Archive for the 'Homosexuality' Category

A Church Full of Yes

“In a world full of no, we’re a plane church full of yes.”

“…in [Christ] every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes’.” 2 Corinthians 1:20 NRSV

Have you noticed what I’ve noticed? More and more of us (myself included) are investing more and more time and energy in “NO-ing” our neighbors who don’t see and do life our way. It happens in business, politics, church, child-raising, and more. It happens in the common space we share, both physical and online. Civil, respectful co-existence is becoming increasingly rare in our life together.

Some of us find temporary respite when we board an airplane. At least that’s the tone one airline’s cocktail napkin seeks to set for your flight. Just walk down the jetway, turn off all your electronic devices, settle into your seat. Relax on “a plane full of yes” while we cruise along miles above that “world full of no”. It’s an attractive invitation, especially when you’ve had “a day full of No”. Unfortunately, some Christians have helped our movement become known as a people whose favorite word is “NO!” That doesn’t sound to me like the Good News of Jesus or anybody else! But I know lots of people who might welcome an invitation to “a church full of Yes”. We United Methodists could be that church. But we have some hard work before us if we want to embody that welcoming invitation!

Last February our General Conference (the official legislative body) gathered in St. Louis. Those 800+ delegates spent three days “No-ing” each other in a severely polarized debate over the church’s position with regard to LGBTQ+ persons. Many of us heard a harsh “NO!” as the body narrowly adopted legalistic and punitive legislation called the “Traditional Plan”. That NO spoke volumes to LGBTQ+ folks already within our church and also to “all sorts and conditions of persons” desperately seeking “Yes” in whatever “world full of No” they live in.

Three months later, divorce is in the UMC’s future. The once-strong 10-million member United Methodist Church will most likely re-form into multiple Methodist bodies . As I write, folks from various factions are gathering [sometimes even across party lines, thank God!] to talk and listen, to worship, pray, study, and envision the future of the Methodist movement. Our journey toward God’s promised future won’t be easy, simple, or quick. It involves working through countless details regarding legalities, dollars, property, and (most of all) people and relationships.

Believe it or not, I find hope in this apparent chaos! Hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of men, women, and even children and youth are talking, listening, writing, praying, studying, visioning, and dreaming toward the future. God’s Spirit is working through their messy work together.

It’s hardly the first time. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter preached to Jesus’ first followers:

“In the Last Days,” God says, “I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people:
Your sons will prophesy, also your daughters;
Your young men will see visions, your old men dream dreams.
When the time comes, I’ll pour out my Spirit
On those who serve me, men and women both,
and they’ll prophesy.” (Acts 2:17-18 MSG)

Last week my wife and I took another plane trip. That napkin showed up again! It brought this old man a bit of a “dream and vision”. Can we turn the page to the next chapter God has for us? Can we Methodists move beyond “NO-ing” each other to become “A church full of Yes!”?

“…in [Christ] every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes’.” (2 Corinthians 1:20) “A church full of Yes” lives to help each person within our reach hear God’s unconditional Yes to his or her life. We value every person’s God-given uniqueness. With Paul we affirm the rich diversity of God’s gifts to God’s people: “Each person is given something to do that shows who God is: Everyone gets in on it, everyone benefits. All kinds of things are handed out by the Spirit, and to all kinds of people! The variety is wonderful…” (1 Corinthians 12:7 MSG)

“A church full of Yes” welcomes people in all ages and stages of life. Some churches have a rug at the front of the sanctuary. Children can sit there, see the action more clearly, play or draw, and know they belong in this family of God. Some churches offer gluten-free communion bread, adaptive listening devices, large-print bulletins, space for service animals, and other accommodations that enable full participation

Omaha, NB First UMC works hard to help its youth hear God’s Yes. The eight middle-school students in this year’s confirmation class (preparing for full church membership) closely followed the events surrounding General Conference. Ultimately they chose not to become full members of the church at this time. The statement they wrote and shared with the congregation describes their childhood church experiences. Those experiences taught them that “…[the community of faith] is where children belong.” The statement explains their concern with the church’s direction following events at General Conference. “Because we were raised in this church,” it concludes, we believe that if we all stand together as a whole, we can make a difference.” Watch for these young men and women to continue growing in their faith and help build “a church full of yes” wherever their lives take them.

