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Preach And Get Off The Fence

William W. Hamilton
88 McDonald Street
Marietta, GA 30064-3218

August 9, 2002

United Methodist Reporter
P. O. Box 660275
Dallas, TX 75266-0275

Re: “A Time to Stand and Be Counted”

Reading the commentary of Mr. Rhett Jackson entitled “Church Braces for Theological Battle" was a bittersweet experience. On several points we could not have agreed more. On others, we could not have agreed less. We agree with the desire to belong to a denomination “that understands that we are to love all human beings, a church that is absolutely committed to working for justice everywhere it is needed and completely dedicated to building loving communities”. I disagree with his rejection of “the virgin birth, physical resurrection, ancient creeds or any of the other magic revealed in our liturgy and literature”. We agree with the shame that it took the church “until 1968 to erase all structures that divided us by race”. I disagree when he characterizes those who condemn the sin of overt homosexual behavior as “homophobic”.

Mr. Jackson asks “Will the Confessing Movement, the Good News movement and The Institute of Religion and Democracy make The United Methodist Church untenable for me and thousands of others?” I would offer that Holy Scripture and the Apostles Creed alone already make The United Methodist Church a foreign place of worship for those who reject the claim of Jesus that He is the Son of God and the witness of Scripture to the physical resurrection of Christ. To selectively accept some Scripture while rejecting other suggests that they have superior knowledge of the mind of God and therefore assume that some is truth and other fiction and that they know the difference. He seems to accept scripture that meets his definition of reasonable and reject that which he finds unreasonable. If he can’t understand it, then it just isn’t so. If he can’t explain it in human terms, it just didn’t happen.

I pray daily for Mr. Jackson and his pastor. I cannot imagine the spiritual tension that his pastor experiences each week trying to preach to those “very fundamental in (their) beliefs, among them are even a few biblical literalists” and those who “who do not believe in the virgin birth, physical resurrection, ancient creeds or any other magic”. I believe that every minister of the gospel should preach with the conviction of his own belief. If he believes that Jesus Christ is who he claims to be, the Son of God born to a virgin, let him preach it. If he believes that Jesus was a man, born as the result of natural procreation, who simply achieved oneness with God, I believe with all my heart that he should preach it. If he believes that God has the power to raise the dead, he should preach it. If he believes that Christ’s resurrection was purely spiritual and not physical, he should preach it. To do otherwise in an attempt to achieve “theological correctness” would constitute preaching heresy to both groups with the power of conviction to neither.

It would in fact be a sad day if Mr. Jackson and any others have to leave the United Methodist Church. His contribution has been substantial. But he may very well be correct that the time has come for those on either side of this theological divide to stand up and be counted. I believe that acceptance of almost any belief in the United Methodist Church and the local pastors perceived responsibility to preach sermons acceptable to all parties, regardless of their theology, are principal contributors to our decline in membership. We are often practicing a form of godliness without the power.

Mr. Jackson stated that he has “always admired the broad theological umbrella” of the United Methodist Church. I agree that we must allow seekers room to search for truth. But there are some basics toward which we have a responsibility to guide them. The virgin birth of Jesus as the only begotten Son of God and his physical resurrection from the dead are basic to the faith. I have always contended that the United Methodist tent is sufficient to cover all sinners, those saved by grace and those seeking salvation, those practicing social justice and those still looking for ways to follow Christ’s example. But I contend that the United Methodist Church will be better served and its contribution to the Kingdom will be enhanced if it heeds the wisdom of Will Rogers, “It’s a dumb cowboy that pitches his tent straddle of a fence”.

I would appreciate response from other United Methodists.


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