The story of Jacob’s dream offers a vision for Christians to for God beside them as well as in exalted places, writes the Rev. Jason Valendy.
The Rev. Jason Valendy unpacks what some of the “dog whistle” terms such as “scriptural holiness” actually mean when it comes to understanding and applying the Holy Bible.
In case you don’t know what Dog-whistle politics are, here is the Wikipedia entry description:
Dog-whistle politics is political messaging employing coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has an additional, different or more specific resonance for a targeted subgroup.
The entry goes on to say:
The term can be distinguished from “code words” used in some specialist professions, in that dog-whistling is specific to the political realm. The messaging referred to as the dog-whistle has an understandable meaning for a general audience, rather than being incomprehensible.
It is that last sentence that makes dog-whistling so darn difficult to hear. The speaker is using words and phrases you agree with, but you may not be aware of the addition meaning(s) the speaker is communicating. So one is swept up in the speaker’s language while potentially getting wrapped up in something you may disagree with.
Let me give an example here in the UMC.
Phrases such as “scriptural holiness” or “authority of scripture” or “I believe in the Bible” have become a dog-whistle in our denomination and you may no even know it. You and I read these phrases and say, well yes I agree with all of those statements. I also believe in those statements, however in many circles these statements are implying more than what is stated. Specifically, these statements are implying a “sola scriptura” theology. Again, I turn to Wikipedia to help clarify sola scriptura:
Christian theological doctrine which holds that the Christian Scriptures are the supreme authority in all matters of doctrine and practice. Sola scriptura does not deny that other authorities govern Christian life and devotion, but sees them all as subordinate to and corrected by the written word of God.
This may sound spot on for your theology and that is fine, however the United Methodist Church is not a sola scriptura tradition but a “prima scriptura” tradition. Take it away Wikipedia:
Christian doctrine that canonized scripture is “first” or “above all” other sources of divine revelation. Implicitly, this view acknowledges that, besides canonical scripture, there are other guides for what a believer should believe and how he should live, such as the created order, traditions, charismatic gifts,mystical insight, angelic visitations, conscience, common sense, the views of experts, the spirit of the times or something else. Prima scriptura suggests that ways of knowing or understanding God and his will that do not originate from canonized scripture are perhaps helpful in interpreting that scripture, but testable by the canon and correctable by it, if they seem to contradict the scriptures.
Finally, Wikipedia helps make the distinction:
Prima scriptura is sometimes contrasted to sola scriptura, which literally translates “by the scripture alone”. Prima scriptura — is that the Scriptures are the sole infallible rule of faith and practice, but that the Scriptures’ meaning can be mediated through many kinds of secondary authority, such as the ordinary teaching offices of the Church, antiquity, the councils of the Christian Church, reason, and experience.
However, sola scriptura rejects any original infallible authority other than the Bible. In this view, all secondary authority is derived from the authority of the Scriptures and is therefore subject to reform when compared to the teaching of the Bible.
Sola scriptura says, “scripture alone”, prima scripture says, “scripture first.” Sola scriptura is a zero-sum view of the world. That is to say, sola scriptura says that in order for the Bible to have the ultimate authority, all others much be diminished. Therefore, sola scriptura has less room for tradition, experience and reason than prima scriptura has.
Today, the phrase scriptural holiness is a bit of a dog whistle in the UMC by signaling to the listener sola scriptura theology.
Scriptural holiness is something that is more than likely something that most Christians affirm, however, it is worth asking the next question, “do you mean scripture first or only?”
One of the things about being a pastor is trying to strike up conversations with people who have varying degrees of expectations of what a pastor is/does. Some people desire that the pastor know a lot about their lives while others have the pastor on a need to know basis. I am still learning to be comfortable with who I am and as such I tend to over-function and want to try to meet others expectations of me rather than focus on what I am called to do/be.
This over-functioning in order to try to meet the expectations of others leads to the diagnoses of “foot in mouth” disease. Perhaps you have this diagnosis as well? Let me share a few of my more memorable afflictions:
- I asked a seminar leader for specific advice before the conference began. When the conference began the first rule that was shared was not to bother the leader with specific advice. The leader looked right at me when the rule was shared.
- I asked if someone got some sun over the weekend, only to be told that the redness is a skin condition.
- I stood on the General Conference floor (the governing body of the entire UMC) and asked a three minute question in order to clarify where we were in the proceedings in the hopes of moving the body forward only to be told after the explanation that all I had to do was say, “I call the question.”
- I said the wrong last name at a wedding.
