Searching for Open and Affirming Beloved Community

Reclaiming Words for Love and Justice: Confessing, Orthodox, Sin, Good News (November 24, 2013)

It is time for United Methodists who believe in open hearts, open minds, and open doors to reclaim some words and phrases. Here are some examples:

First, “Good News” – Really Good News is that we are called to love ALL and to treat all people equally and with justice. It is not good news to treat people unequally who have done nothing wrong.

Second, “Orthodox” – literal definition is “right opinion.” Traditional beliefs or opinions are not always right beliefs or opinions, and traditionalists do not have a monopoly on right belief or right opinion. You cannot justifiably call your views about not treating people equally “orthodox” or “right opinion” just because that is the traditionalist view. If that were the case, treating women as less than equal in society and having slaves would also be orthodox views, but we have hopefully come to realize that it is neither “right opinion” nor “right belief” to do so.

The Good News movement in United Methodism is not Good News just because they use the words “good news,” and United Methodists who call themselves “orthodox” are not necessarily of the “right opinion” or “right belief” just because they are traditionalists.

Third, “Sin” – The use of the word “sin” in reference to a person or an action that does no harm moves the term “sin” into the realm of functional irrelevance. One’s sexual orientation is not a sin because it does no harm. Blessing the marriage of a same-sex couple is not a sin because it does no harm. Marrying a person who is of the same-sex is not a sin because it does no harm. Ordaining persons who are LGBTQ is not a sin because it does no harm. Rejecting, condemning, and judging persons who are LGBTQ is a sin because it does great harm. Putting ministers on trial for performing same-sex marriages is a sin because it does harm to both the minister and persons who are LGBTQ who experience the non-acceptance and judgment of the church through these unjust actions.

Finally, “Confessing” – It is time for a new Confessing Movement within the United Methodist Church to share the Good News that love, justice, and acceptance are for all and not just for persons who happen to be heterosexual in their sexual orientation. I must confess that is really good news! Confession is necessary in the United Methodist Church, but I would suggest it come in this form: let us confess that judgment and exclusion are neither good news nor orthodox, but rather sin. Our response should be “repentance” – another good word to reclaim.

The great challenges of the world require so much from all of us, including those of us who are members of the United Methodist Church. It is our moral responsibility not to perpetuate the unequal treatment of those who have done no wrong. May we all experience love and justice, grace and peace.

Note: Two words I neither want to reclaim nor revisit: “church trials.” To hell with them.

Oklahoma United Methodists for Equality (January 20, 2014)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014 was a historic day for human rights in the state of Oklahoma as U.S. Senior District Judge Terence Kern ruled that Oklahoma’s state ban on same gender marriage is unconstitutional. For some this ruling was an opportunity to dig in their theological heels to claim once again that same gender marriage is against God’s will and to argue that Judge Kern’s ruling was an affront to “states’ rights.” States’ rights arguments for the “right” to treat people unequally? When and where have we heard that argument before? (Hint, today is Martin Luther King, Jr. day.)

Human rights are based on the inherent dignity of each and every person and are not a matter for popular vote. Human rights trump “states’ rights” every time. States never have the “right” to treat persons unequally. This is recognized and affirmed in the 14th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America. The fact that a high percentage of Oklahomans want to treat people unequally is not a valid reason to treat people unequally, but it is a valid reason to ask, “What is wrong with Oklahoma?”

As some religious leaders in Oklahoma have chosen to speak out publicly against Judge Kern’s ruling, there are others who see the decision as an important step in the process of expressing love and justice for all people. Those of us Oklahoma United Methodist clergy who put the following ad in the state’s two major newspapers on the Sunday before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day are among the many clergy in our state and beyond who celebrated this step forward for all persons:

“MANY OKLAHOMA UNITED METHODIST CLERGY, THROUGH OUR ENGAGEMENT WITH SCRIPTURE, TRADITION, REASON, AND EXPERIENCE, AFFIRM THE RIGHTS AND DIGNITY OF ALL PEOPLE AND CELEBRATE THE RECENT DECISION BY JUDGE KERN THAT THE BAN ON SAME GENDER MARRIAGE IN OKLAHOMA IS UNCONSTITUTIONAL. TODAY WE CELEBRATE WITH OUR LGBTQ BROTHERS AND SISTERS AND PLEDGE TO EXPRESS LOVE, AFFIRMATION, AND EQUAL TREATMENT FOR ALL PEOPLE.”

As Martin Luther King, Jr. reminded us all: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” This matters.

An Evening with Rev. Frank Schaefer (May 28, 2014)

Tonight Rev. Frank Schaefer spoke to 200 Oklahoma United Methodist clergy and laity who are longing for the day when all persons are fully welcomed into the life and ministry of our church. I was honored to be asked to give a very brief overview of the work for equality happening among Oklahoma United Methodists to set the context for the evening. The following are the words I spoke prior to Rev. Schaefer’s powerful message about his journey of ministering to all persons in the United Methodist Church:

“Many Oklahoma United Methodists through our engagement with scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, affirm the rights and dignity of all people and celebrate the recent decision by Judge Kern that the ban on same gender marriage in Oklahoma is unconstitutional. Today we celebrate with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and pledge to express love, affirmation, and equal treatment for all people.”

The words I  just read were placed in newspaper ads throughout the state of Oklahoma in response to Judge Terence Kern’s ruling for marriage equality in Oklahoma in January of 2014. These ads were meant to be a witness to the sacred worth of all persons and a celebration of the hope that one day soon the state of Oklahoma will be a place where all persons will be treated equally under the law and will be able to marry one another in freedom and equality. The ads were also an expression of hope that one day soon the United Methodist Church will truly welcome all persons in the life and ministry of the church.

Since the time the ads were placed, a more organized effort for inclusiveness and equality has come into being among Oklahoma United Methodists. A new website was created called “Oklahoma United Methodists for Equality” (www.okumcforequality.org), the Mainstream United Methodists group in the Oklahoma Conference has officially become a reconciling community, and new reconciling groups have been formed in other Oklahoma United Methodist congregations. It is in the context of this movement for equality that we have been called to invite Rev. Frank Schaefer to be with us tonight. This movement for equality in the Oklahoma United Methodist Church is by no means a new movement. It is a movement that stands on the shoulders of our reconciling congregations, Epworth United Methodist Church in Oklahoma City and St. Stephen’s United Methodist Church in Norman, Oklahoma. It is a movement that stands on the shoulders of so many persons who have been working for decades for equality in Oklahoma, many of whom have experienced personal hardship, some of whom were even removed from United Methodist ordained ministry, as they sacrificed and stood with courage and solidarity with the hope that one day soon in the Oklahoma United Methodist Church and beyond, all will truly mean ALL, and ALL of God’s children will share together as equals in the feast of God’s love and reconciliation. I want to thank you all for sharing in this expression of hope this evening.

Losing My Religion? (August 2, 2014)

When we look at the horrific violence in the world and the role that religion often plays in justifying the violence, it is more than understandable why many persons do not want to have anything to do with religion. How can religion be a good thing if it is constantly used to divide us, demean others, treat people unjustly, and promote violence? We cannot deny that religion has been used and is being used to do all of these things and more. Many persons have concluded that religion is more a problem than a solution to our world’s problems, and perhaps this is one of the reasons why in my country the fastest growing self identification in relation to religion is “none.” Couple this with the tendency for some religious groups to be anti-scientific, homophobic, sexist, and apparently unconcerned about our ecological crisis; and it is no wonder why so many of us are not only distancing ourselves from religion, but are actually running away.

There are certainly times when I look at my own religion of Christianity and all of the wrongs that it has done and continues to do in the world, and my reaction is to want to “run away.” Why would I want to be associated in any way with a religion that has justified the Crusades, implemented the Inquisition, treated women unequally, perpetuated unjust imperial rule, rejected science and killed scientists, and at times justified slavery and genocide? Just typing this incomplete list of atrocities makes the feeling of wanting to run away grow stronger. However, I don’t think the answer is running away from religion per se. I think the answer lies more in self transformation and world transformation from the place where I am, from where we each of us are, and thereby transforming the religions of which we are a part.

There has never been a time in human history when religions have solely been a force for good in this world because religions are made up of us. Religions become a force for good in the world when we who are a part of them recognize our brokenness and the brokenness of the world and when we are humbly transformed to become healing agents for all life, including our own. Only then does religion do what our world so desperately needs: reconnect us to each other and the community of life of which we are all a part.

The Cycle of Religiously Justified Prejudice and Privilege (August 13, 2014)

Sometimes I am asked why I am so passionate about LGBTQ rights when there are so many other problems in the world. My response is this: One ought to be passionate about all human rights, and LGBTQ rights are human rights. Wherever human rights are being violated, we should speak out and act for justice. In relation to LGBTQ rights and all of the other problems in the world, recognizing that all of us are persons of sacred worth with equal rights is, in my opinion, key to being able to address all of the other problems and challenges we face in the world. If we cannot even recognize the dignity and rights of each person in the human community, how can we begin to recognize and advocate for the dignity and worth of all members of the ecological community of which we are all a part? LGBTQ rights are important in and of themselves, but they are also important in bringing healing within the human community that might allow us to become more responsible members of the ecological community.

