Call Me Radical, but...

Reality Check 101 - church visioning process

For the last two weeks I have been writing on the impact that the repeal of DOMA will have on denominations that fail to recognize gay marriage, such as the United Methodist (see What Voice Will I Listen To? and DOMA and the UMC). Both of these articles stem from my concern that the Church (capital ‘C’ because I mean the whole Church of Jesus Christ) stand in the proper position regarding popular culture. In this week’s sermon helps ( word), The Good Samaritan, I made the point that Jesus never allowed his ministry to reinforce or provide mythology in support of racism or classism. From Neanderthal times there has been political pressure and social expectations placed upon religious institutions to provide mumbo jumbo (what Marx would call, ‘opiate for the people’) to grease the rails of oppression. One of the major criticisms postmoderns have with organized religion is the way it has historically reinforced and modeled hierarchy, providing a broad spiritual comfort zone for those at the top of society and abandoning the marginalized folk that Jesus commanded us to love.


An additional concern has been racing around in my head: I wonder if church law relating to gay marriage could be disentangled from the issue of gay ordination. I began to ponder this two years ago when an Episcopal colleague of mine astutely said, “We’re ahead of you on this, because no Episcopalian congregation will ever be forced to accept an openly gay pastor even though we now have a gay bishop.” Since then, I have been formulating a yes and no answer that is sure to offend everyone. 


I believe that congregations need to take more ownership and control of their own future. Every congregation should engage in a visioning process and discern the specific vocation that God is calling them to perform in their context. This is why I wrote the Reality Check 101 workbook. With this in mind, I can imagine that a congregation could conceive its ministry to be as a Hospice Church (Spades), caring for an elderly population, and as such be unsuitable setting for an openly gay pastor. Other congregations might discern that their ministry to postmoderns (clubs) or their missional work (hearts) makes them an appropriate setting for a gay pastor. There may also be a large, regional congregation (Diamonds) doing the math and deciding against having an openly gay pastor at this time because of their target demographic.


In each of the above cases, the local church must really do the work of prayerful discernment and prove to its denominational officials that it does have visioning process in place. Sin and prejudice too easily dominates both our ordination and employment process. In the United Methodist Church we have the tradition of holding the individual’s own discernment of their vocation as the primary consideration in the ordination process. We have historically prevented congregations from rejecting pastoral leaders who have a legitimate call to the ministry. I am now going to be radical and say, in today’s postmodern era, the vocation of the congregation trumps the vocation of the clergy person. We can no longer afford to place in pastoral leadership everyone who says, “God called me.” We are entering a time of functional leaders, where local churches will be led by teams who may have only been called to this work for a season in their life and then move on to other occupations. How about that? The end of DOMA is tied to the end of lifelong ordination.