I know first-hand what a ‘hostile takeover’ looks like. And we, the United Methodist Church, have just had one.
In the 1980’s, my bishop appointed me to a lovely congregation in the city of Eureka on the far North Coast of California. It is in Humboldt County where you might have vacationed, for it is here that the last and biggest stands of the majestic redwoods are: Humboldt State Park and Redwood National Park.
When I arrived in Eureka, the largest groves of old growth redwoods, or at least, most of them, were in the possession of Pacific Lumber Company, a family owned business. P.L., as the locals called it, was generally well liked because it operated on what was called ‘sustained logging’. That is, the long termed health of groves rather than just company profits drove their rate of logging.
But then, a man from Houston, who was known for hostile buyouts of capital-rich companies, saw his chance. Against the wishes of the family who owned it and the community that saw it as the source of jobs for years to come, he was able to take over the company.
He increased the logging rate significantly and stripped the loggers’ retirement fund. There followed protests from the community and from beyond, including Earth First. My first months in Eureka were the beginning of what was labelled Redwood Summer. Yes, I have seen a hostile takeover first hand before.
Now I have seen it happen to my denomination, the United Methodist Church. Just like with Redwood Summer, the protests have failed to stop it. In our case, the traditionalists have framed it as opposition to ‘homosexuality’. But the real issue is domination. They were not content to oppose the LGBTQ persons. What they wanted, like the corporate raider from Houston, was to get their hands on the levers of power. They wanted control. They found a way to thwart the 2/3rds of U S Methodists who were willing to settle for the plan that would keep us together as One Church. They knew that opposition to homosexuality was a hot button issue for most of the overseas UMCs, and they exploited the issue to win their battle to split the denomination.
The last several years I have been studying recent New Testament scholarship which, for the first time, has laid bare the nature of the first centuries of the followers of Jesus and how their context was trying to be faithful to Jesus while living in the oppressive empire of Rome. You might have noticed my latest posting on this Facebook page titled “A Closer Look at In the Shadow of Empire”.
Well that early period of faithful discipleship of Jesus’ followers came to and end with the ‘hostile takeover’ that occurred. In the fourth century the Roman emperor of the time, whose name is familiar to you, persuaded the bishops of the church to let them use the church’s logo, as it were, to sustain the weakened power of of the empire. Thus it was that the followers of the One who had been put to death, seen as a threat to the empire’s peace (Pax Romana), first became familiar with what it felt like to be part of the dominators instead of being the dominated. It was heady stuff, having power. From then on a lot of Christians have been confused over the relation of faith to the issue of power
It seems to me that the issue which has split our denomination, not homosexuality but power, needs to be at the center of any ‘Way Forward’ that we take. How does one create a post-Constantinian church? Our attempts at changing the demonic accretions that have been added to the Book of Discipline since 1972 has only dragged us into fighting fire with fire, trying to wrest the levers of power by using power.
What would it look like for a church that was aware of the satanic nature of the grasping for power to find an alternative? Would any of you like to explore that with me? Please PM me at my Facebook page, Bud Tillinghast.
(Note: I normally post on my Subversive Church blog. But because that is aimed widely, I am posting this on my old Net Prophets blog.