The Indianapolis Plan – Final

I am putting the Indianapolis Plan Basic Provisions here.  I will be blogging on the provisions as we ended up over the next several days.  Traditionalists, Centrists, and Progressives did not agree on all provisions but we felt we needed to offer a different option to General Conference delegates related to separation.  We realized much of this plan, if used, will be modified.  We are praying for GC2020.

BASIC PROVISIONS OF AN INDIANAPOLIS PLAN ​​​​FOR AMICABLE SEPARATION​​​​       September 18, 2019

INTRODUCTION:

The 2019 special General Conference of the United Methodist Church highlighted the depth of the irreconcilable differences present in The United Methodist Church.

Rather than continuing the quarrel over homosexuality at the 2020 General Conference, a group of Progressives, Centrists, and Traditionalists present these proposals as a possible pathway to amicable separation in The United Methodist Church.  The names of the participants are at the end of the document.

We envision a new future for the people of The United Methodist Church to avoid further harm to one another, to United Methodists around the world, to the church universal, and to those with whom we strive to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We seek to move away from the caustic atmosphere which has often marked conversation in the United Methodist Church into a new season where we bless one another as we send each other into our respective mission fields to multiply our witness for Christ.

We envision an amicable separation in The United Methodist Church which would provide a pathway to new denominations of the Methodist movement so we can all make new disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. These new denominations, though separate, will continue the rich heritage of the Methodist movement while being free to share their respective witnesses for Christ unhindered by those with whom they have been in conflict.  We will release one another to joyful obedience to Christ’s call on our lives.

BASIC PROVISIONS:

1. The 2020 General Conference of The United Methodist Church would support an amicable separation plan by providing a pathway for the development of a Traditionalist United Methodist Church and a Centrist United Methodist Church.  A Progressive expression may emerge as a Progressive United Methodist Church or may be included in the Centrist United Methodist Church. Other denominations may emerge as well. (Names are placeholders and descriptive; each new denomination would choose their own name and may use “United Methodist Church” with an appropriate modifier if they so choose).
2. The United Methodist Church would not be dissolved but would have its legal continuation through the Centrist United Methodist Church.
3. The Traditionalist United Methodist Church would be a global denomination that would maintain the current stance of the United Methodist Discipline regarding the practice of homosexuality. It would emphasize unity around doctrine, mission, and standards, leaner denominational structure, greater local flexibility, and accountable discipleship.
4. The Centrist United Methodist Church would be a global denomination that would remove from the Discipline the “incompatibility” language and prohibitions against same-sex weddings, ordinations, and appointments.  Centrist annual conferences and local congregations would make their own decisions regarding the ordination and appointment of homosexual persons and performing same-sex weddings in their conferences and congregations. It would practice faith with a generous spirit, emphasizing greater local flexibility within a deep commitment to connectionalism, social  justice, and missional engagement that transforms the world for Jesus Christ
5. A Progressive expression may emerge as a Progressive United Methodist Church that would be a global denomination that includes 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. Another progressive expression may be the inclusion of progressives in the Centrist United Methodist Church.
6. Other denominations may be formed by a group of 50 or more local churches or by one or more annual conferences.
7. All denominations would have their own General Conferences or governing boards, books of Discipline, structure, polity, and finances.  Any local congregation which chooses to join one of these denominations would be relieved of the trust clause in order to take their assets and liabilities into the new denomination.
8. Annual conferences in the United States would decide by a simple majority vote of those annual conference members present and voting with which denomination to align.  Annual conferences not making a decision would become part of the Centrist United Methodist Church by default.
9. Central conferences would decide by a simple majority vote of those members present and voting with which denomination to align.  Central conferences that do not make a decision would become part of the Traditionalist United Methodist Church by default. Annual conferences outside the United States could decide by a simple majorityto align with a different denomination than their central conference.
10. Local churches disagreeing with their annual conference’s decision could decide by a simple majority vote of a charge or church conference to align with a different denomination.  All local church property, assets, and liabilities would continue to belong to that local church.
11. Clergy and ministerial candidates would decide with which denomination to align.  By default, they would remain part of the denomination chosen by their annual conference, unless they choose to affiliate with a different denomination.
12. Bishops (active and retired) would decide with which denomination to align.  By default, they would remain part of the Centrist United Methodist Church unless they choose to align with a different denomination.
13. Continuation of clergy and episcopal pensions would be provided for by assigning liability for the unfunded pension liabilities to the new denominations and by receiving payments from withdrawing congregations that choose not to align with created denominations.
14. Annual conferences and local congregations could begin functioning in the new alignment beginning August 1, 2020, on an interim basis.  Annual conferences, local churches, and clergy choosing to align with a denomination other than the Traditionalist Unite Methodist Church would be exempt during the interim period, following the adjournment of General Conference 2020 to the start of the new denominations, from the provisions in the Discipline prohibiting same-sex weddings and the ordination, appointment, or consecration of self-avowed, practicing homosexuals. Inaugural General Conference sessions would be held in the fall of 2021, with the new denominations becoming fully functional as of January 1, 2022.  The Progressive United Methodist Church might launch at a later date, if desired. The opportunity to choose an alignment would remain open until at least December 31, 2028.
15. Wespath, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, United Methodist Women, the General Commission on United Methodist Men, and The United Methodist Publishing House would continue as independent 501(c)(3)organizations with their own self-perpetuating boards of directors and would be able to serve any denomination thatdesires to receive services from them.
16. All other United Methodist boards and agencies would become part of the Centrist United Methodist Church with mutually agreed upon initial funding and subject to possible reforms and restructuring by the Centrist United Methodist Church.  Such boards and agencies could also contract to serve other denominations formed in this process.
17. The 2020 General Conference would provide continuing funding for Central Conference ministries during the 2021-2024 Quadrennium supported by all denominations.  All United Methodist conferences and congregations would be encouraged to continue support for Central Conference ministries regardless of denominational affiliation.
18. A process and principles for allocating general church assets to fund transition to new denominations and to be devoted to the missional purposes of each denomination thereafter would be adopted by the 2020 General Conference.
19. Mandatory retirement provisions for all bishops would be waived until 2022 after the new denominations have become operational.  Jurisdictional conferences might not elect bishops in 2020, reconvening in 2021 or 2022 as part of the Centrist United Methodist Church. Central conferences would elect the number of bishops determined by the 2020 General Conference, as planned. This would allow a proper match of the number of bishops needed under these new conditions.  Bishops in other denominations formed in this process would be elected and assigned according to the provisions of those denominations.

