The Decline of Clergy Influence: Why the Surprise?

Over the last couple of days, there has been a lot of hang wringing and gnashing of teeth about a recent survey that indicates that clergy in the United States are less influential in everyday life, almost being considered “irrelevant.” On social media, I have noted a lot of people being openly concerned about what this means for their churches and for Christianity in the United States as a whole. I, too, have a response to the results of this survey and that response is as follows:

“Duh.”

Why is this such a shock? Of course, people don’t trust the clergy as much as they once did. The reasons are various but many are prominent. First, with all of the scandal that seems to rock the church on a regular basis, why should people trust us? How many pastors have been tried and convicted for sexual-based crimes (specifically crimes involving pedophilia)? Why should people trust clergy when there are so many like the Osteens and Meyers of the world who are only in ministry to profit and want people to believe that the path to righteousness involves the accumulation of wealth?

Need I continue?

The church in the US has been losing its influence for many years and this is just the latest casualty of that. This is also yet more proof that cultural Christianity is dead and isn’t coming back. The survey noted that people who reported regular church involvement did tend to trust clergy more than those who did not but they also want to keep pastors at arm’s length. People are not going to run to the pastor every time there is a problem anymore. This is the reality.

The way church was done in the 1950s is not the way it will be done in 2019 and beyond.

One thing I have not seen is what anyone intends to do in order to respond to this trend, which really has been obvious for a while. The one thing we should do is acknowledge that the way we do ministry in the future can not be the way ministry has always been done. We must be trailblazers. We must no longer look at ourselves as the tip of the pyramid and instead become what we were meant to be all along: Servant leaders. We need to be what we were always intended to be: A community where people rely on one another with the leader working alongside everyone else, not a private club that relies on its leader.

As I’ve said before: We need to get back to our roots.

My Thoughts on #WCAMEMPHIS (So Far)

17190692_1317897651589772_5539392738647395563_nIt’s been no secret that I have been skeptical of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. Specifically, I have been skeptical of the true motives of the organization. My fear is that this group would exist in order to bring about the divorce of the United Methodist Church. In other words, that WCA would be the groundwork for a new denomination that splits off from the UMC. I have been in dialogue with some people involved with WCA and have expressed my concerns. They have all assured me that WCA is not in place to group together like-minded churches and individuals as a united front against anyone who disagrees with them. I remained – and still remain – skeptical.

But I’m starting to soften a little.

I decided to attend the WCA-sponsored “We Believe in the Church” Conference in Memphis, TN in order to gain some insight for myself rather than simply relying on the blogosphere to form my opinions for me. I know a good many people who I greatly respect that support or are directly involved in WCA so this has also been a good opportunity for me to reconnect with some of these friends of mine. Now, I will not rehash all of the negative things which have been said about WCA in the blog world and elsewhere. In all honesty, I was not sure what to expect. We are still on a dinner break, still have two more sessions to go, plus several sessions tomorrow before I head back to Kentucky. I’m still not sure what all I will hear in the remaining sessions but let me tell you about some things that I have not heard. 

I have not heard “We need to split.” Not once have I heard anyone call for a separation of factions in the church. What I have heard over and over again are words like “unity,” and “together.” No one has called for a split and I really am doubtful that I will hear such talk here.

I have not heard hateful remarks about homosexuals. Many have painted the WCA as an organization which is anti-gay and hateful toward homosexuals. The attitudes I have encountered so far have been anything but hateful. A particularly telling moment occurred during a Q&A. A woman who self-identified as a lesbian asked if it was felt that God was absent from her life. The response, more or less, was: “I think that homosexuality is against God’s vision for marriage and relationships. But, I will not say that God is not at work in your life. I know God is present in your life.”

Rev. Chris Ritter related an episode from an experience he had in ministry after he preached on homosexuality. A man wanted to talk to him and then told Rev. Ritter that he is gay. The man asked if he would be welcome in the church. Rev. Ritter responded that he is welcome and is loved. He also said this: “I told him, ‘and if anyone here ever tried to hurt you because of your sexuality, they will have to hurt me first.’”

