Faithful Disobedience: Doing The Best of Things in the Worst of Times

A Dangerous Time to Build a Church 

The Chapel of the Holy Trinity at Staunton Harold is typical English Gothic architecture.  What is special is when and why it was constructed.  ExteriorAutumnStauntonHaroldChurch4105-1.jpg

England was being torn apart by civil war. With the dangerous exception of the neo-Nazi and white supremistist terrorists, our current polarization doesn’t hold a candle to the way Protestants and Catholics grasped for political power and persecuted each other back then.

The construction of Holy Trinity Chapel was a disobedient act of defiant faith in a difficult time.  A plaque over the entrance reads:

In the year 1653 when all things
Sacred were throughout ye nation,
Either demolished or profaned,
Sir Robert Shirely, Baronet,
Founded this church;
Whose singular praise it is,
to have done the best things in ye worst times,
hoped them in the most calamitous.

Sir Robert Shirely didn’t live to see the chapel completed. He died in the Tower of London under orders from Oliver Cromwell for breaking the religious and political law.

Faithful Disobedience 

So, when is dissent or disobedience the most faithful thing a Christian can do?

I’ve been wrestling with that question in light of Peter and John’s defiant act of disobedience in Acts 5:27-42.  On trial before the religious authorities for healing a lame man and proclaiming the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus, their only defense was, “We must obey God rather than humans!”  (Acts 5:29)

t1larg.riders.corbisThe story in Acts has come alive for me in reading Taylor Branch’s Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-1963. The Freedom Riders, preachers, and ordinary people whose dissent and disobedience broke the power of segregation reminded me of the faith and courage it takes to obey God rather than human authority.

Peter and John’s witness also took me back to Undomesticated Dissent: Democracy and the Public Virtue of Religious Nonconformity .  Curtis Freeman, the Director of the Baptist House of Studies at Duke Divinity School, points out that the long line of Christian dissenters like John Bunyan in England, Roger Williams or Anne Hutchinson in colonial America, or Martin Luther King, Jr. in the ’60’s reminds us that “followers of Christ must learn to live in a perpetual state of tension with the status quote.” He concludes that “Christian conscience must be formed by faith through baptism and participation in the new humanity that has come in Jesus Christ.” (p. 218-219)

When is dissent or disobedience a faithful witness for Christ? It’s never an easy question to answer.  The examples that reach back to Acts raise two defining questions.

  • Does it bring healing to broken or suffering people?
  • Is it consistent with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? (Acts 3:1-26, 5:27-32).

Dissent or Disobedience?

And so we come to this critical moment for The United Methodist Church.

52762393_10156202843851762_7409731876035756032_nMy colleagues and friends who support the “Traditional Plan” that is now church law are being faithful to their interpretation of scripture and obedient to their understanding of God’s will. I suspect the high priest and the council believed the same thing. They were, after all, obeying the Old Testament law just the way Peter was obeying God’s law before he met Cornelius (Acts 10).

I respect their conviction. It’s a conviction I shared until, like Peter, I became friends with followers of Christ who happen to be gay and discovered that some things that are “biblical” are not “Christ-like.”

I also respect the biblical faithfulness and Spirit-led obedience of brothers and sisters whose obedience to Christ leads them to disobey the restrictions in the Book of Discipline which have been made more punitive by the “Traditional Plan.”

Alhough I have not been led to disobey, my sense of biblical faithfulness and Spirit-led obedience calls me to dissent. I supported the “One Church Plan” because it honored the diversity of conviction and culture that is part of our church.  With its defeat, I affirm the vision of A Harvest of Joy that emerged from the Uniting Methodists movement.

I have no idea where all this will lead. I suspect we are headed toward some form of separation, which I cannot believe is God’s primary will for the Body of Christ but may become a human necessity.

Like Peter and John, I’m sure we are called to be the agents of Christ’s healing power and to bear witness to the way of Jesus. Like William Shirely, we are called to do the best of things in the worst of times and to hope for God’s Kingdom to come among us in times that are calamitous.

May God be with us.

