I love baseball but despise inside baseball talk. Following the tweets and online conversations from the first day and a half from General Conference have been nothing but inside baseball conversations. You’ve not lived until you’ve heard over privileged and over educated white people use parliamentary procedure as a weapon. Here’s my synopsis: snark, more snark, attempts to see who can be the wittiest and perennial jokes about all such gatherings that are too boring to recount here. Frankly, it’s depressing as hell. If Wesleyan spirituality were oil, I’d be more than a quart low.
In the self-righteous heat of arguments over rules to determine the future of the United Methodist Church; it is easy for some to forget that we are an invented church. We have no claim to apostolic succession. Without the benefit of rules, presiding officers, bishops, or official permission John Wesley invented this church from nothing. Wesley created our movement simply because he could not continue to exist as he so desired in the Church of England.
Did God direct this decision or administratively was it simply too hard to continue to live by the status quo? Was he mad at being told “no” by his Anglican Bishop? No matter how you slice this onion, he made up his own church. Were he alive today and to replicate his actions inside the current structure of United Methodism, he’d be tried before the Judicial Council and removed from the Order of Elders he helped to create.
Ask an Episcopal, Anglican, or Elder in our own church today what would happen if they started ordaining clergy? Inventing ideas that buck the status quo which challenge the people in power are met with swift reprisal. John Wesley would not find a place to speak at General Conference, he couldn’t get elected to be a delegate, and those with a vested interest in the invented status quo would win, again. We can pretend to revere the man all we want (quote him like a political candidate quotes Thomas Jefferson) but he’d be on the fringe of the fringe today.
How did John Wesley come to invent our Methodist church? Ultimately, it was because his own Anglican church was invented by a fat man seeking a big fat divorce. We may argue fancy theological reasons, but Wesley joined a tradition created for marital convenience and European power politics. Methodism is the product of human invention. Sometimes God has been involved. More often than not, we are here because people couldn’t get divorced, white men in fancy robes said no, and people simply made stuff up. Given the abundance of humanity under-girding our invention, shouldn’t we be careful how much we claim to be speaking for God? If we’re not careful, we’ll end up speaking solely about our own wishes and desires.
Who are we fooling by trying to convince each other we’re dealing with traditions that can’t or shouldn’t be changed? Ourselves.