By D.Thomas

(Photo by D.KT.)

If you invoke the Father as one who judges all people impartially according to their deeds, live in reverent fear during the time of your exile…Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that He might exalt you in due time.” [1 PETER 1:17; 5:6].

I have been struggling to write. (“Be angry but do not sin,” [EPH. 4:26]). I let Easter pass, and Earth Day, and Worm and Flower Moons, and have remained depressed, uneasy, and, even, though not exactly for myself, afraid.

We are told to not fear, that love casts out fear, but I have not been able to shake my fear of “the world,” or of the spirits out there, running to and fro and gloating over the surface of the earth. I fear, and do not trust myself– I have been weak and too easily charmed astray into sins; I don’t trust my judgement when it comes to people.

( I have been more accurate in my intuitions of global-historical, international movements of the spirits on the earth– my [unpublished] “Great Dystopian Novel,” The Resistance, conceived in my freshman year of college as Anti-Nuke, and rough-drafted in 1990 as anti-nuke and Anti-Corporate Imperialist, is set on the streets outside, and the suites within, a city of “crystal towers” built following Eco-disasters [nuclear accidents and terrorist attacks], by The Corporation which runs the world and which manufactured drugs and pharmaceutical-grade petroleum products. When p.c.s became common, I projected “Town Halls” and live discussions at UN events at which every one with their own or public- use computers could participate in real time; I wrote volumes about the evils of nuclear weapons, armed and aimed and waiting around the globe, and the madness of Mutual Assured Destruction policies, and I have raged against budget cuts to programs of aid, of food and medicine and the welfare of the poor [the hungry five year olds who can’t get jobs], and I have not wanted to join the world in which human lives are merely ID- numbered digits plugged into percentage tables, logarithms, algorithms and statistics, or wedges of color on a pie chart, and “acceptable Losses” can be calculated in nuclear/fossil fuel/”Grub Hub” scenarios and acquisitions, world run with hypocrisy and schizophrenia and greed. Fearing and wanting to stay as much out of the mainstream “World” as possible is, I suspect, my main sin, and the root of most of my anxieties, failures, and shortfalls–

“Finally, be strong in the LORD and in the strength of His power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil,” [EPHESIANS 6:10-11]).

And then I lost my voice.

This era of What trump And Supporters Represent has, naturally, freaked me out– but at least evils bubbled to the surface to be obvious, and no longer ignorable. What I have hated most of this national situation has been the so-called evangelical churches which have spit much of the hatred and forced most of the oppressions — I began “blogging” to write of Christ Jesus and the Good News of Love and Light and Life and the forgiveness of sins in this darkness. God is Love– who hates his brother or sister or neighbor is not of God.

What has been grieving me this year, holding my imagination in dread and heavy reluctance about writing even what I believe is truth, is: the ugly breakup going on in the United Methodist Church– the Disaffiliations.

I was confirmed in and have worshiped and served in one of the hundreds or thousands of First United Methodist Churches; I left after high school to wander and seek as do many, and I returned, relieved that the denomination believes that science has learned facts about the natural world– that evolution and creation are not mutually exclusive or irreconcilable, and that has favored education and study, not only of the Bible, but of it. I was not and am not necessarily loyal to or much concerned with Denomination– but this one supports some beautiful woodland camp and retreat sites that I dearly love, and UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, which is renowned for early, boots -on -the- ground, hands- on disaster relief.

(Because this can all be looked up, and the UMC website offers a lot of information and clarification on the subject, I will only give the briefest background).

For generations there has been disagreement about “issues of sexuality”– namely whether LGBTQ+ persons should be ordained and able to lead churches, and this has included disagreement about same-sex marriage and officiating by UMC pastors, once this became legal. Such issues are argued and voted on by Judiciary Committees of Bishops; the church, which is worldwide, has a complex hierarchy governing the by-laws and finances; all the UMC churches basically follow the Book Of Discipline (rules of policy and government), and the churches’ properties are held by the Conferences in trust– the congregations with their trustees and councils have stewardship of the buildings and lands, not ownership. Pastors are appointed and periodically moved to new charges as a means of checks and balances of power, since Pastors have influence over congregants by the very position they hold.

So far, or, as of the last General Conference Special Session (2019) to vote upon the one paragraph in the Book of Discipline about ordination of clergy and sexuality, Paragraph 304.3, the has been, narrowly, that “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” are denied ordination.

