ordination vows

Washington Post channels devastated United Methodist left. Who needs to talk to the right?

Washington Post channels devastated United Methodist left. Who needs to talk to the right?

This may sound simplistic, but here goes. With most news events that involve elections, or votes to settle disputes inside an organization, there will be a winning side and a losing side.

Life is more complex than that, of course, and the “winners” of a single vote may not be the winners over the long haul. But let’s say that the winners keep winning the big votes for a decade or two.

At that point, journalists need to do one of two things. First, journalists can produce a story that, as Job 1, focuses on what the winners plan to do (since they won) and then, as Job 2, covers how the losing side plans to respond. The alternative is to write a major story about the winning group and then, to offer needed balance, to write a second story about how this outcome will affect the losing side.

With that in mind, please consider the Washington Post story that ran the other day with this headline: “U.S. Methodist leaders lay plans to resist vote against same-sex marriage.” That is one way to state the issue — looking at this from the losing side of the equation.

It would be just as accurate to say that this was a vote — the latest of many — defending the United Methodist Church’s stance in favor of ancient (thinking church history) doctrines on marriage and sex. You could also say that the key votes focused on whether UMC clergy can be required to honor their ordination vows to follow the denomination’s Book of Discipline. However, that would be the point of view held by the winners, after that special global UMC general convention held recently in St. Louis.

So the Post team doing? The headline states the editorial approach: This is a feature story built on the reactions on the losing side in St. Louis, the plans of the left-of-center establishment that has long controlled UMC life in the United States. That’s it. That’s what readers get. Thus, the overture:

When the United Methodist Church voted to uphold its ban on same-sex marriage and LGBT clergy last month, Methodist pastors and churchgoers across America were devastated. A majority of American delegates had voted against the plan, though they were outvoted by more conservative delegates from Africa and other continents.

In the weeks since, several small but powerful cadres of pastors and bishops have begun plotting paths to overturn or undermine the decision.

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Do ordination vows matter? A crucial hole in RNS report on United Methodist dispute

Do ordination vows matter? A crucial hole in RNS report on United Methodist dispute

When United Methodist ministers are ordained, the rites follow a pattern established in this oldline Protestant denomination's Book of Discipline.

There is a reason for this, of course. If the church is going to be one body, one Communion, then it helps to establish that there are ties that bind its members together, especially at the level of pulpit and altar.

Here is one vow spoken by women and men as they are ordained to the ministry. It asks the new United Methodist clergyperson if she or he will accept the denomination's "order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline, defending it against all doctrines contrary to God's Holy Word, and committing yourself to be accountable with those serving with you, and to the bishop and those who are appointed to supervise your ministry?"

The candidate then replies: "I will, with the help of God."

The assumption, of course, is that ministers are telling the truth when they take this vow.

The problem is that the Book of Discipline -- the touch point for those doctrines and disciples -- also addresses now-controversial issues, such as marriage and sex. At one key point, it requires clergy to honor their vows that they will maintain "personal habits conducive to bodily health, mental and emotional maturity, integrity in all personal relationships, fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness." The denomination has defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

Let me stress, as always, that reporters covering stories focusing on controversies among United Methodist clergy, especially those identifying as LGBTQ, do not have to agree with these doctrines and the ordination vows that point back to them. However, it's hard to argue -- if a vow is a vow -- that the contents of the Book of Discipline are not relevant to United Methodist events and trends.

This brings us to a new Religion News Service report with this headline: "Methodist pastor in Kansas placed on leave after coming out as a lesbian." Here is the overture:

(RNS) The Rev. Cynthia Meyer has been placed on an involuntary leave of absence after coming out as a lesbian earlier this year to her rural Kansas congregation.

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WPost listens to half of the great United Methodist debate

After years of covering the sexuality wars in America’s oldline denominations, I am well aware that different camps within these churches interpret the rites and vows of their traditions in different ways. The wordings in their rites have been known to change from decade to decade, as well.

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