the New Testament was about the poor; in the Gospels, it was one of every ten, and in the Gospel of Luke, it was one of every seven.
One member of the group then took a Bible and cut out every verse related to the poor or the oppressed. When he was done, the Bible fell apart. (1)
When you think about it, this contrasts with the words and voices of many Christian clergy and laity who say that the two moral issues of today are marriage and sexuality. While there are some verses on these topics in the Bible, they are, as the saying goes, few and far between and Jesus spent very little time discussing them. (2)
A group of ministers and laity who identify themselves as “traditionalist” recently created the Global Methodist Church. But when you read the words behind the formation of this denomination, you read the words of a denomination more Baptist in nature and far from the traditions of the United Methodist Church. (3)
These individuals are concerned, upset, and angry that paragraphs 304.3 and 2702.1 of the Book of Discipline are not being enforced. (4)
These topics deal with the ordination of LGBTQ individuals and the performance of same-sex marriages. Rather than followers of Paul, they are followers of Saul whose journey to Damascus was to arrest and bring to trial followers of Jesus for their failure to follow the law.
We know that John Wesley was barred from preaching in the sanctuaries of the Anglican Church in England. Philip Otterbein and Jacob Albright, two of the three founders of what would become the Evangelical United Brethren Church, were excommunicated from their respective churches for their failure to stay “within the boundaries” of their denomination.
Now, let me point out that Leviticus 21 lays out the physical and spiritual qualification for the priesthood. Individuals could be considered for the priesthood if they were, first, a man and if they were “without defect.” As I need glasses to see, under those rules, I could be considered defective and as such, ineligible to have been a lay speaker.
Luther did not define Christians by a strict adherence to those regulations (meaning laws in the Bible), because, for him, the Bible was not a law code for Christian conduct. It was a declaration of freedom based on what he called the gospel. (5)
While I understand that the Book of Discipline is to ensure the continuity and structure within the denomination and that “rules are there for a purpose”, I must question the intent and validity of laws specifically designed to prevent a given group of people from participating in activities others can engage in.
¶304.3 (4) was put into the discipline in 1972 and we have been arguing since then. But like so many rules of this nature, it strikes me as a rule created out of ignorance, fear, and hate.
The rhetoric and debate that I have heard over these past twenty years are, in my mind, no different from the rhetoric and debate over slavery that split the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1844 nor the rhetoric and debate over segregation in this country in the 1950s and 1960s.
Though I did not know it at the time, the baseball team that I tried out for in the spring of 1963 was not part of the national Little League program, but a separate program known as the Dixie Youth League. It was not part of the national program because the adults who ran the DYL did not want to integrate their teams.
Keep in mind that many of the schools that I attended during that time were segregated by law. And while, in the most technical of terms, the schools that others attended were equal to the schools I attended, that was never the case.
And I cannot forget, even sixty years later, the uneasiness and possible fear I felt when I encountered the physical barriers of segregation in a theater in Lexington, NC. (6)
So, I have a problem with a law or rule that says others cannot do what I am allowed to do on the basis of skin pigmentation, gender, or sexual identity.
Who does God call to bring forth His word?
Some of the prophets, such as Isaiah and Micah, were scholars, individuals who had studied and understood the Torah. But others, such as Amos and Jonah, came from the general population.
Who was it that told the 12 about the resurrection? Are we to ignore the contributions of Mary and the other women?
And remember the nature of Peter’s vision. It was not only about what was served on the buffet table but who could receive the message.
Some received the call from the Holy Spirit in the manner of Paul on the road to Damascus; others received it in the manner of John Wesley in the chapel on Aldersgate Street. Martin Luther came to his understanding of God’s grace through what he called his “tower moment”, that time when he was deep in a study of the Bible and attempting to understanding God’s grace.
Consider this if you will. Each candidate for ordination goes through a series of interviews, from the local church all the way up to their District and must answer 13 separate questions concerning their call. What does it say about an organization that says that one individual’s answers are more worthy of consideration than someone else’s because of how they identify themselves?
It is not ours to decide the validity of another person’s call; it is ours to help them move forward with that call.
Finally, what does it say about us as Methodists when we act against our very soul?
The Wesleyan approach was open, inclusive, and a practical theological vision of the Christian life as opposed to the restrictive, exclusive, dogmatic approach to matters of faith and practice seen in traditional churches.
