The Rev. Bob Edgar, a United Methodist pastor and General Secretary of the National Council of Churches, has written a new book entitled Middle Church: Reclaiming the Moral Values of the Faithful Majority from the Religious Right. The book is discussed in an article from the United Methodist News Service (UMNS).
In the book, Rev. Edgar appropriately calls the Church to a new commitment toward defeating poverty, violence, war and illiteracy and fighting for civil rights and education. Without question, these are important issues and the Church needs to do more to address them in a Christian manner. We have fallen short.
The UMNS article goes on to say, "His problem with the denomination today, he notes, is that United Methodists are so reflective of U.S. society, they have been sidelined by 'what I call the piety issues' at the expense of Methodism founder John Wesley's call to care for the poor. The piety issues include homosexuality, civil marriage and abortion."
I think there's some truth there. We have indeed been distracted by what Rev. Edgar calls "piety issues". However, Rev. Edgar blames the right wing of the Church for this, and I believe he is incorrect.
As I recall, it was the left wing of the Church who pushed to allow Rev. Elizabeth Stroud to continue to pastor while in violation of the Book of Discipline as a "self-avowed, practing homosexual". The right wing didn't make an issue of Rev. Stroud; the left wing did.
As I recall, it was the left wing who pushed for changing the definition of marriage from "one man, one woman" to other alternatives, attempting to push barriers in the last few years in both the religious and secular worlds. The right wing didn't make an issue of marriage; the left wing did.
So, as Rev. Edgar bemoans the fact that the Church seems distracted from its larger mission, perhaps he should ask himself, "Who created the monster?" There is much about the right wing of the Church I find quite disturbing (wrapping up in the flag, a sickening gun culture, an incredible moral failure to stand against the war fronts in Afghanistan and Iraq, etc.), but it seems clear that the left wing of the Church bears responsibility for distracting us all with these so-called "piety issues" during a time when the world has needed the Church to be a prophetic voice of reconciliation, hope, and the transforming power of the gospel.