Wednesday, November 1, 2017

An Eighteenth Century Worldview and Our Theological Task


Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
II Corinthians 3:4-6

The United Methodist Church is on the brink of schism because of disagreements about the nature of human sexuality.

The practical issue that divides us is the question of whether our LGBTQ siblings are to be included in, or excluded from, full participation in the life of the church. 

Within and beneath those highly contentious issues there is a foundational question about who we are as a church.

John Scott Lomperis, the United Methodist Director for the Institute on Religion and Democracy posted an essay on the Juicy Ecumenism blog of the IRD titled, “Case Closed: Affirming Homosexual Practice is Irreconcilably Contrary to Core United Methodist Doctrine.”

His contention is that “within the specific context of United Methodism, our denomination’s core doctrine leaves no room for directly and explicitly affirming homosexual practice.” And for emphasis he asserts that “Acknowledging this is not a matter of opinion or faction, but rather of basic intellectual honesty.”

Before I give you the link to his essay I need to warn you that it is long and ponderous, and as you read it you may find yourself losing the will to live. So be careful. But here is the link: Case Closed.

Lomperis observes that John Wesley’s sermons and his notes on the New Testament are part of our “Doctrinal Standards.” And he cites several instances in the sermons and in the notes where Wesley condemns “sodomites” as proof of his thesis that the condemnation of “homosexual practice” is part of our core doctrine.

He cites a passage from Sermon #38, “A Caution Against Bigotry” as an example:
“In Section I.11 of this part of our Doctrinal Standards, Wesley classifies ‘sodomites’ as part of a list of different types of sinners, listing ‘sodomites’ immediately after robbers and immediately before murderers! Specifically, Wesley judged that the fact that ‘common swearers, drunkards, whoremongers, adulterers, thieves, robbers, sodomites, murderers, are still found in every part of our land’ to be proof of the devil’s power.”
“I am uncomfortable with the word ‘sodomite.’”, writes Lomperis, “But we have no power to change eighteenth-century English language usage.  The fact remains that in Wesley’s day this was a very negative term applied to individuals who engaged in homosexual practice.” 

Note the exact wording he uses. It is instructive.

Lomperis speaks of “eighteenth-century English language usage.” He notes that this language usage was common “in Wesley’s day,” and that the language conveyed a very negative perception of same sex relationships.

Wesley used the language of his day to convey the viewpoint of his day.

It should not surprise us that an eighteenth century man, even a well-educated and enlightened eighteenth century man, would not have a twenty-first century view of human sexuality.

John Wesley was a brilliant man, but he was still a man of his times.

Our Book of Discipline speaks of “Doctrinal Standards and Our Theological Task.” The Doctrinal Standards are part of our history and they shape our present, but Our Theological Task calls us into the future.

The Doctrinal Standards are meant to be a foundation, not a ceiling. 

Our Theological Task is not limited to looking for quotations from the writings of John Wesley and applying them to the twenty-first century.

We are not called to be religious archaeologists excavating an historical crypt, or curators of a Methodist museum. Our task is to use the wisdom of the past to guide us into the future.

As Paul told the Christians in Corinth, we are called “to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.”



Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to share on social media as you wish.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Blatantly Disregarding the Gospel

Wedding of Rev. David Meredith and James Schlachter
Then Jesus said to those who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
John 8:31-32

The current edition of the online magazine of the ironically named “Good News” movement is headlined by an essay written by Good News Vice-President and United Methodist clergy person Thomas Lambrecht.

The article which is provocatively titled “Blatantly Disregarding Truth,” is about the case of the Rev. David Meredith.

Rev. Meredith is a pastor in the West Ohio annual conference who was charged with three violations of his clergy orders:

1. “Immorality including but not limited to, not being celibate in singleness or not faithful in a heterosexual marriage”

2. “Practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings, including but not limited to: being a self-avowed practicing homosexual”

3. “Disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church”

The committee responsible for investigating those offenses dismissed all but the third one and this, according to Rev. Lambrecht, is evidence of “the current crisis” in the United Methodist Church, which revolves around “a critical lack of accountability.”

