When the United Methodist Church ordains ministers each candidate is charged to duly consider the vows they are about to take and are asked if they have done so. Only then is each candidate asked to accept the church’s “order, liturgy, doctrine and discipline, defending it against all doctrines contrary to God’s Holy Word, and committing yourself to be accountable with those serving with you, and to the bishop and those who are appointed to supervise your ministry?” The candidate replies to their bishop: “I will, with the help of God.” These vows underline the ties that bind.
Vows that bind are not peculiar to ordination. They are common in marriage vows and as part of the swearing in of military personnel and government officials. They are commonly understood and relied on among friends even when not verbalized. Not so long ago a person’s word was their bond. A written contract was not necessary. People stood behind what they promised.
Sadly, this is not always true today even among those long looked upon as some of the most trustworthy in our nation; clergy. An anonymous author writing to the independent Methodist Federation for Social Action said, “I chose to go on birth control because I didn’t want to get pregnant and I wanted to have sex. Because I am a clergywoman in The United Methodist Church, and I’m single, that information could get me brought up on charges, and I could lose my ordination,” she wrote…. “However, because I value my job, I have to remain anonymous in writing this. It strikes me as ridiculous in 2016 that this is necessary, but being a person who is sexually active while single is against the rules.”
The UMC Book of Discipline remains clear on premarital sex, requiring clergy to maintain “personal habits conducive to bodily health, mental and emotional maturity, integrity in all personal relationships, fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness.” Before ordination this anonymous writer was required to study the church’s “order, liturgy, doctrine and discipline”, was asked if she had duly considered the vow she was about to be asked, and committed herself to be accountable to all other United Methodist clergy with her positive response. No one is ordained without a positive reply. No relationship is sustainable when individuals are not keepers of their vows.
The definition of integrity is honesty. If you do not intend to keep a promise, do not make it. If you promise to pick up the milk on the way home, do so. If you volunteer to serve on a committee, the PTA, a sports team or craft club follow through on your commitments. Rarely is it always easy. Frequently there are more attractive choices pulling for your time and energy. Personal integrity is cherished most when it is kept at great personal sacrifice. Honesty only when it is self-serving is worth little. Discipline, however, leads to delight whereas all about me tastes sweet in small doses even as large doses create decay in ones job, family, circle of friends, and self-worth. Any type of candy is enjoyed most over time in small doses.