Author's details

Name: UMJeremy
Date registered: March 3, 2012

Latest posts

  1. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Facebook Guide for Pastors in Transition [Updated 2014] — April 22, 2014
  2. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Holy Week doesn’t have to be about Atonement — April 17, 2014
  3. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: The Church, not the Bible, determines Sin — April 15, 2014
  4. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Chocolat: Work Out Your Own Redemption — April 11, 2014
  5. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: When Large Church Pastors take the #UMC hostage — April 9, 2014

Most commented posts

  1. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Holding the #UMC Hostage 01 – The Setting — 5 comments
  2. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: About that UMReporter Article…[response] – A Methodist Church United for our Daughters — 2 comments
  3. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Is the #UMC the Rebellion…or the Empire? – Unity in Diversity…or Unity over Diversity? The choice is yours. — 2 comments
  4. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Defeating the Dark Side of Church Metrics #UMC – Measuring transformation or accumulation? — 2 comments
  5. Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Restricting Marriage is a Justice Issue — 2 comments

Author's posts listings

Apr 22 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Facebook Guide for Pastors in Transition [Updated 2014]

Original post at

The More You KnowIn many church systems, there’s pastoral change each year: pastors retire, pastors move from their church to replace them, pastors move to replace those pastors…it’s a chain of pastoral transitions. But in the age of social media, gone are the days of “well, see ya again someday” with former church members. If you are Facebook or other social media friends with your church members, you continue to have contact after you leave.

So the question comes up every year: Should pastors unfriend their former church members? Should they keep being involved in their social media lives? It’s a touchy question in the digital age that pastors agonize over.

Thankfully, you are reading this page. This is the Third Edition of our Facebook Guide for Pastors in Transition, and we have a tried-and-true method for you, your pastor, or your incoming pastor to both maintain connection to their previous church while focusing their social media engagement with their current church. Read on…

Why this is important

Previous versions of this guide have engaged two questions:

  1. Should pastors have two social media accounts? Hacking Christianity has always focused on integrity: being the same person online that you are in your real-life pastoral ministry. Having two Facebook accounts doesn’t work for this pastor but it can work for you and it makes unfriending former church members very easy: just delete the account.
  2. Should pastors unfriend their former church members? Some say that a few bad eggs who abuse social media connections after a move should not cause everyone else to have to cut ties. HX claims otherwise: fiscal malfeasance, child abuse, and other bad actions have caused us all to be more aware of our relationships and our accountability. While some people may choose to unfriend their church members, our suggested method below accomplishes the best of all situations.

New for this year is that instead of outlining three different choicesHacking Christianity has only one recommendation: use the three tools of Friend Lists, Privacy Settings, and Unfollowing both for pastors in transition and for pastors looking for more holistic ways to use Facebook. We have three reasons why:

  • This solves all the above problems and maintains connections without interaction.
  • The process has become incredibly easier with the Facebook 2014 update.
  • This is the way how I have used Facebook for five years without any incidents.

 Ready? Go!

Three Steps to Facebook Continuity

There’s  a simple three-step process to categorize your current church members and how to begin to categorize your future church members. All of the below are PRIVATE actions, meaning no one knows anything about your friends lists and follow lists.

NOTE: all steps are assuming you are interfacing with Facebook on a desktop/laptop. I do not have instructions for iPhone/iPad/mobile as the interfaces are different and often the options I’m using are missing.

1. Make a Friends List. Go to this page on Facebook and click “Add New List.” Name it your old church name/location. Add parishioners from your old church to this list and click save.


2. Set the Privacy on your future Facebook posts. Go to your privacy settings here, under “who can see my stuff” click the drop-down box under the text area and select “custom.”


Under “Don’t share this with…”, type in your old church’s name and it should come up. Click on it, and save changes.


