Thursday, July 19, 2018

Yes, We Really Are Better Together (Or: Again, the UMC is NOT Divided, In Spite of What Some Would Have You Think)

The Good News organization is working very hard to perpetuate the myth that the United Methodist Church is divided.

I just received a book in the mail from them titled, “Are we Really Better Together? An Evangelical Perspective on the Division in the UMC.” The first chapter is called, “We are Divided.” The subsequent four chapters each begin with the words “Divided on…”

Let me say this again, and as clearly as possible:

The United Methodist Church is NOT divided, we are polarized. It is imperative that we understand this distinction. There are loud voices on the ends of the spectrum, both right and left, that are dominating the denominational conversation. These polar opposites cannot abide the thought of being a church with people who think differently than they do.

The vast majority of United Methodists have a variety of beliefs and perspectives and opinions, even on very important theological matters, and are quite comfortable being the church together and embracing those differences as growth opportunities rather than vehicles for condemnation. We are united, not uniform, and see diversity as a strength rather than something to be feared.

Of course, although there are many things on which Methodists do not march in lock-step, the linchpin topic is homosexuality.

I have read the introduction and the first chapter of the Good News book mentioned above, and I have yet to read the term “sexual orientation.” I have read the phrase “people who experience same-sex attraction,” and “those who identify themselves as gay or lesbian,” and even “a person struggling and sometimes failing to resist a predisposition to same-sex intimacy.”

At the same time, this declaration is made in the book’s introduction. “…we understand how LGBTQ+ advocates arrive at their justification for making the claim” that the UMC finds LGBTQ+ people “incompatible with Christian teaching,” and not merely the practice.

My question is this: How can the authors say they “understand” LGBTQ+ advocates, while refusing to acknowledge the reality of sexual orientation? Why do they so carefully avoid even mentioning the phrase, much less affirming sexual orientation and how significantly sexual orientation informs one’s identity as a person?

Until the far right “pole” of our denomination acknowledges that sexual orientation is a real thing, and as long as they continue to separate sexual practice from sexual attraction with such callousness, they are unable to make the declaration that they truly “understand” LGBTQ+ advocates justifications for anything.

And as for the far left “pole” of our denomination, until they acknowledge that no one should be forced to marry a same-sex couple against their wishes, and that those opposed to same-sex marriage are not hateful bigots with no compassion or sense of justice, they are similarly unable to make any declarations of understanding and unity. The far left pole is guilty of making sweeping generalizations just as gracelessly as the far right is, they are just less systematic about it.

And until both “poles” stop dominating the political processes that comprise our denomination’s administrative decision-making structures, the tension will remain. The language of the far right pole is legislative process; the language of the far left pole is protest. And so it goes. The reason the vast majority of United Methodists are not invested so heavily in this argument is that we are more invested in being the church in all of its colorful, vibrant, and messy diversity.

Here’s what I need, and I hope someone will help me out.

I am a marriage equality pastor. That means that if I were given permission by the denomination to officiate a same-sex wedding, I would. I have colleagues who are traditional marriage pastors. That means they would not perform a same-sex wedding, even if given permission by the denomination.

I gladly embrace the connectional covenant that binds me to other pastors, and will continue to do so if the denominational stance on marriage changes. And what I need is a traditional marriage pastor who would stand beside me and say the same thing.

For eighteen years, I have worked in covenant with pastors in a denomination that forces me to practice my ministry in a way I believe is unjust to people who are gay. What I’m asking for is a traditional marriage pastor who would covenant to work with me in a denomination that does not force either one of us to do so, but allows each of us the freedom to marry couples or not, by our pastoral authority to discern that they are ready to begin a faithful, grace-filled, mutually respectful, life-long covenant relationship together.

Give me one hundred preachers who would enter into such a covenant, fearing nothing but sin and desiring nothing but God, I care not whether they be lay or clergy, local pastor or elder or deacon, traditional marriage or marriage equality, and we alone will shake the gates of the General Conference and bring new life to the United Methodist Church.*

*(With all due apologies to Mr. Wesley for my crass usurpation of his most elegant quote.)

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

He Has Seen Monsters

At breakfast this morning our three year old foster son and I had a conversation in which I attempted to convince him that monsters are not real. I could tell by the look in his eyes that he did not believe me, and considering his life experiences, how could I expect him to?

He knows there are monsters; he has seen them.

We don’t know all the details of what our two boys went through prior to being taken into care. We probably never will. But we do know some things.

We know that the four year old flinches almost every time I walk by him, even if I am not approaching him directly.

We know that the three year old’s temper tantrums come out of nowhere and are uncontrollable; last week in the middle of one he said, “I can’t hold it!”

We know that they have somehow learned words and phrases that we never taught them, that they never heard in our home, and they repeat them at times designed to create mass reaction.

We know that they are happiest when we are angry. Angry adults are “normal” in their world.

So even without knowing the details, we know enough. We’ve been parents for twenty years, foster parents for twelve, so we’ve been at this for a while. We know enough.

Yes, there are monsters, and our boys have seen them.

“There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than how it treats its children.” That’s how Nelson Mandela began his remarks at the launch of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund in May of 1995.

He continued, “We come from a past in which the lives of our children were assaulted and devastated in countless ways. It would be no exaggeration to speak of a national abuse of a generation by a society which it should have been able to trust.”

I fear that we are living in such a time in our nation. In my work I have seen children being “assaulted and devastated in countless ways,” and my spirit is burdened with a call to heal the brokenness I see within and among so, so many. To let them know that they matter, they have inherent sacred worth, just for being who they are, a beloved child of God.

Fred Rogers wrote, “One of the universal fears of childhood is the fear of not having value in the eyes of the people whom we admire so much.” The overwhelming majority of child abuse is perpetrated by people that kids admire, that they love, that they trust. And neglect by definition happens when a grown-up who is expected to be caring for a child, doesn’t.

If we as individuals, as families, as churches, as communities, as a nation, as a global village … if we do not take into consideration the long-term consequences of our words and actions on the children around us, we are failing. Children will listen.

Because our three year old believes that monsters are real, and I really can’t say he’s wrong.