“The committee has effectively ignored the Discipline,” says Lambrecht, “and decided to impose its own standard of morality, essentially declaring that there is nothing wrong with a clergyperson being in a same-sex marriage or being a self-avowed practicing homosexual.”



If that were really what they had done, then it would be a good thing.

Actually, what the West Ohio Conference has done is to go back to the understanding of church law that existed before the Judicial Council rewrote the Discipline to rule that a clergy person in a same sex marriage was therefore “a self-avowed practicing homosexual.”

(I pause now briefly because I cannot write that phrase about “self-avowed practicing” without feeling ashamed, embarrassed, and amused. It is hard to think of a more effective demonstration of the irrelevance of the church in the twenty-first century than a focus on rooting out “self-avowed practicing” homosexuals.)

Rev. Lambrecht calls the West Ohio decision an “egregious violation of the church’s law and accountability process.” And he offers the hope of the Good News movement that the decision might be overturned on appeal. This, he argues, “would lead to a restored process that demonstrates that the church is able to hold its clergy accountable.”

And then he concludes:

“If an appeal fails, this committee’s decision will demonstrate that our church is no longer governable. We will no longer be governed by laws, but by people who reserve the right to undermine or ignore requirements that they disagree with. Such an outcome would demonstrate our ever-deepening schism and could only reinforce the movement toward anarchy and the reliance on raw power in our church-values that hardly comport with being disciples of Jesus Christ, let alone leading to the (positive) transformation of the world.”
When Rev. Lambrecht writes about “Blatantly Disregarding Truth,” the truth to which he is referring is the Book of Discipline as it has been interpreted by the committees and councils and conferences that agree with Rev. Lambrecht.

Our Book of Discipline is a collection of resolutions and affirmations intended to guide our life together as a denomination, but it is not The Truth.

The truth of the Gospel is a higher calling. That is the truth by which we judge our faithfulness.

When Jesus told his disciples that they would know the truth and that the truth would set them free, I don’t think he was talking about chasing after LGBTQ folks and throwing them out of the ministry.




Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to share on social media as you wish. 


Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Happy United Nations Day

Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares
by Yevgeny Vuchetlich, 1959
In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it. Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. O house of Jacob, come, let us walk in the light of the Lord!

Isaiah 2:2-5


At the United Nations building in New York City there is a statue of a man beating a giant sword into a plowshare. The sculpture, titled, “Let Us Beat Swords into Plowshares,” was created by Evgeniv Vuchetich and given as a gift by the Soviet Union in 1959.

When President Reagan addressed the United Nations General Assembly in 1987, he began by describing the journey that brought the delegates and the nations together as a kind of pilgrimage, and then he said, “We come from every continent, every race, and most religions to this great hall of hope . . .” 

Near the conclusion of his address, speaking specifically to the Soviet Union as well as to the whole assembly, he asked, 
“Cannot swords be turned to plowshares? Can we and all nations not live in peace? In our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity. Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences world-wide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world. And yet, I ask you, is not an alien force already among us? What could be more alien than war and the threat of war?”

In tone and in substance, President Reagan's speech stands in sharp contrast to the speech recently given by our current president in which he vowed to "totally destroy" North Korea if the United State had to defend itself.

"Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime," Mr. Trump declared. "The United States is ready, willing and able, but hopefully this will not be necessary. That's what the United Nations is all about; that's what the United Nations is for. Let's see how they do."

The United Nations Charter was ratified on October 24, 1945. Today is United Nations Day. When I was a boy we celebrated United Nations Sunday in church every year.

My guess is that most people don’t know that today is United Nations Day. And we do not have many political leaders who would speak of the U.N. assembly room as “this great hall of hope.”

Over the years the United Nations has been relentlessly vilified and marginalized by politicians. Some see it as simply ineffective and others see it as a threat to our sovereignty. In a book called “The Black Helicopters Are Coming!” political commentator Dick Morris’ claimed that President Obama was plotting to have the United States invaded by the United Nations. Morris admitted that “it sounds crazy,” but insisted that it was really going to happen.

It doesn’t just sound crazy. It really and truly is crazy. But this is where we are.

The truth is that the United Nations has not lived up to our highest hopes, but its achievements have still been significant.

