Monday, December 15, 2014

Love, No Matter What

This season at Campbell UMC, we have considered how our lives are illuminated by hope, peace, and joy. These ideas have taken us through three weeks of Advent, in preparation for the coming of Christ.

And this week we light the fourth candle - the candle of love, Of all the lights that shine in this holy season, the light of love shines brightest of all.

You know you love someone if the room seems brighter when they walk in.

Love connects people together. Love connects people to God. The connections of love are like wires closing a circuit, the current flows and the energy surges and (if there’s a light bulb attached) there is LIGHT!

In a similar way, when a relationship is one of love, there is energy flowing. In a loving relationship, there is light. The light of a loving relationship will illuminate the darkest places of life; the darkness of conflict and disagreement can never overcome the light of love.

Helen Keller said, “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.”

Even if the future is uncertain, even if what lies ahead is intimidating or the path is going to be difficult to follow, having someone you love by your side always makes it better. And on the flipside, even if life is certain and comfortable and the future is clear ahead of you, if you have to go it alone it just isn’t as good.

Love illuminates our lives by connecting us together with a light that refuses to be overcome.

Therein lies my hope for the future of the church. I believe with all my heart that things will be okay if we can just manage to remember that we love one another.

And even more, if we truly practice scriptural hospitality, we are reminded that we love not just those who already love us. We are to show the same love to "strangers" (as in Hebrews 13:2 - Gk. philoxenia: love of strangers, also in Romans 12:13) as we do to family and friends.

The light has come into the world. The light is Christ. The light is love. And although we seem to forget it and tend to act like we don't believe it, no darkness of any kind will ever be able to overcome it.

Love - No matter what.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

I Wish I Didn't Have to Write This...

I got a letter this week. It begins:

“Once again the Family of Faith in Springfield, MO is under attack.”

Whoa! Excellent attention-getter, right? “UNDER ATTACK!!!” I was hooked immediately! So I read on…

“Our City Council, on October 13, 2014, passed General Ordinance No. 6141, which prescribes exclusionary rights to individuals aligned with the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender (LGBT) movement in our community.”

Yeah, I had to read it again, too. Feel free to take a moment.

As near as I can tell, “exclusionary rights” means the right to have a job and a home. So, there’s that.

And “individuals aligned with the Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Trans …” … yeah, that phrase. That means gay people.

So to interpret that sentence in actual words, it says the Springfield City Council passed an ordinance to ensure that gay people would have the right to hold a job and live in a home.

Still looking for the “attack.” Right? Because I sure haven’t read it yet. But maybe he’ll illuminate.

Next sentence: “Even though an overwhelming majority of Springfieldians spoke out in opposition, our Council voted 6 to 3 in favor of implementing this ordinance with its un-Biblical, anti-Christian bias and its un-Constitutional provisions.”

So now I am genuinely confused. This must be the description of the attack, but it isn’t clear who the letter writer is actually mad at.

Does he mean “un-Biblical,” like ignoring Romans 13 when it suits us? Or does he mean “un-Biblical” in just leaving off the entire chapter of Matthew 25, or any other part of the Holy Word of God that instructs us to care for those who are in need by … oh I don’t know … maybe making sure they have full access to a job and a home?

And “anti-Christian bias,” meaning that we ought to use the tenets of one particular expression of faith to measure what our government does? Like as in one of the key things the founders of our nation were attempting to avoid in setting up our amazing system of government in the first place?

Which leads to the “un-Constitutional provisions” part … is he meaning Amendment 5 that says the government cannot deprive anyone of life, liberty, or property without due process? Or maybe he means Amendment 14 that says specifically, “No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”

Okay, enough with the snark. Let’s be clear here. This letter is from a group of people who wants Springfield, Missouri to repeal a duly passed City Council ordinance that essentially inserted sexual orientation and gender identity into all of the city’s anti-discrimination language. And this group wants pastors to encourage the people of our congregations to vote in favor of this repeal effort.

This ordinance, just to be crystal clear, includes this paragraph:

“Nothing in this article shall be taken to prohibit a religious organization, association or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society and whose purpose and character are primarily religious, from giving employment preference to members of its own religion.”

