Surrendering My Ordination

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Member Reviews

*I received an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) from NetGalley and Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky as the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

Book title        : Surrendering My Ordination

Author             : J Phillip Wogaman

Release Date   : 4 September 2018

The LGBTQ people have been marginalised from the society including the religious institutions. People seem to forget that sexuality including the sexual orientation is something unfixed. One may feel the urge of being attracted to the same-sex and commit himself to a same-sex relationship. This urgency is what later seen as something abnormal according to the society. It is understandable because the society we are living in a heteronormative society. As LGBTQ is seen as something abnormal, the hetero society tend to generate some practices towards its actors as a kind of punishment. The purpose is clear: to normalise them!

Concerning the marginalisation in LGBTQ by the church, J. Phillip Wogaman, an ex-ordained minister in The United Methodist Church decided to leave his sixty-year-ordination. He mentioned that his decision was not an act f disapproval of the idea of ordination itself but for several personal reasons that Wogaman writes in his book. Wogaman firstly provides the readers with the definitions of ordination from theological, ethical, and pastoral perspectives. He then mentions his reasons to give his ordination up concerning to LGBTQ issues that the church always faces. Sadly, it was after sixty years serving in the church. It is probably because he feels he cannot accommodate those being stigmatised like LGBTQ people in this book. He says:

“To be a pastor is to reach out and help people find fulfilment in their life journey- to come to realise the fullness of God’s grace, to deal with hardships and sorrows, to be at one with fellow humanity, to be able to celebrate the joys in life. And much more. To be a pastor is to experience the depth of goodness of God, even if it is through a sharing of the pain that is common to us all.”

I honestly expect more exploration of the LGBTQ from the church perspectives. I recall several prominent reverends or priests who are LGBTQ actors and try to explain the issues of LGBTQ from the religious perspectives like Dr. Ngeo Bon Lin. Yet this book turns out to be a memoir of Wogaman only. Despite of the reason, the book is still worth to read especially to those who look for several references on LGBTQ from the religious perspectives.
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All the other quotes on the dust jacket are correct - this is a necessary book for contemporary Christian leaders.
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In 2017, Philip J. Wogaman surrendered his ordination after serving for 60 years as a United Methodist Church (UMC) pastor and educator. This book is his apology--a reasoned argument in justification of his action.

When Wogaman saw an outstanding candidate for ordination denied a hearing because she was married to another woman he could no longer "remain inside the association of clergy when someone like her must remain outside and even be stigmatized."

Over my husband's entire career as an ordained UMC minister, spanning from 1972 when he was a seminary student to his retirement in 2014, the UMC has struggled to agree on key social issues. 

My husband was in seminary when the first Social Principles was created by the UMC church. It included the statement that "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" were excluded from candidacy for ordination. Homosexuality was described as "incompatible with Christian teaching." A friend left seminary knowing his sexual orientation meant he would not be accepted for ordination.

The world has changed in its understanding of human sexuality--even Wogaman admits his understanding has grown. But the UMC, unlike other mainline denominations, remains entrenched in excluding homosexuals. (And yet there is nothing in the principles regarding other sexual orientations such as bisexual or transgender persons!)

There is no reference to the specific teaching the principle is based on, so it appears to represent the kind of societal prejudice that influenced church polity to segregate African Americans.

Wogaman considers the theological, ethical, and pastoral meaning of ordination and describes the high standards of qualifying for ordination in the UMC.

Ordination candidates are asked a series of questions including if they are "going on to perfection"--which Wogaman understands as 'perfection in love.' Pastoral ministry is essentially comforting the afflicted, being present in times of need, reminding that God and his people care. Ordination makes one a representative of the entire church, called to love and care in the name of the church, the hands and heart of Jesus and God in action. Pastoral ministry as spiritual leadership brings God's love to the individual and to the entire community.

Wogaman identifies racism as heresy and condemns the construction of barriers to God as collective sin. For example, barring women from ordination was based on cultural bias and not a theological principle.

He affirms that God's creation is inherently good and that all human life is a gift from God and that we are all equal in value. He identifies sin as putting one's self-interest first, self-centeredness instead of God-centeredness. But grace is always there to be claimed, not earned and never denied.

"...being secure in God's love, we can act not out of fear but out of love. We are free to be what God intends us to be. We are not slaves to divine or human law but free and responsible human beings who can act lovingly and creatively.

The church is a human institution and clergy are flawed human beings. Consequently, decisions made by the institution must be challenged when legalism is protected and are not grounded in the law of love.

Biblical literalism and proof-texting (the quotation of scripture out of context) leads to bad theology and bad church law.

"...we are driven, in our uses of Scripture and tradition, to distinguish those aspects of the writing that are basic to our faith from other aspects that are limited by cultural views and historical conditions."

A story about John Wesley who founded the movement called Methodism patterns disobedience to human law in light of the call to share God's love. 

Wesley was an Anglican priest who went to the people, preaching in the fields. A Bishop told Wesley he was not commissioned to preach in his diocese. Wesley "replied that he must preach 'the gospel wherever I am in the habitable world,'" a "priest of the Church Universal." Would he break the law? And Wesley replied, "Shall I obey God or man?"

The book is like a crash-course in Christian theology: grace vs legalism; the Book of Discipline wielded as law and limiting the outreach of God's grace and love; spiritual piety being manifested in love of neighbor and a passion for justice; free will; sin; the heresy of excluding groups as outside of God's love.

In the second part, Wogaman shares his personal journey and what led him to his decision, including the theological, ethical, and pastoral considerations.