Over the last seventy-two years small wars have been constant and the resulting deaths and injuries have been staggering. On the other hand, we have avoided massive world wars, and that is no small achievement. The second half of the twentieth century was much more peaceful than the first half. And the United Nations must take some share of the credit for that.

In spite of its obvious limitations, the world is a better place because of the United Nations, and on United Nations Day I want to touch briefly on a few of the U.N. organizations that have fostered international progress and understanding.

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is organized to reduce hunger worldwide through improving agricultural productivity and raising levels of nutrition. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is similarly targeted to reduce rural poverty in developing nations by funding relief efforts.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) promotes global cooperation to improve maritime safety and decrease marine pollution.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) acts as a forum for discussing global financial issues and provides loans to developing countries.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) promotes world peace and security by fostering international cooperation in education, science and culture. They promote the fundamental freedoms endorsed in the UN Charter.

And then there are some UN organizations that require no further description: the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Trade Organization (WHO), the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), and the World Bank Group (WBG) which includes five sub-groups focused on promoting development and reconstruction.

It is an impressive list. Together they promote an international strategy for beating swords into plowshares. 


Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to share on social media as you wish. 

*An earlier version of this post was published on October 24, 2012.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

John McCain's Vision for America


On Monday Senator John McCain was awarded the Liberty Medal by the National Constitution Center. The award is given annually to mean and women who have demonstrated courage and conviction in working to secure the blessings of liberty to people around the world. Past winners have included Nelson Mandela, Sandra Day O’Connor, Kofi Annan, Shimon Peres, and Colin Powell.

McCain was introduced by former Vice President Joe Biden with whom he served in the United States Senate for twenty years. And they share a friendship that goes back over forty years.

Biden and McCain are old school.

They come from a time when legislators saw themselves as colleagues who might disagree vigorously on how the country should be governed while sharing a common sacred commitment to the ideals on which it was founded. McCain was clearly moved when he thanked Biden for his introduction and recalled their friendship over the decades.
“We didn’t always agree on the issues. We often argued – sometimes passionately. But we believed in each other’s patriotism and the sincerity of each other’s convictions. We believed in the institution we were privileged to serve in. We believed in our mutual responsibility to help make the place work and to cooperate in finding solutions to our country’s problems. We believed in our country and in our country’s indispensability to international peace and stability and to the progress of humanity. And through it all, whether we argued or agreed, Joe was good company. Thank you, old friend, for your company and your service to America.”
McCain talked about what a gift it was to serve the country he loves. Quoting a phrase used by President George H. W. Bush, given in 1991 at a Pearl Harbor remembrance, he called America “the most wondrous land on earth.”

He talked about America as a place where with all of its flaws. we are blessed by immigrant dreams, where we share a storied past and rush toward an imagined future. He noted wryly that America was a place where “a person can escape the consequences of a self-centered youth and know the satisfaction of sacrificing for an ideal, the land where you can go from aimless rebellion to a noble cause, and from the bottom of your class to your party’s nomination for president.”

“We are blessed,” he said, “and we have been a blessing to humanity in turn.”
“The international order we helped build from the ashes of world war, and that we defend to this day, has liberated more people from tyranny and poverty than ever before in history. This wondrous land has shared its treasures and ideals and shed the blood of its finest patriots to help make another, better world. And as we did so, we made our own civilization more just, freer, more accomplished and prosperous than the America that existed when I watched my father go off to war on December 7, 1941.”
And then he contrasted his understanding of the ideals of American with Mr. Trump’s retreat from international leadership:
“To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.”
Before concluding with a personal appreciation of what it has meant to him to serve this “most wondrous land,” McCain focused directly on the new nationalism of the “alt-right.” He addressed the shouts of “Blood and Soil” heard from white supremacists at the Charlottesville rally, a phrase they took directly from Nazi Germany:
“We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.”
It was a stinging indictment of the current White House, delivered clearly and concisely, without personal venom or insults.

It was old school.

In our current political climate it was almost quaint.

Thank you, John McCain, for reminding us what it means to serve your country.




Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to share on social media as you wish. 


