Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Social Principles and Theology?

John Meunier's blog post yesterday hit on a topic that has bothered me for a long time!  To give you a little background in a nutshell, the United Methodist Church governing structure is based on the Book of Discipline which was originally laid out by John Wesley as a framework for the original Methodist Societies.  It's actually more complicated than that, but I'm trying to be brief and give you a general overview.  Contained within the Book of Discipline are the "Social Principles" of the United Methodist church.  They are non-binding, but essentially they are supposed to be the "prophetic voice" of the UMC.  According to the UMC website, the first social principle appeared in 1908.  Methodist History 101 in a nutshell.

Here's the thing.  To me, they read more like a political platform than a well thought out position.  There's a lot of  "we support this" and "we oppose that".  I'm not the only one that has noticed this as I discovered after reading Allan R. Bevere's blog yesterday afternoon.  The question is not so much the statement, but rather, where is the biblical justification to back up the statement?  Or, to put it another way, where is the theology behind the social principles?

So to try and find an answer to this question, I did a search which brought me to the UMC General Board of Church and Society.  I looked at the Social Principles and I looked at both of the PDF files that give the "Biblical Foundation" for our Social Principles and the "Kings Actions Condemned by the Prophets".  If you would like to look at them, go here.

Now granted, I need to dig a little more deeply than just a quick run through on the scriptures (which is what I did this morning...I looked every single one up), but I have to tell you that my initial impression was...well, let's just say I was underwhelmed.  Wow, UMC leadership, if this is the best ya got, Lord help us all!

And as far as quoting Wesley, no doubt that he was a serious advocate for social justice and reform.  The difference is, he didn't just talk a good talk, he walked a good walk!  And I don't think he ever got arrested for protesting for social reform.  The reform he advocated was active.  He didn't just say "we need prison reform" he actually went into the prisons to minister to people both spiritually and physically.  He didn't just say "we need to teach our children to read".  He created Sunday School so children had the chance to not only hear the Word of God, but to also learn how to read it as well!

I guess that's my big bug-a-boo with the Social Principles.  I think, to really have teeth you need to back it up with a strong biblical foundation and you need to be able to act upon that principle.  Otherwise, as Shakespeare said it's all "sound and fury, signifying nothing."

I'll go even one step further.  I'm not fully convinced that the Social Principles should be a part of the Book of Discipline.  They are, in the history of the UMC, a very late addition.  From my view in the pew, they have been more divisive than constructive or instructive.  I'm sure there are many that would disagree.  Either way, I think that as a church, we need a lot more discussion on this topic.

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