- I gave looked Joe in the eyes for a year as I said, “The body of Christ broken for you Joe.” Only to be told when he moved that his name is not Joe.
- I welcomed a family to worship and asked their son if he liked superman. The parents shared with me that their nine year old was their daughter.
- I asked a member of AA if they ever wanted to get a drink with me to talk about their life I would open to that.
Perhaps you have your own situations. I share these in order to remind us you that we all mess up in social situations. I have foot in mouth. Sometimes I mess up so bad people leave the church or I just embarrass myself or make it awkward. I wait patiently for a cure for Foot in Mouth, but until then I trust in the Grace of God and God’s people when I step in it.
Members of the newly formed Wesleyan Covenant Association say they’re “going” to reshape The United Methodist Church, but to the Rev. Jason Valendy their actions and statements feel more like “leaving.”
Lately I have been engaged in a book by Mike McHargue called, God in the Waves. While reading this book I am reminded that the divide in the world between the Christian and the Scientist is a false distinction. There are more than McHargue who work to talk about religion and science as compatible and those are interesting conversations. What McHargue makes the case for in this book is the approach of an individual to life and that being a person who seeks out information is not necessarily the same person who seeks out being in formation.
The great Abraham Joshua Heschel said that the action purifies the motive. Neuroscientist Dr. Adele Diamond gives this example of what Heschel meant:
He (Heschel) said, “I don’t care why you’re doing the good deed. Do the good deed.” And the example he gives is a musician may be playing a concert to earn a lot of money. But if when he’s playing the concert he’s concentrating on all of the money he’s going to make, he’s going to play a lousy concert. While he’s playing the concert, he has to be in the moment. He has to be concentrated on the music. And if he’s concentrated on the music, he’ll play well. So he talks about how the act can purify the motive if you really do the act fully.
McHargue speaks of prayer and invites the reader to practice prayer even if you are atheist. This may make little sense to some people but the point that I think that McHargue is making is that we often think that Christianity is the pursuit of information about a particular understanding of God. Thus, if one rejects the Christian information then one rejects Christianity. The problem is that Christianity is not the pursuit of information but the pursuit of being in formation.
Being in formation is taking on practices that mold and shape our heart, brain and spirit. The difference between information and being in formation is that one does not have be believe in order to be in formation. This is the hope that I want my Christian sisters and brothers to understand – belief is not the essential matter to be a disciple of Christ because Practice purifies the motive. We are called to follow Christ, we are called to be in formation; not to seek the right information.
In full disclosure, I was not at the initial gathering of the Wesleyan Covenant Association on Friday, October 7, 2016 in Chicago. This is not a commentary on the WCA’s actions at all but the underlying conversation present in many of the UMC leaders: schism.
Right now there still seems to be a battle over who is leaving whom. It is a defense mechanism to all parties to say that “they” left “us” and that “we” did not leave but held fast to the “true” expression of the denomination. I get it. In Christianity, perhaps only in the USA, there is a bit of a stigma to leaving. Leaving looks like you quit and were a failure, and there are only a few things that American Christians hate more than quitting and failure. So no one desires to be the one who “leaves”.
In the battle for language, it is much more effective to communicate that you are not “leaving” but that you are “going” somewhere. When you say you are going then it looks like you have a mission and a purpose; that you have a righteous calling that you are “going” to live into. Going is much better than leaving in part because of the assumed righteousness in “going”.
From what I could see on the #WCA2016 Twitter feed, there was a lot of talk about “going”. Here is a sampling of the feed:
We are here to move on, to push forward. We are moving on to fulfill God’s purposes in this generation. – Jerry Kulah #WCA2016
— Kristin Mahoney (@KristyMahoney) October 7, 2016
Going on offense… Building for the Kingdom. #WCA2016
— Chris Howlett (@kyblues) October 7, 2016
— Kathy Button (@kdbutton) October 8, 2016
This is a small sample size of tweets, but a quick search of “leaving” on the Twitter feed returns a couple of responses that are about how excited people are leaving their home in order to attend the conference. The sentiment on Twitter gives the impression to this outsider that the desire of the WCA is that of “going” and not “leaving”.
I don’t want to read too much into the tea leaves, but I raise this matter as a point of caution that there is a difference if you say you are “going” or if you are “leaving”. The WCA may feel like they are “going” but it feels like the WCA has already left.
The past few days I have come across this post about Rev. Moore’s excitement over the upcoming Wesleyan Covenant Association initial gathering (happening on 10/7/16). A friend of mine, named Ethan Gregory, read Rev. Moore’s post and, feeling like he had something to say, he asked if I would be willing to allow for a guest post.