Another reason I am so passionate about LGBTQ rights is that I am an ordained minister in a Christian denomination (the United Methodist Church) that is currently perpetuating discrimination against LGBTQ persons through its policies and practices. As a member of this community, I feel it is my responsibility to do all I can to change those policies and practices that are so hurtful to my LGBTQ brothers and sisters and their families and friends, even if at some point this means that I may lose my ordination within the United Methodist Church.

As a United Methodist minister in Oklahoma, I am aware that the regions of the country most resistant to equal rights for LGBTQ persons are the same regions that have been and continue to be most resistant to equal rights for women and equal rights for persons of all races and all religions. This is not to say that persons against LGBTQ equal rights are racists or anti-women, but there is an experience of privilege on the part of certain groups justified by a particular religious worldview that seems to be replaying itself over and over in these areas of the country resulting in a cycle of prejudice and injustice. The religious justifications for perpetuating the prejudice and privilege tend to be rooted in the language of faithfulness, order, purity, and orthodoxy while denying the underlying prejudice and privilege being defended. Changing hearts and minds is necessary to break this cycle, but as is the case with racism and sexism, discrimination against persons who are LGBTQ must become both socially and legally unacceptable in order for justice to be experienced by all persons. Those of us who live in these regions of the country have a critical role to play in furthering the cause for justice for all persons. Justice, peace, and sustainability are all connected, so when one group experiences injustice it hinders peace and sustainability in the entire world house.

Unworthy (August 14, 2014)

As a United Methodist minister who has worked for 18 years in a United Methodist university teaching students who are preparing for ministry in the United Methodist Church, I have witnessed the journey of hundreds of persons who have been called to serve as ordained ministers in our denomination. These students come from various backgrounds and from across the theological spectrum. They share an experience of a call to service that has been formed in them in the communities of faith that have nurtured and challenged them through their childhood and youth. They love their church, and they want to serve God, serve people, and serve the church they love.

For these United Methodist young people called to ministry, the United Methodist Church is their home. Most often they have grown up in the United Methodist Church, and they have experienced both the grace of God and the grace of community within this church. The United Methodist Church is their church, and they want to dedicate their lives in this church in a life of ministry and service.

A significant number of these young people who have come to our university to prepare for ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church are persons who are LGBTQ. One may be surprised that these students feel called to serve in a church that says their sexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching” and bars “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” from the ordained ministry, but called they are and called they come to our university to prepare for ministry. Throughout my 18 years at the university, I have witnessed the struggle and anguish that many of my students have felt as it becomes increasingly clear to them that the church they love is not welcoming their call or their service as ordained clergy. It has been heartbreaking to watch so many loving, caring, grace-filled servants and leaders come to the gut-wrenching decision to leave the church they love in order to find acceptance of their call to ministry and to find a new spiritual home that does not judge who they are as persons. I have watched the United Methodist Church lose so many wonderful persons who were called to ministry in the United Methodist Church but who did not feel accepted by the church they loved. Many are now serving in other denominations both in clergy and lay roles. Their churches are blessed by their service.

One of the most heartbreaking and soulbreaking things I have experienced is when some of the persons who are called into ministry of the United Methodist Church say that they have been made to feel unworthy by the church they love so much. Unworthy to be ordained, unworthy to be married, and sometimes made to feel unworthy as persons by the practices and policies of their denomination. They are made to feel unworthy by the very church in which they experienced the grace and love of God and in the very church in which they experienced the call to serve as ordained ministers. That so many persons have been made to feel unworthy by the United Methodist Church is devastating to me, but I know they are not unworthy. They are beloved children of God, called to serve and love as ministers in the United Methodist Church. They are not unworthy – For the time being, the United Methodist Church is unworthy for them to be our ministers.

Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors (October 11, 2014)

In December of 1989, when I was a 23 year old second year seminarian at Candler School of Theology, I helped officiate a funeral for the first time in my life. I had spent months in pastoral care with the man who had died. He never came to the church in Atlanta when I worked there, and he said that he did not feel welcome in any church. He and his family had reached out to the senior pastor and me as he was nearing the completion of his life in home hospice care. In the months prior to his death, he expressed that he found acceptance from the church through our visits with him, and he expressed how grateful he was for our support and care. Together with him, we planned his funeral.

The members of his family who supported him to the end expressed their gratitude that the ministers of the church loved them all and supported them through a time of suffering and grace. At the funeral, we respected the wishes of this gentle and loving man who had changed our lives over the past six months, and we did not talk about his struggle with AIDS, and we also did not say anything that would reveal his sexual orientation. We did celebrate his life, and we did celebrate his spiritual journey of self-acceptance and his acceptance of the love of God in his life and how those close to him loved him to the end.

On the way home from the funeral, I promised myself I would help make my church, the United Methodist Church, a place that would fully welcome, care for, and celebrate the lives and relationships of a person such as the one we had just laid to rest. Today, I remember with gratitude this person who changed my life and opened my heart and mind, and I will continue to work with others to fulfill the promise I made to myself almost 25 years ago to fully open the doors of my church to all persons.

That Day When 125 Oklahoma United Methodist Ministers Stood Up Publicly for Marriage Equality and Full Participation of LGBTQ Persons in the United Methodist Church (October 15, 2014)

That Day is today! In Oklahoma’s two most widely circulated newspapers, The Oklahoman and the Tulsa World, 96 Oklahoma United Methodist Ministers signed an open letter to the people of Oklahoma that speaks out against the rules and practices of the United Methodist Church that discriminate against persons who are LGBTQ. Since the time the letter was submitted for publication, the number of clergy signatories has risen to 125, and now Oklahoma United Methodist laity are signing on as well. To add your name go to this link: http://www.okumcforequality.org/

In 1998, ten Oklahoma United Methodist clergy publicly declared their support for all couples, regardless of gender, to be able to celebrate the rites of their union in the United Methodist Church. Sixteen years later, same gender marriage is now legal in Oklahoma, and there is a over a 12-fold increase in the number of Oklahoma United Methodist clergy who are publicly supporting marriage equality.

That so many clergy want to have their names printed in Oklahoma’s two major newspapers in support of marriage equality and full participation of LGBTQ persons in ordained ministry is a symbol of great hope for the creation of a more inclusive community both in our state and within our churches. It is a symbol that support for our beloved LGBTQ sisters and brothers will continue to grow and that we  will continue to openly and publicly challenge the practices of discrimination within our denomination. Today is a day to express faith, hope, and love that will be lived out through justice for all people. Today is the day when 125 Oklahoma United Methodist clergy stood up publicly for marriage equality and for full participation of LGBTQ persons in the United Methodist Church.

Here is the letter and the clergy signed it:

OPEN LETTER TO THE PEOPLE OF OKLAHOMA

The United Methodist Church’s official teaching is that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching while at the same time God’s grace is available to all. We have church laws in place forbidding clergy from performing same gender weddings and forbidding non-celibate LGBT clergy from being ordained. Nevertheless, there are many United Methodist clergy and laity who are not in agreement with our church’s current rules and teachings. Our denomination allows for open discussion of ideas, dissent, and has a process for creating change in our rules. Our denomination’s top legislative body (General Conference) is the only entity that can speak on behalf of the denomination, yet we know many faithful United Methodist Christians wish to see a church fully inclusive of the LGBT community. We respectfully and humbly argue that United Methodists are not of one mind in our understanding of human sexuality and homosexuality. Through our engagement with scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, we have come to affirm the rights and dignity of all persons regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.

We celebrate the freedoms coming to the LGBT community in Oklahoma and we pledge our love, affirmation and equal treatment to all persons. We do so as we continue to pray and work for a fully inclusive United Methodist Church.

Signed….

