Archive for May, 2012

The Truth Shall Set Us Free

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

 

If we as United Methodists are serious about "Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World," we must prayerfully and with courage (and without condemnation of each other). We must acknowledge that in 2012 we have seen the "coming together of our (negative) bones" Ezekiel 37:7.

There is a correlation, some might say a symmetry, in the Biblical interpretation, understandings of Jesus, mission and ministry, equality, and justice that have initiated, supported and sustained the attitudes and actions that have led some Methodists to support divisive issues of our past. Issues around Colonialism, Slavery, Second Class Status for Women, Racial Segregation, the creation of the Central Jurisdiction, Prohibitions against the ordination of women, reluctance to merge the racially segregated Central Jurisdiction with the geographical Jurisdictions, and now since 1972;

"The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching."

       "Our Chickens have come home to roost."

 

We have fooled ourselves into believing that there is no relationship between what we now admit, were narrow, shallow, unfair and unfaithful expressions of Biblical interpretation in the past to the present.


But, today there ought be without a doubt, a recognition that what Methodists once did to people of African descent and to women, United Methodists in 2012, are doing to same gender, lovingly committed persons.


George Santayana might have been speaking of Methodists and United Methodists when he wrote: "They who do not remember their past, are likely to re-live it in the present." (paraphrase)


It is truth and truth alone, that will make The United Methodist Church free. Many of us continue to pray for a "United Methodist Pentecost." We believe it is possible, if we develop the will. All around us and among us, "The storms of life are raging." But the God that Charles Tindley knew so well, will "Stand beside us," if we ask.


 

Gilbert H. Caldwell

Retired United Methodist Elder

Asbury Park, New Jersey

 

A Note to The United Methodist Church

Friday, May 4th, 2012

Oh, Church!

Church into which I was born; Church whose baptismal waters sealed me as God’s own; Church where I was confirmed; Church that taught me about the unbounded love of Christ; Church that recognized my call into ministry before I did, you taught me how to pray. You gave me a love for the Gospel and ways to proclaim that truth. You persisted in protecting me during times in my life that were most unsafe. You carried me when my legs were too weak to walk. You affirmed my ministry as a lay person and brought me to the cusp of ordination. And while I was abundantly blessed by friends who met with me in secret, by pastors under whose stole I could self-avow, I was unprepared for the whirlwind 72 hours when (out of my desire for integrity and authenticity) I identified myself to you as a lesbian who was trying to discern a spiritual draw to a different denomination. Within the course of three days, you managed to renege the affirmations, the hugs, the pats on the back, the blessings, the teachings, the love, and the vows we made together. But, Church,  I made it through my pain. I worked on my grief and loss. I’m a big girl. I have thick skin. I can handle the blows. I can handle the pain. I didn’t think I could. For years I didn’t think I could. But I did, and I can.

And I hope you can imagine the pain it is to be told in the same breath, “we believe your life is incompatible with Christian teaching” and “we give thanks for all that God has already given you, and we welcome you in Christian love.”

So my questions are these:

How many babies do you have to baptize before you realize that these two phrases will never blend?

How many LGBT elders have to be stripped of their vibrant, loving ministry?

How many candidates for ordination have to make the tough decision to risk a life of secrecy vs. a life of authenticity?

How many teens have to slip into a deeper, more confused state of being when what they need is a simple assurance from their families and their church that they are whole?

How much pain, how many tears, how many lives does it require to take a (very, very) small step toward God’s unlimited love by removing one small phrase from your doctrine?

What I do understand is that my story is not uncommon. And I simply cannot make sense of it.

I weep for you today, Mother Church.

To those of you, who remain in this fight for justice, thank you. I find glimpses of hope for you and your church in your eyes, actions, and words.

For those living in secrecy, keep the faith.

For those confused about who they are,  in life, in the church, and especially in God’s eyes, remember that nothing—neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things resent, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation (church litigation included), can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. You are a child of God. You are Spirit-breathed. You are created by Love to love. You are deemed “good” by the One we call “Most High.”

May the peace of God be with us all.

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The Rev. Lauren Kilbourn is an Episcopal Priest in Cary, NC. She and her partner love God, love each other, and love that God loves them both. She is a graduate of Duke Divinity School and Virginia Theological Seminary. She was a candidate for ministry in The United Methodist Church until she came out to her Conference.