Here is the prepared version of McCain’s speech, as released by his Senate office:

Thank you, Joe, my old, dear friend, for those mostly undeserved kind words. Vice President Biden and I have known each other for a lot of years now, more than forty, if you’re counting. We knew each other back when we were young and handsome and smarter than everyone else but were too modest to say so.

Joe was already a senator, and I was the Navy’s liaison to the Senate. My duties included escorting senate delegations on overseas trips, and in that capacity, I supervised the disposition of the delegation’s luggage, which could require – now and again – when no one of lower rank was available for the job – that I carry someone worthy’s bag. Once or twice that worthy turned out to be the young senator from Delaware. I’ve resented it ever since.

Joe has heard me joke about that before. I hope he has heard, too, my profession of gratitude for his friendship these many years. It has meant a lot to me. We served in the Senate together for over twenty years, during some eventful times, as we passed from young men to the fossils who appear before you this evening.

We didn’t always agree on the issues. We often argued – sometimes passionately. But we believed in each other’s patriotism and the sincerity of each other’s convictions. We believed in the institution we were privileged to serve in. We believed in our mutual responsibility to help make the place work and to cooperate in finding solutions to our country’s problems. We believed in our country and in our country’s indispensability to international peace and stability and to the progress of humanity. And through it all, whether we argued or agreed, Joe was good company. Thank you, old friend, for your company and your service to America.

Thank you, too, to the National Constitution Center, and everyone associated with it for this award. Thank you for that video, and for the all too generous compliments paid to me this evening. I’m aware of the prestigious company the Liberty Medal places me in. I’m humbled by it, and I’ll try my best not to prove too unworthy of it.

Some years ago, I was present at an event where an earlier Liberty Medal recipient spoke about America’s values and the sacrifices made for them. It was 1991, and I was attending the ceremony commemorating the 50th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The World War II veteran, estimable patriot and good man, President George H.W. Bush, gave a moving speech at the USS Arizona memorial. I remember it very well. His voice was thick with emotion as he neared the end of his address. I imagine he was thinking not only of the brave Americans who lost their lives on December 7, 1941, but of the friends he had served with and lost in the Pacific where he had been the Navy’s youngest aviator.

‘Look at the water here, clear and quiet …’ he directed, ‘One day, in what now seems another lifetime, it wrapped its arms around the finest sons any nation could ever have, and it carried them to a better world.’

He could barely get out the last line, ‘May God bless them, and may God bless America, the most wondrous land on earth.’

The most wondrous land on earth, indeed. I’ve had the good fortune to spend sixty years in service to this wondrous land. It has not been perfect service, to be sure, and there were probably times when the country might have benefited from a little less of my help. But I’ve tried to deserve the privilege as best I can, and I’ve been repaid a thousand times over with adventures, with good company, and with the satisfaction of serving something more important than myself, of being a bit player in the extraordinary story of America. And I am so very grateful.

What a privilege it is to serve this big, boisterous, brawling, intemperate, striving, daring, beautiful, bountiful, brave, magnificent country. With all our flaws, all our mistakes, with all the frailties of human nature as much on display as our virtues, with all the rancor and anger of our politics, we are blessed.

We are living in the land of the free, the land where anything is possible, the land of the immigrant’s dream, the land with the storied past forgotten in the rush to the imagined future, the land that repairs and reinvents itself, the land where a person can escape the consequences of a self-centered youth and know the satisfaction of sacrificing for an ideal, the land where you can go from aimless rebellion to a noble cause, and from the bottom of your class to your party’s nomination for president.

We are blessed, and we have been a blessing to humanity in turn. The international order we helped build from the ashes of world war, and that we defend to this day, has liberated more people from tyranny and poverty than ever before in history. This wondrous land has shared its treasures and ideals and shed the blood of its finest patriots to help make another, better world. And as we did so, we made our own civilization more just, freer, more accomplished and prosperous than the America that existed when I watched my father go off to war on December 7, 1941.

To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.

We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We are the custodians of those ideals at home, and their champion abroad. We have done great good in the world. That leadership has had its costs, but we have become incomparably powerful and wealthy as we did. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.

