Archive for September, 2014

A Sacred Calling to Vote No

Monday, September 8th, 2014

This November, Tennessee will face a series of critical ballot initiatives to amend the Tennessee State Constitution. Amendment 1, if passed, would take away individual privacy rights and allow politicians to enact egregious restrictions on access to safe and compassionate abortion care, regulations with no exemptions to save the life of the mother or when the pregnancy has resulted from rape or incest. As an elder in The United Methodist Church, I am inviting my clergy colleagues into a ministry of justice and compassion that confronts the powers of the state and its legislators. 

Our tradition acknowledges the difficult tension in drawing light to human sexuality: ‘our belief in the sanctity of unborn human life makes us reluctant to approve abortion. But we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother and the unborn child. We recognize tragic conflicts of life with life that may justify abortion, and in such cases we support the legal option of abortion under proper medical procedures.’ (UMC Book of Discipline 2012, ¶161.J)

Regardless of how you may feel about abortion, our deep theological commitment to God’s grace encountering the pain and joy of the human experience should call us to question the wisdom of this amendment – an amendment distracting our state from the real issues facing Tennessee; issues such as growing numbers of individuals and families without health insurance, skyrocketing childhood poverty rates, educational systems that aren’t meeting the needs of our youth and underemployment leaving families struggling to make ends meet.

In communities across this state, it is our God given calling to publicly announce and demonstrate where divine grace is and wants to go in the lives of our people.

The vows I share in this sacred calling, ‘to exercise pastoral supervision of the people committed to our care, to order the life of the congregation, counsel the troubled in spirit, to seek justice, peace, and freedom for all people, and to lead persons to faith in Jesus Christ’ call clergy to the intersection of faith and human sexuality (UMC Book of Worship, ‘Service of Ordination’). To be silent for the sake of ease is to renounce the vows to care for God’s people in whatever they face and to limit the scope of public justice.

In the ministry I lead, I remember the pastoral conversation over coffee when a mother in our congregation, already grieving the death of her nine month old daughter, explained to me the wrenching decision to have an abortion because of life threatening pregnancy complications. Her decision allows her to live faithfully into her marriage vows with her husband and to be a mother to her seven year old son. I can only begin to imagine how this story would be different if legal access to abortion services were not protected in the state of Tennessee by the state constitution.

I am grateful that the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that our state constitution’s strong privacy protections applied to reproductive healthcare. This protection is now in jeopardy by Amendment 1’s intrusion into decisions best left to a family, the family doctor, and pastoral counselors. I want our state’s elected officials to spend their energy working on what Tennesseans do need: quality education, affordable housing, employment, and universal healthcare access. This is why I’m voting NO on Amendment 1 and I’m inviting you to do the same as you bring light to this intersection of faith and human sexuality.

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Rev. Adam Kelchner is pastor for Mission & Outreach at Belmont United Methodist Church in Nashville, TN and Director of Golden Triangle Ministries.

Brother Martin Wasn’t Born to Settle Down

Saturday, September 6th, 2014

“Brother Martin wasn't born to settle down
Brother Martin wasn't born to settle down, settle down
He was born to rise
Like relief to the cure, like the shore to the water line.”

 

These words by singer-songwriter Namoli Brennet pierce my soul today. Of course, Brennet was writing about civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. But today, I listen to these words over and over as news reached me of the death of Bishop Martin McLee, Resident Bishop of the New York Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church.

Bishop McLee’s ministry took him from New York to Texas to Massachusetts and back to New York. Although many addressed him as “Bishop” since he was elected to the Episcopacy just two years ago, many simply knew him as “Martin.” Martin, the listener; Martin, the joy-bearer; Martin, the preacher and prophet; Martin, the singer; Martin, the mentor; Martin, the leader.

Martin’s deep, deep faith often brought his prophetic leadership to the center of his ministry. In 2000, he became pastor of the historic Union United Methodist Church, which just a few months before voted to become the first historically black United Methodist congregation to welcome people no matter their sexual orientation or gender identity. As District Superintendent of the Metro Boston Hope District of the New England Conference, Martin worked with clergy seeking to provide new places for new people. He wasn’t afraid to engage with young leaders and he embraced social media as a way of connecting to those with whom he was in ministry. As Bishop, Martin didn’t shy away from the prophetic. In 2013, he issued a statement to the New York Conference regarding violence against LGBTQ persons. And earlier this year, he guided the just resolution process in a complaint against former dean of Yale Divinity School, Thomas Ogletree, and he dismissed a complaint against Sara Thompson Tweedy.

