Tuesday, December 05, 2006


There's an interesting discussion taking place over at the Methoblog. IS PACIFISM A DOCTRINAL STANDARD OF THE UMC? I wonder if the broader issue going on is how "hard and fast" do we adhere to the doctrines of the umc? Are we selective in which doctrines we choose to press?

Jonathan Marlowe states, "You are exactly right about this. The Articles of Religion of the ME Church and the Confession of Faith of the EUB Church are doctrinal standards, and it is a chargeable offense for anyone (lay or clergy) to disseminate any doctrines contrary thereto.
Also, remember that the Confession of Faith of the EUB states that "War and bloodshed are contrary to the gospel and spirit of Christ." This is not just a statement from the Social Principles (which can change every four years and are not binding). This is a quote from a doctrinal standard, and as such, it is binding on all UM clergy and laity."

His source for this is article 16 in the Confessions of Faith in our Book of Discipline.

John the Methodist resonds with, "I had never noticed that before. In the context of this entire article and The Confession of Faith as a whole, the sentence suggests that pacifism is mandatory. Unless I can find evidence that the original intent of this sentence was not to establish pacifism, then Jonathan has a strong case."

Funny I've been writing about these issues with these same points for well over a year and my responses from John tend to be things like, "Was Jesus a pacifist? Yep. Without a doubt. The Biblical case for pacifism is stronger than the case for just war.Maybe I could be a pacifist and stand by and watch my countrymen incinerated by terrorist nuclear bombs. Maybe I could watch the bodies of Saddam Hussein’s hundreds of thousands of victims poured into mass graves. But I’m just not that cold blooded."

The arguement I take issue with most here is Mitch Lewis. His response so far in this is that of the eschatological view- that God intends for there to be world of nonviolence and harmony but for now it's something we should strive for but not practice- it's more of an expectation that we'll experience in some "pie in the sky" time when we all fly away or Jesus returns.

Lewis says, "Who will provide protection for the innocent, guarantee human rights, enforce the law and defend the nation's sovereignty? Do our doctrinal standards make that that the responsibility of only the ungodly? "

One thing I know is that Jesus' kingdom living was about a wonderful expectation of a better day, but it was also ALWAYS about "living into that expectation" NOW. Here's a few things that ARE indeed explicit- 1) Jesus said "love your enemy", 2) Jesus' practices of daily living came out of living out a kingdom vision that God dreams for all the world, and 3) Jesus' practices for daily living never included violence (prophetic anger yes, but never violence that invoked harm).

I believe our doctrines are not intended as a statment for how our nations respond to one onther. It's not a matter of "do these doctrines say that war is just or unjust", but "ought Christians take part in a practice that is contrary to the teachings of Christ".

You are right- war will be with us probably forever, or at least until God puts an end to it. However we, as the body, the extension of Jesus Christ are called to model a different way of living- an alternative of love, compassion and friendships in the middle of chaos and hostility. This might mean that even though war continues and our leaders decide that it's the "just" thing to do- we'll stand together and say, you go to war, but the One I follow says that it's incompatible with our lifestyle.

We don't know our tradition, and have forgotten where we've come from. This is why the American church is neutured today.

ps: I didn't say a thing about jazz in this post. I think jazz does a better job of reconciliation between the world than the church. Just look at all the great global jazz music and how it transcends language, conflict and doctrines- and just brings people together. Why can't the body of Christ do that? Because in order to play jazz- you have to know your music theory and structure- only then can you play improv that makes jazz jazz. The Church needs to go back and learn it's music theory and chord structures and then we can play together a little better.



Anonymous said...

I apologize for ripping you out of your perfect world where people do not need to fight, but there is a place called Sudan. Now, ideally, the problem in the Darfur could be solved by words. However, this is not working. Peace talks have been going on for three years and both sides are still fighting. Are we to sit by and let innocent people be killed?

Christ taught that healing on the Sabbath was ok, even though it was work. His example isgetting s sheep out of a pit. Likewise, I think that Christ would tell us that war, though a horrible thing, is necessary to do good at times. Like preventing genocide.

St.Phransus said...

I agree with you rock in that we MUST respond to global situations such as genocide, hunger, poverty, etc. To turn a blind eye on these is as far from Christ like as one can get.

But where you and I differ is in the means toward the end. I think Christ would tell us that we've relied on the empire's means to bring about peace for too long and it has never eliminated violence.

I look at Christian Peacemakers Teams and their willingness to go into harm's way to stand alongside those in conflict and persecution and feel that somehow that's more the spirit of Christ than military might.