3. Remove former church from your news feed. This one is a bit tedious but it’s only tedious once. Go to each member of the list (click here and select your Old Church list) and click on their profile. See the “Following” icon at the top? Click it so it reads “Follow.” This means that although you are still friends, they will not show up in your news feed.


Done! What did you just do? This process allows you to post without continuing interaction by old church members, and it “removes the temptation” to see what people are up to in your old church. But instead of defriending, you are still connected. If you hear of a baby being born, you can type in their parents’ name in the search box and still see the pictures. If you change your profile picture, your old church members can still comment. But by and large, your posts will not show up on their timelines, and theirs will not show up on yours, so your day-to-day interactions will be more focused.

Note: A more holistic analysis of different methods is found in the 2012 guide.

Advanced tips/techniques for Pastors

Mastered the above? Here’s a few quick tips for pastors that will help them manage digital transitions.

  1. Create a page. I have a Facebook page for my blog and I use that to point people to. That way, they can follow it and control how much they want to interact with it, not me. This divides the personal/professional easily for me.
  2. Suggest the new pastor to parishioners to be “friended.” You can “suggest friends” to your friends in a mass way by clicking on their “friend” button on the new pastor’s account and clicking “suggest friends.” Then you can unfriend or change friendship levels while knowing they are in digital communication with the new person.
  3. When in doubt, unfriend them. If you are unsure if they can handle the transition or if you can handle it, unfriend them. It might be painful for them when they realize it, but it hurts less in the long run. This is underlined because it is really important.
  4. Give VETO power to the following pastor. If you ARE doing the recommended procedure above, let them know. If they are not comfortable with it (given a reasonable amount of time and digital exposure) then you have to be okay to go nuclear and unfriend them. You have to respect the following pastor’s ministry, and it is in the best interest of the congregation to do whatever is best. For Methodists, you are an apologetic for a connectional system, and should do the same in honorable ways in the digital milieu.

Thoughts? How do you use Facebook effectively?

If you find meaning in this article, and you are Methodist, please share with the Boards of Ordained Ministry, District Superintendents, and pastors you know are going through this difficult transition time. Here’s a short link to copy/paste:

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Apr 17 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Holy Week doesn’t have to be about Atonement

Original post at

It’s Holy Week. There were tons of pictures of Palms, donkeys, and parades on Palm Sunday. There will be images of footwashings, communion cups, and dinner tables on Maundy Thursday. Three crosses on a hill on Good Friday. And an empty tomb, rolled away stone, and Easter Lilies on Easter Sunday.

Following the images are the theological statements about atonement. Jesus came to Jerusalem to die to atone for our sins. Jesus had a Last Supper because he was going to die to atone for our sins. Jesus died on a Cross to atone for our sins. And Jesus died for our sins he could be Risen, and that we would believe.

But that’s not how the narrative has to go. In fact, Jesus “atoning for our sins” upon his death on the Cross is only one understanding among many.


Mapping out Atonement Theories

I made the above graphic about a year ago for my adult Sunday School class as they wrestled with what “atonement” meant. Here’s the original post: “A Primer on Atonement Theories.”

Briefly, the word atonement comes from sixteenth-century English and literally means at-one-ment. Atonement is the process of reconciliation between God and human beings (either on a communal or individual basis) with the goal of righting a wrong or injury, i.e. sin.

Christians contend that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is intimately related to this process. But not all agree on when this act of atonement happened.

The graphic encourages you to answer this question: what part of Jesus’ life was most important in redeeming humanity?

  1. God becoming human in the Incarnation (Christ’s birth)
  2. Jesus teaching and performing miracles (Life and Teaching)
  3. Jesus dying on the cross (Crucifixion)
  4. Jesus rising from the dead (Resurrection)

Based on your answer, you are able to see where you might want to study more on the Atonement chart. Click here to read about the chart options.

Could Atonement have happened before the Cross?

One application of the chart is that it helps folks who have issues with atonement and redemptive violence that is wrapped up in the Cross. While cross-based atonement is absolutely a valid approach, I find fewer theological minefields in other understandings of atonement (and so do other United Methodists).