CLERGY

1. Rev. Jim Gragg

2. Rev. Trina Bose North

3. Rev. Scott Spencer

4. Rev. Jack Terrell-Wilkes

5. Rev. Shelly Daigle

6. Rev. Jeni Markham Clewell

7. Rev. Nathan Mattox

8. Rev. Dr. Mark Davies

9. Rev. Paul W. Calkin

10. Rev. Dr. Allen Buck

11. Rev. Deborah Ingraham

12. Rev. Bill Todd

13. Rev. John D. Rusty Williams

14. Rev. Valerie Steele

15. Rev. Glenda Skinner-Noble

16. Rev. Dr. Rex Wilkes

17. Rev. Diana Cox Crawford

18. Rev. David Rose

19. Rev. Susan Ross

20. Rev. Jeannie Himes

21. Rev. Twila Gibbens

22. Rev. Dennis Adlof

23. Rev. Carole Minter

24. Rev. Amy Venable

25. Rev. Ed Light

26. Rev. Anthony Zahn

27. Rev. Margaret A. Ball

28. Rev. Ginger Howl

29. Rev. Dr. Leslie Long

30. Rev. Margaret North

31. Rev. Phil Jones

32. Rev. Denny Hook

33. Rev. Dr. Kirt E. Moelling

34. Rev. Mike DeMoss

35. Rev. Jennifer Long

36. Rev. Sharon Betsworth

37. Rev. Bruce Davis

38. Rev. David Wiggs

39. Rev. Bill Crowell

40. Rev. Sonja Tobey

41. Rev. Susanna Weslie Southard

42. Rev. Jim Wilson

43. Rev Dr Ellen Blue

44. Rev. Dr. Grayson L Lucky

45. Rev. Dr. Sheila Combs-Francis

46. Rev. Tracy Schumpert

47. Rev. Guy Langston

48. Rev Marilynn Schellhamer

49. Rev Linda Muterspaugh

50. Rev. Kay Shock

51. Rev. James Jones

52. Rev. Marla Lobo

53. Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Box Price

54. Rev. John Price

55. Rev. Dr. Sandy Wylie

56. Rev. Mark Whitley

57. Rev. Joel Betow

58. Rev. Montie Jones

59. Rev. Galeda Jones

60. Rev. Glen Chebon Kernell

61. Rev. Leroy Thompson

62. Rev. Neal Baumwart

63. Rev. Bill Hathaway

64. Rev. Ginny Hathaway

65. Rev. Rebecca Morton

66. Rev. Daniel K Fletcher

67. Rev. Warren K. Russell

68. Rev. Susan Southall

69. Rev. Suzanne Davis

70. Rev. Marilyn Weathers

71. Rev. Ron Weathers

72. Rev. Ken Tobler

73. Rev. Dr. Stan Basler

74. Rev. Neil C Winslow

75. Rev. Dr. Bill Moorer

76. Rev. Josh Langille-Hoppe

77. Rev. Dr. David Severe

78. Rev. Dr. Phil Fenn

79. Rev. John Adams

80. Rev. Terry Martindale

81. Rev. Linda McFadden

82. Rev. Dr. Perry L. Williams

83. Rev. Richard Whetsell

84. Rev. Roger R. Wood

85. Rev. Mary Lue Eastmond

86. Rev. Bob Gardenhire

87. Rev. Michael Asher

88. Rev. David Clewell

89. Rev. David Conrad

90. Rev. April Coates

91. Rev. Dr. Charlotte Teel

92. Rev. Dr. Gene Hunt

93. Rev. Helen Taylor

94. Rev. Dr. William R. Chace

95. Rev. Richard Cato

96. Rev. Adam Leathers

97. Rev. Pam Cottrill

98. Rev. Marcia Shoemaker

99. Rev. Linda Lusnia

100. Rev. Carolyn Murrow

101. Rev. Dan Frisby

102. Rev. Susan Marks

103. Rev. Charles King

104. Rev. Keith O. McArtor

105. Rev. Don Tabberer

106. Rev. Anne Clement

107. Rev. Norman V Wasson

108. Rev. Ed Cook

109. Rev. Mary Ann Emmons

110. Rev. Mary L. Ewing

111. Rev. Ruth Karns Atterberry

112. Rev. Sara Pugh Montgomery

113. Rev. Connell Ghormley

114. Rev. Kristiane Smith

115. Rev. John M. Morgan

116. Rev Jen Logsdon-Kellogg

117. Rev. Linda Pope

118. Rev. Don Nelson

119. Rev. Richard Mauldin

120. Rev. Dr. Jerald Walker

121. Rev. Phil Ware

122. Rev. Dale Tremper

124. Rev. James W. Edmison

125. Rev. Cindy Mayes

126. Rev. Doug McPherson

Marriage Equality and the Intent of the Founders (June 28, 2015)

There seem to be a number of persons who oppose marriage equality being the law of the land who point to the fact that “our founders did not intend this.” Let’s be straight, our founders did not intend African Americans to be more than 3/5 of a person and relegated them to slavery. Our founders did not intend for women to vote or be treated as equals to men. Our founders did not intend for people without property to vote. Our founders justified and carried out the removal and killing of the indigenous people who inhabited the land before them. Our founders intended the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of white European men who violently occupied a land that was not their own.

Fortunately, our country has evolved some over the years, and in 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified (not by our founders) and all persons were given equal protection under the law. This equal protection has been extended to African Americans and to women (not the intent of the founders and unfortunately still not fully realized). Equal protection of the law for all persons includes persons who are LGBTQ. Did our founders intend this? No, but we have evolved to have a greater understanding of human rights than our founders had, and that is a very very good thing! I am grateful that the check of equal rights and liberty for all people in our nation is finally being cashed more fully.

Sacramental Meals (June 30, 2016)

Celebration of communion is always meaningful for me, but the closet thing I have felt to divine presence in sharing a meal with others has not been in the sharing of the Eucharist in a church service but rather in the monthly preparation and sharing of meals that the College Avenue United Methodist young adult group participated in with the Somerville, Massachusetts support group for persons living with AIDS from 1994 to 1996. During that time College Avenue United Methodist Church was blessed to have an outstanding lay leader named Bob Publicover, who was an openly gay man and had lived with AIDS as long as anyone had up to that time, and it was he who created opportunities like these monthly meals known as the Somerville Dinner Program. At the time of his death in 2012 at the age of 63, Bob was the longest living AIDS survivor in the country, and he left his community with a legacy of love and hope. Bob was a gift and a gadfly to our church. reminding us where Jesus would be in our community. 

I was pretty nervous about participating in these meals at first. It was not something I was looking forward to doing. The thought of sharing meals with a room full of persons who were “dying” made me uncomfortable. At first I think I felt that the meals were a way for us to show acceptance for our siblings living with AIDS, but after the first couple of months I realized that it was just as much if not more an act of acceptance of us by the persons in the support group. We were accepted into their community even though we were members of a denomination that officially judged and excluded many of them from the full life and ministry of the church, even though many of them had every right to be angry about how the church had treated them. In spite of this, they accepted us.

Those monthly meals created a sacred space in which forgiveness and grace were offered to us. The support group became our ministers celebrating the sacramental gift of Divine Presence with us at table. What I had first thought would be a place of confrontation with dying became a time and place of real living for me. I so looked forward to those meals. I vividly remember the times I would shop for groceries and the feeling of being compelled to make sure to get the very best food possible for this very sacred monthly family meal. This sacred meal renewed my spirit, and it renewed the spirit of persons in our church and community. If my United Methodist denomination could somehow find a way to give up the judging and excluding that have created such brokenness in our community, perhaps we could become more able to make spaces like these for the presence of the Holy. This continues to be my hope and it continues to be my prayer as we seek the Beloved Community together. 

Just Being Faithful? (July 16, 2016)

As a minister in the United Methodist Church, a denomination that is deeply divided over how we are to be in relationship with our siblings who are LGBTQIA, I have on more than one occasion heard persons who are in favor of the current exclusionary language of the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church say that they hold to their beliefs because they  are “just trying to be faithful.” The implication is that their faithfulness is somehow tied to their holding the belief that people who are LGBTQIA are living lives that are incompatible with Christian teaching and that their faithfulness is somehow tied to keeping persons who are LGBTQ from participating in the full life and ministry of the church by not allowing them to be married in the church or to serve as ordained ministers.

This year multiple annual conferences decided to no longer conform to the exclusionary language and practices prescribed by the United Methodist Book of Discipline.  They decided to celebrate marriage equality by joyously including all persons in the gift of community by having their vows of marriage celebrated within their churches. And they decided never to use sexual orientation or gender identity as a factor in decisions about ordination of clergy. This week the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church elected and consecrated Rev. Karen Oliveto as bishop. She is the first openly lesbian clergy person to be a United Methodist Bishop.

For many of the persons who see adherence to the exclusionary language and exclusionary practices in relation to persons who are LGBTQIA s an expression of their faithfulness, there is a perception that the conferences and jurisdictions who are ignoring these exclusionary practices somehow are not being faithful. They are creating a crisis in the denomination, a break in the covenant that they see as binding the clergy in the church to continue to practice the exclusion that the Book of Discipline prescribes.

Bishops, clergy, and laity in the southern jurisdictions are openly admonishing these conferences and jurisdictions for not keeping the covenant, and from their perspective this is “not keeping the faith.” From their perspective the full inclusion of persons who are LGBTQIA by these conferences and jurisdictions is a threat to the existence and integrity of the church, because the existence and integrity of the church from their perspective requires the continued exclusion of persons who are LGBTQI from the full life and ministry of the church. Their work to continue to this exclusion is justified with their belief that they are “just trying to be faithful.”

“When ‘just being faithful’ becomes justification for treating others unjustly, just exactly to what is one being faithful?” It seems that the “just” in the words “we are just being faithful” rarely has anything to do with justice, and too often these words are used to perpetuate injustice. As we move forward in the United Methodist Church seeking to do justly, to love kindness, and walk humbly with our God, an important measure for “just being faithful” is to discern whether we are actually practicing a just faith.