“A church full of yes” also stands with those to whom the world says “NO”. In Jesus’ time that included lepers, Gentiles, women, and assorted folks whom the religious leaders labeled “unclean”. Today’s “unclean” might include the poor, the homeless, those who are old, infirm, mentally ill, or developmentally challenged. It might include folks from ethnic or religious minorities (Jews, Christians, or Muslims, depending on your context), racial minorities, folks of unconventional sexual orientations.

In our world of No, we reject those whose ideas are disturbingly different. We reject whoever makes us uncomfortable for any reason. We pretend they’re not there. We “marginalize” them. We push them back to the farthest edges of life. But Jesus seeks out those folks we’ve “marginalized”; the folks the “upstanding townspeople” actively and brutally ran out of town. Jesus embodied “…every one of God’s promises…” for these folks who lived in “a world of no”. He touched them, healed them, welcomed them, loved them, empowered them.

Those who’d lived in that “world of No” grew into “a church full of Yes”. Their Yes to God’s Yes to God’s Yes in Jesus made them more together than they’d ever dreamed of being by themselves. This, wrote the late Rachel Held Evans, is God’s dream for God’s people. God gathers the most unlikely group of folks around the table. What brings us together? We’ve all said “Yes” to God’s “Yes” to us in Jesus Christ. And we know “there’s always room for more”.

Let’s build this church together! Right here where we live our lives, in the middle of what so often seems to be “a world full of no”, among our neighbors desperate to hear God’s Yes. “…in [Christ] every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes.'”

OUR TENT JUST SHRUNK!

Folks who follow this blog have heard me describe myself as a “prenatal Methodist”. My parents met through Epworth League, a church-related youth/young adult group. The Methodist Episcopal Church nurtured my parents’ growing faith and social conscience through “big tent” faith communities that embodied founding father John Wesley’s vision for the Methodist movement: “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.”

That “big tent” welcomed my father and other conscientious objectors to military service as World War II dawned, as well as my uncles who served in the US armed forces. After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, persons of Japanese descent,  many of whom were US citizens, were interned (imprisoned) in camps for the duration of the war. My mother served in the church’s ministry to those folks who lived in very difficult conditions. Some folks opposed this ministry because it felt to them like “giving aid and comfort to the enemy”. But the church’s “big tent” made space for folks with all those diverse viewpoints. Some of my mother’s Japanese intern pen pals became lifelong family friends-and Methodists!

Maynard Memorial Methodist Church, the church that helped raise my sisters and me, was located in the city of Los Angeles. Across the street was Culver City, a suburb where many church members lived. During that time (the 1950’s and ’60’s) Culver City realtors shared an unwritten “covenant” not to sell homes to African Americans. As the Civil Rights Movement grew, some church members recognized the racist nature of this practice. Our pastor at the time led the church to begin getting acquainted with an African-American congregation. That process began with an annual pulpit and choir exchange. Not everyone approved. But our Methodist “tent” had room for whites and blacks to worship together, and also for those (both black and white) not yet ready for even that step.

Maynard was about a mile away from Palms Evangelical United Brethren Church. The Methodist and EUB denominations were working toward a merger in 1968. A few years  before, the two pastors began intentional preparations for that event. They took time to build their own relationship. Then they led their two congregations to share events together and begin praying and dreaming toward their common future. Ultimately the two congregations merged as Culver Palms United Methodist Church. They sold both church properties built a new facility in a far better location. The process was not without its ups and downs. Sometimes folks struggled to “…be of one heart…” But they persevered and built a roomy, spacious tent where they could welcome their new neighbors. Almost fifty years later Culver Palms continues to serve a diverse urban congregation. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of congregations have their own unique “big tent” stories of learning to …,love alike…” even though they don’t always “…think alike.” That’s who we United Methodists are.