Our theological heritage was and still is to preach outside the normal boundaries of a church. Methodism began as a spiritual movement to renew a decaying institutional church and serve the outcast, the marginalized, and the poor, those traditional Christians called the “unwashed rabble”.
The early Methodist movement was everything the traditional church wasn’t. It was often messy or unregulated. It was based on small groups, it empowered women, gave enslaved persons a sense of freedom, and created a vision of justice and liberation.
In 18th century America, Methodism was a “volatile, alienated, defiant, and charismatic” movement that empowered “those who were demeaned and degraded” with a revolutionary sense of God’s liberating loved (“Religion in the Old South”, Don Matthews, University of Chicago Press, 1977). Methodism was seen as a threat to the establishment of the time because it was revolutionary, inclusive, heart-centered, and Jesus-fired.
Isn’t it time that we revive our true nature?
It is found in our hearts, strangely warmed and on fire with love. It is an identity of risk and rebellions, of holy revolutions, of challenging ecclesial authorities who say “No!”, of listening to the voices of the outcast.
Our table is an open table, open to those who profess a love of Christ in their hearts. From the very beginning of the Methodist revival, we turned no one away who openly professed such a love. What other denominations or faiths can say the same? (7)
What is in your heart? What is in your soul? At a time when others will try to change the meaning of Methodism to facilitate their own desire for power and prestige, will you seek the fire that burns, the fire that cleans and allows one to bring the message of Christ to all the people, openly and truthfully.
Notes and references
1 When Are We Going To Learn? | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com) – https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2009/09/05/when-are-we-going-to-learn-2/
Can You? | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com) https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2009/10/11/can-you/
2 “What Will Tomorrow Bring?” | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com) – https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2010/12/02/what-will-tomorrow-bring/
see also Why Stay? – Stay UMC – https://www.stayumc.com/about/)
4 ¶ 304.3 While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world. The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals1 are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church.2
1 “Self-avowed practicing homosexual” is understood to mean that a person openly acknowledges to a bishop, district superintendent, district committee of ordained ministry, Board of Ordained Ministry, or clergy session that the person is a practicing homosexual. See Judicial Council Decisions 702, 708, 722, 725, 764, 844, 984, 1020.
2 See Judicial Council Decisions 984, 985, 1027, 1028
¶ 2702. 1. A bishop, clergy member of an annual conference (¶370), local pastor9, clergy on honorable or administrative location, or diaconal minister may be tried when charged (subject to the statue of limitations in ¶ 2702.4)10 with one or more of the following offenses: a) immorality including but not limited to, not being celibate in singleness or not faithful in a heterosexual marriage;11 (b) practices declared by the United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings,12 including but not limited to: being a self-avowed practicing homosexual; or conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies;13 (c) crime; (d) disobedience to the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church; (e) dissemination of doctrines contrary to the established standards of doctrine of the United Methodist Church; (f) relationships and/or behavior that undermines the ministry of another pastor;14 (g) child abuse;15 (h) sexual abuse;16 (i) sexual misconduct15 including the use or possession of pornography, (j) harassment, including but not limited to racial and/or sexual harassment; (k) racial or gender discrimination; or (l) fiscal malfeasance.
9 See Judicial Council Decision 984
10 The statute of limitations went into effect as law on a prospective basis starting on January 1, 1993. All alleged offenses that occurred prior to this date are time barred. See Judicial Council Decisions 691, 704, and 723.
11 The language beginning “including but not limited to . . . “first appeared in the 2004 Book of Discipline, effective January 1, 2005.
12 See Judicial Council Decisions 702, 984, 985, 1185.
13 The language beginning “including but not limited to . . . “first appeared in the 2004 Book of Discipline, effective January 1, 2005.
14 See Judicial Council Decision 702.
15 This offense was first listed as a separate chargeable offense in the 1996 Book of Discipline effective April 27, 1996. See Judicial Council Decision 691.
16 See Judicial Council Decisions 736, 768.
6 Lexington, North Carolina | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com) – https://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/2016/07/13/lexington-north-carolina/
7 “We Are Outsiders!” | Thoughts From The Heart On The Left (wordpress.com)
Wise and prophetic words from Diana Butler Bass (posted on Facebook by Elizabeth Brick, 3 May 2022)
Note Posted on Facebook by Paul Chilcote, 4 May 2022