A "caste system" in the UMC? Surely not -- we are all equal aren't we -- and haven't we made great strides to be all "inclusive" and have made sure we have checked every jot and tittle so that we will be "politically correct?" Yea, sure!
The caste system that is very real but never identified as such is the UMC ministry! We have almost as many categories and pidgeon holes into which we put preachers as Mr. Planter has peanuts! And since last General Conference we seem to have managed to expand the pidgeon loft even more -- and here's the good part -- people related to Boards of Ordained Ministry admit they are in a state of confusion about all this!
What? You say there is no "caste system" -- yea, sure -- and you whistle when you walk past a cemetery at midnight too, don't you? What's that again? You say it's our tradition -- that's the polity (or should it be spelled 'politics') of the UMC! Uh huh -- never mind, God, that you called them to preach and that qualifies them for ministry -- just leave it to us -- we'll sort them out and make sure that everyone knows her or his proper place in the "pecking order!" Hold on just a minute before you get too excited -- not good for your blood pressure you know! Let's be real honest on this -- if this system were in another culture under another name, human rights people would attack it with the ferocity of a mad tiger -- and it would be called a CASTE SYSTEM or something akin to it! Anytime you put people into categories granting certain rights to some while denying others of those same rights, you have a CASTE SYSTEM!
For instance in the former Methodist Church God wonderfully used a lot of "supply pastors" -- persons who came to know Jesus Christ later in life and were called to preach -- most had no college, much less seminary training, but God used them anyway! In spite of fruitful ministries, it was a kind of unwritten "law" that they could only be placed in churches paying salaries that were lower in scale than the "elders" in "full connection." You simply could not put a supply pastor in a church where his salary would be more than one of the "elite" -- the elder in full connection! No sir, wouldn't look right -- might threaten our little caste system -- maybe even capsize the monstrosity!
Some elders have a hard time concealing their delight in this prestigious status -- you are a member of this elite group and you have unique power over others -- the bishop helps to swell the ego a bit at every executive session by clearly and emphatically spelling out who can vote and who cannot -- and you vote on whether some can join you in this special "club" -- and sometimes you vote to discontinue individuals who are wanting to get in! Ah, this power -- this special place -- nothing like it -- you can look down the ladder and see lots of people on the rounds below you -- and we have this rigged so that it is guaranteed that there will always be people below us in this clerical pecking order -- this ecclesiastical caste system! And some district superintendents have been known to make a distinction in the system by using expressions like "cream of the crop" pastors and "third rate pastors" -- hey, I got witnesses on this one folks -- you can deny it all you want to, but when PPR people hear those kind of words out of a DS's mouth, they have good memories!
One of the most disgusting sights at my annual conference some years ago (before a more advanced method of vote counting was developed) took place when the associate members and others were told to collect and count the votes for the general conference delegates! One of my best friends was an associate member -- he couldn't vote (not quite high enough on the ecclesiastical ladder you see!) -- so with all that spare time, he could collect and count the votes of us elite elders -- made me so mad that I voted for Snoopy, the Red Baron, Mickey Mouse etc. You know, individuals who have a high degree of intelligence and dignity!
Ah, yes -- critical, negative, sarcastic, and maybe a few other added flattering adjectives you say? Yea, sure -- now how about you taking your New Testament and on the basis of the same, spell out the texts that justify the existence of this top heavy ministerial monstrosity of a caste system -- this spiritual Frankenstein we have raised up!
"It's our tradition and our POLITY!", you say -- uh huh -- and someone named Jesus made a few pointed remarks about "traditions" and the fact that they have a way of screwing up the purposes of Almighty God! Well, back to my search -- I'm trying to find where they used those associates and those full time local pastors and those part timers and those student probationers and ......? Was it in the book of Acts or did Paul mention it in the pastoral epistles -- ummmm?????
Seriously, for you people are on the "lower rounds" of the ladder, take heart -- maybe it will indeed be more like what a friend of mine described some years ago -- you make your appearance before the Lord in His office -- on the desk are dozens of copies of that sacred book known as the "Conference Journal" -- He says, "This is the record you people kept, but we're going to go by the one I kept!" And as He says this, He reaches up on a shelf behind Him and pulls down the record He kept over the years which notes that we were part of a human devised ministerial caste system! But guess what? Surprisingly, God's standard for those whom He called to preach does not include a caste system -- for Him the matters of faithfulness, reverence and respect for His Word, and obedience seem to be priority issues!
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