Creed Revisited

“Creed” Revisited
(This is the first of several articles retired Pastor Mike Shockley is writing to his friends, fellow clergy and members of the congregations he served in the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church for over 30 years as an Elder in Full Connection.)

Many years ago English journalist Steve Turner penned “Creed”, a satirical ode to western postmodern thinking. He captured with cringing accuracy the jumble of notions which float in our minds; ideas we tend to hold together rather uncritically despite their obvious absurdities and contradictions. For example, in the category of religious thought, “Creed” declares sardonically:

“We believe that all religions are basically the same… they all believe in love and goodness. They only differ on matters of creation, sin, heaven, hell, God and salvation.”

This part of Turner’s poem came to my mind as I read Bishop Carter’s letter in which he expressed his deep concern for people and
the potential harm to be caused by a lawsuit filed against the Florida Conference on behalf of over 100 United Methodist churches wanting to separate from it.

No doubt our Bishop believes, as I do, in love and goodness. And I’m sure I have my share of inconsistency in matters of doctrine. Still, the letter led me to ponder again Turner’s “Creed”. Consider these assertions from the Bishop’s letter.

“From the perspective of the Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church, our doctrinal standards have not changed and will not change, even as we continue on a journey to be a church that serves all people.”

“A tenet of our faith is that we embrace a Church built in loving relationships rather than uniformity in thought and action. As John Wesley is quoted “though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?”

The Bishop is correct. Our Doctrinal Standards are constitutionally established. As stated:

“The Constitution of The United Methodist Church…protects both the Articles of Religion and the Confession of Faith as doctrinal standards that shall not be revoked, altered, or changed”.

Most of us think that a “standard” is a norm or level by which we measure the quality of something. However, UMC “doctrinal standards” are no longer used that way. A half-century ago, the General Conference “Statement of Our Theological Task” (which does not itself establish doctrine, but shapes our understanding of it), declared that our doctrinal standards are not to be construed in a literal and juridical manner. As UMC pastor and Professor Kevin M. Watson has observed;

“The 1972 statement, for example, explicitly endorsed “theological pluralism.” It expressed a sense that the “effort to substitute new creeds for old” tends to “partisanship and schism.” And it prioritized “ethical fruits of faith” over “systems of doctrine.” Finally, it asserted, that our doctrinal standards “are not to be construed literally and juridically.””

This understanding was the norm for 16 years until General Conference 1988 when the statement was rewritten to reaffirm the centrality and value of doctrine. But in many ways, United Methodism continues to carry on as if the revision doesn’t exist. As the Bishop said, he endorses the faith-principle of embracing a church built in “loving relationships” instead of “uniformity of thought and action”.

Apparently in the UMC, our immutable standards of doctrine, engraved in stone as they are, do not exist as standards. As in Turner’s “Creed”, perhaps United Methodists should all just “believe in love and goodness” instead of fussing about schismatic things like “creation, sin, heaven, hell, God and salvation.” Won’t that put an end to our current crisis?

Of course not. Why not? That question I will attempt to address in my next article.

5 thoughts on “Creed Revisited

  1. Thanks for this I love how you explain things. Clearly & thoroughly. ‘m really looking forward to reading your next installment!


  2. Okay now Mike I am ready for part 2. I was not ready for part 1 to end. This is certainly timely and right on point. You always make me think.


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