Here are the United Methodist Progressive, Centrist and Traditionalists Clergy and Laity who developed and signed this proposal for an amicable separation.  Organizational names are provided for informational purposes only and do not imply that these churches or organizations have endorsed these proposals.

Rev. Keith Boyette, President,
Wesleyan Covenant Association
Fredericksburg, Virginia
Traditionalist

Rev. Darren Cushman Wood, Senior Pastor
North United Methodist Church
Indianapolis, Indiana
Progressive

Rev. Dr. Douglas Damron, Senior Pastor
Epworth United Methodist Church
Toledo, Ohio
Centrist

Lynette Fields, Layperson
Florida Annual Conference
Orlando, Florida
Progressive

Rev. Dr. Cathy Johns, Senior Pastor​​​​​
Hyde Park Community United Methodist Church
Cincinnati, Ohio
Centrist

Krystl D. Johnson, Layperson​​​
Lay Delegate, Eastern Pennsylvania Conference
Chester, Pennsylvania
Traditionalist

Rev. Thomas Lambrecht, Vice President and General Manager
Good News
Spring, Texas
Traditionalist

Rev. Dr. Kent Millard, President
United Theological Seminary
Dayton, Ohio
Centrist

Cara Nicklas, Layperson​​​​​​
Lay Delegate, Oklahoma Annual Conference
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
Traditionalist

Rev. Dr. Chris Ritter, Directing Pastor
First United Methodist Church
Geneseo, Illinois
Traditionalist

Rev. Dr. John E. Stephens, Senior Pastor
Chapelwood United Methodist Church
Houston, Texas
Centrist

Rev. Judy Zabel, Senior Pastor
Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church
Minneapolis, Minnesota
Centrist

The Indianapolis Plan :: Timelines, Boards, Assets

Recently, The Indianapolis Plan – Basic Provisions was released to the United Methodist Church.  It was designed by a group of United Methodists  – ‘traditionalist, centrist, and progressive’ (I will use these terms for shared understanding realizing some, including me, think they are easily misused and limited). The facilitators were Kent Millard, Darren Cushman-Wood, and Keith Boyette. I was invited to participate in this group as one of the centrists.  Over the coming days, I will share my thoughts on the Indy Plan, speak to some of the strengths of the plan, and point to some of its weaknesses.  I will also point to what I believe are the biggest obstacles.  I hope the comments you share on social media and on this blog will be helpful in not only refining the Indy Plan as we continue our work but help all of United Methodism find a way forward.  I think it would be helpful for General Conference delegates if you share your thoughts related to what the future needs to look like for Wesleyan Methodism around the world.  I will be faithful to post all comments that are helpful and none that are harmful on this blog.  The Indy group welcomes feedback as we continue to refine the plan.