A House Divided

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

If we sing one more song of Christian unity and unconditional love at General Conference this year, I may explode.  The evidence that we are not of a single mind, heart, soul or spirit could not be more clear.  This does not mean we cannot be one church, however.  What we hold in common is a love and devotion for Jesus Christ and the gifts of grace and salvation that we all enjoy.  Where we part company is over two basic differences: who else God's salvation should include and what it means to live a faithful witness of discipleship.  Both boil down to our definitions and understanding of justice.

Justice is not a simple concept.  The complexity rests in the fact that what is just, fair, and beneficial to one might not be to another — but that doesn't mean injustice is fundamentally evil.  Injustice is the normative state.  Justice is something we have to create, and work on in order to sustain.  Therefore, the key is intentionality — do we wish to be fair, kind, equitable, and inclusive?  It is a decision — will we or won't we strive to be just in all ways?  Now, justice (and our understanding of justice) is conditional on at least three key things: worldview, competing values, and use of power.

Question: can we live a principle that we don't understand or with which we don't agree?  An example: every person is a child of God.  For me, this is an absolute truth.  But for many here at General Conference, there are people on earth who are NOT children of God.  For them, unless a person accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and submits to a standard of specific beliefs and practices they cannot be considered children of God.  Obviously, this is a significant condition upon which we decide if something is just or not.  For one segment of the church, justice is a universal right — available to all, but for another segment of the church justice is a deserved privilege, open only to some.  This leads us to ask, "Who deserves justice?"  This is an issue of worldview, how we make sense of our reality.  It is very human to divide the world into "us" and "them," deciding who is "inside" the grace of God and who is "outside" (currently).  This opens the door to the conditions of competing values — by what criteria do we define ourselves.  Are we open to all?  Are we defining dividing lines between "good" and "evil," and applying this to people?  Are we more interested in behaviors or beliefs?  Is mercy for the deserving or for all?  What do we mean by inclusivity?  This list could (and does) fill volumes.  Cultural differences place specific values in stark opposition to one another.

This leaves the uses and abuses of power.  I am going to get in such trouble here, but I want to take a minority view on power — everyone who uses influence coercively is abusing power (even the powerless).  Yes, this counters the prevailing liberal view, but I make no apologies — the delegates of the General Conference, regardless of their point of origin or current context are stewards of power.  The very fact of our presence here means we have advantages that the vast majority of people on earth do not have.  So, we need to get over being nice and instead be honest.  We need to step back from our political correctness and hammer through some hard issues.  The passionate liberal commitment to not alienating anyone while adopting the victim mantle is disingenuous.  We cannot lie down as a doormat and then blame others for mistreating us.  The equally passionate conservative dedication to a specific theological position that delineates between the sacred and the profane that threatens division to anyone who disagrees with it is just as destructive.  We hear from our global brothers and sisters that the church will die if we allow gay and lesbian leaders in the church; progressive Americans claim the church will die if we don't allow gay and lesbian leaders in the church.  Both sides believe it matters what The United Methodist Church thinks about these matters, oblivious to the fact that the longer we debate, the less credibility and influence we have in the world.  There is not a single answer to this problem.  A solution will not settle the "issue of homosexuality" for anyone else — it is our obsessive-compulsive conundrum that prevents us from witnessing to Christ's healing love in the world.  Most of the decisions we are discussing have no intention of affirming gay and lesbian lifestyle as a model or virtue — instead, we are simply trying to remove the language that condemns and judges.  We want to lift the penalties on those who do not believe gay and lesbian people are sinners by nature and definition.

A general session of a legislative body is not the right place to discuss and debate our theological interpretations as church law.  A Book of Discipline is not a place to do Biblical exposition.  We have strayed down a dark and dangerous path.  We are one church, true, but following the body of Christ imagery of I Corinthians, we are not all the same parts.  Our confusion of the concept "unity" as "uniformity" is not helping us.  All sides claim a "Biblical" basis for their argument — and all sides have a justified claim.  The Bible can mean all these different interpretations, and therefore the Bible is not going to "solve" this issue for us.  Neither is our legislative process.  Until we come together with an agreement that God is greater than our differences, and that the power of the Holy Spirit has the power to reconcile and unite even the most diverse worldviews, values, and visions, we will continue to be a destructive rather than a redemptive force.