As a United Methodist minister in the South Central Jurisdiction, I give thanks to the witness of the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church. May we all live and love into your witness of nonconformity in response to injustice against our siblings who are LGBTQIA.

Law and Order Christians (July 18, 2016)

“Law and Order” was a dog whistle used by the Nixon campaign in its well documented Southern Strategy to take the White House. It was heard by many, especially in the South, as a way of putting black people back in their place. If the concepts and practice of law and order are used to provide equality of opportunity and equal protection under the law, then they are an important basis for a flourishing society, but that was not what Nixon was appealing to. He and his advisors knew the message that an emphasis on law and order would send to white conservative voters, especially in the South. It was a law that protected the interests of white male supremacy and order that kept inequality in place. Sadly, that legacy continues to this day.

“Law and Order” Christians are also using similar language to keep persons who are LGBTQIA in their place. An appeal to God’s law is made to affirm the sinfulness of LGBTQIA persons and keep them from full participation within religious communities. In my denomination, the United Methodist Church, the appeal to law is expressed in the Book of Discipline, which in matters related to sexual orientation and gender identity functions as a book of law to keep persons who are LGBTQI from participating in the full life and ministry of the church. The Book of Discipline tells people who are LGBTQI that they are not compatible with Christian teaching and that they are not worthy of being married or ordained as ministers within the church. The law keeps them “in their place” and out of full participation in community.

An appeal to order is also used within the United Methodist Church to maintain the exclusion of LGBTQI persons from marriage and ordained ministry in the church. The Order of the ordained clergy is used as a mechanism to keep ministers from fully including LGBTQI persons by enforcing adherence to the exclusionary language and practices prescribed by the Book of Discipline. If clergy disobey and perform same gender weddings or become open about being LGBTQI themselves, they are charged under church law and often put on trial and removed from ordained ministry for their disobedience so that the order of exclusion may be re-established. When they disobey exclusionary prescriptions, they are told that they have broken the covenant of the Order that connects us as one united Church.

Law, order, and covenant are all used to keep LGBTQIA persons in their place, but when a law is unjust, it is no law at all; when order is used to exclude, it is simply a tool of discrimination; and when covenant is used to control, it becomes an instrument of manipulation rather than an expression of committed relationship. The maintenance of unity through exclusion is actually the maintenance of discrimination. It is likely not an accident that the Law and Order Christians are most powerful in the South where law and order have been used effectively for so long to keep people in their places. Excluding persons who are LGBTQIA from the full life and ministry has become the new Southern Strategy of the United Methodist Church.

Blessed are the Persecuted (December 21, 2016)

Many self identified Christians in the United States feel persecuted. They are outraged that they have to bake cakes for same gender weddings, allow persons who are transgender to use public restrooms of their choice, provide coverage for the whole range of women’s health care for their employees, not fire workers based on sexual or gender orientation, and allow Muslims freedom of religious expression. Many self-identified Christians see these things as an affront to their morality and an attack on their religious freedom rather than a just implementation of the United States Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of law for all persons.

In the generations right before my own, many self-identified Christians also expressed feelings of being persecuted. They were outraged that they could not continue the practices of Jim Crow in the South, that people of different races would date or marry one another, that women would aspire to equal rights with men, and that persons who were LGBTQ would do anything but totally repress their sexual and gender orientation. Earlier generations of self-identified Christians in the United States felt persecuted when their “right” to own other people was challenged. Christian denominations even split over these issues, including my own Methodist Church.

Many self-identified Christians who feel persecuted may find solace in the passage from the Beatitudes where Jesus says “blessed are the persecuted.” Perhaps they see their reward as the “Kingdom of Heaven” as the passage promises. The passage, however, reads “blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” not blessed are those who are persecuted for denying persons equal protection under the law. Feeling persecuted because you can’t treat people unequally is not persecution for the sake of righteousness. It is persecution for the sake of wanting to treat people unequally – in other words, persecution for the sake of bigotry.

Christians in the United States who follow the way of Jesus may well experience persecution for righteousness’ sake in the years ahead. They may be persecuted for protecting our Latinx siblings from deportation, for resisting a proposed Muslim registry and attacks on freedom of religious expression, for resisting systemic racism, for resisting voter suppression across the country, for resisting the exploitation of the natural world and protecting a livable climate, for standing with indigenous persons to protect water and land, for resisting growing white nationalism, and for protecting the equal rights of persons who are LGBTQ.

If Christians in the United States follow the way of Jesus, then we may very well see millions of Christians being persecuted for righteousness’ sake in the years ahead. If Christians in the United States  follow the way of Jesus, then we should see millions of Christians being arrested over the next four years. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake for they will inherit the Beloved Community.

No Such Law (April 29, 2017)

I am so tired of groups of people telling other groups of people who are not like them that they are somehow less worthy or not to be treated equally. The Romans did this to the conquered in their empire – including Jesus’ people. The Europeans did this to indigenous people across the planet. European Americans did this and continue to do this to African Americans and Native Americans and Latinx Americans and frankly anyone who is not European American. Men have done this to women. The rich have done this to the poor. The healthy have done this to the sick. Christians have done this to Jews and Muslims and others who are not Christian. Heterosexuals have done this to persons who are LGBTQ.

Yesterday, with its decision that the consecration of same gender loving bishops is against “church law,” the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church reaffirmed that the United Methodist Church continues in this long and sinful tradition of excluding and mistreating those they perceive to be not like them. The only proper response is repentance and radical inclusion and a recognition that there is #NoSuchLaw that calls us to exclude and to harm those who do no harm to us.

There is no such law that calls us to exclude anyone from the human community. There is no such law that makes a bishop who happens to be other gender loving to be more worthy than a bishop who happens to be same gender loving. There is no such law, nor will there ever be, that justifies practices of discrimination and injustice towards persons who do no harm. There is no such law because as St. Augustine and Martin Luther King, Jr. remind us, “An unjust law is no law at all.” It is not antinomian to disobey unjust laws.

When will we learn that we are all in this together and stop trying to exclude or mistreat others because of their differences that cause no harm? Will we ever learn, or will it continue to be the same as it ever was? We are living in a time that cannot afford this “same at it ever was” mentality.

I am so tired of groups of people telling other groups of people who are not like them that they are somehow less worthy or not to be treated equally, and I am especially tired of groups of people using religious justification for this behavior. It is bad enough that we continue to treat each other so poorly – let’s at least stop pretending that there is some divine entity that approves of us treating each other like crap.

Please Don’t Let Me Be Silent (January 27, 2018)

Please God, never let me be a silent white person while my brown and black siblings are living in fear and experiencing injustice and violence.

Please God, never let me be a silent citizen while Dreamers are deported and refugees are rejected.

Please God, never let me be a silent Christian while my Muslim sisters and brothers are being discriminated against and not having their religious freedom respected.

Please God, never let me be a silent man while my sisters are being abused, harassed, and assaulted.

Please God, never let me be a silent cisgender straight man while my siblings who are LGBTQIA are not being given equal treatment, equal opportunity, or respect.

Please God, never let me be a silent person with health insurance while my siblings experience a life and death struggle for access to healthcare.

Please God, never let me be a silent person with shelter and food while so many of my siblings are hungry and homeless.

Please God, never let me be a silent human being while my nonhuman siblings are suffering, their habitats are being destroyed, and many are being killed to extinction.

Please God, never let me be silent while the whole creation groans in travail and cries out for renewal.

Please God, never let me be silent when the world needs me to speak out.

Please God, never let it be said of me that my friends remembered my silence when they needed my voice to cry out with them for justice.

Amen.

Lifestyle? (May 23, 2018)

In the ongoing debate in the United Methodist Church about how we will include or exclude our LGBTQ siblings, over and over again I hear the voices of exclusion refer to LGBTQ persons as a “lifestyle” that needs to be rejected instead of simply recognizing their sacred worth as persons and accepting them fully into the life and work of the church.

One’s sexual or gender orientation is not a “lifestyle.”

One’s loving and committed relationship with another person is not a “lifestyle,” it is a loving and committed relationship.

A loving and committed relationship that is celebrated and recognized as a legal union among two adults is not a “lifestyle,” it is a marriage.

Married persons choosing to have, care for, and raise children is not a “lifestyle,” it is a family.

Choosing to be greedy…

Choosing to be hateful…

Choosing to live unsustainably beyond the carrying capacity of the planet…

Choosing not only to ignore the reality of climate change but to also fight any efforts to address it…

Choosing to dismantle environmental regulations and protections…

Choosing to contribute to the ongoing sixth great extinction on the planet and the only one ever caused by a single species…

Choosing to not care for the poor and vulnerable…

Choosing to perpetuate the inequality of women…

Choosing to have a healthcare system that impoverishes and bankrupts families…

Choosing to underfund public education and school teachers thus creating one education system for the wealthy and one for the rest…

Choosing to cut the safety net for poor while enriching the wealthy with tax cuts…

Choosing to base international relations on twisted interpretations of First Century apocalyptic literature that seek the end of the world as we know it in our lifetimes…

Choosing to spend far more money on militarism than any other country in the world…

Choosing to enable unfettered and unregulated access to assault rifles while our children and youth are frightened for their lives…

Choosing to separate children from their parents when families are attempting to come into the United States…

Choosing to deport persons who came to the United States as small children and have never known any other country as their own…

And choosing to discriminate against persons who do no harm but are simply different than we are…

These are the lifestyles and life choices that we should reject and from which all just, loving, and decent persons ought to repent.

