Thursday, April 14, 2011

Reform This!

This is the beginning of a series of posts in which I'll engage in what Bill Coffin calls a "lover's quarrel" with the Church.  Either that, or it's the beginning of vocational suicide.  

I'm not one of those who believes that every answer to our current ills is found in our past. To be sure, what we know of what's been, and what it can teach us in what is can be helpful. In fact, we'd do well to reflect upon what shall be in light of what we find in the rear view mirror.

The "process" theologian in me can honor what's past, but cannot hold it as the sole means to inform, instruct and inspire what is and what will be.

I value orthodoxy, doctrine and canon. I've vowed to honor, keep and teach these things.
But I will not be held captive to it.

"The wind blows where it will. You neither know where it comes from or where it goes."

I find in it something essentially "true" even when I'm convinced some of it, if not all of it is tainted by the marks of human bias, prejudice and the endless lust for exclusive access which, by definition, "excludes" someone - usually always someone not understood because of who they are, where they live, who they love, what language they speak.

As it is with decisions claimed under the banner of divine sanction - our human propensity to royally screw things up is far less "thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as in heaven," and far more "God, bless this mess----please."

Ask any member of a Bishop's cabinet forced to appoint those whose track record reveals them to be inept in the pastorate while excelling as one person congregational wrecking crews, and you know that "God bless this mess---please" is a petition prayed without ceasing.

The crisis in the stagnation of mainline systems and structures has us languishing for relevance in a world that no longer operates under the 1950's "Leave It to Beaver" simplicity.  And while the world doesn't look like that (and I'm not sure it ever really did) we need to stop acting like the panacea for all our problems is a simple recovery of what's past in order to embrace and respond to what is and what will be.  Our frantic quest for relevance and reform has us doing "leadership summits" that, unless it's just short of 95 Theses being nailed to the General Conference's door, will change nothing.

We have it within us to be more than we are.  We have it within us to reform what we've been.  Ours is a movement whose genesis is reform.

Consider- had we not grown beyond what's been, women would not be clergy in The United Methodist Church.  We pat ourselves on the back that we're so progressive on this front (at least we do now), but let's be honest--we were late to this.  Our Nazarene cousins were forward looking long before we were.

If we were only looking backwards for our future vision, this one would have never happened (unless, of course, we went back to the time of Jesus).  It's one thing to "feel good" about what we've done on this front, it's another thing altogether to have the truth of what we say so fully enmesh into the lifeblood of the Church that it is "truth" no longer in need of an apologist for why it is as it is. It just is.

Some of my United Methodist clergy brothers still struggle with that. They may acquiesce to the concept of women who can be clergy, but see if they want a woman to be their pastor, or even their equal. That women are not appointed to churches with the same consideration as I have been (which is now likely to change, like I care), reveals what we really believe. I have heard a DS  lament his problem of having too many women to appoint in a given year.  The same people who bemoan congregations who don't want women pastors are more likely those who wouldn't want a woman to be their pastor.  The truth is, our system provides rhetorical cover for systemic misogyny carried out every day.  And we all know it.

Let me be clear. Of the very small number of clergy (very small indeed) who I'd seek to be my pastor, there are more women on that list than men.

To be sure, not all women who are clergy are effective.  Not all women ordained clergy should have been.
That puts them in the same company as the men.

I wished cabinets would do more about ineffective clergy content to phone it in while living under the perceived protection of a guaranteed appointment. We don't need an "ineffectiveness policy." We've got one in the Book of Discipline. We haven't the sufficient fortitude to motivate complacency into meaningful ministry or itinerate folks to another means of paying bills, because that's all their appointment is to them. And in the meantime congregations needing someone to help them drink from the well that never shall run dry are parched because their pastor hasn't a damned clue where that well is, and those needing a prophetic swift kick in their status quo aren't getting it for lack of visionary leadership.

Let's have a "leadership summit" on that...shall we?

1 comment:

Marcia said...

Late to the party, I know, but so nice to read what has been going through my mind lately. The church needs more TEACHERS and fewer PREACHERS. Teachers can get the point across in a way that is both relevant and understandable. "Preachers" seem to preach a lot, but at the end of the sermon, I look at the person next to me and say, "Huh?"