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Dan Dick is an ordained minister of The United Methodist Church serving in Extension Ministry as the Director of Connectional Ministries for the Wisconsin Annual Conference. He blogs at United Methodeviations.

Recognizing “Differences” and a New Approach to Human Sexuality in the US

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

The United Methodist Church does not believe, nor have we always acted as though, "one size fits all". Central Conferences have the right to "adapt" the Book of Discipline to the different needs that exist in their Conferences and nations. There is not a uniform practice in the election of Bishops throughout the Church, and now we say; "…affirming unity in Jesus Christ while acknowledging differences in applying our faith in different contexts as we live out the gospel" in the Preamble to the Social Principles.

It is in our acknowledgement of our differences throughout the denomination that we have the opportunity to discuss and re-frame our language and legislation regarding human sexuality.

In the United State, we are in the process of affirming equality of access, equality, and equal and fair treatment and justice, for same gender loving persons. The current administration and several states and the District of Columbia do not support Defense of Marriage Act. Some states and the District of Columbia celebrate marriage equality.

The United Methodist Church in the United States must not restrict or limit its ministry to LGBTQ persons because of a false assumption that being in the United Methodist "connection" demands it.

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 Rev. Gill Caldwell is retired United Methodist clergy living in Asbury Park, NJ. He is former Associate General Secretary of the General Commission on Religion and Race and one of the founders of Black Methodists for Church Renewal.  As a long-time MFSA supporter, Gil's ministry of writing challenges the United Methodist Church to be the best it can be. 

Complacency

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

This post was originally featured at http://misodromgold.blogspot.com/

Complacency in Investment. Complacency in Silence. Complacency in Injustice.

“Not to take sides is to effectively weigh in on the side of the stronger.”
-William Sloane Coffin

Today, we, as a representative body of the global United Methodist Church at the General Conference, voted to not support divestment. United Methodists across the connection have passionately devoted time and energy these past four years to work towards realizing and calling for divestment this General Conference.

As the United Methodist Kairos Response states:

“Divestment is a form of nonviolent moral action to change unjust practices,” and in doing so, it can:
   1. …provide hope to Palestinians who see their freedom denied every day;
   2. …raise the level of awareness about how profitable Israel’s occupation has become for companies around the world;
   3. …ensure that we as investors are not profiting from this;
   4.  …put companies on notice that their support for Israel’s occupation may turn away investors;
   5. …stimulate public discussion about the realities of occupation, which have largely been hidden from Americans, and can lay the groundwork for changing US policy;
   6. ….send a message to Israeli leaders that we view the occupation as immoral and we will actively oppose it; [and]
   7. …show the world that we believe in the equality of all God’s children, and that our faith requires our commitment to justice and peace.”

Well, engaging in divestment could have had these impacts….

In discussing the investments and divestment of the United Methodist Church’s finances and stock-holdings, the UM Kairos Response movement of the church had petitioned to, hoped for, and envisioned a divestment from Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard, and Motorola, the three major companies invested in the Israeli occupation through the implication of the use of their products in home demolitions, the construction of settlements, biometric monitoring of checkpoints, and surveillance systems for settlements, military bases, and the wall. The major issues of divestment, for those represented here and opposed to such action, included the financial implications of such action for the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits (thinking, first, of ourselves), Israel, and (lastly) Palestinian Christians. Discussion of this and another petition regarding Israeli settlements was charged with negative, hateful language, particularly directed at ‘the Muslims’ and ‘all the Arabs,’ who ‘pose a threat to the security in our backyard.’

Having been in Israel and Palestine in 2010, I have witnessed that the movement to divest and the seeking of peace in the Holy Land moves beyond these concerns.
Having broken bread with, lived with, and worked with Muslims in Palestine, Turkey, and Germany, I am outraged and personally offended by such hateful speech against Muslims on the plenary floor of a Christian organization, to which I am a member.  Three years ago, I joined the United Methodist Church, impassioned through and empowered by the denomination’s commitment to justice, but have never questioned my membership in this institution more than I have in the last ten days.

This afternoon, the United Methodist Church has chosen to do nothing. To remain silent. To remain complacent.

Although Wesley stood on the principles of social holiness and the belief that there is no religion but social religion;
Although the United Methodist Church has a tradition of standing with marginalized peoples; and
Although the Palestinian Christians have asked us to stand in solidarity with them and have submitted a concrete call for us to act to bring peace and justice,

We, as a church, remain silent.