So, if gay people are not welcome in your religion, you don’t have to hire them.

And in the exceptions section of the ordinance, religious groups are quite clearly allowed to give preference to people of their own choosing for housing consideration, as well.

If you can make the case that gay people are not a part of your religion, the city of Springfield will allow your religious group to exclude them as much as you’d like.

Here’s the whole thing if you’d like to read it - click this.

In a nutshell, we have a City Council ordinance that passed with a clear majority (6-3) that seeks to ensure that discrimination is not happening in Springfield for any reason, and yet gives an exception to religious groups who want to include a particular form of discrimination in their own practices.

And still I’m wondering, where is this “attack” actually happening?

The letter tells me that “As a pastor, you are one of the leaders in the church community, which is the first line of defense against the powers of immorality and inequality in our city.” And funny thing, this is a statement with which I completely and utterly agree 100%. Ironically, that is exactly why I feel the need to write and post this response.

To be honest, I wish I could just let this go away and focus on more important things. But I am a follower of Jesus, which means I cannot allow such misrepresentations of the Gospel to simply go unchallenged. I could if it were the fringe, like Westboro. But this is pretty mainline – like First Baptist Church of Springfield. (That’s where the meeting is to be held on Thursday, December 4, to organize the repeal supporters.)

Incidentally, I also sent the following via email. I sent it to the email address I found on the Christians Uniting for Political Action website. That’s the group on whose letterhead the letter was printed:

I'm not sure who is reading this email, but I'm sure you can forward it to the appropriate channel.

I am writing to ask respectfully that you alter your language in your communications regarding the anti-discrimination language in the Springfield City Council issue. Your letter announcing the December 4th meeting seems to assume that there is one, uniform, Christian response to this action.

In truth, our responses are varied and diverse. If you would just change a few words here and there, to indicate that "some" Christians view this as an attack, or that "some of us" are upset by this decision, instead of making it seem as though all Christians feel the same way, I would really appreciate it.

Thank you so much! Peace be with you,
Andy Bryan, Pastor
Campbell United Methodist Church

Like with this post in general, I really wish I wasn’t having to deal with this. I wish I could just be focused on ministry and mission and Advent and Jesus and stuff like that. But if nobody says anything, if stuff like this goes unchallenged, it will be assumed that this point of view is THE “Christian” point of view. So I decided to go ahead and send the email, and see what happens.

At this point, I really don’t even care about changing people’s minds. I just want them to stop presenting their own personal view as if it represents all Christians everywhere. To do so grossly distorts the Gospel, which claims that God is far too big to fit into any one particular human understanding.

I’m gonna let you think what you think, even if I disagree with it. All I ask at this point is that you allow me to do the same, and stop pretending that following Jesus means agreeing about everything.

If there really is an attack going on, that’s it. 

Monday, December 01, 2014


The second Sunday of Advent asks us to think about peace.

Really? Your timing just couldn’t be worse, Second Sunday of Advent. It’s a pretty hard topic to think about just now. Violence seems to be the norm, hatred makes headlines, conflict rules the day.

Peace is not trending.

But honestly, has it ever been? Have you ever arrived, Second Sunday, and found the world to be truly at peace? Has there ever been an era in which peace was the rule of the day? We are fond of lamenting how bad the world is “these days,” and how idyllic the “good old days” were. But is that truthful?

Maybe we just remember things through the lens of sentiment, and maybe that makes it seem better than it really was. Is that how it is, Second Sunday of Advent? Are our memories selective that way?

You come around every year, Second Sunday; why are we so surprised? Shocked, even? Peace is kind of a big deal in the Bible, after all. Even Jesus himself is identified with it, him being the Prince of Peace and all. So why is it that all we can do is cluck our tongues and shake our heads?

Why can we not seem to figure out how to actually live lives of peace? We are supposed to “strive to be found by Christ at peace,” for God’s sake (2 Peter 3:14). So who’s striving?

Okay, Second Sunday of Advent … we hear you! We’ll give it a try. Who knows but if we do, that this “peace” thing might not just be the next big thing?