It seems that “Via Media” in today’s vernacular means “There’s the Door.”
The Via Media Methodists are an online United Methodist group blog that started out really well: they stated they sought the “via media” third way between different viewpoints, bringing a fresh perspective to liberal/conservative divide, and some Wesley-centered podcasts with a variety of people. I enjoyed interacting with them in their early days and we found a lot of common ground in opposing Schism in the United Methodist Church.
They marketed themselves as cutting between the issues. Little did I know they would eventually endorse the expulsion of Progressives from the UMC, and tragically seek to cut out fellow clergy from the United Methodist Church.
The Demand Letter
On July 21, 2015, in response to the expulsion and marriage of Benjamin Hutchison, Rev. Drew McIntyre and Rev. Evan Rohrs-Dodge penned a demand letter calling for the expulsion of their UM wedding officiant. These two clergymen are the two principal authors of the Via Media UMC blog–their third collaborator Rev. Stephen Fife has a much smaller percentage of posts and is conspicuously absent.
Here’s the closing text in regard to the wedding officiant Ginny Mikita, who resides in another state from the clergymen:
And here’s what that letter effected:
While Ginny knowingly placed her future ordination at risk in this act of Biblical Obedience, Ginny could not have imagined that her membership in The UMC would be threatened as well. However, on August 27, Ginny’s District Superintendent, Rev. Bill Haggard, informed her that her candidacy for ordination and her membership in The UMC were revoked weeks ago as a result of a letter penned by three United Methodist clergy in other states demanding that such disciplinary action be taken against her. The stated-rationale for such action insists that Ginny was excommunicated when she acquired an online designation necessary for the legal pronouncement of marriage.
Reconciling Ministries Network reported on this story and commented:
Reconciling Ministries Network is aghast at the bureaucratic action undertaken not only by Rev. Bill Haggard, Bishop Deborah Kiesey, and the West Michigan Conference, but also by the pharisaic efforts of clergy from North Carolina, Texas, and New Jersey whose commitment to the letter of the law has outstripped what used to be known as a “religion of the heart.” We wish this were simply a matter of poor leadership, a lack of nerve, or failed compassion on the part of a few, but what we know is that a denomination that enshrines discrimination and sin into its own policies and practices must bear the weight of this extraordinary injustice. The UMC is so committed to the exclusion and oppression of queer people, that in this instance, mere affiliation with the delivery of a gospel blessing upon the relationship of a gay pastor and his loving husband resulted in a modern-day excommunication.
The Expulsion Complex
We’ve previously featured the Via Media Methodists in two topic areas:
- Praise of the A&W plan to allow progressives to more easily leave the UMC.
- Praise of a plan to exclude progressive protestors by closing General Conference.
The letter above really goes beyond the previous passive writings on doctrine to the active seeking to remove a pastor from the United Methodist Church. In fact, as a result of the letter, we see that not only was she discontinued as a clergy candidate, but her lay membership in the United Methodist Church was removed. Removed! The text of the penned later and the Judicial Council decision referenced points directly to removal of membership from the UMC.
The Via Media Methodists erred in calling for removal of Ginny’s United Methodist membership. As a technical matter, she’s not full clergy and thus her membership resides not at the annual conference level but at her sending local church. It would mean her local church would have to remove her by charge conference action. The JC decision doesn’t apply to laity in the ordination process whose membership is not in the annual conference.
But maybe that’s intentional–and if so, that’s quite the witchhunt if the goal is removal of local church membership. If so, then all clergy should poll their congregations to make sure any laity who got ordained online so they could officiate a friend’s marriage will have their memberships revoked. If that’s the direction the UMC is going, then we have 2/3 of the Via Media Methodists to thank.
The True Meaning of Via Media
It seems that “Via Media” in today’s vernacular means “There’s the Door.” It’s a far cry from the careful relevance that characterized VMM at the beginning, but that happens when bloodlust takes over the mind. I hope that they find their way back.
One final thing that troubles me is that the structure of the United Methodist Church states that we are accountable to our local and regional bodies. Instead of trusting that a pastor who is seen as errant would be held accountable, these clergymen interfered across annual conference and jurisdictional lines. It should be noted that clergy trials of late have all been initiated by local complaints, certainly not by ones far-removed from context. While such an action is allowed in United Methodism, not all that is legal is good.
My hope is that other individuals who seek to take it upon themselves to accuse others in the United Methodist Church instead allow the local or regional response by their clergy peers to go forward. Our accountability is to the annual conference, and to trust that process. It’s a shame that there’s a group of Methodists trolling online articles for people to write letters about*. May we all be better.
*[editor’s note: the first version of this post said “bring charges against” which is factually incorrect. I regret the error and am thankful to Sky McCracken for naming it in the comments.]