Persons of Sacred Worth

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As we prepare for the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church where we will decide whether we as a church will fully include persons who are LGBTQ in the life and leadership of our denomination, I think it is really important to realize that persons who are LGBTQ are people and not a lifestyle. They are not an issue, not a problem that our denomination is having to deal with. They are persons. They are persons who love and live, and, like all persons, they have sexual orientations and gender orientations, and they long for loving, caring, and committed relationships. They simply long to be accepted, included, and able to serve others in the life and work of our churches.

Persons who are LGBTQ are not the problem or the issue facing our denomination. The problem we are facing, the issue we are facing is whether we will be a church that fully includes all persons or not. That is the issue, that is the problem with which we are struggling. Our problem is not persons who are LGBTQ. Our problem is a lack of love, hospitality, and grace and an overabundance of judgment, fear, and sometimes even hatred towards our LGBTQ siblings when we objectify and depersonalize them as issues, problems, and lifestyles rather than celebrating their full presence as persons in the Beloved Community.

For 46 years, the United Methodist Church has explicitly singled out persons who are LGBTQ as being incompatible with Christian teaching.  For 42 years, all church funding for LGBTQ support groups has been banned by the United Methodist Church. For 34 years, the United Methodist Church has explicitly denied persons who are LGBTQ the opportunity for ordained ministerial leadership in the life of our churches. For 22 years, the United Methodist Church has banned its ministers from performing same gender union services, and now that same gender marriages are legal in the United States, the ban has been applied to same gender marriage ceremonies as well. The persons we United Methodists say are persons of sacred worth are not even allowed to celebrate their marriage vows on United Methodist Church property. Their marriage ceremonies must be performed in exile from their United Methodist Church community as if they are somehow not worthy enough to be married in the church. General Conference after General Conference, the language and laws of the United Methodist Church have become more and more discriminatory against and harmful to our LGBTQ siblings.

The psychological and spiritual harm committed against our LGBTQ siblings in the United Methodist Church has been immense. There is no doubt that the United Methodist Church has contributed to the spiritual and physical bullying of our LGBTQ siblings, and there is no doubt that the United Methodist Church has contributed to the suffering and even the deaths of our LGBTQ siblings who have been harmed by the policies and practices of our church.

The experience of pain, suffering, and spiritual and psychological abuse of our LGBTQ siblings cannot be ignored or downplayed in relation to the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church. We cannot continue to ignore the real, lasting, and often deadly harm that we as a church are committing against persons whom we affirm in words as having “sacred worth,” but whom we treat in practice and policy as less than full persons.  Our continuing harm of our LGBTQ siblings in word and deed is the true problem from which we in the United Methodist Church are called to repent in the hope of reconciliation of all persons of sacred worth in the Beloved Community

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Who Wouldn’t Want Ranked Choice Voting?

Ranked Choice Voting

Think about how many political candidates get elected to office with a majority of voters opposing their election owing to votes being split among other candidates because we do not have Ranked Choice Voting.

Think of all the people outside of the two major parties who might be empowered to run for office if we had ranked choice voting and they did not have to worry about taking votes away from the major party candidate who is closer to their views.

Think about how much more civil opposing candidates might be in relation to each other if we had Ranked Choice Voting and candidates realized that even though a person might vote for an opposing candidate as her or his first choice, they still might be that voter’s second or third choice as opposed to that voter’s last choice.

Think about how candidates might have to talk much more about their ideas and plans and what they are for instead of whom and what they are against if we were to implement Ranked Choice Voting because the candidates would have to give people reasons to vote for them rather than simply voting against another candidate.

Think about how many more people might actually show up at the polls to vote if we had Ranked Choice Voting, and people knew they could vote their first choice every time without it being seen as a wasted vote or a spoiler vote.

Think about how much more difficult it might be for big money to sway elections by negatively targeting candidates if we have Ranked Choice Voting. Perhaps such targeted attacks might lower the ranking that a voter gives a candidate, but it will not likely make the voter rank his or her least favorite candidate any higher.

Think about how much money could be saved in our election processes over a period of time if we had Ranked Choice Voting and could avoid costly and time-consuming run-off elections that are often plagued by poor voter turnout.

Think about how much more motivated young people might be to vote if we had Ranked Choice Voting and they knew that they could vote for their ideals and their favorite candidate without potentially helping the candidate they would least like to see elected.

Think about the new people, voices, and viewpoints that would make their way into the public sphere if we had Ranked Choice Voting and candidates would not have to be concerned about the appearance or the reality of being a spoiler or a vote splitter. Think about how badly we need to hear the ideas and perspectives of a more diverse field of candidates that would be made more possible by Ranked Choice Voting.

