Today I read an interesting report of a Methodist minister who preached that Jesus was a “bigot.” It reminded me of why I’m not a Methodist, and represents the end stage of the death of the denomination. Not in membership, of course, but in theology. It’s gone.
When I first got married, my wife was a Methodist, and I was raised a Baptist. We all know the famous adage “Happy wife, happy life,” so I decided that I could just as easily be a bad Methodist as I was a bad Baptist.
So, we became Methodists. We joined a Methodist church near our home, and it worked fine. For awhile.
One of the things I noticed early on was that our pastor didn’t really care for much of the scripture. Sure he loved *most* of the beatitudes, but pretty much ignored the hard stuff — the reality of the death and resurrection, the reality of sin, the need for redemption, original sin, etc. It was all pretty much liberal feel good talking points wrapped in the flag of Jesus.
Don’t get me wrong. Our paster really believed what he believed, but it was clear that he kid of edited out what he didn’t like. This became most apparent during a “Discipleship” class my wife and I took. While not exactly part of the curriculum, the assistant pastor, who was leading the class, started teaching us about acceptance of homosexuality, and how Jesus wouldn’t have wanted us to be all judgmental and such. I asked about all of the scriptures that noted that marriage was between a man and a woman, the condemnation of homosexuality as a sin, etc. His answer was that we should view the people in the Bible within their historical context and understand that they were limited by the world they lived in. Instead of focusing on particular commands, we should look at the broader themes and apply them to our current situation. Thus, for instance, the insistance of Paul and Jesus that we not judge others should have more weight than those statements that indicated that we *should* judge things within the context of our faith, that marriage was between a man and a woman, and that homosexuality was a sin.
I asked how we were to discern which scruptures to keep and which ones to jettison. He that it should be obvious within the context of the broader themes of the scripture. He asked me why I felt obligated to accept *everything* that was in the scripture. I answered that I am not so arrogant that I can simply decide what to keep and what to discard. He was shocked that I called his approach arrogant, since he considered it the height of humility to be unsure about his interpretation of everything.
But that’s a wrong. This idea that we really know nothing, and we really have no guide other than platitudes leads to disaster. And the Methodist church has been going down this path a long time. The end stage of this disease, of course, would be for the church of Jesus to deny Jesus. And, finally, the Methodist church has reached that point. A recent article describes a Methodist minister calling Jesus a bigot and basically wrong in His attitudes. Clearly, in this interpretation, Jesus is just a man with some good ideas who started off wrong, but got a little better as time went on.
But this is just a sign of the cancer that that has eaten the Methodist church. In my opinion, of course. Many congregants are still believers, but it is clear that the hierarchy is not. Back when I was a member, this came to the front with the Elian Gonzalez case, back in 1993.s For those that do not remember, Elian Gonzalez was a young boy from Cuba whose mother tried to make the crossing to the United States and freedom. Mr Gonzalez had an extended family in the US. Unfortunately, the mother died in her attempt to gain freedom, but her son survived. Cuba demanded the child back on the basis of the father’s property rights. Bill Clinton was President, and agreed. The US government took the child at gunpoint (resulting in this famous image), and returned the child to Cuba to be raised as a propaganda tool for socialist utopianism.
There are may interesting political perspectives from which to view this decision. But, interestingly, there is really only one “real” Christian theological perspective (and by “real” I mean “real” in the sense of Wilberforce’s “Real Christianity”). From the perspective of a “real” Christian, defined as someone who actually believes in the real divinity of the Christ, the real death and resurrection of the Christ, the atonement of sins through salvation by the Christ, and the reality of sin, heaven and hell, there is only one consideration: the soul of the child. The choice was simple. He could either stay in the US and be raised in a Christian family — and likely become a follower of the Christ and saved for eternity — or he could be raised as an atheist and most likely be damned for eternity.
When viewed in those terms, the choice was straightforward, and most “real” Christians were adamant that Mr. Gonzalez be raised as a Christian. The Methodist church, however, took the opposite view, and focused on the property rights of the father as the surviving next of kin. Those paternal rights trumped everything else, and it was an opportunity to opine about American imperialism and the superiority of socialist societies such as Cuba over evil capitalistic societies such as the US. The child’s soul was unimportant within the broader political context of supporting international socialism. It was better that the child be damned than Castro be embarrassed. And so the Methodist church spent millions of dollars to ensure that Mr. Gonzalez was raised an atheist and that he be damned to hell for all eternity.
But it seems clear that the Methodist heirarchy simply does not believe in “real” Christianity in the Wilberforce sense. It believes in a social Christianity that simply does not need the numinous. It believes in a liberation theology that works towards the establishment of an authoriarian socialist state, and has worked tirelessly to advance that Progressive agenda.
While I, as a person who believes in individual liberty, have profound problem with this political view, that’s not such a big deal. I’m no fan of a lot of groups with political views different than mine, but that doesn’t mean we can’t be friends. After all, I’m not a Progressive. But the theological issue is different and is brutal. It’s the same issue that caused Martin Luther to separate from the church when he heard the priests at the Vatican performing mass and saying “This is bread and bread it shall remain; this is wine and wine it shall remain,” and laughing in contempt at those who they gave the host to. So it is with the leadership of the Methodist church and it’s relationship to its congregants. Or so it seemed to me then.
And I left. As have people been abandoning the Methodist church for some time. The problem is that once you abaondon the basics of Christianity, you are really left with nothing. Just a hollow shell.
CS Lewis noted this. In his discussions, he noted that it’s intellectually incoherent to believe both that Jesus held to a number of universal truths and that we must all listen to Him, but that He was just bullshitting when he made His claims about His divinity and His relationship to God. Either He was the true Son of God and was divine, or He was a madman. There is no in-between. Paul noted the same thing, when he wrote “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless.” (I Cor 15:17). Peter notes that our hope lies in the resurrection in his letters. If Jesus did not raise from the dead, then our faith is a mockery, and a joke. As one Episcopalian priest told the well-known atheist Richard Dawkins “I don’t believe in the God you don’t believe in, either.”
This has been a problem for years with “mainline” churches who don’t really believe any of this. And people can feel it. There’s no there there. If an Anglican priest can say that she’s both “Moslem and Christsian” and a Methodist minister can claim that Jesus was an ignorant bigot, then their faith is empty. If Christianity is simply a metaphor for some sort of ever-changing consensus about morality, it is nothing. That’s why the Methodist church has been hemorrhaging members for decades. And what is the answer of the Methodist church? To become more and more inclusive, and by doing so, by standing for less and less. Their solution is the disease. Ifhttps://goodnewsmag.org/2015/11/u-s-membership-decline-continues/ everybody is welcome, regardless of their belief, then they don’t believe in anything. And when you don’t believe in anything, it’s hard to pretend you do — and it *is* recognized as pretense.
There will always be these empty denominations. There are people who will want to wrap themselves in the flag of faith without actually having to *believe* all that icky stuff about sin and heaven and hell. State religions have often been filled with such people. But Christ is not there. And I’m glad I’m out.