Briefly, I feel that atonement theories lose sight of the very real reconciliation that Christ offered through his life when they focus on the Cross alone. Atonement does not actually have to be about death or suffering, but it must be about the reconciliation of the relationship between God and humanity.

Atonement means making one, “at-one-ment”, but more than that, it is making one again.  It is turning humanity towards their original being created in the image of God. And Jesus was doing that long before he was on a Cross.

  • Atonement is the woman at the well who is brought closer to God through Jesus’ insight into her life.
  • It is the woman who anoints Jesus’ feet (or hair), and Jesus does not look down on her like the others.
  • It is the story of Jesus not only suffering on a cross, but suffering through his foolish disciples’ deftness, holy men’s lack of faith, women’s persistence who confront him, and finally a disciple who betrays him.
  • It is Jesus who suffers willingly in life, not just in death, and joining others in their suffering.  Jesus suffers in his love for us. For me.  For you.

If that is true, then the Cross is one inevitable step in that journey of presence. But the atoning power of Christ could have come long before the Cross, and my claim is that such reconciliation was not subjective to the individuals only but was objective to humanity as a whole.

Atonement doesn’t have to mean that what happened on the Cross was unique. Atonement could mean that the same thing that happened on the Cross happened every day of Jesus’ ministry: Jesus chose to suffer with people. Jesus suffered alongside and in companionship with the least of the people. Jesus suffered with me.  Jesus’ ministry and death on the cross meant to them, to us, that while their suffering is not redemptive, it is descriptive of the life’s journey they will walk with Christ.  Though the world may inflict violence, it does not matter: we are at-one with God.  And God will never let us walk alone.

Atonement with a Call To Action

What would happen if we moved the locus of atonement even further away from Jesus’ death and towards Jesus’ birth and life? While that is a step towards Exemplary atonement, it’s not quite a mere “Jesus showed us how to live” or “an example to live by.” Instead, an atonement focused on the Incarnation, on the belief that God became human, might say that in the sheer act of becoming human, God atoned humanity and reconciled humanity to God’s self. The re-creation of humanity into the community of God was not through suffering, violence, or death, but simply because God became human and lived alongside us.

An Incarnational Atonement changes the Holy Week conversation from “wrestling with what violence must be” towards “what is God actually doing here?” Do we do away with the Cross because the Cross is violence?  By no means!  But we must look at the Cross on the mountaintop from the vantage point of seeing all of Christ’s ministry.  Just as John Wesley emphasizes Christ’s role of the Prophet, so do I see Jesus atoning all along the path to the Cross.

This is personally convicting for me. Using Wesley’s terminology, in the moment of justifying grace when I saw that God is persistent in God’s love, I knew that I would suffer as I seek sanctification in my walk with God. The suffering itself is not redemptive; however, redemption is found alongside suffering because Jesus knew humanity needed to know that where there is suffering, Christ is there with us. I feel a call to action to live like Jesus in that sort of atonement that I don’t feel as strongly in guilt-based Cross theologies.

Wherever we go, we bear Christ with us in our suffering. Christ no longer kept on the shelf in the bible, or behind a veil in a temple.  Christ is Emmanuel, “God with Us,” and what was achieved on the Cross was for me the (Reinforcement? Fulfillment? Consequent?) of what Jesus had already achieved by his very life.

May we live into that mystery as we live out our reconciliation every day.


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Apr 15 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: The Church, not the Bible, determines Sin

Original post at

It is often an allegation that progressives have no scriptural authority to determine that women can be ministers, that divorcees can be leaders, and that LGBT persons can be clergy or be partnered.

Unfortunately for those that allege such things, there’s a huge scriptural authority that is given by Jesus himself in the Gospel of Matthew.

