Monday, February 26, 2007

A Dream for General Conference

Here’s my General Conference dream:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to this opening session of the 2008 General Conference of the United Methodist Church. I hereby call this session to order.

Turning to our first agenda item, all of those who wish to beat each other up over the issue of homosexuality please excuse yourselves from the floor and reconvene just down the hall in room 560, which has been reserved especially for you for the duration of the conference. Do not forget to bring your Bibles with you, as there are many good tidbits in there which you can use as ammunition against one another. You will be notified at the beginning of our closing session, at which time we will reconvene to hear absolutely no report whatsoever of what you have been doing for the past several days.

Those of you who wish to remain on the floor and discuss our other agenda items, like the presence of the living God in our midst, the mission of the church as God’s agent in the world, sharing the grace of Jesus Christ with those who so desperately need to experience it, the spreading of scriptural holiness throughout the land, the power of God’s Holy Spirit to bring peace and justice to a hurting and broken world, creative ways to participate in the ongoing incarnation of Christ to realize God’s reign on earth, and so forth, please be in recess for a few moments as we allow our more single-minded brothers and sisters to adjourn for their special session down the hall.

We will reconvene in five minutes.”

To be clear, I am not advocating ignoring the issue of homosexuality. I simply think that there are too many people who are ready to throw down and do battle over the issue to have any hope of a healthy conversation. And I think that there are people on “both sides” of the issue that fall into that category. But if we reframe the conversation, and make it be about the church’s participation in God’s mission on earth in Christ Jesus, maybe we’ll be able to talk together in a grace-filled, loving, healthy way.

What are the chances of my dream coming true, do you think?

Is it dewy-eyed optimism, or hope for things unseen?

29 comments:

Vinny said...

Hmmm. "Snowball" and "hell" are two words that come to mind. I think it can (and will) get worse before it gets better. I've theorized that at some point the "liberal" wings of the UMC, Episcopal Church, PC-USA, and ELCA will merge together and go on with life, ditto for the "conservative" wings of those denominations (perhaps both extremes would split off and leave the silent majority in peace).
Yet for as often as we seem to inch toward schism, it never really happens. Maybe there's some deterrent effect from the potential of mutually-assured destruction...

TN Rambler said...

Andy,
I think that this is a great dream...if we sent the right delegates to GC. As a licensed local pastor, I have no vote (and possibly no voice as well, haven't checked the Discipline that close) regarding delegates, but I'm beginning to think that we would be much better served by not voting for anyone who wants the job. Perhaps if we prevented the ones who are spoiling for a fight from going to GC, the delegates may be able to concentrate on the work the church is supposed to be about.

Wayne

Adam L. Gordon-Lauck said...

Good luck with that one, Andy. I'll be praying for you! ;-)

Kansas Bob said...

Hi Andy,

I think that you and I are on the same page on this one. I tried to find middle ground on the subject of homosexuals in the church and really couldn't find anyone who had any ideas about what a middle ground position would look like - including me.

Maybe your idea of just ignoring it and pressing on with other agenda items is what we need to do ... I am really not sure.

Bob

Larry B said...

dewy-eyed optimism.

Not to be cynical here but as you pointed out - there's way too much energy and (perhaps more substantial) dollars invested in this fight for it to end.

When a UM Bishop lends her authority and signature to a fundraising request for organizations outside of the church that are working on GC petition drives and actively working to get delegates who back their view elected to GC, you can bet there will be a discussion and it won't be pretty.

You really can't expect one side of the issue to remain silent and not have their voice heard. It's the nature of a conference based system.

Art said...

It's a great idea but as you point out, there are so many who simply do not want to discuss love and grace in conjunction with this subject.

Nick said...

It will never happen, but you can dream.

BTW, It would be helpful that you put your real picture on your church's website, instead of Luke Skywalker. Sorry, you look nothing like him and as a pastor I bet people visiting your church's website would like to know what the pastor really looks like...

Andy B. said...

Kansas Bob - I wouldn't characterize my position as ignorning the issue. It's going to come up, so the question is not whether or not to talk about it but rather HOW we are going to talk. Will the conversation be framed by bitterness and anger or by love and grace?

