YARBROUGH COLUMN: Methodist squabbles show ‘organized religion’ an oxymoron
Published 9:30 am Saturday, August 7, 2021
My wise father once advised me to never talk politics or religion with people. You will never change their minds, he said, and they will spend all their time trying to change yours. That may be true but sometimes I can’t help myself.
It is hard not to write about politics and those who practice that arcane art. Humor-impaired wingnuts on both sides of the political spectrum are so much fun and such easy targets.
But, if you think political wingnuts can be righteously-indignant, try the Bible thumpers who will pull out one sentence from one verse of one chapter of one book of the Bible – Old Testament or New Testament, take your pick – to convince us that they are on the side of God and everybody else is going to hell in a wheelbarrow.
My favorite was the guy who justified carrying guns to church by saying Jesus would approve (Luke 22:36), forgetting Matt 5:38- 41 and that darned old 6th Commandment – something about “Thou Shalt Not Kill.”
I’m not sure my prayers make it through the ceiling, so I am in no position to speak for God, but I have the feeling he is concerned with the behavior of us who identify as “religious.”
We don’t seem to always walk our righteous talk.
Maybe that is why almost a fourth of Americans identify themselves as “No Religion,” compared to 1972 when only 5 percent made that claim. Since 1972, those who identify with one of the mainline Protestant denominations have gone from 28 percent to 11 percent. Catholics have declined from 27 percent to 23 percent.
A 2019 American Family Survey found that for Millennials and even GenXers, the most common religion is no religion at all. The “Nones” claim 44% of the 18–29 age group, and 43% among those who are 30–44. That is a dramatic change from other generations. Further, the survey found that only 5 percent of unaffiliated Americans say they are now looking for a religion that would be right for them. If my abacus is correct, that means ninety-five percent are not.
Who should we blame for those kinds of attitudes? The millennials? The GenXers? Or maybe those of us who profess to believe in God should heed Matthew 7:5: Get the log out of our own eye before we worry about the speck in the eyes of others.
There is an ugly spectacle currently taking place in Cobb County between the largest church in the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church, Mt. Bethel, and North Georgia Bishop Sue Haupert-Johnson. The bishop sought to move Mt. Bethel pastor Jody Ray to a new position. Ray refused to go.
So what is the problem? The bishop, a lawyer-turned-theologian, is a liberal who is about as clumsy as an elephant on roller skates, and Mt. Bethel is a member of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, a group of conservative Methodist churches planning to split from the UMC next year in part over LGBTQ issues dividing the church. Mt. Bethel’s lay leaders have alleged Ray’s reassignment is punishment for his and their beliefs.
Haupert-Johnson says she has that right to move ministers and to her point, Methodist clergy agree to the concept of itineracy when they enter the ministry. Evidently, Dr. Ray was absent the day that subject was discussed in class.
Hearing the publicly-traded tirades between the two groups is dismaying. It has gotten up-close-and-personal. Bishop Sue Haupert–Johnson says that Mt. Bethel has “cast dispersion on our whole system and dragged it through the press and I think that is pretty despicable.” Ray says, “What the world needs right now is a courageous church that’s willing to stand for what is right and what is true even when there’s persecution, even when there are those who speak against us.”
Both sides in this nasty spat have agreed to arbitration and hopefully a satisfactory conclusion will be reached. I don’t know what form the arbitration will take, but I wonder if Haupert-Johnson and Ray have thought about sitting down in a room alone and asking themselves: What would Jesus do? I suspect, for starters. he would have the two of them park their egos and read the Sermon on the Mount.
Who knows how this is going to work out but one thing for sure, this kind of internecine squabbling isn’t good for organized religion. But then, maybe “organized religion” is an oxymoron. Can I get an Amen?