One of my Lutheran friends reads this blog and passed on a fascinating premise: the Church, not the Bible, determines sin. The primary writing on this topic comes from Mark Allan Powell, a New Testament professor at Trinity Lutheran Seminary. I’ll be referencing his article in Ex Auditu (19:2003, 81-96).

Jesus gives the Church the power to define Sin

In Matthew 16:19, Jesus says to Peter “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven.” He gives this same power to the gathered Disciples in 18:18, including “and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

Powell states that binding/loosing referred to the Jewish practice of interpretation of the law. The rabbis would “bind” a law when it applied to a situation, and “loose” a law when, even though the commandment was eternal valid, it was not applicable under certain circumstances.

To Matthew’s community, the final authority to identify which behaviors are classified as “sin” (and thus require cessation and repentance) lies not with the letter of the Law but with the community of faith that interprets the Law. Let’s be clear: this isn’t about dismissing Scriptural authority. By no means! Rather, the issue was “discernment of the law’s intent and of the sphere of its application” (Powell, 83).

Powell outlines many examples in Matthew’s Gospel where Jesus applies this power.

  • Jesus binds the law against swearing false oaths (5:33-37), binds the laws against adultery to include lustful thoughts (5:27-28), and binds the commandment to love your neighbor as applicable to enemies (5:43-48).
  • Jesus looses the law against Sabbath work (12:1-14), looses the law against hand-washing (15:1-2,10-20) and looses the law against paying Caesar taxes (22:15-22).

Thus, Jesus exemplifies what it means to bind/loose a law found in the Bible, and by his actions at the end of his human life he confers that ability to the Disciples who would become the Church. Wherever Christ is present in a body of believers (Matthew 18:20), they (we) have this authority to express with plausible fidelity.


How this Helps the LGBT Debate

When you think about it, probably every hue of denomination and sect and tradition comes from disagreements over what in the Bible ought be loosed and what ought be bound. Free Methodists split over too loose of prohibitions against pew taxes in the Methodist Church. Baptists bind the prohibition of women from the ministry whereas Episcopalians loose it. And many denominations bind the prohibition against LGBT clergy and same-gender relationships, whereas an exponentially increasing number has loosed that prohibition in the past 2 decades. The variety of denominations and binding/loosing decisions is mind-boggling.

Given the variety of today’s Christian church, the obvious retort to applying Matthew’s method to the church today is that we have no monolithic entity to turn to. We have no standard body that all our denominations can look to for ethical disputes. While this could be a factor, history shows that Matthew was well aware of divisions in the first century biblical world. Written many decades after Jesus’ death, the Gospel had to have been written with full awareness of the diversity of the early Christian faith.

Thus we are called to apply this method to our churches and denominations. But how?

Time and time again, Jesus’ way of interpreting the Law is in conflict with the Pharisees. Quote:

“The Gospel offers both good and bad examples of with regard to how [binding and loosing] out to be done. Jesus consistently exemplifies the right way to bind and loose the Scriptures while the scribes and Pharisees consistently exemplify the wrong way to do so.” (Powell, 85)

As well, Powell outlines that the Church is not without a guide to making these binding/loosing decisions: In Matthew, Jesus gives many principles for interpretation, including the Golden Rule (7:12), preferring mercy over sacrifice (9:13;12:7), priority of love for God and neighbor (22:34-40), and priority of the law towards justice, mercy, and faithfulness (23:23).

So the question is not “is it in the Bible or not?” The answer is not “The bible says it, I believe it, that settles it!” Rather, the answer is more WWJD: How would Jesus interpret a Commandment, a Leviticus quote, and even a New Testament Timothy quote? Each community of faith is called to reflect Jesus’ principles for interpretation. Perhaps ultimately each church and denomination should ask themselves “What Would the Pharisees do?” and likely do the opposite.