Sexual or gender orientation is not a sin, but being horrible to each other and the planet is.

The Moral Culpability of the United Methodist Church (June 11, 2018)

Some of the most well-known United Methodist Christians in the United States are responsible for some of the greatest moral atrocities committed by the United States in the 21st Century, yet the denomination seems to be more concerned about excluding persons who are LGBTQ+ from ministry and excluding ministers who perform same gender weddings than it is about addressing real atrocities. This observation is not meant to diminish the important work that many individual United Methodists and the United Methodist Church as whole have done for social, economic, and ecological justice in the world, but our denomination’s obsession with excluding others based on sexual and gender orientation has weakened our denominational response to issues that actually create real harm to human and ecological communities.

George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, the first all United Methodist president/vice president ticket in U.S. history, were responsible for using torture and starting an unnecessary war in Iraq that killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people. Before, during, and after the Bush/Cheney Administration, the United Methodist Church held trials and expelled ministers who are gay and lesbian and ministers who performed union services and married same gender couples, but the United Methodist Church did very little to hold Bush and Cheney accountable for torture and war crimes in violation of international law and the United Methodist Social Principles. Not only did the United Methodist Church do very little to hold Bush and Cheney accountable, it actually celebrated their administration by hosting Bush’s presidential library at one of the premier United Methodist universities in the country, Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX.

Today, another prominent United Methodist Christian leader is promoting and implementing horrific practices in violation of human rights, international law, and the United Methodist Social Principles. Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions, United Methodist Sunday School teacher from Alabama and past lay delegate to the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, is leading the implementation of the despicable and criminal act of separating children from their parents at our borders and putting these children in what amount to cages in detention centers at multiple locations. Mothers and fathers are weeping for their children, and children are experiencing trauma with lasting consequences because of the actions of the United Methodist Jeff Sessions.

The United Methodist Church spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on church trials and sanctions for ministers who are gay and lesbian and for ministers who perform wedding ceremonies for gay and lesbian people, but there are no trials and sanctions for United Methodist U.S. Presidents and Vice Presidents who use torture and start unjust wars, and there are no trials and sanctions for U.S. Attorney General Sunday School teachers who rip children away from their parents and put the children in cages in detention centers.

In listening to our United Methodist Attorney General Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions talk about what we are doing with immigrant children at our southern border, he seems to have no reservations at all about locking up and separating people of color from their families, yet apparently he still gets to teach United Methodist Sunday School classes.

Attorney General Sessions, when you teach your United Methodist Sunday School classes, do you teach that Jesus should have been separated from Mary and Joseph and put into a detention center by the Egyptian authorities because they tried to smuggle a child across the border?

The conservative organizations within the United Methodist Church that work to continue the exclusion of persons who are LGBTQ+ have little to nothing to say about torture, unjust wars, and immigrant and refugee children in detention camps, but they have so much to say about keeping the United Methodist Clergy pure from persons who are LGBTQ+ or those who might perform their wedding ceremonies.

What is the conservative and anti-LGBTQ+ “Wesleyan Covenant Association” doing to keep children from being separated from their parents at our southern border? What statements are they making? What actions are they taking? What tables are they turning over? Or are they just so fixated on excluding persons who are LGBTQ+ from the church that they don’t have the time or energy to engage other issues?

What good news does the conservative and anti-LGBTQ+ “Good News Movement” of the United Methodist Church have for the immigrant and refugee children who have been separated from their parents by our government at our southern border? Will this be a topic in between articles calling for the exclusion of persons who are LGBTQ+ in the pages of the next Good News Magazine? Will the Good News Movement focus any time and energy to reunite these children with their parents and stop this horrific violation of human rights?

And then there is the conservative and anti-LGBTQ+ “Confessing Movement” within the United Methodist Church. You don’t get to call yourselves the “confessing movement” if you are silent in the face of our government ripping children away from their parents and putting them in cells in detention centers that a sitting U.S. Senator has to wait two weeks to inspect. You just don’t.

If we are not talking in our United Methodist churches about what we can do to stop children from being separated from their parents at our southern border and not actually taking action to stop it because of concerns about the conflict it might cause in our churches, then maybe we need to ask ourselves whether our churches should even exist if they continue to accept these horrific violations of human rights.

Prominent United Methodist Christians are responsible for some of the most horrific actions by the United States in the 21st Century, yet we are spending millions of dollars on a special General Conference of the United Methodist Church to address our differences concerning how persons who are LGBTQ+ are to be included, or not, in the life and ministry of our denomination, the likely result of which could be continued exclusion, more trials, and more sanctions for our LGBTQ+ siblings and those who perform weddings for them.

In the meantime Bush and Cheney have their library at Southern Methodist University, and Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions can continue to teach Sunday School at his United Methodist Church in Alabama while millions continue to suffer in Iraq and beyond and refugee and immigrant children are separated from their parents in detention centers at our southern border, and we as a United Methodist Church are morally culpable for their actions through our inaction.

Yes, as a denomination we have made statements and passed resolutions against torture and against separating children from their parents at our borders; but we save our trials, sanctions, and actual punishments for those persons who are LGBTQ+ and those who perform their weddings.

Hardened Hearts (July 9, 2018)

What we are seeing in our country and in our world today is not new but rather a refrain of a recurring phenomenon in human history and one that is often portrayed in our sacred literature. When new things are breaking into the world, there is a tendency for many persons’ hearts to be hardened. Fear of change and a feeling of loss of power are likely the greatest reasons for the hardening of the heart. In Exodus, the Hebrew Bible portrays Pharaoh’s heart as hardened when confronted with the prospect of Israel’s liberation, and the people of Israel’s hearts were hardened in the wilderness when they feared they had lost their way. In the Christian Bible Jesus wondered aloud if the disciples hearts were hardened when they feared they had no bread (Mark 8:17). In both the Hebrew Bible and in the Christian Bible, hardened hearts are portrayed as a barrier to the healing of relationships with God and other people. Proverbs warns that a hardened heart will lead people to calamity (Proverbs 28:14). In his letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul warned that our hardened hearts are a way of storing up wrath for ourselves (Romans 2:5).

In our country’s past we hardened our hearts against our indigenous neighbors as we ripped away their land and culture and committed genocide against them; we hardened our hearts against our African American neighbors as we enslaved, segregated, lynched, imprisoned, and committed violence against them; we hardened our hearts when we turned away Jewish refugees fleeing Germany and Europe prior to our entry into World War II; we hardened our hearts against our Japanese American neighbors as we tore them from their homes and livelihoods and put them in internment camps; we hardened our hearts against our immigrant and refugee neighbors (especially those who are not white and not Christian) as we turn them away, deport them, separate their children from them, and as we ban them based upon their religious affiliation; we hardened our hearts against our women neighbors as have treated them unequally, paid them less, and objectified them; we have hardened our hearts against our LGBTQ+ neighbors as we have rejected them, physically and spiritually bullied them, and driven many of them to seek escape from their pain through suicide; we hardened our hearts against our non-human animal neighbors as we have forced them into concentrated animal feed operations and made their lives miserable until we butcher them for the fast food meals that are good neither for our bodies nor for our souls; and we have even hardened our hearts to future generations as they will inherit the climate chaos that we are creating for them.

Today in the United States we are experiencing another wave of heart hardening as white Christians (especially white Christian men) fear their loss of control in our country. This hardening of the heart is expressed in the guise of faith and patriotism, but it is hardening of the heart nonetheless. If our hearts could be softened, it would open us to new possibilities and relationships with one another in a richly diverse community in which we care for all people and the planet instead of experiencing the increased fear and hatred that comes with a hardened heart.

Our hearts have been softened in the past as we continue to recognize and repent from the evil we committed against our indigenous siblings, as we rejected slavery and Jim Crow, as we created women’s suffrage and expanded the protection of women’s rights, as we lamented and repented from the internment of Japanese Americans, as we reached out and cooperated with our friends who relate to religion differently, as we embraced marriage equality, and as we have worked to care for our environment.

If our hearts continue to be hardened, much of what we have gained in the new relationships and communities made possible by a softened heart could all be lost, and that would be the most tragic calamity of our time. May our hearts not continue to be hardened, and may we all do the hard but life transforming work of softening our hearts for the creation of Beloved Community.

The Violence of Tradition (August 31, 2018)

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.

Persons of Sacred Worth (September 12, 2018)

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.

The Golden Calves of the United Methodist Church (February 2, 2019)

The amount of energy, organization, time, and money spent to keep persons who are LGBTQIA+ from full participation in the life and ministry of the United Methodist Church is shockingly high. This is the price of the idolatry of exclusion.

