October 23, 2004

Bush Chargeable Offense

David Adesnik over at Oxblog has discovered that the Republican Presidential ticket is up on religous charges. President Bush and VP Cheney, being Methodists, are subject to a religious discipline that I'm much less familiar with than the Catholic Church's procedure that's been started (3rd party assertion of heresy in the Archdiocese of Boston) on John Kerry. Nonetheless, it appears that a petition charging both halves of the Republican ticket is circulating inside the UMC (though not very far in it as Rev. Sensing was unaware of the beast until I wrote a note to him a few hours ago and you'd think they'd try to circulate widely amongst their clergy on this sort of move).

As a Catholic, I'm reluctant to comment definitively on the subject. Earlier in the campaign some have opined that Kerry's heresy problems wouldn't jump over to the three Methodists in the race (both Republicans and VP candidate Edwards are Methodists).

Green also noted fundamental differences between Protestants and Catholics.

"Policy positions of Methodists are just the opinions of Methodist leaders and in no sense binding on individual Methodists," said Green, who also works as a political scientist at the University of Akron in Ohio. "In contrast, the policy positions of the Catholic hierarchy are not just their opinions, but the official position of the church and binding on all Catholics."

While a lot of Methodists may not agree with Bush, Green said -- adding that many also do -- Methodists would "never argue that he is violating (official) teaching."

Well, so much for that. I found Prof. Green's email and wrote to him. My central question was whether this is a legitimate religious evolution on the part of the UMC or whether this was just a political maneuver. Prof. Green was quick to reply:

It is probably a bit of both. Some people would very much like to have
political issues be binding on parishioners--but of course, this cuts
both ways, since the UMC's positions are not strictly liberal or
conservative. Surely there is also a political motive: to embarrass Bush
and Cheney in the same way that Kerry has been embarrassed by the heresy

Again, I'm not a Methodist and wouldn't presume to speak to their internal discipline. If Democrats are using UMC disciplinary provisions to launch political attacks, though, I would find it very worrisome that we're stepping away from the religious truce that has made this country possible. Politicizing Christ, using the cross as a cover for politics instead of using Christ to inform our politics, wouldn't be something new in the history of christianity but it's no less sad today than the first time it happened so many centuries ago.

As for the internal discipline trial, I have a strong hope that I can lure Rev. Sensing out of his retreat for a short professional comment so that somebody who knows what he's talking about can quickly inform the wider blogosphere about the facts. Here are some of my own questions.

While President Bush sets policy, the vice presidency is a post which gives its holder really only two choices, support the policy of the President (implicitly or explicitly) or resign. This is pretty much the case for the rest of the executive branch as well. Assuming this is not just a political hit piece, what does this say about UMC faithful participating in the civil service or in the non-civil service executive? How far away from direct cooperation do you have to be before you would not be committing a "chargeable offense"?

The letter of complaint states that the US has violated international law in its war in Iraq. The US has not been found guilty of any such crime, nor is it likely to be found guilty as the only competent body to declare such a thing is the UN Security Council. What sorts of criminal codes are recognized by the UMC that violating them constitutes a chargeable offense? How are such things decided?

Some of the statements in the complaint seem, to these eyes, factually false. Is false accusation itself a chargeable offense? How does the UMC decide the facts, ie which side is factually accurate in cases where public policy is under contention and the facts are not agreed to?

In the middle of writing this, I found that Rev. Sensing had responded. Here is the entirety of his response:

The worst sort of political hackery, and the two authors are manifesting their severe ignorance to boot. I hardly know where to begin. One, it is theoretically possible to charge a layperson with violations of the BOD, but it is impossible to enforce a conviction. Unlike the RC, there is no priestly or pastoral discipline that can be enforced on a layperson. There is no such thing as excommunication, no such thing as penance, etc.

There is no provision at all that I am aware of that compels a UMC layperson even to respond to such things, much less submit to them (or even notice them). Besides, they can always simply resign from membership, which makes the whole thing moot.

This is a fantasy ideology exercise.

Wish I could write more, but have no time today. Thanks for the link.

And that makes the entire exercise a wrap. Thank you Reverend Sensing.

Posted by TMLutas at October 23, 2004 01:48 PM