While Ethan was working on his post, I reached out to mutual friend, Ryan Kiblinger. I asked Ryan to consider writing a response to Rev. Moore’s post as well. Ryan was kind enough to do so.
Neither of these two guest authors (Ethan and Ryan) have read what the other has written and I have not influenced them in anyway. What follows are two different perspectives of the same blog posting. I offer this platform to my friends to share their thoughts in mutual respect. I hope that you will join me in giving thanks for both of these voices trying to follow Christ in the most faithful ways they know.
And Also with You – by Ethan Gregory
We know it’s happening. The Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) is meeting at the end of this week in Chicago. There has been an article shared on social media this week by one of the participants, discussing her excitement about the gathering. Excitement is understandable (though, I want to be clear, I think the entire idea behind the WCA is at best questionable); I get excited about being in groups with persons, particularly other Methodists, who are in similar places theologically as I am.
However, as I read this article, I found myself somewhat concerned. There was one line that stood out in particular:
“While we wait, the WCA will provide a voice and a place to land for faithful United Methodists.”
The author is referring to this interim time while we wait for the Bishop’s Commission on a Way Forward to convene. What concerns me within this sentence is that she says while we wait, the WCA will be a place for “faithful United Methodists” to be.
I have some questions for the author. Are the roughly 1700 United Methodists and the churches and ministries they represent really the only “faithful United Methodists” that there are? Are those in favor of LGBTQ inclusion then unfaithful Methodists? Are we any less committed to the work of doing no harm, doing good, and attending to the ordinances of God? Are we receiving or participating any less in a life of grace that is prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying? Are we not also joining each of those persons attending this gathering on the Way of salvation as we seek to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?
I don’t think so. Regardless of which caucus group we align ourselves with, or if we find ourselves somewhere in the middle, I think each person who at their baptism or confirmation said yes to the questions of will you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, will you resist evil, injustice, and oppression in all the forms they present themselves, and will you profess Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior; and each person who has joined a United Methodist Church and said yes to the question, will you uphold this church through your prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness remains a faithful United Methodist.
No group: not progressives, traditionalists, or moderates, has a monopoly on faithfulness.
It is my understanding that the WCA event will conclude its time by celebrating Holy Communion. Gathering around the table is an important means of grace in our tradition. This ritual has the ability to fill and renew us, but it also has the ability to break down walls, allowing strangers or even persons we are in complete disagreement with to become friends.
I remember the Sunday in July right after Jurisdictional Conference. News had of course spread about the election of Dr. Karen Oliveto in the Western Jurisdiction, the first openly gay bishop in The United Methodist Church. After one of the services at my church, during the ritual of shaking the pastors’ hands, a woman who knew I was a delegate at the South Central Jurisdictional Conference told me that she was praying for the Western Jurisdiction—that they would repent of their sin. I had no other words or actions except to simply smile and say thank you. She had no idea about the sense of pain I felt on the Friday night before when moments after Bishop Oliveto’s election—a moment I wanted to be celebrating—a delegate in the SCJ got up to the mic to present a motion that would ask for a judicial council ruling on Bishop Oliveto’s election.
A few weeks later I found myself seated at a table during a luncheon with the woman who had approached me the Sunday after Jurisdictional Conference. It was a beautiful time to learn some more about her, particularly how proud she was of her grandchildren. The luncheon was during the week, and the following Sunday was a Communion Sunday. It just so happened that she ended up kneeling in my section of the communion rail. We partook in the meal together. I served her the bread, saying, “The body of Christ, the bread of life, given for you.”
Clearly this member of my church and I understand the scriptures differently when it comes to LGBTQ persons. But this does not mean that either of us are any less in need of God’s grace—that only one of us has a seat at the table—or that either of us are any less faithful.
And so, I hope that when members of the WCA gather at the table of Jesus Christ at the conclusion of their time together that when it comes time for the Great Thanksgiving, and the beginning when the congregation responds “And also with you,” that they will remember the grace of our God is present in the lives of faithful United Methodists all over the world—even those in favor of LGBTQ inclusion in the life of our church.
Because, I could be wrong, but I think “When Christ comes in final victory and we feast at the heavenly banquet,” whether we like it or not, all of us—gay and straight, queer, black, white, and brown, WCA members or not—will be seated across and next to one another with plenty of Welch’s to go around.