Traditionalists who love LGBT persons but feel that the church has no biblical authority to “contradict God’s word” should be heartened by this practice of binding and loosing.  This gives them biblical authority to decide, as a body, whether the prohibitions against same-gender behavior in the Scripture are applicable to same-gender relationships today. May we use it with plausible fidelity.



This is part one of this discussion. The Good News is today that we are empowered to live out this ability and that Christian communities can authentically decide that the prohibitions against LGBT inclusion are loosed and do not apply to today’s world. Some Christian communities have loosed the prohibitions against women in the pulpit, and some have loosed the prohibitions against divorce. How they chose to bind and loose those ancient laws is no less the method by which communities can authentically do this today.

There is some Bad News about this method, but it will be a topic of discussion later in the week.


  • Do you think denominations have the biblical authority to make those decisions?
  • If not, how does that authority clash with Matthew’s authority outlined above?

Thanks for reading and commenting…and sharing!

For further reading: A short look at the binding and loosing verses in Matthew is found here, an article about Powell’s speech at Trinity Lutheran Seminary is found here, and most of Powell’s article is found in the Free Library with several annoying ads to scroll past. Also an article by a professor at Pepperdine engages his argument well.

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Apr 11 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Chocolat: Work Out Your Own Redemption

Original post at

For our Wednesday night program at my local church, we watched some clips from the 2000 film Chocolat

The film is about a quaint Catholic town in France and we begin about 10 years after World War II. The town is ran by Comte Paul de Reynaud (“The Count”) and all is well until a  woman Vianne with her illegitimate daughter come to town and open a Chocolaterie during Lent. Very appropriate for a Wednesday night viewing during Lent!

The Count is a perfect observer of Lenten discipline, but soon finds that his troubles are not just the temptation of chocolate: Vianne is unlocking deep-seeded needs of the town and empowering the misfits that the town used to keep in their place.

The first misfit that Vianne takes under her wing is Josephine, who leaves her abusive husband Serge and seeks refuge with Vianne. The Count is notified by Serge who is most concerned about what the town will think of him. When the Count confronts Vianne, Vianne shows the Count the head wound that Josephine suffered at Serge’s hand.

The Count takes it upon himself to redeem Serge. He takes Serge to confession with the local priest, has him take Confirmation classes with the 7th graders, and teaches him how to be a gentleman at the table. The Count does this to honor the “unbreakable” Sacrament of marriage (even though his own wife has left him and moved to Venice and the Count is too ashamed to admit it) and to prove to Vianne that redemption can be forced upon even the worst of people by the best of people (himself).

However, toward the end of the movie, Serge sees Josephine at a boat party with Vianne’s band of misfits and he sets fire to the boat they are on. Josephine barely escapes and the Count is sympathetic to the loss of the boat, all the while feeling his rigid control over the town being broken by Vianne.

I would claim the climax of the movie is the scene where Serge goes to the Count’s house after the fire and tells him that he set the fire. The Count is horrified by the revelation, and says that people could have died at both their hands. Serge asks if he should “go to confession again.” The Count banishes him from the town and casts him out into the outer darkness.

It is at that point that the Count goes to church, kneels before the crucifix, and asks what to do. He has seen that he cannot force other people to redeem themselves. His project of the worst person in town was a failure, and he was the best person in town (by his own estimation!). The thought of a person who was unable to be redeemed by the most powerful person was beyond his theology. With tears in his eyes, he is lost without his anchor of “discipline conquers all.”

The end of the movie is the Count breaking into the Chocolaterie and destroying the window chocolate display with a knife, but when some chocolate lands on his Lenten-depraved lips, he instead eats his way through the whole display and collapses in tears and chocolate and shame. The priest sees him in the window the next day on the way to church…to celebrate Easter morning.

Alfred Molina Chocolat

The priest and Vianne get him cleaned up before anyone else sees him, and the priest gives the best sermon ever to the crowd gathered on Easter morning, including a slightly-rumpled Count:

We must measure our goodness, not by what we don’t do, what we deny ourselves, what we resist, or who we exclude. Instead, we should measure ourselves by what we embrace, what we create, and who we include.