Basic Provisions – with my reflections following:


15. Annual conferences and local congregations could begin functioning in the new alignment beginning August 1, 2020, on an interim basis. Inaugural General Conference sessions would be held in Fall 2021, with the new expressions becoming fully functional as of January 1, 2022.

  • The Indianapolis timeline will need to be examined to see if it is reasonable and realistic.  General Conferences for new expressions – traditionalist and progressive expressions could be established as they see fit.  The continuation of the UMC will be restricted by the current Book of Discipline’s rules on calling a General Conference.

16. Wespath, UMCOR, UMW, and the United Methodist Publishing House would be established as independent 501(c)3 organizations with their own self-perpetuating boards of directors and would be positioned to serve any expression that desired to receive services from them.

  • We will need to clarify what we mean by ‘independent’.  Will they no longer by governed by the UMC?  No longer have boards elected by the UMC?  If they are serving multiple expressions, this type of autonomy may be best.
  • Wespath will be able to create/envision a way to serve multiple denominations with boards made up of members they select from the differing denominations.
  • There are legal issues here that will need to be examined regarding the tax-exempt purposes, legal considerations, and Wespath’s need to be associated with the UMC (and other like expressions) to keep their proper status as a benefits operator.  Wespath will have to give clarity on these needs.

17. All other agencies would become part of the Centrist/Progressive UMC with mutually agreed upon initial funding, subject to further possible reforms and restructuring by that new expression. Such agencies could also contract to serve other expressions formed in this process.

  • We need more clarity here and the agencies would need to speak into this process as it relates to any legislation.  
  • What is “mutually agreed upon initial funding”?  Would this be mediated before General Conference?  Is that even possible before GC20?
  • There will be questions as to whether any of the resources (restricted or unrestricted) monies can be taken from any board or agency.  Some believe we can put all the reserves in a ‘pool’ and distribute them equally to new expressions.  This will require some due diligence by legal counsel as to the possibility of whether that can occur.  Can one give money to a charitable organization for the purpose of supporting that specific organization, then ask for it back…or ask for it to be pooled with other monies and distributed to new organizations that are outside the intent of the original gifts?
  • One big question:  What happens to the associated UMC organizations/entities?  Children’s Homes, Foundations, Retirement Homes, Conference Camps, etc.?  Will they remain with the annual conferences?  Most of them have tax-exempt status under the UMC umbrella.  What if they don’t want to go with the annual conference?  What if they want to leave the annual conference to join a new expression?

18. The 2020 General Conference would provide continuing funding for Central Conference ministries during the 2021-24 quadrennium, supported by all expressions.

  • Central Conference support is a big question.  People from all expressions desire to remain connected to Central Conferences, but how will that happen if they join a new expression?  The easiest way is to budget support in the General Conference budget over the next four years.  But that raises some questions?
    • Will the new denominations/expressions support this?  How can that be controlled or mandated?  What if the money from new expressions doesn’t come in as expected?  Would the budgeted amount be reduced based on those payments not received?
    • What if churches in the UMC choose not to pay that apportionment?  How will that budget item be paid?

19. A process and principles for dividing general church assets would be adopted by General Conference, to be implemented by an arbitration board.

  • This is the most difficult and divisive part of our conversations.  The Traditional UMC wants 50% of the UMC assets.  Centrists/Progressives want to “budget/send” money with new expressions but not ‘pool and divide’ assets.  What amounts are we talking about?  Everything?  Reserves?  Restricted and Unrestricted?  Properties?  We realized quickly that this discussion will require professional mediation.  There are too many hard lines on each side to come to agreement.  
  • The assets, including reserves, belong to the agencies.  They are separately incorporated.  There are so many restrictions to consider that it would be impossible to put those assets in a ‘pool’.  The easiest way to allocate monies to new expressions is to keep the UMC intact and use the General Conference budget process to budget the proportionate share of monies paid out over time.  The UMC may (I’m not sure on this) be able to move unrestricted reserves for other uses…but a new expression probably can’t make that happen.

20. Mandatory retirement provisions for bishops in the U.S. would be waived until 2022. Jurisdictional conferences would not elect bishops in 2020, reconvening for election of bishops in 2021 or 2022 as part of the Centrist/Progressive UMC. This would allow a proper match of the number of bishops with the need under the new conditions. Retired bishops may be used where needed to lead conferences until new bishops are elected. Bishops in the other expressions would be elected and assigned according to the provisions of those expressions.