This week in St. Louis our United Methodist “big tent”  was rudely and drastically remodeled. Politically skilled and very hard-working conservative delegates won the day at the specially-called General Conference (the denomination’s global legislative body.) . Their “Traditional Plan” prevailed by 54 votes out of some 800+. This action reaffirmed the official denominational stance adopted in 1972: “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” (2016 Book of Discipline Par. 304.3). LBGTQ+ persons have been ineligible to serve as clergy or to be married in church facilities, and UM clergy have been forbidden to perform same-sex weddings. As adopted, this legislation continues those provisions and adds draconian sanctions for anyone who violates the rules–clergy, congregations, even bishops and annual conferences.“Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?

That loud noise you heard last Tuesday may have been the UMC’s well-advertised “Open Doors, Open Hearts, Open Minds” slamming shut! Many now see the UMC not as a “big-tent” church where all God’s people are welcome, but as a church that treats LGBTQ+ folks as second-class Christians at best. This prenatal Methodist struggles in vain to recognize the perpetrators of this action as heirs of Wesley’s movement: “May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?” This faction apparently wants to shrink the UMC’s “big tent” to fit only the “one heart” and “one opinion” acceptable in their sight. They reject the last fifty years of growing scientific, psychological, theological, and cultural understanding of human sexuality. They reject the experience of countless Christians who have moved beyond fear and literalism. Bible study, prayer, scientific progress, and simply getting to know our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters in Christ has convicted more and more followers of Jesus that we can no longer exclude these brothers and sisters. God’s love in Christ embraces them, just as they are, as it does all of us.  

It will take some time to understand fully the impact of this action. The new legislation is scheduled to take effect January 1, 2020. First it will be reviewed by the Judicial Council, the UMC’s “Supreme Court. Some or all of it may well be declared unconstitutional. The church’s regularly scheduled General Conference in 2020 will almost certainly address these issues. Clearly we are headed in a new direction, but it’s far from clear exactly what that direction is.

Meanwhile Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, arrives next Wednesday, March 6. I invite you to lay aside church politics for Lent. Let’s dig deep into our faith. Let’s focus on the basics–Love God and love your neighbor as yourself–all your neighbors, especially the ones easily within your reach. Regardless of where we stand on this issue, let’s invite God’s Spirit to form us anew into the people and the Church of God’s dreams. May we grow into a people whose loving, welcoming spirit overcomes both the perception and reality of closed doors, hearts, and minds. Let us lay aside our anger, disappointment, bitterness, and resentment. Regardless of where we stand on this issue, let’s invite God’s Spirit to form us anew into the people and the Church of God’s dreams. Let’s dare to ask God to make us a living example of Wesley’s vision: “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?”

A colleague suggests that we treat this transitional time like Holy Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter. It’s eerily quiet. Death seems to have the upper hand. But we hope against hope toward Resurrection! On Saturday the full force of Resurrection Life energy is let loose–until the power of evil is overcome once and for all. Whether we see it or not, transformation happens in the deepest depths. Death is dying. Life is rising. Good blossoms from what we believed was unredeemable evil. A door opens where we’d seen only a dead end. God’s new day dawns for all God’s people!

 

 

This Is Our Witness?

My oldest grandchild texted me this link a couple of days ago. “Take a look at this,” she wrote, “and tell me what you think when you get a chance.” The link opens an article about the church trial of United Methodist pastor  Frank Schaefer for officiating at his gay son’s wedding six years ago. His action violated the denomination’s clear prohibition of clergy performing same-sex marriages.  Rev. Schaefer was found guilty of violating the policy and suspended for thirty days. At the end of his suspension he must either agree to follow all provisions of the United Methodist Book of Discipline (the denomination’s law book) or surrender his ministerial orders.