On reflection of this film, there are two tenets of Christianity that we are forced to daily work out the contradictions between:

  1. We cannot work out other people’s redemption for them. We cannot force them to walk the path we would have them walk.
  2. And yet we cannot exclude people who seem unredeemable. We cannot cast out people who challenge our own control and patterns of behavior.

Instead, we are called by Christ to embrace the outcast, create a community of love (on a spectrum from gentle love to tough love), but to always work out our own redemption first. Only by working on our own redemption will we be able to show others what the result looks like, and perhaps then they can work on their own as well…in their own way. Discipleship is embodied by one, not prescripted on others.

Sometimes being released from the past and embracing a new life in Christ takes forty days like in Chocolat. Sometimes it takes forty years. But it always comes exactly when the possibilities are greatest and the potential for transformation is at a peak.

May we pray and work for transformation to come to us all during this next Holy Week and may we measure our transformation by what we embrace, what we create, and who we include around the communion table.


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Apr 09 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: When Large Church Pastors take the #UMC hostage

Original post at

moneyA group of 60 unnamed conservative pastors on a conference call released a statement calling for study of schism. Here’s what they are “planning”:

The group said that they were forming a smaller working group to bring suggestions to the larger group for responses, including suggestions of withholding funding from the church, advocacy with the Council of Bishops for greater enforcement of the Book of Discipline and the possibility of creating a proposal for the division of the United Methodist Church into two denominations.

Now, those big bold words sure sound scary. But there are three red herrings in the conference call that I don’t want the savvy readers of Hacking Christianity to get swayed by:

  1. You are not the intended audience of the press release
  2. The content is not as important as the participants
  3. Their influence is more niche than the numbers have you think

Their Audience isn’t you.

There have been two separate letters sent before this one: One in 2011 and another in 2012. So this isn’t a new thing for this group that we’ll call FaithfulUMC, based on their original two letters. They write letters and get lots of people to sign onto them to exert pressure on a particular group of people who are most likely to be swayed by public opinion. Thus, you have no reason to feel any fear over the letter because you were not the intended audience.

The audience of this letter, like the two before it, is the Council of Bishops. The CoB meets twice a year, and one of those times is a smaller group: only the active bishops are meeting in the first part of May 2014. Little wonder that the FaithfulUMC crowd this time around has targeted the once a year meeting when the pesky retired-and-less-intimidated bishops aren’t around to interfere.

You were not the intended audience. The Bishops are. So don’t worry, let them handle it.

9 is more than 60

What may matter to you more was the content of their discussion. The fact that they were discussing withholding finances and “dividing churches” would be troubling. But again, you were not the audience. If the audience was the Bishops, then the content was not as important as who was making the comments.

Three of the four people mentioned in the conference call were also the original signatories to the FaithfulUMC Letter in 2011 and all four were signatories to the July 2012 letter regarding Bishop Talbert. I contacted the United Methodist Reporter to obtain a list of the people on the conference call. The staff at UMR said that while they didn’t have the names, the leaders had shared that 13 out of the Top 30 UMC churches were represented. Since I have that list of Top 100 UMCs, matching up the signatories to the previous 2012 letter was easy. I identified 8 out of the 13, and added on another one of the Top 100 that I know was on the call based on a Twitter conversation.

Why would I do that? I have no interest in “outing” the people on the call or hearing their own rationales for participating. But the fact that 60 were unnamed and only four were named meant that they were named for a particular reason. I would claim the reason for the secrecy is economic intimidation.

Altogether, these 9 white men (3 from Texas, 2 from North Georgia, 2 from Western North Carolina, 1 Oklahoman, 1 Floridian) are at churches that pay a total of $4,217,547 in apportionments. That’s an incredible amount of cash but you need to categorize them to see the whole story. While in four of the conferences that amounts to 2-6% of their entire apportionment budget, the three churches in the Texas Annual Conference contribute 26.6% of their entire apportionments budget.