Andy B. said...

Nick - My Luke Skywalker picture, which started out as a temporary thing until I had an actual picture of myself, has generated so much buzz and conversation, that there's no way I'm taking it down now! For example, couples looking for a place to get married have seen that picture and decided not only to get married here, but to become a part of the church. And it all started with that silly picture!
But thanks for the suggestion :)

Anonymous said...

Larry B -- Which UM Bishop, and which organization? I think I missed something.

Larry B said...

Anonymous,

Out of respect for Andy's blog (I probably already intimated too much in my previous post), I won't post the specifics here unless he requests it, but you can look for yourself at two opposing groups to see what they are doing.

On the liberal side of things the reconciling ministries network is probably the most active in this area. www.rmnetwork.org. They post their quarterly and weekly newsletters on their website as well as info about their meetings and fundraising.

On the conservative side you can look at The Institute on Religion and Democracy - www.ird-renew.org and click on the UMAction tab on the home page. You can find similar information such as newsletters and fundraising activities as well.

My post was meant more to point out that this debate isn't just being driven by personal opinions, but has now become well organized and well funded with high level strategies being pursued by both sides. That's surely going to mean that it's not going to be a civil debate and won't occur on any grounds which Andy is hoping for.

In my opinion, the only way to bring some sanity back into the system is for the church to stop allowing these groups (two of them listed above) to do what they do. The organizing of congregations into Reconciling congregations or Confessing congregations is lunacy and really ought to be stopped. It's a way to get money, resources, and outside influence into the general conference and I'm sure that cuts at the foundation of having a conference system.

hipchickmamma said...

i hesitate to go along with your dream andy b. i agree the fight has gotten rather nasty and bitter. but it's nasty and bitter because of the great damage and hurt that have been done to folks who simply want to share in the gospel's love and grace but have been told it doesn't apply to them.

i would contend that when we as a church stand by and let God's grace and love be denied to a group of people then we have cut ourselves off from God's grace and love and stopped being the church.

i admit that i am one of the persons that would likely get thrown into the room down the hall.

we need both bridge builders and those at the outside pushing to be included, otherwise it would be silent and nothing would ever change.

Anonymous said...

I'm with hipchick on this one, though from the other camp. How can we discuss God's grace and love within the church when half of us are seen as exclusionary grace mongers? (That's not how I see it of course, but I know it's out there.) We simply have to deal with the elephant in the room or the conversation will always be tainted. For me, the key is to help folks open up to the possability that we may be wrong (that is both sides, myself included. Hipchick, care to go along?)
-Mitch

Kyle in KC said...

As a gay man I do not understand what we may be wrong about. Either the church loves everyone or they do not. It really is as simple as that. I can understand if you are not gay that the issue it not nearly as important. Andy, how would you react if you knowing you are called by God to preach were told you could not do so because you were born lefted handed but many believe that only right hand people can be allowed in the church. Would you still have the same attitude?

Anonymous said...

I guess I'm one who will have to be banished to the room down the hall. Our Discipline says that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching and that homosexual persons may not be married within our church or serve as pastor within our church and that they may not engage in sexual activity. For me, that means we do not accept these people and we do not allow them to full participation in the life of the church. I believe that is wrong. For me, I will continue to work to see that the Discipline be changed so that all God's children, gay and straight, will know that they are loved and accepted just as they are. I consider it every bit as importnat as the struggle for racial equality or gender equality. I know people get tired of struggling over the issues. But to let this struggle go is to tell a large segment of our people that we are OK with leaving them out of the life of the church. I hope and pray that we can be a true church of "open doors" and finally leave this judgmental and divisive language behind. JB

Andy B. said...

Just to be clear, those of you who say you would be "down the hall" are saying that you want to fight with one another, using the Bible as a weapon against your adveraries, and framing the conversation with bitterness and hatred?