With all of these benefits to our democratic processes and the potential to significantly increase the breadth and depth of political participation in our society, one might ask the question, “Who would ever be against implementing Ranked Choice Voting?” One could make a case that these would be the people who are not particularly concerned whether elected officials can garner a majority of the votes to win an election, who are not particularly concerned about hegemony of the two major parties in our political processes, who are not overly concerned about the lack of civility in our political discourse in the two-party system and the bifurcation of our society that such incivility fosters, who don’t mind that our current system rewards negative attacks on political opponents as much or more as presenting positive plans and ideas, who perhaps actually want votes for third-party candidates to end up being wasted or spoiler votes and who benefit when the votes are split among candidates with somewhat similar views, who do not necessarily want to see parties outside the two major parties gain any traction in our democracy, who are not overly concerned with costly runoff elections with sparse turnout, who are not particularly concerned with having a greater diversity of candidates who might motivate a more diverse electorate to come to the polls. In other words, people who are opposed to ranked choice voting tend to be those who are the most satisfied with the status quo of our political system, and I think the evidence is pointing towards this group being a minority of our citizenry rather than the majority.

As Oklahomans, in a state with extremely low political participation (especially among young people), an extreme lack of diversity in our elected officials, a high percentage of unopposed elections, a very weak presence of political parties beyond the big two, and an increasing lack of civility in our campaigns and political discourse; let us commit to work together to make sure the people of Oklahoma have an opportunity to vote on a state question in 2020 that will implement ranked choice voting in our elections. Ranked Choice Voting is critical to increasing political participation and political diversity within our state. No one should have to avoid voting for her or his first choice candidate at the polls. Please join the movement to make Ranked Choice Voting a reality in Oklahoma at Oklahomans for Ranked Choice Voting.

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The Violence of Tradition

Persons who argue for and practice the exclusion of persons who are LGBTQ+ from full participation in the life of the church based on the ‘traditional’ teachings of the church would do well to recall that most of the history of the ‘traditional’ church has been an institutionalized reign of terror on women, people of color, persons of other religions and no religion, persons of the Christian religion who were considered heretics, and indigenous people.

Many of the ‘traditional’ teachings of the church were created to control the masses, perpetuate the power of the elite, and justify the subjugation of other people and the natural world. Inquisitions, executions, torture, slavery, the doctrine of discovery, oppressive patriarchy, genocides of indigenous persons and persons of other religions, and the devastation of our ecological community are all part of the legacy of the ‘tradition’ of the church.

The fact that many in our churches want to extend and perpetuate an institutionalized reign of terror on our LGBTQ+ siblings based on the ‘traditional’ teachings of an institution responsible for the death and suffering of tens of millions of people and one that is arguably contributing to the sixth great extinction of life on earth is hardly a model for building the Beloved Community, and it has absolutely nothing to do with Jesus and the way of love, grace, and justice in this world.

If the unity of the institutionalized church is built upon the exclusion of persons who are LGBTQ+, then that is simply institutionalized bigotry, and institutionalized bigotry cannot be the body of Christ for a broken world.

As my own United Methodist Church discerns whether to accept a ‘traditional plan’ that will continue to limit the full acceptance, participation, and leadership of our LGBTQ+ siblings in the life of our churches, we must be aware of how much there is in our tradition from which we ought to repent, including our tradition of not truly loving our LGBTQ+ neighbors.

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Turning Over the Tables of ‘American Christianity’

The reason American Christianity does not stand against the actions of our current president is because American Christianity is not Christianity properly understood as the way of Jesus. It puts a warped view of ‘American’ before Christianity. Christians who live in United States must reject this.

What we are seeing in Christianity in the United States is a battle over whether the way of Jesus will have any real practical influence in the life of churches and in the life of persons who call themselves Christian.

Christians and Christian churches who do not welcome the stranger; who do not seek justice for poor and oppressed; and who do not care for the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the homeless, the imprisoned, and all creation are living in such a way as if the life and teachings of Jesus are wholly irrelevant. They have put nationalism, and in many cases race, before the way of Jesus. They have put fear and hatred and their own desire for security before Jesus’ call to seek justice for all people, to love all of our neighbors, and be not afraid. They have exiled Jesus from their churches – churches that would make Jesus weep that his name is being associated with the very expressions of hatred, fear, and corrupt power that Jesus gave his life to resist.

The news that such Christians and such churches bring to the world is not the good news for the poor and oppressed that was the clarion call of Jesus’ work in this world, rather it is news of exclusion, control, fear, and oppression of the weak and vulnerable in our midst. It is the news of exploitation of the community of all creation rather than its care. The ‘religious freedom’ that such Christians and churches seek is a freedom to discriminate and exclude rather than a responsible freedom that seeks love and justice for all.

