Recently, my daily Bible readings took me to the Book of Micah. The book is located between the books of Jonah and Nahum. (Does that help? Yeah, me neither. Use those little tabs on the edges of the pages.) Micah, a contemporary of the more familiar Isaiah, prophesied between 737 and 696 BC. Scholars have “dated” Micah based on his references to the reigns of Kings Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah of Judah. (Brief history lesson: the kingdom of Israel was divided in 930 BC, after the death of King Solomon. The “northern kingdom” was still referred to as Israel, and the “southern kingdom” was called Judah, named after the tribe of Judah that dominated the kingdom. Jerusalem was in Judah.) Micah’s prophecies were directed at both kingdoms, unlike most prophets who spoke only to one nation. He was the first prophet to predict the destruction of Jerusalem. (More history: The Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC, about a century and a half after Micah’s prophecy.)
What was going on at the time? Micah’s prophecies spoke against several groups, including both civic and religious leaders as well as other prophets who used their gifts of prophecy to their own advantage: “This city’s leaders give judgment for a bribe; its priests interpret the law for pay; its prophets give their revelations for money” (Micah 3:11 NIV). Judges were accepting bribes and perverting justice while oppressing the poor. Priests were easily bought. And for the right price, prophets were telling the leaders what they wanted to hear. All three groups had convinced themselves that their sacrifices would make up for their behavior. That’s akin to the drunk driver who killed your child paying you several million dollars to make it up to you. It just doesn’t work that way.
Micah told his audience how to get right with God: “…what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). And like most Old Testament prophets, Micah warned God’s chosen people that if they didn’t shape up, the Lord would ship them out. God expected the Israelites to be a model society and He gave them a gazillion and a half laws to show them how to live up to His standards. Not surprisingly, they blew it—over and over and over. Also, not surprisingly, God shipped them out. The first significant diaspora was a result of the Babylonian conquest of Judah in 586 BC, when part of the Hebrew population was deported into slavery.
But we’ve learned our lesson, because history never repeats itself, right? If you believe that, let me tell you about a fabulous beachfront property that I have on the market in Iowa. Or, you can just go to the current happenings in the United Methodist Church (UMC) in these United States. In short, many Methodists, like the Israelites in Micah’s time, have begun paying homage to Baal and other heathen gods, and the church is suffering for it. The UMC is splitting, and if you do your own research, you’ll be bombarded with words and phrases like “protocol” and “stay united” and “general conference” and “judicial decision.” But the heart of the issue, if I may simplify it, is whether or not to sanction same-sex marriage within the church and whether or not to ordain pastors who actively practice homosexuality. Currently, the UMC Book of Discipline allows neither. (The Book of Discipline is the document that sets forth the laws, plan, polity, and process by which United Methodists govern themselves.)
The two armies in the war are the traditionalists and the progressives. The traditionalists (conservatives) want to preserve the Book of Discipline and its precepts–in other words, LBGTQ+ individuals are welcome to worship in the UMC congregations, but there will be no same-sex marriages or gay pastors. The progressive group (who mislead the sheep by referring to themselves as the “Stay United” group) want to rewrite the Book of Discipline so that homosexuality is no longer considered a sin. Furthermore, the progressives insist that they will keep the “United Methodist” name and the traditionalists must leave the UMC and form another Methodist iteration, such as the Global Methodist Church. Many traditionalist churches have already disaffiliated from the UMC in order to either remain independent, or to affiliate with other iterations of Methodism, such as the Global Methodist Church.
Side note: The General Conference of the UMC is the worldwide governing body that sets the rules and establishes procedures for virtually every aspect of the church’s life. In 2019, a Special Session of the General Conference was called in order to vote on the Traditional Plan, which retained restrictions against “practicing homosexual clergy” and against sanctioning same-sex marriages. The results of the Special Session are summarized by Katelyn Burns in a 2020 article published by Vox Media. The Traditional Plan passed with 53% of church leaders and lay people voting to uphold the existing ban on same-sex marriage and clergy, stating that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” While the majority of US delegates opposed the Traditional Plan, they were out-voted by conservative US delegates teamed with the delegates from Africa, Russia, and the Philippines. However, the defeated “progressives” got their feelings hurt and decided that they weren’t going to play by the rules. The result of their tantrum is to try to force their agenda through the UMC in the United States by delaying further General Conferences until they can round up enough votes to get their way.
Those of us who are traditionalists are being tarred by the same brush that is used to describe political conservatives as narrow-minded, homophobic, racist, and sexist. The progressives, on the other hand, state that they “take the scripture very seriously and hold the Bible as the primary revelation of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord” (from the Stay UMC website). Their statement would be more accurate if they just admitted what they really think–“we take the scripture very seriously unless it makes us uncomfortable, and then we just ignore it.” Those of us who grew up in Sunday School remember many of the Biblical references to sexual sin, and none of those passages said that homosexuality was ok. But it comes as no surprise to true traditionalists that “the other side” has conveniently discounted entire passages in the Bible.
Back to Micah. His prophecies regarding Judah and the Israelites were 100% accurate. Spoiler alert: God’s Word has not changed in the intervening 27 centuries. Sadly, like the Old Testament Israelites, we continue to ignore God’s commands and His expectations. Because the New Testament instructs us to love one another, current liberals have convinced themselves that God won’t mind if they rewrite the Word to match their agenda, under the guise of being open-minded and inclusive. After all, their woke interpretation of God’s Word shows how progressive they are. Right? The short answer–no. The longer answer–absolutely not. It’s time to put on the armor of God and fight. And I believe that both Micah and Jesus would agree.
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