Ministry is a difficult and lonely place. I can only imagine that Martin’s experience of ministry was doubled when he became an episcopal leader – a clearly progressive episcopal leader.  My thoughts and prayers are with Martin’s family, his friends, with the people of the New York Annual Conference, and with the Northeastern Jurisdiction College of Bishops as they seek to fill the shoes of a genuine, loving leader. In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us.

If Namoli Brennet knew Martin McLee, I think she’d still write those same words about him. He wasn’t born to settle down. He – like each of us who follow Christ – are born to rise. May Martin’s life be a witness of hope to a Church seeking hope and a world seeking justice. May we all be a little unsettled as we rise with Brother Martin.

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Chett Pritchett is Executive Director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action. He is a graduate of West Virginia Wesleyan College and Wesley Theological Seminary, and is a member at Dumbarton UMC in Washington, DC.

An Open Letter to the Council of Bishops from The Western Methodist Justice Movement

Friday, September 5th, 2014

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE COUNCIL OF BISHOPS OF THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH FROM THE WESTERN METHODIST JUSTICE MOVEMENT

MEETING IN RETREAT AT ZEPHYR COVE, NEVADA

SEPTEMBER 1, 2014

Grace and peace to you in the name of our Sovereign, Jesus Christ:

We are writing to you at this crucial moment in the history of the United States and of the world to urge you to speak a prophetic and pastoral word on behalf of The United Methodist Church. We believe that there are three current crises that demand your timely attention:

1)    The shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, which has galvanized a movement of those who say “No more!” to the criminalization of U.S. minority communities and to the militarization of U.S. police forces;
2)    The crisis caused to the U.S. immigration system by the recent surge of children crossing into the country without documentation, which has started to open our eyes to the violence, poverty and injustice that lead to the creation of unhealthy and unsustainable patterns of global migration; and

3)    The continuing violence in Gaza that has led to the deaths of thousands of Palestinian civilians, many of them children, and caused untold damage to homes, schools, businesses, hospitals and places of worship, which has helped us to find clarity about the brutal nature of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and U.S. complicity in it.

In the face of these crises, we believe the Church of Jesus Christ needs to speak with a witness that is both prophetic and pastoral. We are writing to you, because we believe that it is your role, as the Council of Bishops, to lead The United Methodist Church in addressing the crucial issues of our time. The Book of Discipline states:

The role of the bishop is to be a prophetic voice for justice in a suffering and conflicted world through the tradition of social holiness. The bishop encourages and models the mission of witness and service in the world through proclamation of the gospel and alleviation of human suffering. [¶ 403.d)]

The people for whom you have been elected to provide temporal and spiritual oversight need to hear from you. They need to know that their bishops are engaged with the critical issues of justice and injustice, violence and peace, wealth and poverty that are roiling the U.S. and the world. They need to receive a prophetic and pastoral word from you that is grounded in our legacy of Wesleyan theology and praxis.

We are dismayed that the Council of Bishops has yet to speak out publicly on the events that we have described above. We are thankful that individual bishops have written and spoken boldly. But, we are also aware that individual bishops cannot speak on behalf of The United Methodist Church as a whole to interpret stands already taken by the General Conference. As indicated in Division Three, Article III of the Constitution of The United Methodist Church, responsibility for “the general oversight and promotion of the temporal and spiritual interests of the entire Church” resides with the Council as a whole.

We therefore implore you, as a Council, to do the important and prayerful work of leading the Church in addressing the injustice, oppression and violence that are confronting us through the events taking place in Ferguson, on our U.S. national borders, and in Gaza. The people of The United Methodist Church around the globe are yearning for your leadership on these critical matters. Now is the time!

We look forward to hearing back from you soon.

May the grace of Jesus Christ be with you now and always.