I am the luckiest guy on earth. I have served America’s cause – the cause of our security and the security of our friends, the cause of freedom and equal justice – all my adult life. I haven’t always served it well. I haven’t even always appreciated what I was serving. But among the few compensations of old age is the acuity of hindsight. I see now that I was part of something important that drew me along in its wake even when I was diverted by other interests. I was, knowingly or not, along for the ride as America made the future better than the past.

And I have enjoyed it, every single day of it, the good ones and the not so good ones. I’ve been inspired by the service of better patriots than me. I’ve seen Americans make sacrifices for our country and her causes and for people who were strangers to them but for our common humanity, sacrifices that were much harder than the service asked of me. And I’ve seen the good they have done, the lives they freed from tyranny and injustice, the hope they encouraged, the dreams they made achievable.

May God bless them. May God bless America, and give us the strength and wisdom, the generosity and compassion, to do our duty for this wondrous land, and for the world that counts on us. With all its suffering and dangers, the world still looks to the example and leadership of America to become, another, better place. What greater cause could anyone ever serve.
Thank you again for this honor. I’ll treasure it.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Our Greatest Moment

President Truman signs the Marshall Plan
Is not this the fast that I choose: 
to loose the bonds of injustice, 
to undo the thongs of the yoke, 
to let the oppressed go free, 
and to break every yoke? 
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, 
and bring the homeless poor into your house; 
when you see the naked, to cover them, 
and not to hide yourself from your own kin? 
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, 
and your healing shall spring up quickly; 
your vindicator shall go before you, 
the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. 
Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; 
you shall cry for help, 
and he will say, Here I am. 
Isaiah 58:6-9

Seventy years ago today, on October 5, 1947, President Harry S. Truman delivered the first presidential address ever broadcast on live television.

And that first address may also be the greatest.

His address followed a presentation by the Citizens Food Committee concerning the starvation in Europe and the need for Americans to sacrifice in order to save their European sisters and brothers.

After the Second World War the United States embarked on one of the greatest achievements of world history, the rebuilding of Europe and Japan after the devastation. The Marshall Plan prevented economic collapse and led to a world-wide economic expansion and shared prosperity.

But when President Truman addressed the nation, the rebuilding of Europe was faltering. “The situation in Europe is grim and forbidding as winter approaches,” he said. “Despite the vigorous efforts of the European people, their crops have suffered so badly from droughts, floods, and cold that the tragedy of hunger is a stark reality. The nations of Western Europe will soon be scraping the bottom of the food barrel. They cannot get through the coming winter and spring without help--generous help-from the United States and from other countries which have food to spare.” If we do not act, said the President, all of the rebuilding efforts may be wasted. “I know every American feels in his heart that we must help to prevent starvation and distress among our fellow men in other countries.”

Truman called on the nation to give up meat on Tuesdays, to give up poultry and eggs on Thursdays, and to give up one slice of bread per day. He also called on distillers to save grain by stopping the production of alcoholic beverages for 60 days. And he called on the Commodities Exchange Commission to tighten regulations and reduce the “gambling” in grain futures which resulted in even higher prices.

He told the country that Mrs. Truman had directed the White House staff to follow the food conservation measures. And he said that the same policy would be followed in all government restaurants and cafeterias throughout the country. “As Commander in Chief,” he said, “I have ordered that the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force shall also comply with this program.”

This morning, as I read Harry Truman’s address, I reflected on the present state of the world, from the hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico, to the tensions with North Korea, and the global refugee crisis. It is hard to imagine any leader in our country calling for the level of shared sacrifice that President Truman called for after World War Two.

And we need to remember, that was after the great sacrifices required by the war itself.

If we want to understand what American greatness should look like, it is hard to imagine anything surpassing the Marshall plan. President Truman was putting American interests and American economic power at the service of the world. 

The food measures did not last long. With increased American help, the European recovery soon made such radical conservation unnecessary. Europe and Japan were rebuilt and America entered a time of unprecedented prosperity.


Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to share on social media as you wish.

*The original version of this post was first published on October 5, 2011.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

"Like a Flag Flown at Half-Mast to Mark a Tragedy"

Eric Reid and Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the National Anthem last season
He emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.
Philippians 2:7-10

In a Tuesday morning tweet, theologian Diana Butler Bass wrote:

Preaching on Sun & just checked assigned lectionary text:  "At the name of Jesus, every knee should bend."

