Testimony of a Radical Methodist

     In every crisis there is an opportunity, and in the current crisis of the United Methodist Church there is an opportunity for us to rediscover the roots of our Methodist identity. According to Merriam-Webster such moments are ‘radical:’ ‘of, relating to, or proceeding from a root.’

     The roots of my Methodist identity have led me to this ‘radical’ conclusion: a church-wide policy and practice of marriage equality and ordination of LGBTQIA believers who are called to ministry are the faithful fruit of our Methodist roots.   

      Anything less—such as the One Church Plan disguised in the UMC Next’s plan—or anything that delays this—such as the Connectional Table’s U.S. Regional Conference proposal—poisons those roots and will bear bad fruit.

     What are the roots of Methodism? Simply put, it is Jesus Christ in your heart. It is the love of God which we have been given in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit forgiving, freeing, reforming, and animating us from the inside out to love others, especially our enemies and opponents, and to do the works of mercy, justice and peace in the name of Jesus. It is the Spirit of the risen Christ filling us with love to be the agents of liberation.

     For those keeping score of my theology, this is the doctrine of holiness, sanctification, Christian perfection, perfect love to use Wesleyan parlance. It is theosis, to put it on the broader theological map. The doctrinal basis for this is a thorough-going Trinitarian understanding of God that includes a deeply orthodox affirmation of the Incarnation.

     I know that there are other progressive United Methodists that arrive at these non-negotiables by way of liberal Protestant theology. But not me. When I speak of divine love, it is not an abstract ideal or a human aspiration; it is the gift of the Holy Spirit. When I talk about the Incarnation, it is not the watered-down reinterpretation of the creeds; it is the actual hypostatic union of the Second Person of the Trinity kind-of-stuff. Ireneaus and Athanasius, as well as Cone and Gutiérrez, inform and inspire my thinking.

     The root of Methodism produces radical fruit. If you really believe in Orthodox teachings then this heart-felt religion is no opiate of the masses or Americanized consumerist faith. True Methodism includes both altar calls and picket lines. If it is really Jesus the Incarnate and Risen One in your heart then it will lead you to acts of nonconformity and liberation. The Jesus who is in your heart was the one who confronted the Pharisees, fed the hungry, ate with the outcasts, and ran the money changers out of the Temple. He will do no less when he takes up residency in your heart.

     Just as Jesus lives in my heart, so too does Jesus live in the hearts of my LGBTQIA kinfolk. I have experienced the witness of the Holy Spirit in them. They manifest the fruit and the gifts of the Spirit. They lead our churches in the Spirit and they witness to the love of Christ. Any interpretation of scripture that rejects their ministries and marriages is an interpretation that blasphemes the Holy Spirit.

     Despite our sexual and gender differences, there is a deeper spiritual unity. Out of this spiritual unity comes the affirmation—not the suppression—of our diversity. It is an affirmation grounded in the Incarnation, and the Holy Spirit creates this unity without uniformity. This unity in the Spirit of Christ is the fundamental nature of the church. This is the root definition of a Methodist church.

    If this is the root of Methodism, then the work of the Holy Spirit takes precedence over organizational unity and institutional preservation. This is why the starting point for renewal must include

‘church-wide protection against discrimination based on race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, or economic condition, and that practices full itinerancy of LGBTQIA+ pastors and same-sex weddings in all their churches (Indianapolis Plan, Basic Provision #5).’

    Many centrists argue that we need to give people time to grow into this, that you cannot dump it on them. They are partially right; one dimension of sanctification is gradual growth in grace. However, gradualism applies to the individual’s faith development. It should not be the official policy of the denomination. Making gradualism our policy does nothing but grieve the Holy Spirit and poisons the roots of Methodism.

      Indeed, for me—a straight, white guy—to continue to make progress toward Christian perfection means that I need to be part of a church with such a clear policy that creates the kinds of practices and relationships that decenter my privileged sins and challenges me to receive the Holy Spirit through others who are different from me.

     Given the current political dynamics in the UMC, I feel that the only option, at this time, is to support the formation of a new Methodist denomination whose orientation is this kind of holiness. I do not believe it is possible for the United Methodist Church to become that kind of church. Our dysfunction is too deeply entrenched. Unity for the sake of institutional preservation (disguised in the rhetoric of “missional” and “global”) reinforces relationships and attitudes that do not foster the love of Jesus in our hearts.

What we must seek is revival. A revival of holy love is the roots of Methodism. In the future, God will give us new forms of unity, but only after we return to our roots.

[Postscript: Given the recent development of Protocols for separation, the possibility of a liberationist Methodist denomination remains unclear. I have real concerns about its practical viability. In that case, we may not see the formation of a denomination but rather an association within the post-separation UMC that looks different from the current progressive caucuses. Revival takes many forms but what is clear is that it will not find expression in the current political organizations whose livelihood is drawn from this present conflict.]

    

Published by

Notes for a New Methodism

Rev. Darren Cushman Wood is the senior minister of North United Methodist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana and is an elder and full member of the Indiana Annual Conference. He is a graduate of the University of Evansville and Union Theological Seminary (New York). Darren was a delegate to the 2004 & 2008 General Conferences and a delegate to the 2000 & 2016 Jurisdictional Conferences. He is the author of "The Secret Transcript of the Council of Bishops" and "Blue Collar Jesus: How Christianity Supports Workers' Rights."