We United Methodists often refer to our General Conference as GC, but I think the GC may more appropriately stand for golden calf – the golden calf of exclusion. The ultimate price of this idolatry is the loss of our heart and soul and the loss of many lives of our LGBTQIA+ siblings. Many of us in the United Methodist Church have turned our backs on the work of social holiness for a Beloved Community to embrace an unholy and idolatrous project of discrimination, exclusion, and spiritual abuse of our LGBTQIA+ siblings.

For my whole adult life, I have witnessed individuals and groups in the United Methodist Church worship the golden calf of exclusion in various forms, often co-opting words that should bind us together in community for their project of exclusion – “Good News,” the “Confessing Movement,” the “Institute for Religion and Democracy,” and now the “Wesleyan Covenant Association.” Some persons have spent their whole lives and even made their livelihood on this idolatrous project of exclusion.

These same persons and organizations are scrambling in the last few weeks before General Conference 2019 to decorate the golden calf of exclusion just right so as to attract the requisite majority of delegates to worship at its hooves. The are trotting out the golden calves of the Traditionalist Plan and the Modified Traditional Plan, and they are adorning both with amendments so that more may bow before them.

Witnessing the power that their golden calves of exclusion seem to have over so many in our denomination, another golden calf of sorts has been created around the idolatry of institutional survival – the One Church Plan. It is in many ways a less pernicious idolatry insofar as fewer of our LGBTQIA+ siblings will find themselves trampled under its hooves. It is a golden calf created with the intent to do less harm. It is the pragmatic golden calf of many moderates and progressives in the denomination, and if it comes down to our being forced to choose between this less harmful beast and the extremely harmful golden calf of full exclusion, we may need to work with the One Church Plan golden calf, but let us not for one instant pretend that it is not a golden calf and that it does not continue to do harm. Let us not for one second believe that the One Church Plan golden calf is anything close to approximating the Beloved Community in which all are treated fully as persons of sacred worth.

The Simple Plan, the plan removing all discriminatory language and practices in relation to our LGBTQIA+ siblings, is the only plan being put forth at General Conference that comes anywhere near the Beloved Community vision. I am enough of a realist to know that the Simple Plan will not pass at GC 2019, but I am enough of an idealist to continue working for the Beloved Community that it represents. At GC 2019, the United Methodist Church will get nowhere near the promised land to which the Simple Plan points, but may our eyes continue to see the glory that is coming.

What matters most is not up for a vote… (February 24, 2019)

No matter what happens at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church in the next couple of days; the world will still be my parish, doing no harm will still be my focus, grace will still be the air that I breathe, all persons will still be of sacred worth, social and ecological holiness will still be my mission, bringing good news to the poor and oppressed will still be my witness, and loving all of my neighbors and doing justice with the most vulnerable will still be my calling. The Methodist movement is greater than the United Methodist Church, and the way of Jesus is always greater than any denominational expression.

During his time, John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, drew the circle wide. He drew the circle of grace wide to include all persons; he drew the circle of his parish wide to include the whole world; he drew his circle of care wide to include all creation; he drew the circle of his mission wide to be with people outside of the church and on the streets; and he drew the circle of holiness wide to include the social. Wesley drew the circle of the church much wider than how he had found it, which makes it all the more ironic that the end of United Methodism may come through drawing its circle of community to be more narrow rather than more wide.

Those who are “traditionalists” in what is for now still called the “United Methodist Church” have the power, they have the votes, and they are more organized than those who are working for a denomination that is open and affirming of persons who are LGBTQIA+. As I write this, it is not absolutely clear what the final result of the General Conference will be when it adjourns on Tuesday, but given today’s votes which prioritized the Traditional Plan over the One Church Plan, the likelihood that the United Methodist Church will leave this General Conference less inclusive than it was before is quite high.

For persons who are LGBTQIA+ and for all who want a more inclusive church for all people, there is much to mourn about the direction General Conference took today, but it is not a really a surprise. The hearts of the majority of the persons in our denomination have been hardening against our LBGTQIA+ siblings for quite some time.

In this moment of defeat for a more inclusive United Methodist Church, let us not be afraid, let us support and love one another, and let us continue to work for justice for all people. And let us be reminded that followers of the way of love and justice have done some of their most transformative work when it looked like they had been knocked out by the powers that be. The power of love will not be entombed forever. We will bring forth new life in Beloved Community, somehow.

The Way Backward (February 27, 2019)

My interaction with traditionalists in what has been known until now as the United Methodist Church is that they will not stop at enforcing a ban on same gender weddings and on the ordination of persons who are what they refer to as “self-avowed homosexuals.” This has always been about gaining a foothold to reverse what is perceived by traditionalists as the progressive agenda of the United Methodist Church.

Most traditionalists do not want any persons who are LGBTQIA+ working in any capacity in their churches, so don’t be surprised to see that coming down the pike in the future.

At some point, whether unrepentant “self-avowed homosexuals” can be baptized or become members of Traditionalist Methodist churches will be a topic of debate.

Eventually, whether unrepentant “self-avowed homosexuals” should even be allowed in the church buildings will be discussed in earnest.

The Traditionalist Methodist Church probably won’t go after women’s ordination, but a Traditionalist Methodist Church will be much more patriarchal in language and practice, and don’t be surprised by much more emphasis on “complementarian” views of women being advanced in the Traditionalist Methodist Church, with women taking on less equal but “complementary” roles in the church and in Traditionalist Methodist families.

It won’t be long before the Traditionalist Methodist Church begins to enforce other “orthodox” dogma and practices based on their narrow interpretation of scriptures.

Traditionalist Methodist seminary professors will have to sign statements pledging adherence to “orthodox” theology and find themselves censured, silenced, and without employment if they stray too far from the prescribed doctrinal teachings.

Traditionalist Methodist ministers will sign loyalty oaths to the Traditionalist Methodist Book of Discipline and face harsh penalties for breaking any of the rules.

“Right” belief, “right” practice, and “right” behavior will all be enforced by the Traditionalist Methodist Church for the “people’s own good” and the “good of the Church.” It will all be done “in love.”

The circle of harm will be widened by all of this as the circle of care is increasingly diminished. This is not just wild speculation. One only need look at traditionalist takeovers of other denominations and religious traditions in and outside of Christianity to see where this is heading – backward – and it will not be great.

And what will happen to what the traditionalists call the “progressive agenda” of what has been known until now as the United Methodist Church? Well, radical inclusion, participation of all persons as equal beings of sacred worth, freedom of thought and conscience, social justice for all people, and responsible care for the community of all creation will have to find new and different incarnations in the world because that will no longer be the agenda of the Traditionalist Methodist Church.

The good news is that the Traditionalist Methodist Church will likely not last that long as is most often the case when the circle is drawn to be more narrow rather than more wide. There is a way forward for the community of all creation, but that way is not in the Traditionalist Methodist Church.

Perhaps there may come a day when some who favored or even voted for the Traditionalist Plan will look back on this past week and ask the question “What have we done?” They will be welcome to join the new way forward towards Beloved Community, and they won’t even have to sign anything.

Giving Up the Discriminatory Clauses in the United Methodist Book of Discipline (March 7, 2019)

For Lent I am going to continue giving up the discriminatory clauses in the United Methodist Book of Discipline that judge and marginalize my siblings who are LGBTQIA+. During Lent, as I have before Lent and as I will after Lent, I am going to live and love and be in ministry as if those discriminatory clauses do not exist. I will not treat my LGBTQIA+ siblings any differently on any matter than I do my cisgender hetero siblings. We are all family, we are all in community, we are all beloved children of God, we are all of sacred worth, we all deserve to be married by our ministers within our church communities and within our church buildings, and we all deserve not to be barred from full participation in the life and ministry of our churches simply owing to our sexual orientation or gender identity.

During Lent and beyond, I affirm openly that we are all sinners, but that has nothing to do with our sexual orientations or gender identities. Our sin has everything to do with our willingness to harm others. The discriminatory clauses in the United Methodist Book of Discipline harm others who do no harm. The discriminatory clauses in the United Methodist Book of Discipline are therefore the product of human sin. The discriminatory clauses in the United Methodist Book of Discipline replicate the sin of Sodom, the sin of lack of hospitality in community. The discriminatory clauses in the United Methodist Book of Discipline were born out of fear and are often expressed through hate. The discriminatory clauses in the United Methodist Book of Discipline do not represent the way of love, grace, and justice in our world. The discriminatory clauses in the United Methodist Book of Discipline have been given the status of law, but in their injustice they are no laws at all.

During Lent and after Lent, I will do penance for any time I may have knowingly or unknowingly treated people differently because of my fear of the consequences of living fully into a renunciation and rejection of these discriminatory clauses. During Lent and after Lent, I will repent from any vestiges of sinful adherence to these discriminatory clauses in the United Methodist Book of Discipline. During Lent and beyond, I will reaffirm my Wesleyan and Christian commitment to do no harm, and I will reaffirm my baptismal vows to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves – even when, especially when, they present themselves in the pronouncements, policies, and practices of my own church.