Their names and churches speak louder to Bishops, and one Texas Bishop in particular. So the average Methodist isn’t the intended audience and intimidation is the reason why they chose the three southern white men to be quoted in the press release, keeping the rest of them shrouded in mystery.

Three buckets, not Two

Finally, the FaithfulUMC crowd seems to believe that by being the loudest they can convince the world that Methodism really has everyone in two different camps and it’s time to split.

First, they inflated their numbers to the average person. If you go to their 2011 Petition, it claims to have 15,210 signatories. That’s a whole lot of Methodists, though far less than the 1987 Houston Declaration which got 60,000 signatures BEFORE the Internet (fail!). But even that 15,210 is misleading. Starting on entry #2770, the rest is all spam. All. Spam. So in reality, only 2,770 pastors supported the petition.

Second, the pastors are not as connectional as you might think because they’ve had congregationalist appointments at their churches. Taking the 9 pastors as a case study: they have an average tenure at their church of 18 years, including one pastor who has been at his church for 32 years. They do not represent connectional Methodism so much as congregational Methodism. And while if a split happens, those churches that are more congregational would likely split as well, they do not represent the churches that have a vested interest in connectionalism like the vast majority of the UMC.

In reality, there are forces that want schism on the progressive and traditionalist sides, but there’s a large amount of Methodists who want to be United together in shared mission and connectional hope. It is unfortunate that the loudest voices against a future connected also seem to be the ones that have churches that are closest to being congregationalist anyway.

Fear not: There is Hope.

As I always say, there are a ton of Methodist ways of expressing disapproval in the church: through conversations, through prayer, through speaking out against official UMC actions, electing people to positions of power to influence policy, writing petitions to General Conference, being elected to serve those meta-church agencies, refusing a bishops’ re-appointment, writing petitions and getting signatories…there’s a method to do almost anything, including express dissent. Our large church pastors threatening to withhold apportionments and remove congregations from United Methodism is not a Methodist way of doing things.

My prayers, along with yours, should be with the Bishops and the close accountability partners of these churches and pastors who might believe their buyout power of money and people can influence the future to their best advantage of their congregation instead of the connection.

But there is hope. The hope is in our young clergy who see 30-40 years of service to our great Church ahead of them and don’t want reactionary tendencies to rule the day. Here’s a few links of note that I found encouraging:

  1. Ben Gosden reframed a 2012 article that I contributed to here.
  2. Drew McIntyre, who often confounds me, nonetheless has a powerful prayer against Schism

May we read news in coming days with more knowledge of what they mean rather than what they market.

Read more on Schism here.


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Apr 07 2014

Hacking Christianity :: Rev. Jeremy Smith: Tom Oden’s Two-Point Test for #UMC Schism – The Good News Movement fails their own test

Original post at

The Good News Movement fails their own test

tom-oden Rev. Dr. Thomas Oden, a fellow Oklahoman, is the primary intellectual force behind the renewal groups in the United Methodist Church. The different renewal groups coalition with each other at each General Conference: Good News, Confessing, Lifewatch, Transforming Congregations, and RENEW caucus together (along with the IRD, but only when there’s no daylight: it burns). Oden has personal influence in the three primary groups: He’s currently a board member at the Confessing Movement, but was active in Good News and chaired the IRD board for a time. (Update: Good News VP clarifies Oden’s influence in the Good News as a comment here. Thanks Rev. Lambrecht!) Given Oden’s influence in all three primary caucus groups, it is appropriate to apply his thinking to all three when it comes to an issue close to Oden’s heart: schism.

