Friday, October 23, 2009

BRITISH METHODISTS AND INCLUSIVISM

From Riley Case of the Confessing Movement with the United Methodist Church:

The Methodist Church of Great Britain voted this summer at its annual conference to prohibit any member of the political party, the British National Party (BNP), from joining any Methodist Church of Great Britain.

This normally might not be news deserving special mention, but it does raise an issue similar to that being discussed by United Methodists, namely: in a day when "inclusiveness" seems to be a new Christian value, should anyone for any reason be prohibited from Methodist Church membership?

Indeed, United Methodists in 2009 are voting on a constitutional amendment (#1) in their annual conferences which, if ratified, would inscribe as constitutional the principle that persons, regardless of what they believe, what they do, or who they are associated with--if they are willing to take the membership vows of the church-cannot be denied church membership. This has been labeled the "inclusiveness" amendment, though it is also being called the "No Standards" amendment.

The UM proposed amendment came about because a pastor in Virginia delayed the membership of a practicing homosexual. The bishop of Virginia demanded that the pastor receive the prospective member and when the pastor declined to do so, the bishop, with the help of the annual conference, had him removed from his pulpit. The bishop argued that "inclusiveness" is the foundation of Methodism and persons cannot be denied membership. When the Judicial Council sided with the pastor and against the bishop, the Council of Bishops entered the fray, speaking out against the Judicial Council and on behalf of the bishop, and followed this by making sure that any person on the Judicial Council who voted for the authority of the pastor, would not be nominated for reelection.

Following this the "inclusiveness" constitutional amendment was presented to the General Conference, received the necessary two-thirds vote, and was sent to the annual conferences for ratification. At the moment it appears the amendment will not be ratified.

However, the issue of "inclusiveness" is still before the church. At the heart of the argument against the concept of inclusiveness is the realization that total inclusiveness negates all standards. To put any restrictions on membership is to be "exclusive," not "inclusive." The Confessing Movement and others have argued that Methodism has always operated from standards, whether of doctrine or practice, and to do away with standards is not only a violation of the heart of Methodism, but of the tradition of the catholic church, and of Scripture itself.

With this as background the British Methodist decision to ban membership to persons associated with BNP deserves comment.

1) The British Methodists are to be commended for taking a stand on the principle that there are limits to the idea of inclusiveness. The British National Party (BNP) opposes immigration, and claims to "defend Britain's Christian culture" against "Islamification" of Britain. However, a number of people see it as a far-right party which would favor a kind of racist fascism. This past summer it won two seats in the European Parliament.

British Methodists are saying that such blatant racism is a denial of the gospel and cannot be tolerated by the church. Because this sort of racism is inconsistent with the gospel persons who belong to this political party will be banned from Methodist membership.

No words about diversity, inclusiveness, and "open hearts" and "open hands" and "open doors" here. In the words of one blogger: "An organized religion is organized around a common set of beliefs. If such an organization were forced to accept all members regardless of belief, it would cease to exist."

2) Having said this, it should be pointed out that there are serious questions about the wisdom of singling out a political party for membership banning. The bloggers are pointing out the problems:

"If Americans are to pick up on the British example, why not ban the Republicans since they too are racist?"

"If we are in the business of banning racism, let's ban everybody since we are all guilty of subtle, if not blatant forms of racism?"

"Is there a single example where someone in the BNP wants to become a Methodist?"

"BNP craziness deserves condemnation. But should these churches focus on the BNP, whose appeal is fortunately almost microscopic, while remaining silent about far more potent threats to Britain, such as radical Islam?"

Our denominational history serves up several serious problems relating to excluding groups of persons from membership. It was controversies around slaveholders as church members that led to the split of the Northern and Southern churches in the 1840s. It was controversies around the changing of a prohibition against membership for Masons that led to the United Brethren in Christ split in the 1880s.

3) Something positive should be said about our own United Methodist tradition in regard to membership. Article IV of the constitution is a good article because it indicates that classes or groups of persons, whether race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition (the list should be considered as illustrative and not exhaustive) are eligible to attend and join United Methodist churches. At the same time our tradition (supported by Judicial Council ruling 1032) invests responsibility with the pastor in instructing potential members in the meaning of the membership vows. It further invests authority with the pastor in determining when persons are ready for membership.

There are standards and there are beliefs. They are important to us and we make them requirements for those wishing to be church members.


Dr. Riley B. Case is a retired member of the North Indiana Conference. He is a graduate of Taylor University and Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, with a graduate degree from Northwestern University and an honorary degree from Taylor University. Dr. Case’s appointment before retiring was St. Luke’s United Methodist Church Kokomo. Before that he was the district superintendent of the Marion District of the North Indiana Conference. He represented the conference five different times at the General Conference and seven times at the North Central Jurisdictional Conference. At the general church level he served as a consultant on the Hymnal Revision Committee (1984-1988) and was a member of the Curriculum Resources Committee of the Board of Discipleship.

2 Comments:

  1. Allan R. Bevere said...
    Brett:

    Good to see you posting. I hope you are back at it.
    Olive Morgan said...
    Thanks for your thoughts on this topical subject. You may like to read an answer to your post by the Revd Angela Shier-Jones (who was at the methodist Conference when this ruling was passed) on he blog http://thekneeler.blogspot.com.

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