The United Methodist Church’s fetish for exclusion has distracted us from recognizing that the whole creation is groaning in travail. In a world of injustice, poverty, war and violence, destruction of creation, and climate change that is hurling us towards an unlivable climate; we do not have time to be bound by discriminatory proclamations and practices that perpetuate fear, injustice, despair, and division in a world that so desperately needs love, justice, hope, and community.

If my rejection of the sinful discriminatory clauses of the United Methodist Book of Discipline prompts my denomination to reject me and cast me out from ordained ministry within the walls of the United Methodist Church, so be it. I would rather be excluded for including than be included for excluding, and as John Wesley affirmed when the church of his time worked to put constraints on his ministry, the world is our parish anyway.

Clinging to Purity (March 9, 2019)

Religions become divisive and dangerous when they focus on purity more than justice. The codes and standards of purity are more often than not simply the cultural norms of a particular time and place, whereas the call for justice for the community of all creation is timeless and applies to all.

Reason and experience have shown us that most of the purity practices of the past were based on cultural norms rather than on natural or divine law. There are reasons we do not believe that women who are menstruating or those who come into contact with them, men who are uncircumcised, people who have leprosy or any other illness, persons with different dietary practices, and persons who come into contact with certain animals are impure. We recognize today that it would be unjust to treat persons in any of these categories as any less pure than any other persons. We have grown in our understanding.

Reason and experience have also led us to understand that our views and beliefs about sexual orientation and gender identity are also based on cultural norms. Many have come to realize that persons who are LGBTQIA+ simply are who they are, and their sexual orientation and gender identities do not cause harm and are therefore not sinful or impure, yet traditionalists within Christianity continue to treat persons with different sexual orientations and gender identities as being somehow impure or sinful and therefore not worthy of full participation within the life of the church.

For some reason Christian traditionalists are rigid in holding to scriptural passages that seem to condemn non-hetero sexual orientations, yet they easily let go of the purity codes found in many of the same books of the Bible they use to enforce cisgender hetero identity.

We would all do well to ask ourselves why it is that some norms are seen as bound to a particular time and place while others are given more permanent status by traditionalist Christians. Might it be that these decisions are based more on our proclivities and prejudices than upon an understanding that everything that is in the Bible is valid at all times and in all places? If traditionalists truly believed that all or even most of the Bible applies to all times and all places, then their churches and their members would look radically different than are today.

Clinging to Centrism: Broad Center Bell Curves, Incompatibilism, and Compatibilism (April 5, 2019)

https://oneworldhouse.files.wordpress.com/2019/04/broad-center-bell-curve.jpg?w=1446

IMAGE FROM ADAM HAMILTON’S “AN UPDATE ON THE DENOMINATION,” MARCH 29, 2019

The language of “centrist” United Methodists like Adam Hamilton that focuses on whether we are “incompatibilists” or “compatibilists,” in addition to being a nightmare to type with autocorrect on, is problematic on numerous levels. Hamilton defines these two terms in the following way:

– Incompatibilist: “I cannot be in a church where others disagree with me and are allowed to do something different than what I believe is right regarding same-sex marriage”

– Compatibilist: “I can be in a church where others disagree with me and are allowed to do something different than what I believe is right regarding same-sex marriage.” (From Adam Hamilton’s “An Update on the Denomination,” March 29, 2019)

Hamilton emphasizes that there are progressive incompatibilists, progressive compatibilists, traditional incompatibilists, and traditional compatibilists.

Problem 1 – With the language of the United Methodist Book of Discipline referring to the lives of persons who are LGBTQIA+ as being “incompatible with Christian teaching,” there is insensitive irony in using “incompatibilism” as the label for progressives who want to be in churches where all persons are fully affirmed and accepted and able to fully participate in the life and ministry of the church, including being married and ordained.

Problem 2 – The juxtaposition of “incompatibilist” with “compatibilist’ contains within it a linguistic bias against those who favor full inclusion and a fully welcoming and affirming church. With the definitions used above, they become portrayed as the persons who are not willing to agree to disagree, the ones who are unable to live with difference, while those who are willing to be in a church that continues to treat many of its members as unequal to their cisgender hetero members are portrayed as the ones who are willing to get along with other people.

Problem 3 – The definitions above leave out the important issue of ordination, which is key to a fully inclusive, welcoming, and affirming church.

Problem 4 – The focus of the language is biased towards order and stability (can’t we all just get along in our differences) rather than focusing on justice for our LGBTQIA+ siblings. It focuses more on getting along in a bigger tent even when people are treated unequally in different parts of the tent. It focuses more on maintaining peace within what Hamilton calls the “broad center” of United Methodism than it does on creating the tension needed to bring about justice for all of our LGBTQIA+ siblings. Another way of putting this – it focuses more on not losing members than it does on justice.

Problem 5 – The language creates the sense that the incompatibilists are the problem, while compatibilists are the solution. This by the way was the inherent flaw within the One Church Plan that was almost the sole focus of “centrist” United Methodists at the recent General Conference. It portrays progressives who want nothing less than a fully welcoming and affirming church as being on the fringe or as being too extreme and not willing to compromise, as trying to go too fast; which by the way is exactly what centrists used to say to Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement, over and over again.

Problem 6 – It perpetuates a discussion that continues to be more about our LGBTQIA+ siblings rather than focusing on being with them, fully hearing them, and being fully willing to be led by them in their quest for justice and equality in whatever the Methodist movement will become in the days ahead.

There is a tendency for persons who identify as “centrists” to believe that there is something normative, normal, and essentially correct about their thinking because it is shared by a “broad center” of the populace. What this fails to consider is the real possibility that the “broad center” may not be normative at all, but simply the ”hangers on” to the institutional artifacts of social, religious, and political inertia. Just because one’s view is in the center of the bell curve of public opinion does not make it right. It simply means it is popular, and what is popular is not always what is just.  There are times when the “broad center” stands in the way of significant change for justice for all rather than being its catalyst.

For decades “centrists” in the United Methodist Church have compromised on justice when it comes to our LGBTQIA+ siblings for the sake of church unity. Well, compromising justice did not and will not bring church unity, so for the love of justice and our LGBTQIA+ siblings, stop compromising at their expense right now. No more crumbs. All are welcome at the table.

Doing Harm in the United Methodist Church (April 30, 2019)

Anytime I hear traditionalists say that everyone in the United Methodist Church is being harmed by our divisions over the acceptance and affirmation of persons who are LGBTQIA+, I have to ask:

How many United Methodists have been bullied for their heterosexuality or for being cisgender?

How many cisgender heterosexual United Methodists are homeless because their parents have rejected them because of their sexual or gender orientation?

How many cisgender heterosexual United Methodists have been denied marriage and ordination in their church because of their sexual or gender orientation?

How many cisgender heterosexual United Methodists have harmed themselves or taken their own lives because they have been rejected by their families, peers, and a church they thought loved them because of their sexual and gender orientation?

How many cisgender heterosexual United Methodist ministers have been put on trial by their church because of their sexual and gender orientation?

If we United Methodists really take seriously that we are to do no harm, at the very least we must stop equating the harm that cisgender heterosexual traditionalist United Methodists think that they are experiencing with the immense harm and death experienced by our LGBTQIA+ siblings because of the United Methodist Church’s refusal to fully include and affirm all persons.

Let’s be clear, persons who are LGBTQIA+ do not commit suicide at a higher rate because they are LGBTQIA+. They commit suicide at a higher rate because they are bullied, mistreated, and rejected by persons who they hoped would love them but whose words and actions are anything but loving. Persons who are LGBTQIA+ are not homeless at a higher rate because they are LGBTQIA+. They are homeless at a higher rate because they have been kicked out of their families’ homes and not welcomed and affirmed in their church homes. LGBTQ+ suicide rates and homelessness rates are not owing to any sin by persons who are LGBTQIA+, they are caused by the sins of those who are treating them like shit rather than welcoming them as family and as full members of the Beloved Community.

An Open Letter to Leaders of United Methodist Institutions of Higher Education (May 11, 2019)

Dear Leaders of United Methodist Schools, Colleges, and Universities:

The decision of the 2019 General Conference of the United Methodist Church to pass the Traditional Plan has been a difficult and unwelcome one for most of our United Methodist related schools, colleges, and universities. The vast majority of our institutions of higher education embrace inclusivity, equal opportunity, and equal treatment of all students, including students who are LGBTQIA+. Leading up to the 2019 General Conference and in the months following it, the vast majority of presidents from United Methodist related institutions of higher education have reiterated their commitment to making sure that all persons who are LGBTQIA+ will be both welcomed and affirmed on our campuses.

For some institutions this has meant disaffiliating with the United Methodist Church owing to the decision to continue discriminating against persons who are LGBTQIA+, for some this has meant distancing themselves from the United Methodist Church, for others this has meant recommitting to inclusivity in spite of the GC 2019 decision and in resistance to it, and for some institutions it has meant attempting to preserve the status quo by affirming that the GC 2019 decision will not have a direct effect on campus life and policies (in other words – nothing will change).