Please do not misunderstand my position, I am going to work as hard as I can for as long as it takes for the full inclusion of all people in the church, regardless of sexual orientation. But that is not going to happen by my slamming my head into a brick wall over and over again. All that will do is give me a headache. I want to be able to talk with Mitch, Kansas Bob, Larry B, and others without animosity. In fact, we should be able to talk together in love, much less without animosity.

The point of my post was that the people "down the hall" would be doing the same old destructive thing we have been doing for decades. That doesn't seem to be getting us anywhere. My dream is for a new way to talk together about the issue.

Andy B. said...

Kyle, That is a great question!

I suppose I would hope that in that case, I would find a way to confront that injustice with strength and integrity, speaking the truth in love with those who oppose me.

Anonymous said...

OK, I'm down with that. I don't want clobbered by anyone's big black book of virtues anymore than you do.

You and I peek from different perspectives, but I want to honor your viewpoint knowing that you'll honor mine.

I'll admit, maybe I just don't get it...but I've not yet been convined. I want to be faithful...and I'll repent and work beside you if I'm wrong, but the issue has to be dealt with. Sadly, right now I struggle to find many who are willing to debate without getting angry.
Open for a chat sometime?
-Mitch

hipchickmamma said...

mitch--i'm totally up for having a discussion without getting nasty and hateful. i too agree that for the conversation to be truly meaningful both parties have to be open to being wrong.

i'd love for the conversation to occur without any venom--which comes from both sides--but i don't see how this can happen unless you ask those who are directly affected to remove themselves from the debate. how many times can someone hear that they are not wanted and unloved before they get angry?

i don't know how you find a middle ground where those folks can truly be safe to be apart of the conversation. how do we ask them not to get angry?

i can talk about it (for a while) without getting angry, for a long while if it's without ugly stereotypes being thrown in (on my part as well), but even then i get tired and frustrated. i think its very few that start out hateful and ugly--we're all trying to live out a faithful witness and abide by God's call to be the church--i think we all start in love, but in our human frailties and weaknesses we fall short.

now i'll shut it and go blog about it at my place. thanks for a great discussion andy b!

mandyc said...

WOW! What a fabulous discussion you have going on here Andy! I'll admit I haven't been around in a while, but I read hipchick's blog and wandered back over.

I appreciate your vision for General Conference - I think that it's sad that so much gets spent on this issue when there are so many other things that the church can be doing. There are starving people all over the world, refugees, sick, homeless, distraught - and we have a mission to minister to them - ALL of them. I think what makes this particular issue so hard is that it gets treated as if it is somehow bigger than anything else - those who believe homosexuality is a sin somehow see this one as "worse" than others (we don't tell people who commit adultery that they can't get ordained). I'll be the first to admit that this is persona for me - I'm one of those who can't - and won't - be ordained in the UMC. But I'm also greatly saddened that we can't just agree to disagree about it and move on with the other work that desperately needs to be done. At least those are my thoughts at this moment...

Adam Caldwell said...

dream....dream..dream..dream..dream

it's a lovely tune, I like oldies

Anonymous said...

Grrrrrr!

Feel free to banish me down the hall or usher me out of the building for my following thoughts:

Why must there be an agreement on this issue? Is it necessary?
People on opposing sides see this matter quite differently. Mitch alluded to not being "convinced" yet. My pastor and others have stated their commitment to work for "change".
The implication or outright assertion is that anyone who believes homosexuality is wrong is not progressive or enlightened. They want everyone to agree with their enlightened opinion/position.
Those who hold to that view are saying that I must change my opinion/position/heart and mind/beliefs because of your beliefs.
Where's the diversity in that?
Diversity is not just accepting alternatives to what has long been perceived as normal, but it's accepting the significant number of those who hold onto long-standing "traditional" beliefs as well.
That doesn't mean they're unenlightened. It just means their moral code doesn't fluctuate based on society's ever-changing standards.
We don't have to agree.

Respectfully,
Joseph

Kyle in KC said...

Joseph,

I am sure the same thing was stated before the church split over slavery as well. How dare the church force poeple to change their "traditional" beliefs about slavry.

Anonymous said...

