Saturday, August 31, 2019

Two or Three?

Help me out here, United Methodist friends. In the ongoing conversations about the future of our denomination, one of the questions is essentially, "Two or three?"

As in, will there be two different systems (one traditional and one progressive), or three systems (one traditional, one centrist, and one progressive). Yes, I know it is way more complicated than that, and the language and labels are different among different "plans" and such. And I'm assuming we are all resigned to the idea that staying one system and trying to make that system more just is no longer an option, as February 2019 made clear to so many of us.

So, a core question to wrestle with remains, "Two or three?"

And here's where I need some help. I fail to see how there are three options. It seems to me that there is either "status quo" or "change." Either we allow same-sex weddings or we don't. Either we ordain LGBTQ+ people or we don't.

There is nuance, of course. Some people are in favor of ordination but not marriage. Some would favor marriage as a legal relationship but not a spiritual one. And so it goes. Yes, it is nuanced.

But ... let's do some practical theology, ok?

A young gay person comes to their pastor and says, "God has called me to be ordained in the United Methodist Church." That pastor either says "Yes" or "No." That pastor cannot say, "Either."

A same-sex couple comes to their church and says they want to get married. Their church either says "Yes" or "No." That church cannot say, "We are divided on that question."

In fact, if that pastor says "either" or if that church says "we are divided" are they not in fact saying "No?"

It seems to me that if we end up with three systems and one of those is labelled "centrist," the "centrist" system is in practice "traditionalist" if weddings and ordinations are still prohibited. And it is in practice "progressive" if weddings and ordinations are allowed.

So, in practice, either "status quo" or "change."

Many clergy colleagues have expressed some trepidation about making their congregation choose. There is significant anxiety about the tone of the conversation, and the potential for conflict. "It would split the congregation in two," some have said. I get that. I feel that.

Nevertheless, I disagree. What better place to have the conversation than in a community of people who worship together, serve together, learn together, and love each other as members of one another in the Body of Christ? Surely there's no better place to have potentially difficult conversations than in the local church. It's certainly a far better place to have them than on the floor of General Conference, isn't it?

Look, it is naive for anyone to think that no LGBTQ+ people in their congregation will ever be called into ordained ministry, or want to be married in their own church building. And so, we probably ought to go ahead and have the conversation, so that we can respond in a Christlike way when (not if) it happens. Otherwise the urgency of the moment will prevent effective communication, and the conflict will be harder to navigate.

Right this moment, though my mind is open, I like the "UMCNext Plan," mainly because it presents a clear answer to the question of "Two or Three." The UMCNext answer is "Two." The UMCNext Plan basically says, "We would like to change the status quo in the UMC. If you don't like that change, we are going to create a respectful way for you to leave and form your own Wesleyan church, where you can have policies that prohibit marriage and ordination if you want."

I like it because it is a choice between two things. Clearly articulated. One is fully inclusive; one is conditionally inclusive. You can pick. You have to pick. It is time to pick. Have the conversation. Choose.

Help me. How is having a "centrist" system not choosing one or the other?

Monday, August 12, 2019

Every One Is 'Gabriela'

Regardless of the circumstances of their specific cases, what has unified all twenty of our foster kids has been the trauma of being removed from their parent or parents.

Kids are taken into foster care for two reasons, and only two – abuse or neglect. That means the adult in charge of caring for them has either treated them as if they are worthless or treated them as if they did not exist. One hears the stories and thinks, “How horrific! Who would do such a thing? What awful people!”

Yet each and every one of our kids has loved their “awful people,” in spite of the horrific things that have happened. That love is experienced as grief when the child is taken away, and that grief is traumatic.

One of our kids (I’ll call her “Gabriela”) was taken into care when police raided the home in which she was living. It was a drug raid, and large amounts of cocaine were seized in the raid. As Gabriela’s case progressed, it was discovered that her mother was from Mexico, and living in the United States without proper documentation. Mom was struggling to get by, looking for a better life for the two of them, and had been taken advantage of by coyotes who promised big and failed to deliver, as is typical. Moving in to the drug house was an act of desperation, a matter of survival. And bad timing.

For a week straight, Gabriela cried herself to sleep every night at our house, repeating a word over and over again as she did. We did not recognize the word, partly because she was crying which made it hard to understand, partly because she was three years old, but mostly because it was a word we had never heard before. It turned out to be a sort of pet name for her mom.

She cried herself to sleep every night crying for her mama.

Stories of children being taken from their parents have been in the news lately, first at the U.S./Mexico border and more recently as a result of I.C.E. raids in Mississippi. These stories have hit my family in a particular way. Every one of the kids whose faces we see on the news, whose voices we hear crying for their parents, whose stories have awakened indignation and ire among so many, every one of them is Gabriela.

Gabriela was reunited with her mom, which is great. And then we lost track of her, which is not uncommon. And so we don’t know where she lives or who she’s with or how she is or pretty much anything about her. She’s a teenager now, which is hard to fathom. In our minds she is still three, still chattering away in a mix of Spanish, English, and toddler, still wagging her finger at us when we tell her it’s time for bed, still crying herself to sleep and calling for her mama.

You may try to come at me with “but they broke the law” and the “it’s the parents’ fault for bringing their kids here in the first place” and the other myopic platitudes that do nothing but make you feel better about yourself. But please, don’t. I have zero patience for it.

Here is the truth: Each and every one of those kids on the news loves their parents, no matter what. And each and every one whose parents were taken away was traumatized by that experience. And that ought to be the priority; that’s what we should be talking about.

Because I just cannot bear the thought of a single child, much less a dozen, much less … however many … crying themselves to sleep at night, calling out for their mamas.