Such sounds anything but hateful to me.

I have not heard – or witnessed – anything racist. Nothing. Some have accused WCA of being covertly racist due to the racial makeup of its membership. Admittedly, the vast majority of people here are caucasian. However, there are also a significant number of other races present here. So far it seems that painting the WCA as an organization for “whites only” is patently false.

These are just my thoughts so far. The dinner break is almost up so I am returning to the conference floor. I will share more thoughts at a later time.

Picking Back Up at the Hotel

I wrote the first portion of this post while I was still at Christ UMC but I could not connect to wifi. Now that I’m back at my hotel and have wifi, I can share some other thoughts.

As I mentioned above, I have had my suspicions about the true intent of WCA. I acknowledge that there could still be behind the scenes issues but I also have to acknowledge that I could be wrong about that. One thing I did not mention above was that Bishop James Swanson of my home annual conference (Mississippi, in case you didn’t know) brought the thunder this afternoon. Bishop Swanson preached again in the evening session and brought the lightning, the thunder, the hail, and the flood. In a nutshell, Bishop Swanson challenged us to consider that all of the fighting that is going on within the UMC is nothing more than a distraction from the primary mission that God has given us. I believe this is a very real possibility and I can see such tricks of the great deceiver at work throughout social media and blogs.

From such posts, I hear a lot about specific issues but very little about Jesus. I think that’s a major problem.

Jeff Greenway also spoke and questioned whether the church is indeed at a moment like what Paul and Barnabus experienced. He made very clear that he was not calling for, nor is he a proponent of, separation but also acknowledged that a split is a real possibility and may ultimately be what is best for the Methodist movement as a whole. I feel that this is a fair observation and question that we must wrestle with, but I remain dedicated to doing what I can to keep the United Methodist Church United until such time as we have run out of options. Having said that, I hope that day never comes.

One additional event of note: The lady mentioned previously who self-identified as a lesbian also revealed that she is affiliated with Reconciling Ministries (if you’re not familiar with Reconciling Ministries, this is a caucus within the UMC that promotes full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the life of the church including recognition of same-sex marriage and the ordination of homosexuals into the ministry). WCA leadership announced from the stage that she was making herself available tomorrow after the conclusion of the conference for conversation.

Tomorrow we have more speakers and questions to wrestle with. I have been given much to pray on and think about. If nothing else, I have taken this away from my experience today: The WCA may not be the “big bad wolf” that many, to an extent myself included, have made it out to be. Time will tell. May we remain faithful and focused on the mission at hand: To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

In a State of Grief

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Credit: Rev. Giles Lindley

Yesterday as I was driving into Stanton to run some errands, I heard my phone chime with a message. When I reached my destination, I checked my phone before I went inside. It was a message from a friend and clergy colleague in the North Georgia Annual Conference with a link to the website of Getwell Road UMC in Southaven, Mississippi. Her message was, “Have you heard about this?” When I clicked the link, it was voting results of a congregational vote (the page has since been removed). The result of the vote, overwhelmingly, was that the congregation would seek to disassociate from the United Methodist Church.

I was floored.

Then resident bishop of the Mississippi Annual Conference, James Swanson, Sr., issued a statement confirming not only Getwell Road was exploring a disassociation but that The Orchard in Tupelo, Mississippi was also discerning leaving.

Lead Pastor of The Orchard, Rev. Brian Collier, stated that, “he doesn’t want to get involved in the debate. ”

The argument is going to be a long, drawn out one. And we think it’s an enormous distraction and we don’t be distracted. We want to get on with the ministry Jesus has called us to.

I think Rev. Collier and I would have to agree to disagree.