Grace and peace,




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9 thoughts on “Faithful Disobedience: Doing The Best of Things in the Worst of Times

  1. So if one disregards the scripture in both OT and New regarding homosexuality, because it is felt by them that scripture may be “biblical” but “not Christ-like”, where does one stop with their edits? And how does one go about determining that things that are “biblical” are not Christ-like”? Where does it stop? Does loving someone as a family member or as a friend change the scripture? These are hard issues, but we can’t re-write scripture. The scripture is what it is. I feel we have to accept the scripture and love all with Christ-like love, and let the scriptures fall where they fall. The dire warnings are in Revelation about changing scripture.

    Michael D. Hogan
    Sandy L. Hogan
    4 Belleview Blvd.
    Unit 402
    Belleair, FL 33756
    Mike’sCell 813 230 5858
    Sandy’s Cell 727 776 0100

    1. Mike:
      Good to hear from you! Sorry we’ve lost touch over the years. I’m grateful for the work we did together at Hyde Park. Hope you are doing well.
      You ask a great question! It’s not about “editing” scripture, but about interpreting it. It’s what Jesus did in the Sermon on the Mount when he said, “You have heard, but I say to you…” It’s the ongoing issue in the book of Acts as the church discovered that sometimes being faithful to the Holy Spirit means departing from God’s words in the past. (Acts 10) Behind my statement is the New Testament affirmation that “the Word became flesh” in Jesus. Jesus Christ is the living, breathing, flesh and blood Word of God. The bible is the inspired text that tells the story of God’s self-revelation leading to the Word made flesh in Jesus. We interpret the written word through the living Word. As Methodists, we also use reason, tradition and experience as tools to interpret the inspired scripture for our lives. I hope that’s helpful.

    2. Thank you, Jim. Scripture has been used to okay any number of cruel acts — slavery, war, — over the centuries. As my understanding grows & changes, I can only move to stand with you.

  2. Eleanor Crawford May 6, 2019 — 8:34 pm

    Thanks, Jim, for sharing your wise reflections. It amazes me that dissenters in our Church fail to realize that they willfully promised to support infants being baptized (before one knew if they would be LGBTQ), yet are willing to reject them when they express their sexual preferences as they realize them. Some don’t, of course because of social stigma or parental (or other) pressures, and suffer the mental anguish of not being true to themselves. Clearly we need to rethink CHURCH!

  3. Jim, “perpetual state of tension with the status quote.” Love it, Gil

    Gil Thelen President, Me Over PD 813.787.3886 Co-author “Counterpunch: Duking It Out With Parkinson’s” “Love. Laugh. Hope. Pray. Persevere.”


  4. Steve Gardner May 7, 2019 — 2:03 pm

    Very well said, my GOOD FRIEND! Thanks to God for your gift with mind and pen and for your faithful perseverance in continuing to bless us with your thoughts.


  5. Sharon Foster. May 7, 2019 — 8:58 pm

    Dear Jim,  thanks for this thought provoking message.  This is such a divisive issue and I have many decades long friendships at FUMCO with people falling on both sides.  It’s too close to the political climate in which I’ve seen 50 year friendships fall to bits.  I can barely stand it.   I’m greatly encouraged for the future of FUMCO with the appointment of Vance Rains and Emily Sterling.  We were in desperate need and I think they will help us build on the strengths you listed to our Cornerstone Class. I also liked you post on Notre Dame.  Hope you’re feeling better. Sincerely, Sharon Foster

  6. Steve Gardner May 8, 2019 — 2:36 pm

    Jim, after reading your blog, it reminded me of what Sandra and I had just read the day before from Oswald Chambers. It is attached.


  7. Dear Jim,
    Thank you for your insight on how to reconcile this divisive issue with one’s faith and interpretation of scripture. In the end it is a choice for each of us on how to live a “Christlike” life. That requires courage sometimes. For me it means to speak my mind in front of a tv-camera, as I experienced during a pro “One Church Plan” rally recently. For our pastors it perhaps requires to be true to themselves and perform their duties as they deem “Christlike”, even as they make themselves subject to the punitive measures of the church. Our shining example should be Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who stood up to the Nazis in dissent. For him there was a lot more at stake than his reputation or his job. May God bless you.

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