  • This will need to be vetted as to whether it can be done without constitutional amendment.  Would we do the same for the entire UMC including Central Conferences?

I will plan to share updates from our ongoing discussions as we adapt this plan.  The Indianapolis Group has and is adding voices from differing caucuses, agencies, and perspectives as they weigh in to what we have shared so far.

My hope is that any separation of the UMC will bear witness to the highest ideals of our Christian faith.  I long for the church to show the world that while we may not agree, we can separate in a way that highlights love for God and one another.

The Indianapolis Plan :: Churches, Clergy, and Bishops

Last week, The Indianapolis Plan – Basic Provisions was released to the United Methodist Church.  It was designed by a group of United Methodists  – ‘traditionalist, centrist, and progressive’ (I will use these terms for shared understanding realizing some, including me, think they are easily misused and limited). The facilitators were Kent Millard, Darren Cushman-Wood, and Keith Boyette. I was invited to participate in this group as one of the centrists.  Over the coming days, I will share my thoughts on the Indy Plan, speak to some of the strengths of the plan, and point to some of its weaknesses.  I will also point to what I believe are the biggest obstacles.  I hope the comments you share on social media and on this blog will be helpful in not only refining the Indy Plan as we continue our work but help all of United Methodism find a way forward.  I think it would be helpful for General Conference delegates if you share your thoughts related to what the future needs to look like for Wesleyan Methodism around the world.  I will be faithful to post all comments that are helpful and none that are harmful on this blog.  The Indy group welcomes feedback as we continue to refine the plan.

Basic Provisions – with my reflections following:


11. Local churches disagreeing with their annual conference’s decision could decide by majority vote of a church conference to align with a different expression. All local church property, assets, and liabilities would continue to belong to that local church.

  • A few thoughts:
  • If General Conference allows for annual conferences to leave and join a new denomination of Methodism, they should also allow remedy for local churches that disagree with the annual conference’s decision.  If an annual conference is allowed to leave, a church within the annual conference may choose to go with them (no vote required) or choose a different expression – remain in UMC or go with one of the new, birthed expressions (a vote is required here, or some active decision).
  • How that decision is made in a local church would need to be clearly defined.  What would the threshold be?
  • Like the annual conference threshold, this is an important determination.  A local church may leave an annual conference now.  A local church may also change annual conferences in certain circumstances.  Currently, the annual conference determines the basis for a local church to ‘disaffiliate’ since the annual conference owns the property of the church and the unfunded pension liability.  
  • Currently, the Indy Plan allows any local church that disagrees with the decision of their annual conference to align with another expression.  Only a simple majority – 50%+1, would be needed.
  • While this does sound fair and equitable, we return to the question of appropriate thresholds when property and membership are at stake.  I don’t know the local church votes totals of the recently disaffiliated congregations in the Mississippi Conference, but earlier instances of churches leaving had the votes at well over 90-95% in favor of leaving.   I led a church merger in the early 2000’s, led an adoption merger in 2017, and am in discussions with another church regarding adoption merger.  These decisions can be deeply painful for many.  The first merger I led, we used a simple majority threshold.  It passed 55%-45% and caused more pain than I could have ever imagined.  Families were split in two.  Friendships were broken.  I promised myself we would always use a super-majority in the future.  In 2017, we used a 2/3 threshold for an adoption merger in Houston.  The process took longer, but they voted to merge with Chapelwood at an 80% threshold.   What if a church votes 60% and cannot leave?  I realize this works both ways – see my thoughts on this below.  With annual conferences, my rationale is rooted in organizational integrity (2/3 is current threshold for overseas annual conferences to disaffiliate and become autonomous churches).  
  • A 2/3 threshold is more in harmony with local churches being reassigned conferences (BOD, par 41).  Judicial Council decision 1379 also made a broad statement that “any legislation of the General Conference permitting the ‘gracious exit’ of a local church must require at a minimum (1) the disaffiliation resolution be approved by a 2/3 majority of the professing members of the local church…”
  • While it may not seem ‘fair’ to some, it may be difficult to pass and secure anything less than a 2/3 majority for local churches to depart.
  • On a personal note; I advocate for the simplest solutions possible, but I am not sure how to simplify this.  There will be churches where the church votes 53%-47% to remain in the UMC/centrist/progressive expression, what happens to the 47% who desire a traditionalist church? They will have to make a decision to remain in their church or depart.  It breaks my heart.
  • A super majority vote threshold has traditionally been the threshold to change categories of membership (expel), suspend rules, change fundamental rules (constitutional and restrictive), etc.  This is reflected in our Book of Discipline and Judicial Council decisions.  
  • Point of clarity:: This provision is worded to sound like every church would own their own property if they move to a new expression or even remain in the UMC expression.  This needs to be clarified.  If a church remains in the UMC expression, the same trust clause would exist.  If a church moves to a traditionalist expression – I have no idea if they plan to have a trust clause or not – I would guess they would have to have a trust clause to offset pension liability.  Churches would still not own their property if they join one the expressions approved by General Conference.  Only if they leave to become independent after paying whatever is determined by General Conference and annual conferences.