A life-long United Methodist, Wogaman earned his Ph.D. degree in social ethics, taught at seminaries, became a Social Justice activist, and served as pastor at Foundry UMC where he was the pastor to President Clinton. He was elected to the General Conference four times, part of the world-wide group that sets the agenda and standards for the denomination.

In 2017 the Judicial Council had to rule if Karen J. Oliveto's election to bishop by the Western Jurisdiction was legal considering she was in a same-gender marriage. The church law that excludes "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" as clergy created a "don't ask, don't tell" environment and unless a pastor admitted they were a "practicing homosexual" involved with "physical acts" it was assumed the pastor was in compliance with church law. In 2017 the Judicial Council declared that being in a same-gender marriage was an admission of being a "practicing homosexual." Read my review of her book Together at the Table here. 

Wogaman was alarmed by the reiteration of the undefined clause, "incompatible with Christian teaching." He knew it was time for action and not just talk.

"...I must acknowledge that there are times when pastoral responsibility must preempt church law..."

Finally, Wogaman addresses "A Way Forward" considering the divided church options and shares the 2019 General Conference proposal for resolving the issue.

Wogaman's book was an interesting read. I was thankful that I audited seminary courses and could keep up with the theological arguments. I saw one reviewer comment they were disappointed in a lack of scriptural arguments, but I disagree. Wogaman does not 'proof text' but shows a deep understanding of scripture.

As a clergy wife, I did not shrink from answering questions on homosexuality, even writing a response to a local newspaper editorial. My husband's ministry was focused on the pastoral, but as a lectionary preacher, he raised up the importance of social piety and the law of love. His favorite scripture was Micah 6:8--"And what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"

What is just and kind? I think of our seminary friend who dropped out. We did not know then the reason behind his decision. We three spent many evenings together, drinking teas and listening to records. He was sad, we knew, but not the real reason. The church he loved had made it clear he was excluded, rejected, anathema.

In 2019 the denomination has a decision to make. The UMC is a worldwide organization and some countries will reject inclusion of homosexuals as clergy. Will the split finally be realized? Can we agree to disagree, and build on the pivotal beliefs of our faith and move forward together?

I received a free ebook from the publisher in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.
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Thanks to Westminster John Knox Press and Netgalley for this ARC. All opinions are my own.

I parted ways with the UMC after a sermon given by my then-pastor that began with the statement, “This might hurt some people’s feelings, but homosexuality is a sin.” He went on from there, but I was so taken aback I don’t recall any other parts of his message. In this book J Philip Wogaman explores his decision to surrender his UMC ordination because of the church’s anti-homosexual policies. 

A distinguished ethicist, Wogaman spent much of his career challenging social injustices like segregation and anti semitism—issues the church once supported. Here he passionately and eloquently argues for the rights of homosexual United Methodists, hoping that the UMC will one day realize the hurt inflicted on the gay and lesbian community  by labeling them sinful and systematically denying them grace.

As the author himself says, the time for action is now. The Church is made up of fallible human beings, he points out. It’s an institution that for centuries supported slavery and the subordination of women. He warns against the dangers of legalism and literal scripture translation which have led to the ostracism of different groups of people. But most significantly, he upholds the commandment for Christian believers to love, love, love, encouraging us to see that Church laws demanding the exclusion of any group of people do not reflect the love of Christ.
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The author shared his story and reasons for giving up his status as an ordained minister in the Methodist church. The impetus was the refusal to allow a person in a same-gendered marriage to be considered for ordination. The author talked about the laws of the church as well as the ethics of such a decision. He talked about how the beliefs of the church affect real people and can be barriers to them receiving the grace and love of God intended for all people.

I was hoping to receive more in-depth information behind his beliefs and how he interprets the Bible. Not that he promised this, it was just a hope of mine. I did appreciate him sharing his experience publicly.
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Very well written - helps dissolve the "us vs. them" mentality that appears most often in religious autobiographies.. It is a challenging book in that it takes more of an effort for a reader to push through the first part. 

*Received an advanced copy through NetGalley and the Publisher in exchange for honest review.
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Filled cover to cover with contemplative statements and wisdom from decades of pastoral experience, Wogaman presents his book in two parts: One outlining just what ordination means from various aspects, and the other serving as the book's "main event", as it were, which is what ultimately led to his surrendering of his ordination. 

The first part, instructive but direct, reads truly as if it's from someone who's had a couple of moons to polish their views on what they believe (what you'd expect, basically). For the subject matter at hand, I found everything easy to follow. Wogaman expertly organizes his material into sections great for a reader who likes to read a few pages and walk away for a bit---don't be intimidated is really what I'm saying. 

The second part, which consists of a little autobiography and the rest a recount of the inciting incident (can't forget the suggestions on how the UMC needs to move forward, either), flows like a river. You'll blow through it. Wogaman's action to surrender his ordination is definitely interesting, and seeks to speak to hearts across the LGBT+ acceptance spectrum. There's no demonizing of folks on the conservative end; Wogaman knows better than most that forcing obedience isn't the way to go. 

If there's a drawback to the read, it may be that a reader (especially an impatient one) might grow tired of the first part of the book. Compared to the drama of the second half, yeah, it's pretty dry, but you'll understand why he includes it if you read the book in its totality. 

It's hard to shy away from reading the words of someone with such a breadth of experience, and especially so when it's a person who has been doing it for so long. Wogaman's book appears to be a calm call to contemplate and understand; to appeal to the church to not get so wrapped around the letters and laws that you end up performing all manner of anti-Christian acts. 

Also that, sometimes, you have to break away the church to do something truly Christian. 

Can you do a 4.5 score on Goodreads? Cause that's really what this is more like. 

Many thanks to NetGalley and Westminster John Knox Press for the advance read.
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