I was sorry to hear this, but the UMC states that members can disagree, that it’s an ongoing discussion; rules and by-laws are changed and ammended as in elected governments, and there seems to be a feeling in the air that this may change at the next General Conference, 2024.

The UMC realized that this vote was hurtful to many, and created a pathway (Paragraph 2553) for churches who disagreed to separate from the denomination, keeping their physical churches and congregations who desired to stand for a more inclusive rule.

This opportunity to Disaffiliate by way of Paragraph 2553 ends December 31, 2023. A church which decides it wishes to by a 2/3rds majority vote puts in the request to disaffiliate to its District or Conference, and at its Annual Conference, it is voted on and ratified or not.

There are two points over which a congregation can disaffiliate: either that it disagrees with the rule barring gay clergy or that it is angry over the fact that there are two gay Bishops in the UMC despite the rule, or “selective disciplining”/failure to discipline.

What is ironic is that the majority of churches in the disaffiliating flurry of the last year or so, are the conservative congregations, breaking away and some establishing the Global Methodist and similar, new denominations, or going independent (this has been happening largely, it turns out, in “Red,” rights-revoking, and book-banning, states).

(Photo of original manuscript pages of The Resistance),

Jesus barred no group from love, from forgiveness, from discipleship, or from ministry in the church founded through the apostles; even difficult Paul says that we are the same in Christ. male female, slave free, Jew Gentile– the divisions were broken down as the world was overcome. In the book of the Acts of the Apostles, the Ethiopian eunuch was baptized with water and the Spirit, and the only people who were turned away from the family of adopted children of God were: first, Ananias and Sapphira, the husband and wife who sold property to give money to the common store, but kept some of the money for themselves, secretly and hypocritically: Peter called them out not for lying to the people but lying to God {ACTS 5: 1-11), and they both fell down dead; and, secondly, Simon, a magician, who tried to buy the gift of the Holy Spirit from Peter and John with silver. (ACTS 8:9-24).

I am grieved that the church I have given time and tithes and gifts to has chosen to disaffiliate on that second point– that despite the ruling, there are two Bishops (in the world) who are “avowed homosexuals.” That they have decided that humans can indeed judge what humans are fit or unfit to preach and teach the word of God to fellow humans, or anyway that they don’t want to pay money into ministry shares which pay into their retirement funds.

This is sad, and to me this point seems awfully Pharisitic and legalistic, but this is not exactly what has been darkening, weighting, burdening and burning on my heart. The ways and means are– because of which, I am not sure of the leaders’ and movers’ intended ends.

There are clear, careful guidelines for congregational decisions on the matter, but not all the churches have been following them.

“For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” [EPHESIANS 6:12.]

The authorities, or, in some translations, “Powers and principalities” are to some extent, the spirits of groups, institutions, nations; — think “school spirit”; “team spirit,” generally thought to be a good thing, can erupt after a big football loss into destructive and even deadly riots. Things are done “in a spirit of”–.

The Devil, the Powers and Principalities and forces of darkness are in a way Satan/Lucifer and the Angels who fell with and fall with him, in the wars in the heavens– that Satan who tempted Jesus in the wilderness, whom he saw “fall from heaven like a flash of lightning” when the 72 disciples were sent out to preach the good news in pairs, in the stead of Jesus, and returned with joy, , excited and triumphant (“Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!”), as in LUKE 10:17-18; Satan who yet a little while later led Judas to betray Jesus in Gethsemane; and, the forces of this present darkness are, also, the joined motives, desires, spirits of the people who determine the policies and make the decisions which affect the lives of many on the earth, and the earth itself: Emperors and Kings, Councils, Congresses, Boards of Directors, Parties, mobs and legions.

Powers and authorities are co-created by human groups and the spiritual forces which motivate and drive or inspire them. And here, I think, is where ways and means reveal intentions.

How the universal Christian Church does things, how the local administrations and congregations act does matter: people in the world will not desire to know what hope and peace we have when the institutions using Christ’s name are, at their worst, assaulting children, dressing up in white hoods at night, having extramarital affairs, embezzling funds, or sitting in staff meetings slandering, or encouraging racism, sexism, or xenophobia.

Evil usually comes disguised; what tempts one to sin or evil usually looks and sounds and seems like something good, good for Me or good for us, or even “good for everyone.”