I was asked to guest blog my thoughts on this posting by Carolyn Moore. First, a few words about who I am and from where I am coming. I do not know Carolyn Moore. I do know the person who is commenting about her post from a different perspective. I am attending the Wesleyan Covenant Gathering in Chicago this Friday October 7, but I have am not a dues paying member of the WCA (I don’t really know that anyone is yet). I am not an insider. I do not belong to any groups in the UMC that might be considered renewal groups or otherwise are affiliated outside local church and annual conference ties. I am not the WCA planning team, nor do I personally know anyone who is. I do know a few participants but mainly through social media. Finally, my views are only my views. So now to my thoughts on Carolyn Moore’s post.
I don’t see this week as a ‘big week’. Quite honestly, I am saddened by this week. I never thought that I or we as a church denomination would be in this position. You see, I grew up a United Methodist, but never thought I would be a UMC pastor. In fact, during high school even when I thought God was calling me to ordained ministry, I boldly pronounced to my father that if I were to ever become a pastor, I would never be a Methodist pastor. I am in the United Methodist Church, not because I grew up in it, but because I studied, learned, and fell in love with it. I find myself believing in Wesleyanism. I grew in love towards the marriage of personal piety and holiness, and that piety and holiness making a difference in the broken world around us. So even as a WCA event attender, I am not filled with excitement, I am filled with sadness.
My sadness is not a commentary on the leadership of the WCA or any other group in the UMC for that matter. It is a sadness born out the brokenness of a denomination and a particular way of being in Christ in the world that I hold dear. I have read over most of the statements that have come out of the WCA, and I find myself in broad theological agreement with them. I am not surprised by this, nor should any UMCer be surprised by finding theological ground in common with the WCA. The WCA seems to theologically simply hold to what Wesley taught, and what most any of alive today and ordained promised or covenanted together to do when we were ordained. I have studied the theology, doctrines, and polity of the UMC and I pledged to support them. I still hold to that pledge, so I see no real issues with the WCA theologically.
I will offer one word though about the future and speculations. I am one who is sincerely both concerned and interested in the future of the UMC. As an ordained elder, I have a great deal of my call and my earthly ministry tied up or vested in the UMC. There are many who do from all different theological perspectives, and I would urge we be gracious, sensitive, and merciful to people who both agree and disagree with us. None of us knows the future, and to put too much speculation, based on fear, into what the WCA is or is not trying to accomplish as far as the future, I believe is unfair. Many of us have fertile imaginations and we can image all types of non-realities into being. That being said, I too, need to express that personally I am approaching the ends of the WCA with some healthy caution even though I agree theologically. I will rejoice in faithfulness of covenant and in theology that is orthodox and lines up with the ordination vows I have taken. I will not rejoice in the realities that have gotten us to the place so many think the formation of the WCA is necessary.
P. S. I want to offer a short post script with regards to A Way Forward. It is an elephant in the room and should be addressed. First, I was opposed to its passage at GC2016. I think that the work of the General Conference should be done by the General Conference, and as much as I see bishops in the UMC as leaders, I don’t think their primary function is to lead in doctrine or polity changes, but rather to lead spiritually and lead as executors of the General Conference. My disagreement is then not with any findings of the Bishops, but rather with what I see a breach of proper placement of authourity (sic). But A Way Forward has passed, and I pray for the work of the commission to be named by the Bishops. I will say that the clear and even more pronounced will of the General Conference is to not change our historic positions on matters like Biblical authourity (sic), marriage definition, and prescriptions in how clergy may or may not bless. Any shift in position on these matters that is substantive, if recommended by the commission will not be passed by a General Conference in 2018 or in 2020. I believe that any hope for common ground on these matters has passed us by. I do not think that any major theological changes will be recommended by the commission and if they are they will not pass. The authourity (sic) still lies not with the work of the commission, but with the vote of the General Conference. I believe this, hopefully, not based on my personal positions on any of these matters, but based on looking at the demographics, and clear voting patterns of the General Conferences over the years.
Lastly, I want to thank Jason Valendy for even considering me to write on these matters. Jason and I do not always see eye to eye, but we always, always see and hold each other in love. My greatest prayer is that we would find perfection in loving one another. Love covers over a multitude of sins, and as a great sinner in need of grace, may we extend that hand of grace and forgiveness rooting in Christ’s love to each other no matter where we stand or what positions our consciences constrain us to take.
It’s not the techniques but the inspiration to follow that will make a difference in the United Methodist Church’s future, writes the Rev. Jason Valendy.
I am not an award winning preacher, but I am married to one (Find Estee’s name on page 99 of this report). I don’t teach preaching (although I have recently been riding the coattails of Estee to help work with a college on his preaching). I have never …