While wanting to concentrate on ministry without a “distraction” is commendable, I am disheartened that he and Rev. Bill Beavers (Getwell Road’s lead pastor) and their congregations have not given the Commission on a Way Forward time to complete their work. I believe that we should see the process through, wait for General Conference to decide what course of action the denomination will take, and then make decisions on whether to stay or go. I have heard rumors that other churches are also considering taking similar actions and this causes me even more disappointment. While I do not agree with unity for the sake of unity, I also don’t believe that the Body of Christ should be unnecessarily further divided.

Now is not the time to be making our exit.

I intend to remain a pastor in the United Methodist Church at least until this process is finished and wait for General Conference to make their decision. Then, and only then, will I further discern how I live out the calling that God has placed on me. Right now, I intend to continue to pray for the United Methodist Church, our congregations, and all who are involved in the decisions as we discern how we understand scripture and seek to live and minister together. I am watching, listening, praying, and waiting. To do anything else at this point, in my opinion, is not prudent.

I hope you will join me in praying for Getwell Road, The Orchard, their pastors, parishioners, and everyone within the Mississippi Annual Conference who are involved in these discussions. And pray that we exercise restraint and not jump to premature conclusions.

Now is not the time to abandon ship.

Letter to the Kentucky Senate Delegation on Betsy DeVos

2000px-us-senate-unofficialaltgreatseal-svgHere is the letter I sent to Senator Rand Paul and Senator Mitch McConnell regarding my gross concerns about Betsy DeVos. If you have not done so, I encourage you to contact your senators to vote against her confirmation as Secretary of Education.

Dear Senator Paul/McConnell,

I hope this email finds you, your family, and your staff well. I am writing you today to express my grave concerns regarding President-Elect Trump’s nomination for Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. I feel that she is grossly unqualified to serve as Secretary of Education and would indeed be a danger to the public education system of the United States.

As has been widely reported in various media outlets, Ms. DeVos did not even attend public schools or a state university as a student. When it comes to her own children, she has never sent them to public schools. While the decision of how to best educate one’s children is certainly one’s own, Ms. DeVos simply can not relate or empathize with the issues surrounding public schools due to her refusal to participate in the public education system. When asked in her hearing if she had ever attended a public school, Ms. DeVos’ answer was “No but I mentored in one once.” This hardly qualifies her to be the chief policy maker for our country’s public schools. Ms. DeVos simply does not have the best interests of our public schools in mind.

Additionally, she has been very vocal on her support of charter schools operated by for-profit education companies. Charter schools have not been shown to be any better at educating children than traditional public schools, and in fact have been shown to do a worse job in many cases. Simply stated, charter schools are not the answer. Beyond that, Ms. DeVos has multiple conflicts of interest by which she could potentially use her office to benefit private, for-profit education companies.

The thing I find most disturbing about Ms. DeVos, however, is her implication that states should not be made to comply with the IDEA Act. Children of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds should have the same access to educational services just as their typical peers do. The suggestion that schools ought to be able to refuse to provide services to disabled students is repulsive and offensive on so many levels. Quite frankly, I was very disturbed to hear Ms. DeVos’ comments on IDEA. Such a stance is unacceptable for the person charged with overseeing education for all of the children of the United States.

Senator, I am a pastor in Powell County. As such, part of my duty as a clergy person is to look out for the best interests of all of God’s children. Policies and stances such as those of Ms. DeVos would only harm the students of Powell County – and beyond – and I simply can not condone such actions. Jesus Christ considered children to be a special blessing which must be protected and provided for by the entirety of society. As a Christian and as a pastor, I can not support Ms. DeVos’ nomination and I urge you to vote against her confirmation. By doing this, a message will be sent to President-Elect Trump which states we demand better for our children than a billionaire with no experience or passion for public education.

Thank you for your time and consideration. I pray for God’s guidance and blessing for you.

Sincerely,

Rev. Jonathan K. Tullos

Paramedics are taught not to risk their lives after mass shootings. Rightly so.