As a reconciling United Methodist who is also a faculty member at a United Methodist related university, it is has been heartening to see so many United Methodist higher education institutions reaffirm their commitment to inclusivity, equal opportunity, and equal treatment of students who are LGBTQIA+. The vast majority of the United Methodist institutions understand that they would be on the wrong side of history if they were not to welcome and affirm students, faculty, and staff who are LGBTQIA+ on their campuses. They also know that it is not in their self-interest to discriminate against students who are LGBTQIA+. In an extremely competitive market for students, associating closely with a brand that is seen as being discriminatory is not a prudent course of action to take.

Even though I am generally pleased with the response of United Methodist institutions of higher education to the decisions made at General Conference 2019, I respectfully ask all leaders of United Methodist schools, colleges, and universities to speak with extreme clarity about how persons who are LGBTQIA+ will be treated on their campuses. This is not the time for ambiguity. Our students and other members of our academic communities deserve to know precisely where they stand. If we say that we fully accept, welcome, and affirm all persons who are LGBTQIA+, we had better mean it, we had better make sure that this is codified in our by-laws and in student, faculty, and staff handbooks, and we had better make sure that all policies and procedures at our institutions treat all persons who are LGBTQIA+ equally as compared to persons who are cisgender and straight. If an institution does not plan to treat all students, faculty, and staff equally; then they deserve to know that.

For example, the chapels on many of our campuses are important to the spiritual and community life of our institutions. They should be a place in which all of our LGBTQIA+ students, faculty, staff, and alumni are welcomed and affirmed. If a United Methodist related institution were to decide that persons who are LGBTQIA+ will not be allowed to be married in the campus chapel, then that institution is not truly committed to treating all of its students, faculty, staff, and alumni equally. It is not giving them equal opportunities that the institutions’ cisgender straight students, faculty, staff, and alumni enjoy. By the laws of the United States, a religiously affiliated institution has the legal right to determine who can and who cannot get married on its campus, but if it chooses not to allow persons who are LGBTQIA+ to marry in its chapel like everyone else, then it cannot rightfully claim to be a fully inclusive, welcoming, and affirming campus.

I cannot imagine that students, alumni, faculty, staff, and administrators of a college or university who are LGBTQIA+ would feel like their university is treating them equally or providing them with equal opportunity if they are not allowed to be married in the university’s chapel like all other students, alumni, faculty, staff, and administrators, especially if the university tells them they will never be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.

Now that it is clear that the Traditional Plan will be implemented in the United Methodist Church, it is imperative that all United Methodist colleges and universities be extremely clear about how they will treat their students, faculty, and staff who are LGBTQIA+. Either they are going to be fully included and affirmed and treated as absolute equals to everyone else or they are not. If they are not going to be treated equally, college and universities need be clear about the ways and in what circumstances they will not be treated equally or be given equal opportunities. Persons who are LGBTQIA+ should not have to guess about the ways they will not be treated equally or wonder if this or that circumstance will be a time in which they will not be afforded the same rights or opportunities as their cisgender straight peers. A university should not be able to pretend to be fully inclusive and affirming and then have policies or practices that treat LGBTQIA+ persons any differently than any other person.

We owe it to our current and prospective students, faculty, and staff at our United Methodist institutions of higher education to be honest with them about how they will be treated in our communities. If all persons truly are persons of sacred worth, then it is not morally acceptable for us to offer the bait of inclusivity, acceptance, and affirmation only to switch it with discrimination and unequal treatment.

Hope for the United Methodist Church? (June 21, 2019)

As United Methodist General Conference 2020 election results come in, I go back and forth about being hopeful in relation to the gains being made by progressives and centrists. I am hopeful because it is apparent that about 3/4 of the newly elected delegates from the U.S. conferences will vote to reject the punitive anti-LGBTQIA+ Traditionalist Plan that was passed at the 2019 General Conference. I am concerned however that it is likely the traditionalists will still get the 50%+1 they will need for the Traditionalist Plan to be upheld at the 2020 General Conference owing to the large number of traditionalist delegates outside of the United States.

I am hopeful because even if the traditionalists get 50% + 1 of the votes to uphold the Traditionalist Plan, it is clear that it will be nearly impossible to enforce such a plan in the United States with so many conferences and churches standing up in opposition. However, I am concerned that at General Conference 2020 we will see some sort of “compromise” made for unity, like the One Church Plan, that will once again be made at the expense of our LGBTQIA+ siblings.

General Conference 2019 made it clear that the only way to hold global United Methodism together as one denomination would be to allow a significant number of our conferences and churches to discriminate against persons who are LGBTQIA-+ and exclude them from the full life and ministry of the United Methodist Church. This is too high of a price to pay for unity.

I hope that General Conference 2020 will allow the current global United Methodist denomination to pass away in such a way that a new Methodism will be created in which all of our LGBTQIA+ siblings will know that their sacred worth equates to equal treatment as they are fully celebrated and affirmed as members of the Beloved Community of all persons and all creation. Unity based on discrimination and unequal treatment is and always will be oppressive.

Who Can Teach in the United Methodist Church? (September 5, 2019)

If a United Methodist Church were to go beyond the current discriminatory restrictions of the United Methodist Book of Discipline and create a policy that no LGBTQIA+ persons would be allowed to teach in the church in any capacity, it seems that would be something they would need to publicize very broadly so that everyone in the church or who may come to the church knows what kind of place they are dealing with. Are there United Methodist churches that have such a policy? If there are United Methodist churches with such a policy, would these churches be willing for this policy to be public knowledge? If they are not wanting it to be public knowledge, then why not?

If a church is going to discriminate in such ways, then it needs to be upfront about what its practices and policies are. Don’t pretend everyone in the congregation is equal and then tell people that the only reason they can’t teach a Sunday School class or a Bible study is because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Such churches should create their own addendum to the United Methodist Book of Discipline that lets their members know who is and who is not allowed to teach in the church. If they want to include any other categories of persons not worthy of teaching in the church, they can put those categories in the addendum as well. Just list all the categories of persons who are not allowed to teach with all of the reasons why so that there will be clarity, transparency, and no confusion about who can and cannot teach in the church.

The “Who Can and Cannot Teach in the Church” addendum could also be published clearly in a church membership handbook so that everyone knows that they are joining a church that doesn’t allow persons who are LGBTQIA+ to teach in the church. Might as well post the policy on the door of every Sunday School Class so that everyone can know that they are being taught in an “LGBTQIA+ Teacher Free Zone.” If there are other things that LGBTQIA+ persons are not allowed to do in the church, this should be clearly stated in an “LGBTQIA+ Persons Restriction Addendum” as well.

Such churches shouldn’t try to sweep the issue of who can and cannot teach under the rug and quietly deal with “those who cannot teach” behind closed doors and in quiet whispers, hoping that when they are told that they won’t make a fuss and will quietly submit to the church’s discriminatory practices. If these churches really believe that LGBTQIA+ persons should not be teaching in the church, then they should own it, make it public, and not mislead people into thinking they can teach in the church if they don’t think they are worthy of doing so.

The Epistemological Divide in United Methodism (December 1, 2019)

Religious groups are communities of practice based upon a shared theory of reality and a shared tradition of enquiry. As our shared experience challenges our theory of reality and we face epistemological crises (crises of how and what we know), our tradition of enquiry is challenged to ask new questions and to ask old questions in different ways, all of which leads to changes in our community practices that conform more appropriately to the new answers and new understandings of reality that come from our shared experience. Religious traditions, practices, and theories of reality are not static or absolute, nor are they simply changed without deep community engagement with our shared experiences and values.

Much of the current division in the United Methodist Church is related to members of our churches responding differently to the epistemological crisis brought on by the rise of the scientific method and the Enlightenment. Those who have addressed this epistemological crisis and recognize that revelation does not mean unchanging or absolute truth but rather the best understanding of a faithful community in a particular historical, social, and historical context are able to revise their theories of reality, traditions of enquiry, and community practices in ways that are congruent with new understandings and experiences of our LGBTQIA+ siblings.

Persons and communities who have not worked through or who have denied this epistemological crisis are continuing to avoid the fact there is a crisis by clinging to a view of revelation and its interpretation that is absolute and unchanging. When pressed to include and affirm persons who are LGBTQIA+, they are reminded of the broader epistemological crisis, which they have simply denied is a crisis by holding on to a pre-Enlightenment worldview of faith. From their perspective, to be open and affirming of persons who are LGBTQIA+ becomes a threat to their whole way of seeing the world.

The United Methodist Church will not be able fo bridge the divide over this epistemological crisis before General Conference in May of 2020, and with those who have not worked through the epistemological crisis attempting to force those who have worked through it to comply with a pre-Enlightenment worldview with all the sexism, patriarchy, and anti-LGBTQIA+ attitudes and practices that it entails; it is no longer tenable for United Methodism to exist in its present form. The centrist solution of straddling the fence of this epistemological divide in order to preserve the religious institution cannot hold us together as one denomination any longer.

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