We turned from the UM Kairos Response’s call that ,“The Church should lead with prophetic action by publicly and promptly aligning its investments with longstanding church policies opposing the Israeli occupation.”

We failed to give voice to the voiceless. We failed to align our actions with our words. We quiver in fear, failing to stand brave together as a church.

In doing so, we fail to work towards peace and justice for Israelis and Palestinians suffering under occupation.

We fail to be the change that Christ calls us to be in this world.

Our Palestinian sisters and brothers in Christ empowered us in the Bethlehem Call, Here We Stand – Stand with us, “The pain will pass soon if we act now.”2

How long will we now need for this pain to pass? When will our Christian actions align with our doctrine and Jesus’ example of justice? When will peace and justice prevail?

“First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.“
-Martin Niemöller

When will we, as a denomination, speak out against and act in the face of injustice?

Michelle Dromgold is a Mission Intern of the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church. She is currently serving at the Kindertreff Delbrücke at the Salem Gemeinde in Berlin, Germany. She is a member of Dumbarton United Methodist Church in the Baltimore Washington Annual Conference and was active in the campus ministry at American University.
 

By the Grace of God

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

It is Day 9 of General Conference, and the tension between many Central Conference and US delegates is building. There are growing divisions over spending, representation, theology, and priorities. Monday I tweeted, “Being a global church is messy, beautiful, inspiring, complicated, and confusing.”

The messy and confusing parts were on full display yesterday as we debated the nature of God’s love and grace for all. Being considered was a revision to the Preamble to the UMC Social Principles. After the minority report was adopted, a discussion was held on the inclusion of an amendment stating, “we stand united in declaring our faith that God’s grace is available to all, that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”


Essentially, problems arose over two questions, with the first being, what does it mean to speak in general terms that God loves everyone and that nothing can separate us from God’s love? For many present and watching online, the fact that we were debating these things was disturbing and depressing. Bold statements were made of our Wesleyan theology of prevenient grace extending to all.


But for some of our African brothers and sisters who thought through the implications of having Romans 8:38-39 apply to non-Christians or to eternity, this amendment was of deep concern. What were we saying? Yes, God loves everyone, and we can disagree on some things, but we have to believe; that is what you taught us.


Yes, that is what our missionaries taught, but in the US we like to speak of God’s love and grace being extended to us regardless of, and even despite, what we do and believe. Yes, a response is necessary, but the gift of God’s grace and love has been given to us all.


The real question that was not raised is this, is there a point where God’s love and grace cease to be extended to us. If we reject God up to the point of our death, does God keep loving us or does God allow us to face the consequences of our decision to remain apart from God? And are those mutually exclusive? Can hell separate us from God’s love, can unbelief separate us from God’s love?


The problem I see here at General Conference, is that not only do we have a large contingent of persons within the US who broadly and somewhat mysteriously speak of God’s love extending to all, but we have a growing number of people like myself, who are wanting to say the eternal and unconditional nature of God’s love for everyone, can’t have exceptions. In light of our differences, how can we as a global church speak theologically?


 

Karl Kroger is a United Methodist pastor in the Dakotas Conference. He serves a small missional congregation with larger ministries that he hopes to sustain. He has been active at all levels of the church and in various social justice movements. 

The Heart and Soul of The UMC

Wednesday, May 2nd, 2012

As we’re over the half way point of the 2012 General Conference and continue legislative action in the plenary I find myself contemplating the implications that will arise from the next few days.  As someone who has been fully immersed in the legislative process here it can be easy to forget that the decisions of this body will have a profound effect on the workings of the church and, more importantly, people’s lives.

There are many who I have talked to, or overheard talking, about the issue of inclusiveness of the LGBT community in The United Methodist Church this week.  There are a wide variety of viewpoints and beliefs, and a variety of reasons people give for them.  The most troubling of these viewpoints, for me, is a belittlement of the issue as it relates to the church and the world.

Of particular gravity is the debate over the church’s doctrine as it relates to human sexuality.  At stake in this debate is nothing less than the heart and soul of the United Methodist Church, the profound and personal relationships of current UMC members to the church they love, and potential members of the UMC who are being told they are not welcome in the church and that they are not of sacred worth.  Those who would say that change will come but the church is just not ready yet, or that things are fine the way they are, need to take a hard look at these stakes.