12. Clergy would decide with which expression to align. By default, they would remain part of their annual conference in whichever expression their annual conference affiliates, unless they request to affiliate with a different expression.

  • Clergy can choose to transfer conferences or even leave the denomination now.  New expressions would develop ways to receive clergy similar to how annual conferences transfer clergy.  I would love to see a ‘full communion’ relationship.
  • The new expressions will need to define the role of clergy, how they will be deployed, etc.  
    • Will there be guaranteed appointments?
    • How will they be appointed?  Itineracy?  Call system?
    • I assume ordinations will be honored, but what will the process be for credentialing someone who moves into a new expression.  This will need to made be clear by the new expressions.

13. Bishops would decide with which expression to align. By default, they would remain part of the Centrist/Progressive UMC, unless choosing to align with a different expression. Service as active bishops in each of the new expressions would depend upon the provisions adopted by that expression.

  • This will be interesting…
  • By default, they will remain UMC bishops in the UMC – centrist/progressive expression.  The would have to make an active decision to join a new expression.
  • What will bishops be in new expressions?  This will need to be developed before any bishop would decide to join.  I will let bishops ask questions here…I’m not really sure what they would want to know before making any decision.

14. Continuation of clergy and episcopal pensions would be provided for by assigning liability for the unfunded pension liabilities to the new expressions and by receiving payments from withdrawing congregations that choose not to align with created expressions.

  • Wespath is working on all this and giving input to the different groups working on plans.
  • Local churches and pastors disaffiliating to become independent (not join a new Methodist expression) would have to pay GC19 approved withdrawal payments.  
  • Clergy terminating membership (other than join new expression), would be converted under GC19 terms.
  • There will be a way for churches’ liabilities to be transferred to new Methodist expressions, but those expressions will have to assume legal responsibility, prove to be financially viable, and have adequate governance, funding, etc. to work with Wespath.
  • There will need to be a transition period on all of this.  It will take time.

Next Up :: Timelines and Boards/Agencies

The Misuse of Anger

“Of the Seven Deadly Sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back – in many ways it is a feast fit for a king. The chief drawback is that what you are wolfing down is yourself. The skeleton at the feast is you.”
– Frederick Buechner

Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple, by Theodoor Rombouts

In Ephesians 4:26, Paul says, “be angry but do not sin”.  Paul seems to allow for an Anger that does not reach the level of sin.  In the Old Testament (notably in the Psalms), God is frequently depicted as angry.  In the New Testament, we find Jesus angry as he throws the money changers and merchants out of the Temple.  In the Bible, righteous indignation seems to be an appropriate response to offenses committed against God (Ps. 119:53; Mk. 3:5).  There is a place to respond in Anger, but this Anger is something distinctly less permanent than deeply-rooted wrath or hostility. We all struggle to distinguish between getting angry for injustice versus becoming an angry person.  Anger is needed in some situations of injustice. It is better than callous indifference.  So how do we determine if our anger is indeed righteous or sinful?  We should ask ourselves these questions:

  • Does our expression of Anger lead to love, wholeness (shalom), or healing?  Is it building up others and the body of Christ?  Are we helping to bring healing to someone or some group that has been oppressed or abused?  If the answers are “yes” – then perhaps your expression of Anger is righteous.
  • On the other hand, does my expression of Anger lead to division, destruction, animosity, alienation, or separation?  This kind of Anger would be hard pressed to be “righteous”.

Paul also writes in Ephesians 4:27, “do not make room for the devil”.  When Anger takes up residence within us, we become ‘angry people’. Angry people sow division, destruction, animosity, alienation, and separation.