11 thoughts on “Testimony of a Radical Methodist”

  1. I admire your support for the Indy Plan. The day is coming when you will regret referring to historic, traditional scriptural understandings as blasphemous. While radicals will vaunt their radicalism as a w

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    1. [Sorry, my comment was published before being finished.] While radicals may vaunt their radicalism as a Wesleyan orthodoxy, it’s strange that one would contradict scripture to make such an argument. Many of us were on such a path and have repented.

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  2. You seem to be suggesting the Holy Spirit cannot actively work in someone who engages in sin. You then use that hypothesis to claim the activities of a person who exhibits gifts of the Holy Spirit cannot be sinful. Sin hinders the work of the Holy Spirit, but it does not prevent that work. Calling out sin in a Christian does not blaspheme the Holy Spirit.

    We agree it’s time to return to our Methodist roots of holiness. We just disagree on the definition of holiness. Imagine what the Holy Spirit could do in our pastors and our churches if we stopped hindering His works. Imagine what could happen if Methodists once again trusted in Jesus rather than in deceitful hearts. (Jeremiah 17:9) Imagine what could happen if Methodists started believing the Bible once again rather than continually trying to reinterpret it to justify their beloved sins.

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  3. Darren, you claim to hold orthodox views but yet you also say Jesus will lead us “to acts of nonconformity and liberation”. You say we are to be “agents of liberation”. That doesn’t sound like orthodoxy. Do you hold to the orthodox teaching that Jesus died on the cross to free us from slavery to sin and death? If so, why would you withhold the transforming love of God from our LGBTQ brothers and sisters? Do your orthodox beliefs go beyond belief in the incarnation? It seems you are rejecting Liberation Theology on the one hand while proclaiming it on the other. Please clarify your position. Thank you.

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    1. You were right when you said that we have different understandings of holiness. As for scripture, our different approaches to interpretation go beyond what can be explored in this post–and it was not my intention to write a post about scriptural interpretation on this issue. As for other orthodox beliefs, I believe in the physical resurrection of Christ. I agree with you that the cross frees us from slavery to sin and death. The salvation of the cross overcomes political and social evils as well as individual sins. I see certain types of liberation theology as compatible with orthodox Christian teaching. At the heart of our disagreement is whether or not same-gender sexual relations is sinful. I would say that, like heterosexual relations, they are only sinful when they involve exploitation, manipulation, and selfishness, but when they are expressions of loving, covenant relationships that they are not sinful. I am assuming that you would disagree, that you would say that all same-gender sexual relations are sinful.

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  4. Thank you for your reply and further explanation. Interpretation of scripture could be an issue, but I suspect there is a deeper disagreement than that. I don’t believe “the heart of our disagreement is whether or not same-gender sexual relations is sinful”. That is an argument that cannot be resolved. The real disagreement is much deeper than that. I personally have no desire to be part of a church that defines itself around human sexuality. A church such as that has lost its way.

    I am intrigued by your idea that “[t]he salvation of the cross overcomes political and social evils” I realize this is not the best forum to have this discussion, but I don’t see this important conversation happening anywhere else. The conversation in the church today always seems to be focused on sex. Here is my question: If Jesus overcame political and social evils on the cross, why are we continuing to deal with political and social evils today? The work of Jesus on the cross is a finished work. To suggest further work must be done implies Jesus failed.

    Thanks again for your willingness to have the important conversations others don’t want to have. I appreciate the work you did on the Indianapolis Plan.

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    1. Thank you Sean. I believe your concerns with some views in this article are expressed well and are not offensive in any way. Your concerns are the same that are bothering so many of us since the COB’s put forth their views through the COWF and then the OCP at February’s special called GC. All that has happened since has served to awaken those who have been sedentary in their views while listening to the preachings that I for one never really challenged. I trusted the pastor to be leading us in the right direction. Not any longer.

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    2. You are raising a legitimate concern about a church that defines itself around human sexuality. Unfortunately, it is the presenting issue that is driving everything, and regardless of where one lands–traditionalist, centrist, or progressive denomination or in an association of churches that says ‘none of the above’–all of our futures will be defined, in part, by where we stand (or refuse to stand) on human sexuality. But your concern was floating in my head as I wrote this post and I kept rewriting it to no avail. So for the sake of readability I decided to abbreviate my thoughts. No excuse, just an explanation. Regardless, I think the task for all of us is to move beyond sexuality after the initial separation takes place. There has to be more to a denomination or association that a contemporary issue. Thus, for progressives, I attempted to write this piece to show how basic Methodist beliefs can accommodate our vision of inclusion. Where we agree is that the focus ultimately must be on Jesus, not ourselves.

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  5. I joined the Methodist Church when I was ten; hence, I have been a participating member for eighty years. I have heard thousands of sermons, and I do not recall one that supported what I consider the hateful comments in the Discipline regarding the gay community. In addition, I have a gay son whom I love dearly, and I hope that the Methodist Church will take to heart the vows made at his baptism to support him and love him as one of God’s children.
    Alice Shoemaker

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