Hello to all of you. Many of you have stuck with this blog even though it has been quite silent for a time. I have used my time wisely over these past few months, trying as hard as possible to make it through the first year of ministry at the University of Minnesota. I am so thankful for these moments and now have decided that at long last it is time to return to this blog as a means to let my voice be heard and for the many thoughts to be shared. I hope you might come alongside me on this journey once again, being critical, helping us move down the path of new ideas and hopes for the field of campus ministry and chaplaincy. I do not claim to be an expert, only a person who truly believes in the field’s purpose and witness in the world. I believe without such a missional witness on campus, the church will surely die. And without a presence of compassion and hope for dialogue, religion will continue to permeate hate instead of love throughout the world. Let us begin again….
The End of Authenticity
On May Day, 2012, the United Methodist Church has done something profoundly disturbing: the removal of guaranteed appointment of clergy across the world, but specifically in the United States, the only place where the Book of Discipline is actually used to govern. Now it is fine for us to step back and recognize that the United Methodist Church remains one of a very few places in the world where once you are through a process, you have no worries when it comes to having a job. I understand that many other denominations have a calling system and that there might be times where clergy are out of a job because of forced relocation and other issues that exist. But there is something profoundly different that has happened by taking away this appointment process. In other denominations, local churches make decisions on the life of a clergy, calling them as they see fit and hiring based on their personal needs and interests. This happens occasionally by UMCs, but often times is decided by district superintendents and bishops, the source of power and authority in our polity structure. There are seemingly hundreds of appointments per year that are made without consultation but these individuals and there are often issues that arise. Bad placements are not necessarily anyone’s fault, but they do happen.
The new structure of the United Methodist church calls for anyone under appointment to be reviewed for effectiveness on a regular basis. If the effectiveness is deemed of low quality, there is now a chance that such a clergy will be “fired” and not given another appointment. This might happen in the case of bad appointments where the clergy and the congregation do not mix, among other things. But furthermore, clergy effectiveness is probably something good for us to measure, at least until you realize that clergy are not just some other business type of job where performance is the only means by which we are hired and fired. We have a calling that sets us up for a different kind of career. One of more prophetic means.
Throughout history, the Rabbis, Prophets, Priests, Imams, Bishops, Pastors, and others have been designed to be a witness to the world. At times, these individuals have spoken in ways that are against the authorities they are under. But in being protected by a system such as guaranteed appointment, those clergy have been able to speak out on behalf of what they see as a discrepancy in the ideals of the denomination. I believe the likes of William Sloan Coffin, Peter Gomes, Martin Luther King Jr., thousands of priests, and anyone who as a clergy have helped move the GLBTQ issue as it stands today is guilty of such prophetic witness. But we all have done so and continue to do so in the Church knowing that even though we may not think alike, we may all love alike and that means we might still have a job.
What I fear emerging is a silencing of prophetic witness, a time where those who wish to gain power and control the system that is obviously needing change will attempt to out those who are of differing opinion. I am the clergy who strongly believes the time for change in this church is long since past and that 40 years is too long for us to wait to change language in our discipline against homosexuality. I am the person who believes that we as clergy are not always meant to be of the same mind, but in the end, we do work for the greater good and that sometimes mean we must speak out on behalf of a God who is moving and changing in the world. I believe that sometimes it is required of us to fight back against our own system, standing on the side of God’s love over the side of bureaucracy. In this system, we are silenced, we are left to ask ourselves if we really are allowed to do anything but bring in the multitudes to our churches. We are pushed to look like the mega church brands of the world. Well, maybe not…but of course that is up to those in power.
This is the problem with taking away guaranteed appointment. If we turn ourselves into a business, a place where only the party line is spoken and anything outside of such a boundary is quieted and squelched, then we leave ourselves to where the world has gone, a place of plutocracy over democracy, a place of fear over love. For United Methodists everywhere, we need be keenly aware that authenticity that comes from our prophetic witness may have just died. Perhaps the churches death really is upon us, for our young adults will not claim to be part of a system in which we must believe the whole of the doctrine, but instead will seek a place of lifelong discernment where we may not think alike, but we do learn to love alike.
But perhaps in the end, hope will prevail.