It seems to me that good people in our society and churches are responding to injustice with Anger.  But they are allowing that Anger to consume them and others in destructive ways.  We are not always good at using Anger in beneficial ways.  Our goal should be to leverage our Anger into love, wholeness, healing, and building up the body of Christ.  We all need to stop and ask this question: Has injustice led me to righteous Anger?  If so, am I leveraging that Anger to build up the body of Christ?  Or, have I allowed that Anger to ‘make room for the devil’ in my life?  Good people, motivated by injustice, are right to get angry.  Too often, many of them lose control of the Anger.  It controls them. The good they want to do is followed by a wake of destruction and brokenness.  I pray we can find ways to harness the passion of righteous Anger to build the body of Christ.

Mercy is the quality that stands against Anger. All the Anger words – wrath, bitterness, resentment, vengeance, judgment, etc. – are devoid of mercy. The person who swims in the current of God’s mercy already has a leg up in dealing with Anger.  God’s love at work in the world is “mercy”…mercy extended toward friends and enemies, those like me and those unlike me, toward those of every race and tribe. Mercy is a distinctly “God-like” quality.

You may be angry for the right reasons; but be careful that your Anger does not consume you and lead to destruction.

The Terrible Temptation for the United Methodist Pastor

Last week, I preached on Sloth. Or, as the ancient Christians referred to it, Acedia.  I shared a personal testimony that of the Seven Deadening Sins, this one has affected me the most in recent days, weeks, and even years.  I believe it also affects many of my brothers and sisters who are in ministry in the United Methodist Church as we have been battling over the issue of human sexuality.

I have heard it said that many United Methodist pastors are going through the stages of grief.  Others are dealing with naturally occurring depression triggered by this difficult event.  But for me, Acedia/Sloth is my struggle.  Acedia was always thought to be linked to vocation and it was considered the monk’s (pastor’s) most dangerous temptation.  The vows we take to proclaim the Gospel and make disciples are foolishness to the world.  We have given our lives to this vocational calling.  We put all our chips in the UMC/Wesleyan basket.  We bet everything we have on this and we are uncertain of the future.  I truly believe that this “fight” in our denomination has led many pastors to lose focus, become listless, and find themselves spiritually sluggish.

We must do all we can to stay focused on the main thing.  However, that is easier said than done.

Kathleen Norris writes this about Sloth/Acedia: “At its Greek root, the word acedia means the absence of care.  The person struggling with acedia refuses to care or is incapable of caring.  When life becomes too challenging and engagement with others too demanding, acedia offers a kind of spiritual morphine: you know the pain is there, yet can’t rouse yourself to give a damn.” (from Acedia and Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life)

Thomas Aquinas thought of Sloth as a “paralysis of the will to continue,” which begins with dissatisfaction and ends in desperation.  He went on to say that the slothful person loses sight of the goal of life.  Sloth is a fundamentally spiritual issue – a sadness in relation to belief and practice.  Aquinas thought that joy and charity were the opposites to Sloth. After all, we should find joy in following Christ and that joy should generate love!

John Cassian believed that the spiritual person’s Acedia/Sloth could be disguised as good deeds, or even fighting the good fight.  When we help others and fight for a cause, we can distract from the interior work we need to do.  Cassian said the religious person beset by the “foul mist of acedia decides that he/she should pay their respects to others and visit the sick.”  The hidden good work is of value here.

William May wrote, “The soul in the state of sloth is beyond sadness and melancholy.  It has removed itself from the rise and fall of feelings; the very root of its feelings in desire is dead.  That is why, for the medieval moralist, sloth was…the most terrifying of sins.  It is sin at its utter most limit.  To be human is to desire.  The good person desires God and other things in God.  The sinful person desires things in the place of God, but they are still recognizably human inasmuch as they have known desire.  The slothful person, however, is a dead person, an arid waste…their desire itself has dried up.” (from Sinning Like a Christian)

I shared these steps on Sunday that I am using to battle Acedia/Sloth, and I wanted to share them again:

  1. Make a firm intention to keep on keeping on.  Take the next right step.
  2. Bite off small spiritual disciplines and tackle humble activities.
  3. Care for others (this causes us to stop turning inward)
  4. Pay attention to your inner life.
  5. Make a vow of stability (the Benedictines make this vow so they are forced to deal with interior issues in the face of difficult situations/locations)
  6. Look for joy.  It is all around, but acedia/sloth blinds us.

 

Reading Paul Again…For the First Time

This will be a odd blog post.  It’s just passages of scripture.

I recently returned from Greece and Turkey with a group of 50 of my new closest friends from Chapelwood.  We followed in the footsteps of Paul and I wanted to read all of Paul’s letters again several times – to see if I noticed anything new in light of the trip.