On May 6th United Methodists across the globe will be waking up to go to church.  The question at hand in the next week is; what will they find there?  If nothing changes the official doctrine of the church will tell some of them their God given sexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, and that the essence of who they are is an unforgivable sin.  In a world where Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered people struggle to find acceptance, are bullied in schools, are discriminated in the workplace, and are victims of hate crimes they will turn to the church and to their faith for strength.  On Sunday May 6th what will they find there?  A church that lives out it’s calling to care for ALL God’s children?  A church with open hearts, open minds, and open doors?  Or a church of exclusion, of doctrine sponsored homophobia and discrimination?

That my friends is what is at stake in the next few days.  That is what we are tasked to change.  The time is now.

Let it be so.

Devin is a US2 Missionary serving in Detroit Michigan and a young adult scholarship recipient through MFSA and the Love Your Neighbor Coalition, coordinating legislation in the Local Church Committee.

Devin Hanson is @dev_m_hanso

We Have Nothing to Fear, Except Maybe Everything…

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

In the first day of full plenary sessions there seems to be a tone that is overriding. Fear seems to be a motivator by many when it comes to reasoning for passing or not passing a piece of legislation. Some fear is merited, even wanted, but it has left a cloud of the General Conference. 

The day began with sentiment over a set aside bishop that sounded like anti-Roman Catholic discussions more than addressing legitimate concerns of stewardship of church resources, and creating more power in the hands of a small group of people. Working towards legitimate concerns needs to be our focus and not projecting fears where in unrealistic ways.

As was evident by attempts to suspend the rules of the conference to address restructuring plans, most of the body is full of anxiety with the thought of starting from scratch on a way to structure the general church. With no proposal coming from the General Administration committee, the task of drafting a plan for any change in the denomination is left to the whole body. A task that seems monumental for such a diverse group of individuals.

I say we should welcome the larger discussion about our future together. The United Methodist is a diverse body of God's children. We need to hear the voices in order to understand the needs of our people. No restructuring plan can be complete without voices from the younger and more experienced generation, United States delegates and delegates from outside the United States, progressive and conservative, men and women, LGBTQ and heterosexual, we need it all! Each voice brings a piece of God's kin-dom, here and now. Let us embrace that fact. 

As we continue on in the week, let us not fear the future, even possible death of what we know as the church. If death does occur, tomorrow can be our resurrection day full of hope and love. Christ brought diverse views to the table, let us structure our church in a way that truly honors those who gather, so that all may be heard. 

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Zach Anderson is a provisional elder in the Nebraska Annual Conference, serving St. Paul's UMC in Papillion, Nebraska as an associate pastor. He was a lay delegate at the 2004 and 2008 General Conferences as a young adult. Zach also serves as the Assistant Peace with Justice Coordinator in Nebraska. 

Sharing our Story

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

There are many priorities for an individual to consider when serving the coalition as a legislative monitor (someone who sits in committee meetings and track each piece of legislation as the committee works through each petition).  The first priority in the morning is to ensure front row seats are secure for the team.  In doing this one morning late last week, I introduced myself to the usher for the room.  We exchanged pleasantries, and I explained my purpose for observing Church & Society B.  She had the afternoon shift off, and I didn’t see her until that evening. 

She approached me and said she had something to share with me.

She is opposed to becoming a fully inclusive church.  She went back to the hotel, and while she took a nap she had a dream.  In the dream there were two men and one woman all yelling out for help and relief from pain.  In a hurried manner, she ran into this huge room where there were many wounded individuals crying in pain.  She screamed out for help, “Please, please, please!!! Help me!! There are three hurt people outside.”  Two individuals came up to her and said, “For now, you just need to feel their pain.  For this moment, you need to hear their stories.”  At this point in the retelling, the usher began to let tears gently stream down. 

She told me that as a woman from the rural Midwest, she had never heard our queer narrative.  It is through our witness, our work, that this woman was challenged in her awareness and beliefs around the queer community.

Although we do not know what the results will be at the end of this General Conference, I know without a doubt the impact we have had because of our presence here this year.  The church is changing, and one day, we will have open hearts, open arms, and open doors.

Joseph Kyser is a first year Master’s of Divinity student at Boston University, and is attending General Conference as an MFSA Young Adult scholarship recipient.

General Conference Flash Mob

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

Breaking from the seriousness of General Conference, this Flashmob brought joy and laughter while also bringing an important message!

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