2000px-star_of_life2-svgI became a paramedic to provide medical care out of a hospital setting to the sick and injured. I, for the most part, enjoyed my career and I was able to even save a few lives along the way. One of the things I discovered early on in my career was that a large part of being an EMT or paramedic is about making some kind of connection with the patient and/or their family. Sometimes this means holding the hand of the elderly lady who you just picked up off their bathroom floor after she fell and broke her hip. Sometimes this means listening, truly listening, to the young guy who has reached rock bottom and wants to kill himself because he feels that no one cares. And sometimes it means talking to the gang member who just got the everlasting crap beaten out of him over a girl he asked out on a date who, unbeknownst to him, was attached to a member of a rival gang.

I’ve ran many calls like the ones above in the eight years that I have worked in EMS. The last scenario in particular stands out because this guy made it clear that he was not talking to anyone because he was going to get his revenge as soon as he was out of the hospital. He refused to tell the police anything. Once in my ambulance after I completed an assessment and treatment which I could provide, I began to talk to him. At first he wouldn’t even talk to me because, as he put it, “you work with the pigs (his words, not mine).” I pointed out that I was unarmed, didn’t even have a ballistic vest, and that I was not a cop. After a few moments he did begin opening up to me about what happened. I talked to him about letting it go and allowing the cycle of violence to stop with him, how beating the other guy up was not going to solve anything and how at the end of it all he could possibly be dead. Perhaps he listened to me. Perhaps not. I will never know. But one thing is for sure: If I had presented myself as an authority figure by acting like “Billy B.A.” like so many in EMS do, I may not have had the opportunity to reach out to this kid.

From that experience alone, I make a case for why EMS providers should not be armed or otherwise regularly take on the role of a combat medic. We are not authority figures contrary to what many of us think. Those of us working the streets for Someplace County EMS are not combat medics in need of tactical gear. When we work for AMR as contractors for a hospital or nursing home we have no need for a duty belt with a side arm, extra ammo, and cuffs. Certainly, a SWAT medic does need these things from time to time but for the 99% of us who will never attend an active swat raid, we simply do not need those things.

Presenting ourselves as no different than the police serves no real purpose, gives people more reasons to distrust us, and paints and even bigger bull’s eye on our backs than are already there.

A former medic turned writer for the CBS show “Code Black” (I will reserve my opinion on this show except to say that I’ve watched one episode and don’t plan to watch another) thinks differently. The Washington Post published an opinion piece written by Kevin Hazzard where he lays out a ridiculous case for EMS providers regularly being placed in harm’s way. In case you want to go ahead and know how I feel, Mr. Hazzard is way off base and is advocating for things which only work in Hollywood shows and movies.

I will respond directly to some of Mr. Hazzard’s statements.

I was a paramedic for nearly 10 years. In that time, my job certainly put me in danger’s way; like many of my co-workers, I believed that saving a patient’s life was worth losing my own.

Nonsense. I know not one EMS provider, not a single one (including and especially myself), who would die for a patient. Perhaps Mr. Hazzard didn’t care about going home at the end of the shift but the rest of us do. The reasons for one going into EMS are varied but I can assure you that dying for a patient is not on the list or reasons for the vast majority. Perhaps Mr. Hazzard needs to remember the part in EMT class where one is taught that if the provider is hurt, they are no good to anyone. When this situation occurs, further strain is put on the system by forcing someone else to care for the patient and for the injured EMS worker because they felt the need to play GI Joe.

Mr. Hazzard, if you’re indeed interested in risking your life in such manners, the military are always recruiting medics.

In many cases, people died while waiting for help that was just outside the door. Patients treated within 60 minutes of an injury — the “golden hour,” in emergency-medicine parlance — have the best chance of survival.

This is barely worthy of a response, as the notion of the so-called “Golden Hour” has been debunked again and again by this thing that so many EMS providers seem afraid of called science. This statement was never based on anything other than some surgeon’s slick marketing phrase for a tack-on certification. If someone is going to bleed out from traumatic injuries, I can assure you that it will likely happen in much less time than the “golden hour.”