Kyle:

I believe that comparing the issues of slavery and homosexuality is nonsensical and a poorly constructed line of reasoning. On the other hand, you obviously think that slavery and gay rights are essentially the same struggle; though I cannot ever recall a time when the church taught that it was sinful to be black. Nonetheless, I am willing to agree that scriptural gymnastics were once evident in those advocates who found Biblical passages supporting slavery. No such scriptural gymnastics are needed when it comes to the issue of homosexuality. You and others see the church extending grace and love to a disenfranchised group; others such as I see this as raising sin to a position of adoration.
Bend your will to God’s Will, not the other way around.

Respectfully,
Joseph

John said...

I, for one, am astonished that a post on the UMC and homosexuality would acquire so many comments.

Tracy Crowe Jones said...

John,

I can't tell (since this is in writing and has no vocal tones to go along), but are you being sacastic?

John said...

Yes.

Anonymous said...

Well, it was bound to happen someday, that you and I would disagree on something, Andy. It's not a big disagreement, and I love you madly. At the heart of it all, we feel the same way about this thorn in the church's paw.

But I think the fact that there are currently 27 comments trailing after your original post probably conveys something about the nature of the "conversation" about homosexuality in the church. It's serious, and for those of us with a personal and professional stake in the outcome, it's sometimes impossible to remain calm and be nice, as long as our "sinful lifestyle" is up for debate among those who declare that they don't hate us, they just hate what we do. I hope people can appreciate how patronizing that is. I also hope that they can appreciate that it's not really middle ground to say we are "welcome" as long as we don't want our covenant relationships blessed. It's really more honest to just say "you are not welcome as long as you are not willing to be celibate." I can take that. I don't go to Missouri Synod Lutheran Churches, and I'm not bitter about it. They are honest about where they are. Good for them. Welcome is about more than the willingness to sit in the same church with someone for an hour a week.

Andy, I know you're calling for more than nice-ness, and I really appreciate the desire to get back to the work of chasing after the gospel and doing the things Jesus commanded that we do. I would LOVE it if my "lifestyle" wasn't a topic of debate at every Lutheran church gathering I attend. I would LOVE it if we could quit "beating each other up." But before we get justice, those who need to be heard will clamor to be heard. And should be heard. And those on the "two sides" will be raising their voices, because they feel strongly. (Like they'll put "LOVE" in capital letters to convey how emphatic their message is.)

The ELCA has tried everything it can think of to avoid having people beat each other up. We're now on our seventy-fifth Study of the Issue (exaggeration mine). And when the outcome of the Study comes to the Churchwide Assembly in 2009, chances are, it's going to be ugly. I don't think this baby is gonna get born any other way.

BTW, Mike Hendricks wrote a great column yesterday on the idea of "balance." It's not about homosexuality, but I think it's germane to the general discussion. http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascity/news/columnists/mike_hendricks/16834968.htm

I am not anonymous. I am Donna Simon.

Deb said...

first off, kudos to all of you who have posted for NOT putting your gloves on. It's easy to do with anonymous posts and the internet--props to you. Andy, I appreciate your sentiments/dream but also worry that it's sticky to say "those of you who want to fight about this, over here" and "those of you who are interested in more "holy" things, over there." I understand, I think, the distinction you are making between Christian conferencing and the bitter, anger-ridden disputes that currently take place at GC. I wonder if the premise shouldn't be (which I think is what you were saying in your original dream post) that we remind ourselves of our common heritage and commitments. We are the church not because of where we stand on *controversial* issues. We are the church because we believe that Jesus Christ is the son of God, lived, died, and resurrected on the third day and that in that God claims us, loves us, forgives us, and restores us (*along with everyone else in the world...as it's not "us" and "them" according to the Gospel). If we remember why we conference, convene, dispute, "push the issue", fight for justice (i.e., the good news of Jesus Christ), none of us can dare step foot in the "brawling room". Right? Nevertheless, the sticky widget remains, one group still hears the gospel in one light and the other another...but in any case, we must first be able to see one another as faithful, prayerful, loving Christians before we can ever hope to come to one accord.