I have to admit the divisions of the world (and the church) do color my readings.  What I discovered reading Paul again was a friend and co-laborer.  Paul is a mentor.   He is doing exactly what I am doing…fighting every day to share the Gospel and keep the followers of Jesus together so they can effectively change the world.  In every letter, Paul is trying to manage the divisions in his churches.  Paul is strict with those who are dividing the church.  But if you read all of them together, you see the larger themes: he encourages them to love, be kind, forgive, bear with weaker members.  Paul is trying to keep the church together so they can be a visible testimony to the power of Christ in the world.

I found it transforming.  I hope you will as well.  And if you feel going to Greece will help you in your readings, let me know! 😉

I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offenses, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them.  For such people do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites…

– Romans 16:17-18

Now, I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose…Has Christ been divided?

– 1 Corinthians 1:10, 13a

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us.  So, we are ambassadors for Christ…

– 2 Corinthians 5:17-20a

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another.  For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.

– Galatians 5;13-15

I encourage you to live as people worthy of the call you received from God. Conduct yourselves with all humility, gentleness, and patience. Accept each other with love, and make an effort to preserve the unity of the Spirit with the peace that ties you together. You are one body and one spirit, just as God also called you in one hope. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all, and in all.

– Ephesians 4:1-6

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves.  Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.  Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…

– Philippians 2:1-5

Put to death, therefore, whatever in your is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).  On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.  These are the ways you once followed when you were living that life.  But now you must get rid of all such things – anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.  Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in the knowledge according to the image of its creator.  In that renewal there is no longer Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

– Colossians 3:5-11

Now concerning love of the brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anyone write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brothers and sisters throughout Macedonia.  But we urge you, beloved, to do so more and more, to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we directed you, so that you may behave properly toward outsiders and be dependent on no one.

– 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12

Take note of those who do not obey what we say in this letter; have nothing to do with them, so they they may be ashamed.  Do not regard them as enemies, but warn them as believers.

– 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15

Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.

– 1 Timothy 4:12

Remind them of this, and warn them before God that they are to avoid wrangling over words, which does no good but only ruins those who are listening.  Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.  Avoid profane chatter, for it will lead people into more and more impiety, and their talk will spread like gangrene…have nothing to to do with stupid and senseless controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.  And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kindly to everyone, and apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness,  God may perhaps grant that they will depend and come to know the truth…

– 2 Timothy 2:14-17a, 23-25

Remind them to be subject to the rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone.  For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, desipicable, hating one another.  But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and the renewal of the Holy Spirit…I desire that you insist on these things, so that those who have come to believe in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works; these things are excellent and profitable to everyone.  But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.  After a first and second admonition, have nothing more to do with anyone who causes divisions since you know that such a person is perverted and sinful, being self-condemned.

– Titus 3:1-11

So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me.  If he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.  I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand: I will repay it.

– Philemon 17-19

Good News to Bad Christians

10 Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. 11 For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. 12 What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” 13 Has Christ been divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? 14 I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. 16 (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) 17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power.

 –1 Corinthians 1:10-17

When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.

 –1 Corinthians 1:1-5

It seems that our country is divided over everything.  I mean, we can’t even have a little fun when IHOP changes its name to IHOb just to draw attention to itself.  We all want to claim the moral high ground based on the values that are important to us.  For some, obeying law and respecting authority is the highest value.  For others, justice and mercy are the highest values.  And then there are many others who find themselves on a spectrum between multiple other values that include the two I listed already.  We don’t think the same way.  But we must acknowledge that we are influenced by powerful values and the leaders who embody those values.

I find it fascinating how the Apostle Paul dealt with a church that struggled with many divisions.  The church in Corinth was his most diverse community and most divided church.  There were many social, political, and economic divisions within the church alone (Pauline scholar Douglas Campbell points to 15 divisions Paul addresses in his letters).  How did the people of Corinth deal with their problems?  They separated into “factions” based on partisan issues (partisan means strong supporter of a party, cause, or person).  Each of these factions claimed their own ‘leaders’ – they co-opted Paul, Apollos, Cephas (Peter) and even Jesus!  Christians were slandering and quarrelling.  Paul addressed this by sending good news to bad Christians in 1 Corinthians.  Paul starts his letter by writing, “let there be no divisions among you, but be united in the same mind and the same purpose…it has been reported there are quarrels among you…some say “I belong to Paul” or “I belong to Apollos” or “I belong to Cephas” or “I belong to Christ””.