Jesus would set foot in such churches for only one reason, to turn over the tables of injustice and to call us all to repentance – to turn away from fear, hate, and nationalism so that we might turn our lives toward the good news of the Beloved Community. The response that such Christians and churches would make to Jesus’ message would likely be similar to the violent rejection Jesus received at the hands of the corrupt power of the empire of his day, and with so many people in our churches carrying guns, a brown man turning over tables and calling out for repentance might not even make it out of church alive.

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A Vision for United Methodist Creation Care

Creation Care

Remarks to the 2018 United Methodist Creation Care Summit at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota

When it comes to what the United Methodist Church has to offer in a time of ecological degradation and in a time that calls for an ecological conversion of the entire human community, I think that our denomination’s greatest asset is also perhaps its greatest challenge, and this combination of asset and challenge is what we often simply refer to as the connection.

The connection is clearly an asset in many ways. We see it on full display in the participation in this Creation Care Summit with bishops, boards, agencies, and higher education institutions of the church all coming together to provide resources, leadership, and expertise. Our connection is also a global connection, and this is an important asset as well given that the ecological challenges we face are global in nature even though some nations clearly contribute more to our crisis than others. We United Methodists have shown that when we put our minds to it, we are able to act quickly and effectively to meet the needs of both people and the planet. The work of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) and the Nothing But Nets Imagine No Malaria campaign are only two examples among many of how we United Methodists are capable of getting things done for the well-being of others, especially with those who are vulnerable and in need.

Compared to most Protestant denominations, our global connection and the global reach this connection gives us may be the greatest assets we have in addressing the call for a global ecological conversion; but our global connection also creates a set of challenges. Maintaining the institutional structures of a global church is not an easy task. It takes money, time, and energy; and it requires levels of dialogue, cooperation, and compromise that are not required in less connectional denominations. We have to worry about vast health insurance systems, pension systems, board and agency budgets, and many other pressing institutional challenges. We also experience a wide array of theological and cultural differences, and it is not easy to keep a global church together across these many differences and challenges.

As we come closer to the General Conference of 2019, we see how significant and pronounced some of these differences are. Will the connection be able to hold together in a way that it can be an asset rather than a barrier to addressing the great ecological challenges of our time? This is an open question at a time when the ecological challenges we face do not give us too much time to deal with such open questions.

In the midst of our assets and challenges, my big hopes and dreams for the mission, ministry, and witness of the United Methodist Church on creation care and creation justice are that we can live into all of the promise and potential that our connection has to offer for people and all life on the planet while working through our institutional challenges in ways that do not hinder but rather actually enhance our ecological witness.

I dream that our local churches will become places where people, especially young people, might have their first experiences of putting their hands in the soil and connecting with God’s creation.  I dream that local churches will make creation care through advocacy and action be at the core of their ministries. What better way is there to love God and love our neighbors than to care for God’s creation and work for a flourishing ecological community within which our human communities can thrive.

I dream that our United Methodist Churches will see themselves as part of a Connectional Movement for Creation Care, that we will see our global connection and all the people and resources it provides as the greatest asset we have to bring about an ecological conversion in our communities and the world.

Personally I am very happy to have an opportunity to participate in this connectional work at a United Methodist University and as the executive director of the United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s Leadership, Education, and Development (LEaD) Hub in North America. Part of our mission at the LEaD Hub is to develop a Global Methodist Social and Ecological Responsibility Initiative that helps to network the over one thousand Methodist related institutions of higher education around the world in their work related to social justice and ecological sustainability. You will be hearing more about some of the programs in this initiative from some of my colleagues in higher education who are also participating in this summit.

Finally, I hope that creation care will be embraced as part of our churches’ evangelism efforts. Creation care is good news for people and good news for all life on the planet. A sustainable revival of churches is dependent on creation care.

As a thought experiment, imagine that we as a denomination will be able to turn around our declining membership in the United States and continue growing in other parts of the world. Imagine that we are able to grow the United Methodist Church beyond our wildest dreams so that in a less than generation our churches are full, our budgets are booming, and our connection is thriving. How sad and tragic it would be if just one or two generations later, the membership of our denomination that had benefited so much from this significant revival saw its membership decimated by the massive die off of humans caused by the climate change induced economic and ecological collapse that our churches had done almost nothing to address.