I kid you not.

Apparently even the Apostle Paul has something to say about NFL players “taking a knee during the National Anthem on Sunday.

The protest began in the 2016 preseason when Eric Reid and Colin Kaepernick chose to sit on the bench rather than stand during the national anthem to protest racial injustice and police brutality. A week later they decided that they should kneel rather than sit in order to make clear that their protest was meant to be respectful of the anthem and the flag.

In an op-ed piece in the New York Times, Reid writes:
“After hours of careful consideration, and even a visit from Nate Boyer, a retired Green Beret and former NFL player, we came to the conclusion that we should kneel, rather than sit, the next day during the anthem as a peaceful protest. We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.”
Like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy. 

Hardly a sign of disrespect.

“It baffles me that our protest is still being misconstrued as disrespectful to the country, flag, and military personnel,” Reid wrote. “We chose it because it’s exactly the opposite. It has always been my understanding that the brave men and women who fought and died for our country did so to ensure that we could live in a fair and free society, which includes the right to speak out in protest.”

Other players around the league joined Reid and Kaepernick in their silent protest, but it did not gain widespread attention until the President put it front and center in a speech on behalf of Senator Luther Strange in Huntsville, Alabama. He asked the crowd if they would “love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, he’s fired’?”

He also called for fans to boycott the league until the protest was stopped.

Which resulted in many more players choosing to take a knee during the anthem, and many of Mr. Trump’s fans reacting with anger toward the players.

We might pause for a minute to think about the language Mr. Trump used. The Nazis and White Supremacists in Charlottesville were carefully described with the generalization that there were good people on both sides. But (mostly) black football players taking part in a peaceful protest are called “sons of bitches.”

When the “Black Lives Matter” protests began, a major part of the criticism was that the protests were not sufficiently peaceful. But it is hard to think of anything more peaceful than kneeling.

In his “Minority of One” column in the Chicago Tribune, Steve Chapman writes:
“. . . if you don’t like how Black Lives Matter pursues its agenda, you should welcome the NFL players’ approach. It’s silent; it’s not disruptive; and it’s entirely nonviolent. It doesn’t block traffic, occupy police or frighten bystanders. . . That the display evokes so much fury and disgust among whites, from the president on down, confirms what was evident 50 years ago. The problem is not how blacks raise their complaints about American society; it’s that they raise them.”


  
Thank you for reading. Your thoughts and comments are always welcome. Please feel free to share on social media as you wish. 


Friday, September 22, 2017

Thoughts on The Uniting Methodists Movement (Can the Center Hold?)


"Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Matthew 5:11-12

It hardly qualifies as persecution, and it would be hyperbole to say that they have been subjected to “all kinds of evil” utterances, but Ginger Gaines-Cirelli and Adam Hamilton have certainly gotten a lot criticism for their leadership in the United Methodist centrist movement. 

Hamilton has national recognition as the founding pastor of a mega-church  of more than 20,000 members and Gaines-Cirelli is the Senior Pastor the most visible church in the  Reconciling Ministries Network.

The “Uniting Methodists” say that they are “Called to be a unifying and clarifying voice in a divided conversation and a polarized culture.”

It is a worthy vision.

Heaven knows the diagnosis is accurate. We are divided and polarized as a culture and there are deep an painful divisions within United Methodism. It remains to be seen whether this new group can be a unifying and clarifying voice.

They believe that faithful Christians can different views on same sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ persons. In simplest terms they want us, as a denomination, to agree to disagree.

I confess that I cannot accept the assertion that the exclusion of LGBTQ Christians from full participation in the life of the church is faithful to the Gospel. This does not mean that I believe that everyone who holds that position is an evil person. And it does not mean that we cannot have fellowship with one another. It does not mean that we cannot “agree to disagree,” but I cannot see the two perspectives as being equally valid interpretations of Christian faith and ethics.

In this argument the two sides do not have an equal claim on the truth.

And before we go any further it should be stated that although it has often been said that “there is pain on both sides,” that pain is not equal. 