If decisions are made– about stewardship of properties, about hiring and dismissing staff– behind closed doors and almost in secret, and without satisfactory reasons being given, even current congregants can lose trust in their leadership. If, then, a “discernment process” before a vote to request to disaffiliate consists of having the people sit in the pews as on a Sunday morning or Ash Wednesday, to listen to the pastor who is in favor of leaving the denomination present the case( with which he led the first-term and brand-new Lead Council members to agree and already draft the request-to-disaffiliate letter which is to be sent if-)-; presenting no other point of view, and including no Conference representative to help answer questions, and permitting no break-out sessions or talk-among-yourselves breaks, so not really giving people time to even come up with questions, it becomes an issue and even vote of: “Do you trust me or not?”

I have been distrustful for several years of a seemingly tightening, opaque, “inner circle” of leadership, and I’ve been disaffected by several actions it took during (and covered by), quarantine-era and late COVID; in fact I was “boycotting” and worshiping elsewhere until I was moved, reluctantly, to go back– not long before this diasaffiliation process started; — but I am not making accusations here: I am an asker of questions. I can imagine all sorts of scenarios easily, where, at each of three “listening” (not “discussion”) sessions, money came up most: somehow that Paragraph 304.3 led quickly to issues of finances and ownership of property (in the UMC, Conferences own the properties, which the churches run on a Trust clause, practicing stewardship rather than ownership); at the third basically-identical session, “matters of theology” were not once spoken of once without the sentences going on, “but…” to money, finances. In fact, the leaders explained that the decision for the church to act on disaffiliation now was because of the percentage/price drop of doing so, rather than the election of a gay bishop in the Western Region (USA) last November.

Being an avid reader and writer of fiction, and lover of film noire , I give no weight to my fancies, but the fact that they have foundations in the notes and observations I’ve made and kept on paper and digital files is disturbing–a church ought not to set up anyone or anything, boards or commissions or councils, such that they might look, to a new seeker, and atheist enemy, or a skeptical outsider, like nepotism–.

Something has been disturbing the Force.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” [1 JOHN 4: 1].

I do not know ill of anyone. I do know that, just as

“… false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring destructive opinions,” [2 PETER 2:1].

I don’t always know when the glass is a window or a mirror, and I must watch my own motives and intents and remember

Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour;” [1 PETER 5:8].

My voice returned when I’d decided to try to write this, but: what can one say, what can one do to share Christ with those who do not know the love and forgiveness of God Who Is Love, who need water and shelter and food and healing of body and psyche and soul here in this dark and stormy, watching world in which the church is untrustworthy?

From the beginning, the first and most beautiful of the angels, the Morning Star, set Self ahead of God, and fell, and has been charming and coercing and enticing humans to follow.

From the beginning of his ministry, one of Jesus’ closest disciples, one of the Twelve, was Judas Iscariot who betrayed him.

From their beginning as legitimate organizations with offices and influence in the time of Constantine, preachers and churches have been segregating ‘usses” and “thems”, and “lining their own coffers” and motivating kings and kingdoms to wars and witch hunts.

So, How? Who? What does one do?

One can volunteer, can sing and dance and worship at other churches and out of doors, pray and praise– and lament. One can cry out, one can holler, one can weep– and all of these are prayers–( read Psalms, read Lamentations). One can find joys– (Pastor X might walk away with his church, but I have sung Pie Jesu and become friends with a red-tail hawk who likes me to [or lets me] pet her, who’s fallen asleep on my fist and hopped onto my head).

We who believe, may take courage because: despite all the evils, all the harms and abuses and frauds, the executions and wars, the Gospel of Christ Jesus has been shared; around the world, in almost all nations, among people of all ages, ethnicities, economic positions and genders, people have come to believe and to this very day people are joining churches– even United Methodist churches, and people are sharing Holy Communion, and people are being baptized, and people are offering gifts of time, talents, and money to helping others, to serving and succoring and marching and speaking up for the voiceless, are repurposing buses and trucks to serve needy youth centers, services, and schools, are giving coats and giving drinks of water, are visiting people in their myriad prisons, adopting rescue dogs and cats, adopting orphans, planting trees.

Christ is risen indeed, Christ is greater than the one who is in the world, and Christ has overcome the world. So, for myself, and for those who this personal essay may have stung, I remember and I pray:

Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for Him; do not fret over those who prosper in their way, over those who carry out evil devices. Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret– it leads only to evil…

“…Our steps are made firm by the LORD, when He delights in our way; though we stumble we shall not fall headlong, for the LORD holds us by the hand,” [PSALM 37: 7-8;23-24].