Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Honest Reflections

Like many I have been reflecting on the Conference decisions made last week. Up until now I have resisted blogging about the BNP resolution, because deep down, I'm actually ashamed. I am reflecting on whether the main reason I was so willing to work with Sylvester on the resolution was because I was and am so ashamed. Why? Because I already know that no further changes are needed to our standing orders to

'give fuller effect to the principle that being a member of any organisation whose constitution, aims or objectives promote racism is inconsistent with membership of the Methodist Church, or with employment which involves representing or speaking on behalf of the Methodist Church'

What we wanted has already existed for a long time in our standing orders - it's just that none of us have had the will or the heart to fight for it.

Let me rephrase that - I have not had the will or the heart to fight for it.

I have tolerated racists in a congregation because I have not known how to deal with 'the problem' without causing offense or damage to the Church's reputation. Like many ministers I have challenged racist comments, but know that I have not really dealt with the underlying racism which prompts and provokes them. People might know that I wont tolerate racist remarks, but they were still members of a Church that I was appointed to share in pastoral charge of..

Even though I could have, should have - I never made an official complaint or sought to remove their membership via a properly convened Church court.

I worry now that this resolution simply gives each of us a Connexional decision to hide behind when, or rather if, we choose to challenge someone in our Church whom we believe may be a member of the BNP or some other racist organisation. I worry that what many are actually hoping for is that this resolution will dissuade such people from ever wanting to become members in the first place. That way we will never have to confront them or deal with the issue.

Connexionalism as a corporate cop-out clause - not a nice thought.

I guess many of us are no longer individually willing or able to name and shame injustice - we are far too 'nice' to want to be confrontational. So much easier to have the Church collectively do it for us.

So - yes I rejoice that we have publicly made explicit what was always implict and present in our standing orders - we have spelled it out, and in so doing have attracted a lot of attention. We have, I hope helped others to rethink what their faith might actually mean in terms of their allegiances.

But I'm not under any illusions, the real battle is still to be done.. inside me.

Will I ever have the courage to act on this, to do more than speak or blog about it...?

God help me to find the courage, for I fear this resolution may be nothing more than posturing otherwise.


  1. I had missgivings when I heard about this resolution, for the reasons you outlined. Even if there was not already a SO which covered it - surely being racist is incompatible with being a Christian in any case? The main problem, as you say, is that we do not hold one another accountable, and although this may highlight the issue for a time, it will not deal with that fundamental problem. We are scared to rock the boat, cause upset and possibly splits in congregations and subsequently find ourselves out in the cold. Maybe Ministers need some form of support structure which is separate from the congregation or circuit for such times?

  2. It is not just racism that we are reluctant to address (particularly in my little corner of the world), but we are reluctant to enforce/observe the disciplines of the church on so many levels. However, discipline is not always best addressed through a quasi-judicial format, indeed I think that the UMC has it right when, in the equivalent of their standing orders, they emphasise that discipline is a pastoral responsibility and must be carried out in a pastorally responsible fashion, both for the sake of the individual involved and the rest of the "flock." Discipline is part of the business of making disciples. And as for when that gets us into areas of conflict, well the advice in Matthew 18 is pretty good... but the key there is that when you have exhausted all the formal mecahnisms of resolution, we are to treat the other person as a tax-collector or pagan... And how does Jesus treat tax collectors and sinners? Not indulgently, but never giving up on anyone as a hopeless case.

  3. Virtual Methodist - I agree, and am pleased to say that the 'preamble' to the Methodist Church section on discipline says so
    I quote -
    The need of the Methodist Church for a complaints and discipline process stems from the imperfect nature of human beings. The Church is a fallible community and its members on occasion behave in ways which are damaging to themselves and others and which undermine the credibility of the Church’s witness. A complaints and discipline process is one of the means by which the Church recognizes that all human beings are made in the image of God and are entitled to be treated as such, and by which it maintains its witness to the new life in which we are called through Christ.

    Through the complaints and discipline process members of the Methodist Church are accountable to the Church in matters of faith and behaviour. The Church seeks to enable healing and reconciliation to take place through that accountability whenever possible. The Church also responds to the call through Christ for justice, openness and honesty, and to the need for each of us to accept responsibility for our own acts.

    Challenging stuff which we often don't read or acknowledge.

    I don't believe we should give up on anyone either - but I think I think we have to be less quick to pass over texts we are not comfortable with - like sheep and goats, wheat and tares...
    It is not easy to hold someone in love - and to love them well enough to hold out against their abuse of love too.
    No easy answers I'm afraid

  4. Thank you for this Angela, like you I can see both the up and the down sides of this resolution. I do believe that it is right to take a stand on racism, but then it is right to take a stand on many other issues.

    Discipline is thought to be an ugly word by too many folk today, and too often we shy away from it. Perhaps what needs more surely revisiting is the grace of discipline as a healing agent...(?)

  5. Thanks Angela,
    I know of plenty of prejudiced Christians, including me! Here in Lincolnshire, where monority groups (except the Chinese) are still rare, there are many unthinking racists. I'm more worried by those who, having thought through thier position still feel they can be members of the Methodist Church and also hold racist views. For the unthinkig racist we need to educate and allow them to experience the blessings we gain from people of other races, but how do we deal with those with ingrained and thought through views?
    John tells us that God did not come to condemn the world (Jn3:17) but to save it. How can we be conduits of salvation?
    For me one fo the most corrosive ides in human history is the frequent cropping up of 'chosen people'. It's what moved me to tears about Sri Lanka, the Sinhalese can hold 300,000 Tamils in camps because the Buddha gave Sri Lanka to the Sinhalese, they own it, the Tamils are guests, they are second class, they must do as they are told. One Sinhalese myth has a King whose armies have slaughtered another army distraught in sadness for the deaths, only to be told by Buddist monks that only one and a half humans had died. Only one of the opposition was a Buddhist and another (the half) was enquiring. The rest were not fully human. IT is this sort of thinking that led to Nazi Germany and aparthied in s. Africa.
    So how do we treat those whose views we abhor as fully human and not take a mistaken view that we are better and have the right to judge them?

  6. Angie, I don't follow British Methodism that closely ... or politics ... but I hear your fears and your shame

    my question to you though (maybe I'm the devil's advocate in this -is so sorry) but where does belonging believing behaving fit it do you think?

    I've been really challenged (impressed) by John Burke's book "no perfect people" ... and wonder if you've read it.