Saturday, July 17, 2021

Recommended Reading: Ted Campbell on the Un-Tying of The United Methodist Church

Ted A. Campbell has written a three-part piece on "The Un-Tying of the United Methodist Church" (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3) at Firebrand Magazine. Despite Firebrand's association with Traditionalists, Campbell, who does not identify as a Traditionalist, tries for an even-handed approach to the subject. He writes as a historian, seeking to avoid "multiple misleading narratives about the present situation of The United Methodist Church, narratives used all too handily to justify diverging trajectories in the church." For that reason, Campbell does not touch directly on debates over sexuality until the third piece. Before getting there, Campbell touches on several topics of interest to this blog including demographics, money, and organizational structure. The pieces conclude with a prayerful and sincere meditation on the current state of the denomination. The pieces are well worth a read.


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    1. In Untying The UMC, Ted Campbell reminds readers of the struggle in the newly formed United Methodist Church to forge a common statement of faith to replace the Methodist Articles of Religion and the EUB Confession of Faith. The Commission established to do so chose to leave the two traditional statements of faith unamended and focused instead on drafting “Our Theological Task” that sought to express the foundations of faith and a contemporary calling to Christian witness of the newly christened denomination. That document was cleared for publishing in the 1972 of Book of Discipline but its language attracted the polarizing forces within the body that have since metastasized into an unavoidable schism.

      Meanwhile the Articles of Religion and the EUB Confession of Faith remain securely embedded in the Constitution of the Church where its Restrictive Rules forbid their wording to be "revoked, altered or changed" nor new standards created without going through the cumbersome approval process of constitutional amendment. That injunction has failed to prevent the Wesleyan Covenant Association from adopting and publishing these historic confessions of the denomination from which they are separating as their “Statement of Beliefs.”

      There is a special irony in this purloining of the the EUB Confession of Faith. It was commissioned by the 1958 EUB Church General Conference empowering the Board of Bishops to draft a statement that distinctively lifted up the the beliefs of that American founded denomination “born out of a rebirth of the spirit not in a theological revolt.” (Steven O’Malley, Doctrinal Tradition in the Evangelical Church and the United Brethren Church, p. 73-74)

      The draft of the Confession presented to and adopted by the 1962 General Conference replaced the former United Brethren Confession of Faith and the Articles of Religion adopted by the Evangelical Association. In 1968, that EUB Confession of Faith was bequeathed to the new United Methodist Church in the uniting spirit of agreement creating a racially inclusive structure.

      Now in the current divisive atmosphere within the UMC, it is owned by a movement marked by schismatic behavior and a decisively exclusionary motif. May it yet find its original aim of affirming a rebirth of spirit that hopefully lays beyond the theological and policy revolt of the moment.

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