Cc: Western Jurisdiction College of Bishops of The United Methodist Church

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The Western Methodist Justice Movement is a movement of United Methodists in the annual conferences of the Western Jurisdiction who are committed to carry out the prophetic statements and actions of the Western Jurisdictional Conference of The United Methodist Church. Their work focuses on diverse action areas, including: increasing the inclusiveness and justice focus of churches, planning ministries to fully include GLBT persons, immigration justice, reproductive justice, justice in the Philippines, education and advocacy for justice in Israel-Palestine, planning extravagant hospitality in our churches, and addressing the worldwide nature and future of the UMC. This open letter to United Methodist episcopal leaders was signed at their Labor Day retreat on September 1, 2014 by almost 100 concerned clergy and laity.

An Open Letter to the Council of Bishops from Gil Caldwell and Pamela Lightsey

Thursday, September 4th, 2014

Pamela Lightsey has written; "The call to Biblical Obedience is not and cannot be solely for the purpose of LGBTQ rights. It must address oppression wherever its tenacious tentacles grip the lives of God's people and earth itself."

Gil Caldwell suggests that the current debate in the UMC about the correctness or incorrectness of its anti-gay legislation shaped by its declaration, "The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching", is an illustration of former baseball great, Yogi  Berra's words; "It's déjà vu all over again."

The killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, has unveiled again the long history of anti-black attitudes and actions, particularly as directed at black men. We believe the crisis in Ferguson, moreover the continued racial discrimination in much of our country and silence on the part of the Council of Bishops to the increasing images of Black men and women being attacked and killed reveals a need for the United Methodist Church to re-visit its anti-black racial history which was framed by using the Bible as its theological resource.

BIBLICAL INTERPRETATION: Methodism in its history has debated and divided over what the Bible states about slavery and how its "slave language" is interpreted. There were Methodists who felt that slavery and the owning of blacks as slaves was consistent with their Biblical interpretation. This despite the fact that Methodism's founding spirit, John Wesley declared American slavery the "vilest of all". The Methodist Episcopal Church South, separated from Methodism because it believed slavery was Biblical. The tenaciousness of Biblical interpretation that was anti-black was evident in 1939 when the Methodist Episcopal Church South and two other Methodist denominations formed The Methodist Church, but in its act of "Unification" it created the all-black, racially segregated Central Jurisdiction.

We believe Methodism as it accepted legally sanctioned racial segregation and practiced it in its own denominational life was done because racial segregation was an historical, cultural "way of life" in the south and in places other than the south. It was not solely Biblical interpretation, but also the history, culture and practice of racial segregation that dictated the actions of the denomination.

Though we affirm the pastoral response from Bishops Carcaño and Palmer, we know a few letters from individual bishops and media resources spotlighting the work of a few churches and clergy does not have the impact as a pastoral response from the Council of Bishops. Rather than be seen as having never shed its denominational support of racism, we call now upon the Council of Bishops, a predominantly white leadership, to address this urgent crisis impacting the lives of Black people living in Ferguson. We urge you to take a bold stand against racism including the militarized armament and surveillance being used against Black people. We await a pastoral letter from you that does not straddle the political fence nor prematurely call for healing in the absence of sincere acts of justice and reconciliation making. Take a stand that is consistent with words uttered during the denomination's Act of Repentance for Racism.

We have seen the quick response from the Council related to "upholding the Discipline" when it comes to LGBTQ rights. Given our Social Principles, the silence regarding Ferguson and the killing of an unarmed 18-year old Black man that has fanned the flames of racial tensions in our country is just as revealing as the Council's voice against LGBTQ ordination and same sex marriage. Is the Council willing to continue to be seen as an instrument of oppression? Now is the time for the leadership of our church to "take thou the authority" by being a prophetic voice piece crying out against racism and offering a word of comfort in the midst of Black people's pain and suffering, and as allies outside the Black community look for ways to show solidarity. We strongly urge this be done expeditiously and absent a tenor of respectability politics. For, in the words of the late Black feminist lesbian poet, Audre Lorde, "Your silence will not protect you."

With Due Respect,
Pamela Lightsey and Gilbert H. Caldwell

 

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Rev. Gil Caldwell is retired United Methodist clergy. Gil is a founding member of Black Methodists for Church Renewal and co-founder of Truth in Progress, a multi-media project highlighting the intersection of race, sexual orientation, and religion.

Dr. Lightsey is ordained in The United Methodist Church, and serves as co-chair of the Womanist Approaches to Religion and Society Group of the American Academy of Religion and as a member of the Board of Directors for the Reconciling Ministries Network.

 

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