Rethink Church? Not Quite

*UPDATE*

Since I wrote this, Chad Holtz has posted on his blog a report of how everything went down.  In it, he tells us he was not fired, that his leaving was a mutual decision between himself and the local church he pastored.  He also says that his District Superintendent had his back the entire time.  While all this let’s the UMC leadership off the hook, it still doesn’t say much for what we, as Methodists believe.  One of the things I’ve always loved about the UMC is the that we are allowed, even encouraged, to think for ourselves.  It’s bad enough when we won’t take advantage of this gift, but it’s despairing we get rid of others for doing so.  

One of the downsides to being a firefighter and a blogger is that interesting material always seems to crop up on days I’m working.  And, since I work a 24 hour shift, a lot of times it’s hard to be timely with a blog post.  It kinda sucks to write about stuff after everyone else has had their say.  But, you do what you gotta do.  So, here goes:

 If you’re a Methodist in North Carolina, you know a pastor in the UMC named Chad Holtz was released from his appointment recently because of some things he’d said on social networking sites and his blog.  Now, if you go by the news reports, he was let go because he wrote a post saying he didn’t believe the standard version of Hell that the church has been pushing all these years was right.  A little bit of digging will show you that’s not quite the case.  He also said he didn’t care for patriotic celebrations in church and he called into question the interpretation of certain verses we tend to beat our LGBT brothers and sisters over the head with.  If you’re interested in exactly what he said, they are here, here and here.  I like this guy and think he’s the kind of pastor the church needs these days.  It doesn’t hurt that he agrees with me and that I, myself, have said the very same things right here on this blog.  I also know several UMC pastors who agree with the things said in these posts.  Some of them are ordained elders in the UMC, some are not.  Just to be on the safe side, I won’t be using any names or attributing any quotes in this post.  I’m pretty sure no one in the Methodist building in Raleigh reads this blog, but why take a chance?

I first found out about this from a series of tweets between two of my friends on Twitter, one of them a UMC minister.  The pastor was very concerned that it appeared Holtz’s dismissal didn’t conform to the rules specified in the Book of Discipline, the UMC handbook if you will.  And, she’s right.  In an AP article on the subject, all the District Superintendent would say is that it’s between Chad and the church.  That makes it sound like the church was serving is who dismissed him and, according to the discipline, a pastor’s appointment is from the bishop, not the local church.  I always thought a good Methodist didn’t take a dump without consulting the discipline first, but now I’m wondering.  I’ll grant that we don’t know the whole story, but I suspect the bishop, the DS or both agreed with the congregation about the things the good (almost?) Reverend Holtz had to say.  That, or they caved in to pressure from influential people.  Either way, it’s not good for pastors in our denomination.  Things like this tend to silence views that don’t conform to the party line.  Which is exactly what the itinerant system of the UMC was set up to prevent.  Looks like it’s working out just swell.

Unfortunately, it appears that, for right now, the conservatives hold the whip hand in the UMC throughout the southeast.  Come out with a view that’s a little too liberal and you better watch out; the hammer might just fall on you.  This kind of stuff is costing us some good people, and not just Chad Holtz.  A very good friend of mine, who graduated from a university and seminary a bit farther north, moved to North Carolina so his wife could be closer to her family.  Unfortunately for him, he hadn’t completed the ordination process when came here and had to sit before a board from the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.  When asked about salvation, he gave an answer that was, GASP, inclusive.  That pretty much sealed his fate on ordination.  The thing is, had he  sat his ordination interview where he went to school, it wouldn’t have been an issue.  This and a few other issues, coupled with Chad Holtz’s dismissal is giving me grave concerns about a continued connection with the United Methodist Church. 

Right now, the UMC’s latest ad campaign is called “Rethink Church”.  It was intended to reach out to emergents and young seekers who weren’t into the old way of doing church.  To accomplish this, we have a really nifty website that hits all the right buttons; we use buzzwords, like “conversation”; we talk about church as a verb, not a noun.  But, things like the two instances I’ve talked about here show that the campaign is just that, an ad campaign.  It’s lip service, and what they really mean is “Rethink Church, as long as you think like we do”.  As a commenter on another blog said today, “Our new tagline is Unthink Church”.