When I wrote my letter to Bishop Willimon, I really didn’t expect it to receive the response it did. As a result, I’ve received several (many?) messages and e-mails thanking me for verbalizing what they would have liked to say to our United Methodist bishops, but were afraid to do so in fear of retaliation for their open critique. Trust and fear are deeply connected, and for a people who claim and believe that Christ’s love overcomes fear, it’s amazing how many folks walk in the worry that they will be harmed for speaking their mind.
However, one of the disheartening results of writing to Bishop Willimon has been the e-mails from folks who have experienced pain and attack in the course of their ministry. These are folks who believe they are trying to be faithful to Christ’s call, but whose vision differed with the denominational hierarchy, and they found themselves enmeshed in a political morass which made them question their commitment to our communion.
Yesterday, I received a note from a layperson at one of those churches, The Church of the Reconciler in Birmingham. They forwarded me a link to a website created to document some of what they have experienced in the past year, leading to an Open Letter to the Members of the North Alabama Annual Conference, a group which meets this week. I won’t go into all the details — they offer a timeline of their experiences — but if their allegations have any basis in truth it raises troubling questions about how church leaders fail to live according to the common rule of life we have set for ourselves — the Book of Discipline.
I recognize that I am getting one side of an issue — and that those on the other side may have perfectly valid reasons for acting as they have done. Unfortunately, the decision made far too often by cabinets and bishops to remain secretive and less than transparent about their decision making and actions makes it difficult if not impossible to adequately weight the arguments of both sides to come up with a rational conclusion as the problems at hand. All we can do is try to understand as best we can with the information we have as we try to make sense of the stories we here.
Check out the site for yourself and let me know what you think about what you read there. Or, if you know more about the situation, feel free to share it in the comments here.