I love how Paul does this.  He starts with himself as the lowest “claimed faction” leader and moves up to Christ.  After all, if your are in a faction that claims Cephas (Peter) or Christ you have way more authority than Paul or Apollos!  But Paul calls this for what it is: if you think you have the moral high ground just because you claim Christ and turn him into a leader of your faction, you are sadly mistaken.  You think that makes you right?  Christ can not be divided.  Christ is “faction-less”.

If we want to follow Christ, we must follow Christ.  You can’t follow another faction leader or even their ideals.  You can’t divide Christ and claim him for your faction.  You can’t slander the leaders of other factions.  You can’t slander or quarrel with members of a different faction.  If you are followers of Christ, you must love one another in the midst of your differences and you must stop tearing each other down.  This is Paul’s central lesson in 1 Corinthians.  “You have divisions…okay; but what are those divisions rooted in?  Your faction’s belief system?  That is not what I taught you.”  Christ is not a faction and he is our primary leader.  Christ gets the highest allegiance over every other leader.  No one gets more loyalty than Christ…not Paul, not Apollos, not Cephas, and not any other earthly leader.  Only Christ…and we don’t get to divide Christ’s teachings into what we like and the what we don’t like.  We must follow his teachings and embody his actions.  We must remind ourselves of the greatest commandment he gave us and lay the rest down at his feet.

  • First reflection: How much of our quarrel, slander, emotional frustration, division, etc. is rooted in one of our factions?  Can we acknowledge that we are part of a faction that influences us more than Jesus’ teachings? (nationalism, political party, ideology, denominational, etc.). These are questions we can only answer for ourselves if we hope to be transformed by Christ.  It starts with me.

The second thought has to do with HOW we deal with our divisions.  Have you noticed how frustrating it becomes engaging in discussions trying to outdo one another with facts, resources, words, definitions, history, and laws?  You say something, I counter with another fact, you counter back, I counter back…it escalates and escalates and all we are left with is bitterness and frustration.  We try to out enlighten one another…as if some report or study or quote will convert the person we disagree with.  We post a new article from our favorite faction-news-outlet and…BOOM!  (Mic drop…walk off stage).  It doesn’t work that way.  Why?  Because as long as we have loyalty to a faction, whatever that faction is, we will remain loyal.  Our worldview will not be changed by any human argument against it as long as our allegiance is locked in.  Albert Einstein once wrote, “…a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move toward higher levels.”  His quote evolved into, “we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.”  Use all the articles and news reports you want from your faction outlets.  Those who disagree with you will discount them before they even read them.  There will be no boom.  There will be no mic drop.  Just more frustration and anger.

This is what Paul addresses to the Corinthians.  He doesn’t use “words” to argue divisions or try to solve the problem.  Words won’t work.  Paul knows the same words that created the problems can’t solve the problems.  Paul wrote, “when I came to you, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom…I decided to know nothing but Christ and him crucified…my speech and proclamation were not in plausible words of wisdom but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power that your faith might not rest on human wisdom but on the power of God.”  Paul realized he had to shine a light on the demonstration of the Spirit, not words.  He reminds them that he didn’t proclaim Christ with words but with the power of God.  Corinthians were brilliant, cosmopolitan people…words alone would not convert them.  Paul did not depend upon the wisdom of the “rulers of the age” (whether philosophical or political), instead he pointed to the things taught to by the Spirit…spiritual things modeled in loving action…things embodied by the life and teachings of Christ, revealed by the power of God.

  • Second reflection:  In what ways do we depend on words, teachings, eloquent rebuttals, news stories, research data, etc. to try to convince other factions they are wrong?  Are we willing to admit that we look for information and listen to the voices of our own “factions”?  Can we see the fallacy of depending on the wisdom of the rulers of the world to try to change other peoples views?  How do Paul’s words challenge those of us struggling with divisions in our own country and our churches?  What would it look like to discuss our differences in a new ways that could reveal the power of God and build unity?

Let me close with some honest admission paraphrasing Paul.  Here is a trustworthy saying: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst.  When I am a bad Christian, my struggle is being a part of the Christ faction.  I have to constantly test my loyalties to make sure I haven’t made Christ the co-opted, claimed leader of my own faction.  All Christians, good and bad, should wrestle with this.  Paul wrote these words to me…but I thought I’d share them with you:

“Do not deceive yourselves.  If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise.  For the wisdom of the world is foolishness to God…so let no one boast of human leaders…all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.”  

— 1 Corinthians 3:18-23