I'm sorry but wherever you can show me Jesus bringing about healing and helping others through violence on the Sabbath then I might be willing to say that it's time to give following a Messiah who dares to ask me to dream and live within that dream.

thanks for your comments and willingness to dialog. This is not an easy issue.


Jonathan said...

I love the jazz analogy. It is also only when a musician has studied the classics for years and years that he or she can truly improvise. Improvisation does not mean flying by the seat of our pants and doing whatever pops into our undisciplined minds. It requires thorough engagement with the tradition, as well as creativity and imagination. As you may know, Sam Wells has constructed an entire Christian ethic based on the theme of improvisation, although more from drama than from music. He borrowed the idea from N. T. Wright.

St.Phransus said...

ABSOLUTELY Jonathan!! I'll have to check Sam Wells out. I think jazz is maybe one of the best metaphors for a postmodern expression of church. Thanks for all you've done for the current conversation.

Anonymous said...

The problem with CPT is that their method of acheiving peace by "getting in the way" does not stop violence either. Standing between the interhamwe in Rwanda only cost one his life, it did not save others. (But of course, there are obvious exceptions, such as Paul Rusesabagina)

Instead, I look to Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was, for the most part, a pacifist, but realized that until the full glory of the Kingdom is established on earth, there will come a time to fight. It is regrettable, yes. But sometimes, necessary.

You are right in saying this is a very hard dialog. Depriving others of life is never a good thing. I only contend that it is sometimes the only way.

Shalom aleichem,

St.Phransus said...

Drew, I'm sorry but you are not fully informed on Bonhoeffer. If you read up you'll find that he had contacted George Bell, bishop of Chichester, hoping to negotiate with British officials. His group planned to offer to organize a coup against Hitler if the British would agree to a conditional surrender. I believe they got as far as Anthony Eden, who insisted on unconditional surrender. That changed the course of the plot, but it's not certain what Bonhoeffer's role was.

He definitely worked for the Abwehr, the German intelligence service of the German navy, after he lost his church position, as a way of avoiding the draft, which would have meant taking the oath to Hitler. The head of the Abwehr, Admiral Canaris, and other officers were plotting to assassinate Hitler. But there are too few documents to be certain what Bonhoeffer's thinking about violence was at the time. What is certain is that he'd consider killing Hitler a sin; possibly a sin he was willing to live with, but a sin nonetheless.


Joel Thomas said...

Linking to both Jonathan Marlowe and Locusts & Honey, I asked the question at Connexions as to why a doctrinal principle contained in a changeable portion of the Discipline -- the greatly and hotly discussed, "since the practice of [you know what]... is incompatible with Christian teaching" -- is an ironclad, unchangeable Doctrinal position, but the stated, Constitutionally incompatibility of war with Christianity is simply a suggested ideal.

For myself, I've come to the conclusion that I'm in violation of the Discipline regarding war, since I support a VERY narrow theory of "Just War." I cannot reason my way to pacifism, as much as I respect it, but neither can I ignore that the Discipline says it is a sin. I'm not worried about my credentials -- no UM jury would ever convict me -- but it does make me ponder seriously as to whether I am an unrepentant sinner on the issue. That means I will continue to do serious reading of materials by those advocating pacifism, but since I still find pacifism as an absolute to be illogical, then I have to stumble along that faith road.

Joel Thomas said...

Correction, paragraph 1, line 6: change to read is "... an ironclad, judicially enforceable Doctrinal position..." (violation of which may lead to loss of clergy credentials).

St.Phransus said...

haha joel, there's lots to the gospel that is illogical and even foolishness.

i was thinking about this today and how what your very point raises is that basically no one in the umc can probably honestly say that they adhere to every doctrine in the bod and practically every single clergy could be at risk with their credentials. thank goodness for grace.


Joel Thomas said...

Jonathon wrote"...lots to the gospel that is illogical and even foolishness."

That's quite true, but in history people have also used that truth to avoid deep study of the Bible and to dismiss reason, experience and tradition as the lens through which Scripture is understood. Thus, people opposed to female clergy could have a pat answer that "lots in the gosepl is illogical and foolishness." Same for slavery, segregation, etc.

I think that is why while there is real joy in studying the Bible and it is precious for both its inspiration and authority, Christians who really struggle will find it initially heartbreaking, because it will "stomp" on the "ways of this world" that clergy, too are prone to.

Finding the intersecting point of the "foolishness" of Scripture and the human reason and logic God graced us with ought to be a very humbling experience.

St.Phransus said...

true dat!! thanks for struggling alongside me. i'm so thankful for all the voices of the blogosphere.

st phransus