This whole affair was news to my granddaughter. She’s not a United Methodist, so she hasn’t followed our internal conflict closely. She’s been raised Catholic, and has grown into an intelligent, curious young adult with intense curiosity about a wide range of issues. Like many young adults a couple of years out of high school, she’s working, taking college basics, and figuring out what’s next.

I texted her back that a meaningful response required more than 140 characters and followed up with an extensive email. It included a brief history of the issue (we’ve been arguing for forty years without settling anything), and outlined what defines the “sides” in both church and culture. I described how cultural attitudes have changed as our understanding of human sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular have evolved. I described the impasse at the 2012 General Conference and the subsequent responses of “Biblical Obedience” , a form of ecclesiastical civil disobedience advocated by the 2012 Western Jurisdictional Conference and others who continue to work to change the church’s policy, and the insistence by the Good News organization and others that “rules are rules” and those who break them should bear the consequences. Finally I mentioned Bishop Mel Talbert’s presiding over a gay marriage in Alabama in late October  and the subsequent action of the Council of Bishops requesting that a complaint be filed against him.

If you’d told me twenty years ago that this was where we’d find ourselves, I would have doubted your sanity. We’re dragging our pastors into church courts for performing their children’s weddings? For forty years we’ve held together the tension between “All persons are of sacred worth” and “…homosexuality is incompatible with Christian practice”? No wonder things are coming apart! Successive General Conferences have chosen power politics (vote-counting and arm-twisting worthy of Congress!) over acknowledging that people of deep faith are on all sides of this issue? We’d choose to resolve our differences with a series of church trials that at least one writer calls “A Methodist Inquisition” ? This is our public witness in the second decade of the 21st century?

Call in the spin doctors!. Maybe we can airbrush away the wrinkles, blemishes, and parts we want to hide in the darkness. Too late. This is who we are right now and the whole world sees. Young adults like my granddaughter see it. Faithful young United Methodists feeling called to ministry see, and wonder whether they can fulfill their calling with integrity in a polarized church; folks attracted by  our “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” marketing struggle to reconcile the promise with the closed minds, hearts, and doors in this bizarre tale.

We have to do better. For God’s sake we can and must do better. Let our public witness lift up the life-changing role of the United Methodist Committee on Relief in disaster relief and recovery in the Philippines and all over our planet. Let our public witness spotlight urban ministries that are transforming cities all over our country. Let our public witness show how “Imagining” No Malaria has fueled a wide-ranging partnership among diverse people and institutions that’s making “No Malaria” a growing reality. Let our public witness tell the story of thousands of faithful ordinary congregations in all sorts of circumstances. Let our public witness highlight countercultural faith communities that welcome those who are unwelcome everywhere else. Let our honest, prayerful, Christ-centered process of working through this conflict and its underlying biblical and philosophical issues become our powerful public witness.

I don’t know the next step. I do know that folks on various sides of the issue will have to step up in remarkable, Christlike ways. I do know what Paul wrote to some early Christians who’d rather fight than reconcile: “…to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you.” (1 Corinthians 6:7 NRSV) I know that Paul identified Christlike love as the ultimate spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 13). I know the advice about Christian maturity in Ephesians 4 which includes “…speaking the truth in love…” (v. 15), “be angry but do not sin” (v. 26), “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander…”(v. 31) and “…live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…” (5:2).

Most of all I know that every new chapter in this “Methodist Inquisition” leads to death, not life. We’re not that far from becoming a circular firing squad. Everyone stands in a circle with their guns pointed toward the center. At the command “Ready, Aim, Fire!” all fire simultaneously—and you know the rest of that story. We can, must, I pray will, find another way. It’s not just a survival issue for our church. It’s far more important. It’s a life-and death issue for millions who need the Love that’s made us who we are and now reaches out to love others through us. It’s a matter of faithfulness to all who have loved us to life in Christ; to all who have gone before us in the history of the church; to succeeding generations like my granddaughter who would love to be part of an authentically- loving faith community. Most of all, finding a new way forward is a matter of faithfulness to our Lord who goes before us to build a New Creation–with or without our participation.


Categories