The Oden Test for Schism

Back in 2012, Tom Oden wrote an article that deplored schism and set forth his singular instance when schism would be valid. First, here’s what Oden outlines that John Wesley claims as the sole criterion for schism:

Though determined to maintain the unity of the church, Wesley concedes that there is one crucial exception: If “you could not remain in the Church of England, without doing something which the Word of God forbids, or omitting something which the Word of God positively commands: If this were the case (but, blessed be God, it is not) you ought to separate from the Church of England.” This would be “separation with cause” and not a needless schism. But if your church does not require you to do what God forbids, you must stay.

Second, here’s Oden’s own claim that reframes Wesley to today:

This is the commitment to date of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church. With Wesley I say: So long as the church to which I am now united does not require me to do anything that the Scripture forbids, or to omit anything the Scripture enjoins, it is my indispensable duty to continue therein. Even if the general conference denies what Scripture enjoins, I am not required to cooperate with that attempt. I can stay and stand against the distortion. I want with all my heart to remain within the wrenched body that ordained me.

Thus, the Oden Test for Schism is:

  1. So long as a pastor is not forced to do something that they believe Scripture forbids AND
  2. So long as a pastor is not forced to omit anything they believe Scripture requires, THUS
  3. The pastor should stay in the UMC and continue to use our Methodist avenues of change within the church.

Two points. Solid.

Applying the Oden Test

Let’s apply the Oden Test to the most recent event regarding Schism in the Church. Last week, the Good News Board (that Oden is or was on) released a statement that the UMC’s situation is untenable and called for exploration of amicable separation. You can read it at the United Methodist Reporter.  Even if we assume all these claims are true and assume their framework, let’s see what happens as we apply the Oden Test:

  1. Bishops “unwilling to enforce the Book of Discipline” does not force pastors to do anything they believe Scripture forbids or omit anything Scripture requires.
  2. Individual pastors “disregarding the covenant” does not force pastors to do anything they believe Scripture forbids or omit anything Scripture requires.
  3. Disregard of the will of General Conference (which we assume is contained in the Book of Discipline) does not force pastors to do anything they believe Scripture forbids or omit anything Scripture requires.

By the Oden Test, indeed, the Good News allegations fail. Which is curious because it’s their Test. Update: Good News VP below indicates that the GN board disagreed with the Oden Test and added on two other requirements to Wesley’s prescription. 
facepalm Even when Good News’ Vice President (and commenter on this blog) Rev. Tom Lambrecht responded to a Q&A on the United Methodist Reporter about the statement above, none of his points indicated that pastors were being forced to do something or leave out some important theological tenet.

One wonders why this championed theological claim, originated by John Wesley himself, does not seem to be on their radar after two short years. It’s amazing how principles can be conveniently forgotten when they don’t fit the narrative for fundraising.

The UMC passes the Oden Test

While this blog is admittedly heavily biased against Schism, the truth is that even when the United Methodist Church affirms the full inclusion of LGBT persons in their midst, there will be a myriad of protections for the variety of theological perceptions in the United Methodist Church.

  1. Thanks to Judicial Council 1032, pastors have sole authority in determining church membership. If they don’t want the gays in their membership, they don’t have to.
  2. Pastors have the sole discretion to determine readiness for marriage. If they don’t want to marry gays, interracials, or clowns, they don’t have to.
  3. Our foundational documents are unchangeable per the Restrictive Rules, so our theological claims will not change. While this means they do have to ordain women and baptize babies, that’s been the case for a while now.

Thus by the conservative mastermind’s own claim, the UMC has not reached the point of no return by either Oden or by John Wesley himself…nor will it even when it affirms full inclusion. If I’m wrong by my analysis, I would like to see some responses.

Clarity Needed

So my question is:

  1. To you, dear reader, is the Oden Test a valid approach to schism? If not, why?
  2. Does Rev. Dr. Thomas Oden still hold his Test to be applicable to the UMC?
  3. In what cases (currently) are pastors required to do something against Scripture or required to leave something out from Scripture that would necessitate a schism?

Thanks for reading. Thoughts?

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