If we want more people to hear the good news that Jesus has for the world, we must find ways as a church to care for and sustain the very good world that God loves so much. Creation care is good news. Creation care is evangelism. The Church of the 21st Century cannot be renewed without creation care, and if people come to see our churches as places that care for people and all life on the planet and they see that we are actually doing something about it, I think they will come to our churches. We United Methodists ought to know something about renewal, so let’s get down to work because we have some serious renewing and regeneration of the whole creation to do.

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Way Worse Than Nixon

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Like Trump, Nixon was compromised by his insecurities, his ego, his racism, his paranoia, his disdain for his critics and the press, his dishonesty, and ultimately his criminality; but there is no evidence that Nixon was ever compromised by a foreign adversary who wished to destabilize our country and weaken our democracy.

Nixon was an embarrassment to himself and the country, he was mean and vindictive, he committed real criminal acts in the process of covering up Watergate, and it was proper for him to resign in disgrace. If you listen to the Nixon tapes, you hear clearly that Nixon, much like Trump, was a horrible person who surrounded himself with horrible persons. Nixon’s presidency represents a sad and low moment in our history, but as bad as Nixon was, his presidency was not a significant threat to our republic.

The situation with our current president is much more dangerous. It appears more and more likely that in addition to the faults of Nixon, our current president is compromised by a foreign adversary who wishes to harm our democracy at home and weaken our alliances around the world.

Never before has a president of the United States spoken more highly of a murderous dictator than he does of democratically elected leaders of our closest allies. Never before has a president shared the stage with a murderous dictator and sided with his assessment of Russian activities to attack our democracy over the assessment of our own intelligence agencies. Never before has a president publicly denigrated the NATO alliance that Putin so wants to weaken. Never before has a president met privately with a murderous dictator intent on harming our democracy and our alliances without other U.S. officials present.

Past presidents have made significant mistakes and at times have committed horrific sins against humanity and the environment, but never before in our history have we had a president who seems intent on serving the interests of an adversarial country more than our own.

If we survive the threats that our current president and his Republican and Russian enablers represent to our republic, we will look back on the time of Nixon and the time of Trump and see Nixon as a very low point in our nation’s history, but see Trump as a clear threat to our very nation.

The hope for our country now is that Trump’s presidency will end much as Nixon’s presidency did or that Trump will at least be held accountable by a new Congress elected in November of 2018. Whether by impeachment and conviction, resignation, or by election; we must keep the worst president in U.S. history from creating further harm to the republic that Benjamin Franklin so hoped we the people would have the wisdom and courage to keep.

 

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The ‘Evolving’ Views of Trump Supporters About Russia

Putin Trump

The following depicts the “evolution” of Trump supporters’ views about Russian interference in the 2016 election:

  • There was no Russian interference in the 2016 election, and Trump has absolutely nothing to do with Russia. This is all made up by Democrats and the fake news to discredit our president and is just an excuse being used by the Democrats for losing an election they should have won.
  • There might have been some Russian interference in the 2016 election, but it did not have any effect on the outcome of the election, and Trump’s campaign had nothing whatsoever to do with the interference. No collusion.
  • There was probably interference by Russia, and some people in the Trump campaign were talking to Russians to work for better relations with Russia, but they didn’t cooperate with the Russians to influence our elections, and whatever interference there was still didn’t have any effect on the final outcome of the election. And, there was no collusion! Definitely no collusion!
  • There was interference by Russia in the election, and some people in the Trump campaign might have known about it and might have talked to Russians about it, but what they did was not nearly as bad as Uranium One and her emails. Oh, and did I mention Benghazi? No Collusion, No Collusion, NO COLLUSION!
  • The Mueller investigation is a partisan witch hunt. The investigators all hate Trump, and the grand jury is biased. The dozens of indictments, hundreds of charges, and the handful of guilty pleas are all bogus. WITCH HUNT! NO COLLUSION! URANIUM ONE! BENGHAZI! HER EMAILS! Trump is doing everything we want him to do. I love how this is making all those libtard snowflakes so upset!
  • So what if Trump may have colluded with the Russians. Is that so wrong? I mean if he hadn’t colluded, we might have Hillary as president, and that would have been a disaster! I kind of like Russia anyway, and Trump is just trying to improve our relationship with Putin and Russia, and that can’t be a bad thing. I don’t like all those liberal European countries anyway, and I still eat freedom fries with my burgers. AMERICA FIRST!
  • I don’t care if Trump colluded with Russia. He had to do what he had to do to win! This is just politics, and thank God Hillary is not president. MAGA!
  • THANK YOU RUSSIA for helping elect Donald Trump to be our president! We love you! We also love your woman spy who likes guns and the NRA! She is awesome! Thank you Russia for making America Great Again! Please help us again this November. Please!
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