United Methodist policies and positions over the last four decades have caused great harm to our LGBTQ siblings. For traditionalists to claim that the “pain” they feel at knowing that there are pastors in our denomination who celebrate same sex weddings and conferences that ordain gay clergy is somehow equivalent to the pain of exclusion and marginalization is disingenuous at best.

The Uniting Methodists Movement makes six affirmations:

  • Disciples: Despite our differences, we are committed to remain a part of, and support, The United Methodist Church and to fulfill its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
  • Evangelism: We are committed to both evangelism and social justice as essential to the expression of vital United Methodism.
  • Standards: We accept and uphold the Doctrinal Standards and Theological Task of The United Methodist Church as stated in our Discipline.  
  • Interpretation: We believe our differences on the questions of same-sex marriage and ordination stem from differences over biblical interpretation, not biblical authority.
  • Officiation: We call for disciplinary changes so that clergy are neither compelled to officiate at same-sex weddings, nor prohibited from doing so.
  • Ordination: We call for disciplinary changes so that annual conferences are neither compelled to ordain LGBTQ persons, nor prohibited from doing so.

The first three affirmations are pretty straight forward. We might argue about how we interpret our Doctrinal Standards, and some traditionalists are still pushing for a literal interpretation of the Nicene Creed as a normative theological standard, but those issues are not new and they are probably not deal breakers.

On interpretation, we can expect some serious pushback from traditionalists, who have been adamant that the issue is biblical authority.  I have addressed that issue numerous times, so I won’t go into it here.

The most controversial of the affirmations are the last two.

It will be hard for traditionalists to accept same sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy within “their” denomination, even if they are not required to participate directly. 

As the pastor of a Reconciling Congregation who is committed to the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons, I am more concerned with the issue from that perspective.

The United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus lists their primary concerns:

By trivializing LGBTQIA+ justice, the UMM does further injury to those who have already been harmed;
The UMM does not fully take LGBTQIA+ voices into account;
LGBTQIA+ persons could not sign on to the UMM plan without participating in our own oppression or that of other members of our community;
The UMM is built on the delusion that the perpetuation of injustice is as moral as seeking of justice;
The UMM breaches our principle of connectionalism – where all persons can “participate in every level of connectional life and ministry.;”
It is as though we have become the Laodicean church described in Revelation: “So, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:16). To seek a middle ground between inclusion and discrimination is to place institutional preservation before our call to follow the way of Jesus, in whom we have the freedom “to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever form they present themselves.” (UMC Baptismal vows)

The Reconciling Ministries Network issued this assessment in their press release:
“The foundational statement of the UMM is another example of fellow United Methodists advocating for changes ‘about us, without us’ and once again asserts the false notion that a unity of substance can be achieved while discriminatory policies remain in place. The proposal joins a long tradition of prioritizing a surface level kind of unity over the well-being of LGBTQ people, particularly those most vulnerable in the South, and fails to embrace an unprecedented opportunity to set our church on a new course toward justice, reconciliation, and health.”
The most faithful and just “way forward” would be for the whole United Methodist Church to embrace the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in every aspect of our life together. 

Sadly, that is extremely unlikely.

And there is no way that those of  us in favor of an inclusive church would agree to stop celebrating same sex weddings or ordaining qualified candidates regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

That leaves two options.

We can split into two (or more?) denominations, or we can embrace a future like that envisioned by the Uniting Methodists Movement.

Whether we split or remain united, the traditionalist churches and pastors and conferences will continue to do what they are presently doing, and the inclusive churches and pastors and conferences will also continue to do what they are presently doing. 

The only short-term difference is that if we split, then the folks on the other side will not be doing what they are doing in “our” name.

We will no longer be responsible for their unfaithfulness.

At this point, Adam Hamilton’s example is useful. Over time his position changed from traditionalist to favoring inclusion. That happened because he came into increasing contact with faithful Christians who happened to be gay. That happened in spite of the cost. When he came out to his congregation in favor of inclusion something like 800 members left the church in the next week. That is no small thing, even in a mega-church.

The culture is shifting on this issue. 

People are changing. 

One of the key questions we need to ask as we consider the future of the church is how we can best facilitate that change in the church and in the wider world.



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