Cover Your Ears!

How do Christians decide who not to listen to? Which heresies, mistakes or habits take a person beyond the pale?

I received a mailing from UM Action a few days ago complaining about homosexuals being put in charge of worship planning for General Conference. To the UM Action folks it looks like part of the agenda to change the church. I know that such an agenda exists – and don’t support this particular change – but I wonder how different worship planned by a homosexual would be from that planned by a heterosexual. Do we worry about this because this is the favored sin of the month – while we don’t worry about practitioners of other sins?

It’s fairly easy to pick on UM Action at this point. They offend against the practices we currently deem most evil – acts of exclusion. Exclusion is bad, inclusion is good. Our new doctrinal statement, “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” is a prime illustration of the position of inclusion in our church. Our old doctrinal statement, including (can we still use that word for such a reactionary document?) such doctrines as the Trinity, Incarnation and Resurrection was implicitly exclusive. Though we did not see ourselves as a “creedal church,” pastors are asked at ordination if they agree with our doctrines and will preach them. Traditional Christianity, with its tinge of the miraculous, seems far-fetched to many. “What do you mean, ‘Jesus is God incarnate?’ That’s just a myth, a metaphor. ‘Raised from the dead?’ We all know dead people stay dead. All that means is that ‘Easter faith’ rose in the hearts of the disciples. ‘The Bible is the Word of God?’ That old sexist book?” It’s much easier to affirm “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” In spite of the apparent openness, however, not all is to be included. Exclusion is out. So if we hear people saying something we take as exclusive, we know that we ought not listen to that person. “Cover your ears!”

I’m a father to three children. I believe in sheltering my children from the evil and bad things of the world. I think it is a good thing for them not to hear what some people have to say. But only to a point. If made a life-long practice, covering their ears will work to their detriment. My strategy instead is to gradually expand what they listen to – while I am with them. If they are going to believe and stand for Jesus and the teachings of the Christian faith (which is not a foregone conclusion for children of believers), they need to learn not only how to articulate the faith for themselves, but how to discern and argue with those who are or appear to be on the outside. It may be that upon engagement, the position presented is to be rejected. But then again, maybe we have something to learn, maybe we need correction. We won’t know until we learn to argue it out.

Argument is hard work. Much harder than just covering our ears or universal inclusion (an irrational position). But it’s worth while, I think. Especially if we’re willing to take the time (years or generations sometimes) that it takes.

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4 Responses to Cover Your Ears!

  1. Did you mean to refer to “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors,” as a “doctrinal statement”? Is it, in fact, such?

    Ok, I agree with you – we United Methodists have, as a whole, adopted the “open, open, open” as much more than the ad tag line for which it was originally designed. I shudder to think that our doctrine is so summable, though.

    Say it ain’t so!

  2. “Open Heart, Open Minds, Open Doors” is not a doctrinal statement of the UMC. It’s an advertising campaign created by Igniting Ministries and has no part of any doctrine stated in the Book of Discipline. The “homosexual agenda” that has been brought to the floor of the General Conferences since the merger has been soundly defeated by an average margin of 2 to 1 every time. To state that we haven’t “argued” enough about this is a mistake. It’s been argued for the last 40 years, and refuted, each and every time.

    To have known homosexuals in charge of worship for GC in and of itself may or may not be a bad thing. But should there be anything that might smack of heretical practice my question is this: What will be the consequences to those that did the planning? I know at the last GC there was an incident where a chalice was deliberately destroyed, an offense that should have resulted in the individual being excommunicated from the fellowship. But nothing happened. Inclusion doesn’t mean that anything goes. For while Jesus ate and talked with sinners, even he condemned their sin.

  3. rheyduck says:

    You are correct to say that Open Open Open is not our official doctrine. But in many circles it has become our de facto doctrinal statement. When United Methodists publically try to figure out what they ought to do they appeal not to our official doctrine, but to our marketing slogan. They don’t tend to reason, “Because Jesus is God incarnate,” or, “Since Jesus has defeated all the powers of sin, death and hell” or something to that effect, but, “If we say we have Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors,” we ought to act like it.

    Surely we OUGHT to live out our marketing slogan. But we ought to have a slogan that fits with our doctrine more closely.

  4. rheyduck says:

    “To state that we haven’t “argued” enough about this is a mistake. It’s been argued for the last 40 years, and refuted, each and every time.”

    If by arguing “enough” you mean “Until I and many others are tired of it,” than yes, we have argued enough. Or, if you mean something like, “Untill the General Conference has a sufficient number of majority votes,” then, yes, I agree. Or, if you mean something like, “Until General Conference adopts the right position,” once again, finally, I would agree with you.

    But however much I dislike it the church is not yet at rest or at peace. I think God wants us to be at rest and at peace – as much as God wants us to be right. So by my judgment we’re not yet finished yet. In other words, if the point of arguing were only to be right, I’d think we were done. But if the point is to convince people, we still have a ways to go.

    Of course, you might well think that convincing people of opposing views is impossible, that the only solution is for people to shut up or leave, accepting a position they think anathema. It may well be. That’s happened at other times in church history over other issues. I’m not convinced we’re supposed to give up yet.

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