Imagine if paramedics had entered the Pulse nightclub and started treating patients immediately. Imagine medics in flak jackets and helmets, surrounded by police assault rifles, setting about the critical work of saving lives right there on the dance floor. Would more people have survived if EMS had been able to treat patients sooner? The answer is almost certainly yes.

Any EMT or medic with any kind of knowledge and experience (and any other person with knowledge of traumatic injuries) knows this simply is not true. An uncomfortable fact: When one sustains multiple significant injuries from a high-powered assault riffle, they likely will die. Again, the notion of a “golden hour” is hogwash. Besides, what good does sending EMS providers into an active shooting scene do Shooting victims can be somewhat stabilized by EMS but, at the end of the day, they need a surgeon (and sometimes even that isn’t enough). Last time I checked, a thoracotomy was not in my scope of practice and I doubt it is in any other medic’s either.

If I have not made it obvious enough, I could not disagree with Mr. Hazzard any more if I had to. He’s wrong, ignorant, and needs to understand that such notions are dangerous. The image of a medic arriving at an active shooting scene and, without regard to himself or his family, running in to drag a victim out makes for a good TV show but in practice it’s not quite that simple and not worth the risk to the provider’s safety.

I believe Mr. Hazzard is getting Hollywood and the real world mixed up.

Take my advice, sir: Stick to Hollywood. Your fantasies should only exist there.

(Some edits made after publication for clarity and correction of typos)

Following in the Footsteps of the Wesleys

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Salisbury Cathedral

Since last Monday, I have been in the land of England on a Wesleyan pilgrimage. While this might sound like a fancy name for a sightseeing tour while on vacation (or “holiday” as the Brits say), this has been a once in a lifetime opportunity to learn, to study, to grow, and to touch history. So far, this pilgrimage has proven to be just that: A pilgrimage. We have trod where John and Charles Wesley and so many others have trod, touched where they lived, worshiped, shopped, preached, and undoubtedly shed many tears. It is not enough to state that these places have been historical in nature. Indeed, we have been to sacred, holy places.

The trip began, in earnest, when we went up to Oxford (one always “goes up” to Oxford) to explore the place where the Methodist movement was begun. It’s important to remember that John and Charles Wesley were not setting out to start a new church, rather this was a renewal movement within the Church of England. One thing to note is that it was actually Charles who began what would be come the Holy Club at Christchurch College. Later on, they would be called Methodists as a way of poking fun at their methodical style of study and prayer. While in Oxford, we saw St. Mary’s Church where John preached sermons which caused him to be scorned by many within the Church of England power structure. Christ Church Cathedral is the place where John and Charles were both ordained Anglican Priests.

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Commemoration of where the Oxford Martyrs were burned.

Seeing and touching these holy places was an amazing experience but here was the real sobering moment for me: We stood at a spot on Broad Street which commemorated the place where Anglican bishops Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and Thomas Cranmer were burned at the stake for heresy. These men are who became known as the Oxford Martyrs. To see the place where these men were killed for their faith in Christ rather than their faith to a monarch was inspirational and sobering.

 

In addition to this significant faith history, we also experience another place where our faith was shaped: The Eagle and Child pub. This is where C.S. Lewis would often congregate while he was in Oxford. There was a door marked “Narnia” but I darned not to open it. For the record, the fish and chips are excellent.

Yesterday we spent the day in Epworth where the Wesley boys and

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Me in the pulpit of Wesley Memorial Methodist Church in Epworth.

girls grew up. We toured the Old Rectory where the Wesleys lived while Samuel Wesley was rector of St. Andrew’s Church. At St. Andrews, we were able to see and touch the baptismal font where John, Charles, and their siblings were baptized. We were even able to see and hold the chalice which belonged to Samuel and from which his children received their first Eucharist. We saw some of the places where John Wesley practiced open air preaching, including the market cross and his father’s grave (he climbed on top of the grave to preach after he was denied an invitation to preach at St. Andrew’s).

 

Along the way, we have learned much from our leaders who have been lecturing on Methodist history as well as ways by which we can reclaim some of the Wesleyan fervor. Hopefully by doing this, what began as a renewal movement within the Anglican Church will itself be renewed today. I throw this in mainly because I did not want you to think we have only been sightseeing. This has very much been a learning experience, both by being able to learn from some of the best Wesleyan scholars available as well as being able to experience the places where so much of our Methodist heritage was formed.

Still on tap for us is worshiping at Salisbury Methodist Church tomorrow as well as an excursion to Bath, where there has been much Roman influence preserved. Monday we head to Bristol to see sites such as the New Room and Bristol Cathedral. Tuesday and Wednesday will be spent in London where there is also much Methodist history to be experienced and learned about.

This has been our trip so far. As you can see, we still have much more to go and I can not wait to see what God will do with these final days for us here. As I expressed to a friend of mine earlier today, this has been a learning experience that is helping to shape my future ministry in the United Methodist Church. Even if I were to go back home today, I would come away with much knowledge and the blessings of being able to be in these holy places. I have experienced joy, affirmation, new friendship, and the Holy Spirit speaking to me. May we continue to listen for His small voice as we continue this sojourn.

Jonathan

An Open Letter to the Kentucky General Assembly about EMS Death Benefits

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The ambulance carrying paramedic Andy Sharp on his last ride as it passes under a United States flag held in place by ladder units from the Philadelphia (Mississippi) and Choctaw Fire Departments. Credit: Brandi Smith-Wyatt

This letter is also being emailed to my state Senator and Representative. If you would like to use this letter as a template for your own, please feel free to modify it however you wish. I encourage you to contact your elected officials and encourage them to support line duty death benefits for EMS providers both in the Commonwealth of Kentucky and elsewhere. – Jonathan

To the Representatives and Senators of the General Assembly of Kentucky: Grace and peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

My name is Jonathan Tullos and I am the pastor of Shiloh United Methodist Church in Stanton. I am also a licensed paramedic in the Commonwealth and work part time at Powell County EMS as a paramedic and chaplain. When I attended paramedic school one of the things I was taught was to be an advocate for every patient I care for. Part of my call to pastoral ministry involves EMS chaplaincy – to be an advocate for the advocates. It is in that capacity that I contact you.

I, like many other EMS providers in the Commonwealth, am very disappointed to hear that the Senate defeated House Bill 54. As you are aware, line of duty death benefits are not currently offered to Kentucky’s EMS providers. According to the National EMS Memorial, there have been 27 reported line of duty deaths in Kentucky since they began collecting data. The recent line of duty death of paramedic John Mackey of Jessemine County EMS will be number 28. This means that at least 28 families in the Commonwealth have had to struggle with end of life expenses and income instability because they are not currently entitled to the same benefits that families of law enforcement officers and firefighters killed in the line of duty receive. Simply, this is an injustice that needs to be corrected.

There are many who view EMS as a vocation that is not as dangerous as law enforcement and firefighting. According to data available from the federal government, this is simply not true. EMS has death rates that are comparable to those of firefighters and police officers. Among the leading causes of death for EMS providers are heart attacks, vehicle accidents and violence. The notion that EMS is not a dangerous profession is a myth.

Daily, EMS providers in Kentucky and elsewhere face harsh working conditions, sleep deprivation, violence, and exposure to infectious disease among many other hazards. EMS providers often have to work more than one job due to low wages and inadequate benefits for themselves and their families. They do all of this in order to help others in need – possibly even yourself someday. Their families should not have to be saddled with the burden of financial difficulty due to their loved one dying in service to their community.

I encourage you to support Kentucky’s EMS providers by ensuring that their families will be taken care of if they are killed in the line of duty. Please do all you can to enact line of duty death benefits for Kentucky’s EMS providers.

Thank your time and your service to the citizens of the Commonwealth. May God bless you and may God bless Kentucky.

Sincerely,
Rev. Jonathan K. Tullos, Nationally Registered Paramedic (NRP)
Chaplain, Powell County EMS Stanton, KY