Ministry and Politics


In our official work within churches, we who are ministers must be non-partisan in our political rhetoric and engagement to protect the non-profit status of our churches and respect the agreement within our religious communities that our churches will be non-partisan (note: a church could decide it wants to be partisan, but it would need to forfeit its non-profit status to do so). However, being non-partisan does not mean we must be non-political in our official capacity as ministers. Within the Christian tradition for example, the work of Jesus in the world was profoundly political. That is most likely why he was executed by political authorities on political charges. Following Jesus is a political act.

Bringing good news to the poor and oppressed and liberation to those who are held captive by systems of domination requires us to engage in political work as ministers and even openly criticize and resist the actions of governmental authorities if these actions are opposed to what it means to love and care for our neighbors, especially the most vulnerable. This can all be done in the prescribed non-partisan ways (not endorsing a candidate or a political party or calling on our congregations to work against a candidate or political party). The decision by ministers to attempt not to engage in any political action in our official role as ministers in our churches is actually itself a profoundly political action in a context in which our social, political, and economic systems are oppressing the vulnerable ones with whom Jesus calls us all to be in mission and harming the community of all creation.

Ministers, like all persons, do not only act in our official capacities of our employment; we are also members and active participants within the broader human community and have responsibilities to be politically engaged and are free to do so in partisan ways if we so choose. Once again, when we who are ministers choose not to engage in political action as citizens outside of our official capacity within our churches, this is a profoundly political choice as well.

In a context in which harm is being done to our neighbors who are refugees and immigrants, women are being mocked for speaking out about sexual assaults, persons who are LGBTQIA are experiencing discrimination, our incarceration rate is the highest on the planet and our criminal justice system shows clear bias against persons of color, inequality between the rich and the poor is increasing, millions of persons do not have adequate access to the healing made possible by affordable healthcare, the flames of fear and hatred of persons who relate to religion differently are being openly fanned, and the very earth itself is being ravaged by human activity; trying to be non-political is not only a political choice, it is also an irresponsible and immoral choice as well.

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Becoming Great

Sketch for 'Jesus Washing Peter's Feet' c.1851 by Ford Madox Brown 1821-1893

Ford Madox Brown. Sketch for ‘Jesus Washing Peter’s Feet’. c.1851

My Dear American Christian Siblings,

This is what Mark’s Jesus said about becoming great: “But that’s not the way it will be with you. Whoever wants to be great among you will be your servant. Whoever wants to be first among you will be the slave of all, for the Human One didn’t come to be served but rather to serve and to give his life to liberate many people.” -Mark 10:43-45, Common English Bible

If we Christian Americans want to become great, I am pretty sure it will not happen through the way the majority of us are currently headed. Our greatness as followers of Jesus will not come from the way of “strong leader” authoritarianism, the way of turning our backs on the immigrant and the refugee, the way of separating parents from their children, the way of not hearing those who have been harmed physically and emotionally, the way of white male domination of our economics and politics, the way of increasing inequality between the rich and the poor, the way of increasing injustices against people of color, the way of decreasing access to the healing made possible by affordable healthcare, the way of discriminating against those who orient themselves to religion differently than we do, the way of discriminating against our LGBTQIA siblings, or the way of increasing our exploitation and harm of the earth. This is not way to greatness; this is the way of hubris and hate, the way of injustice and oppression, the way that Jesus would often simply refer to as sin.

If we are to become great as followers of Jesus, our greatness will come from the way of love of all our neighbors and all our enemies, the way of humility as members of a common humanity and community of all creation, the way of working for justice with the poor and oppressed, the way of bringing affordable healing and care for all people, the way of welcoming the stranger and the refugee, the way of reuniting families instead of tearing them apart, the way of feeding the hungry and clothing the naked, the way of providing homes for the homeless, the way of peacemaking and not hate-making and fear-making, the way of opening our hearts and our homes to people of different religions and no religion, the way of listening to and respecting women, the way in which the lives of people of color matter just as much as the lives of white people, the way of restorative justice rather than retributive justice, the way in which all persons are treated equally as persons of sacred worth regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, and the way of repairing and regenerating the earth as we care for all creation.

If we as followers of Jesus in the United States are to become great, we must turn over the tables of injustice in our land, we must become lovers of all humanity and all creation, we must become willing to take up our cross and actually follow the one whom we claim to follow and work sacrificially to create the Beloved Community of All Creation. if we do these things, then we have an opportunity to contribute to the goodness of our nation and the flourishing of all persons and the whole planet, and that my dear Christian American siblings would really be great.

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A Forest of Desire

Olympic forests

In 1976, when I was nine years old, my maternal grandparents moved to Port Angeles, Washington from Madison, Wisconsin to retire. They lived there for 23 years, and I visited 25 times. I love everything about the Olympic National Park there, from the misty rugged coastlines, to the towering moss-covered rain forests, to the glacier crowned mountain peaks (though the glaciers have receded greatly in the past 42 years since my first visit).

My Grandma and Grandpa Youmans had a small home on the edge of Port Angeles with wonderful picture windows looking out over a meadow surrounded by forests composed mainly of Douglas Fir, and they had a modest guest house that was filled with family and friends more often than it was not, especially during the summer months. They had an incredible garden and friends with incredible gardens, and my grandma could cook with the very best. My 25 visits to be with them in this natural paradise were some of the most beautiful times of my life.

The thing I enjoyed more than anything else when I visited was to spend time walking in the forest around their home. For a southwest Oklahoma boy where some of the post oak trees don’t grow much taller than a person, walking among those trees was like being in a majestic natural cathedral. I spent hours walking in those forests, looking up over and over again, and on one occasion my near constant gaze at the trees led to an unfortunate encounter with stinging nettles. Stinging nettles aside, those forest strolls and hikes were like spirit food for me, and I still have vivid and joyous memories of them to this day.

As amazing and awe-inspiring as my visits to the Pacific Northwest were, I also had some deeply disturbing experiences there. On my first visit to this Olympic Peninsula paradise at the age of nine, I saw where a forest had been clear-cut. It was a like a gut punch to my soul. I was certainly old enough to understand that we used trees for many things – wood for homes, furniture, and paper (there were two paper mills in Port Angeles at that time). I understood that people cut trees down for these purposes, but this understanding did not prepare me for violence of a clear cut.

In some of my early visits, I got to see first hand an area of mature forest right next to my grandparents’ property be clear-cut. Each day of those visits was met by the sounds of machinery and saws as the forest was systematically wiped out in front of my horror-stricken eyes. This description is not an exaggeration of what I felt at the time. I was struck by horror seeing what we human beings were doing to this once vibrant and alive forest as it was reduced to lifeless stumps in the dirt. Even as a young boy, perhaps especially because I was so young, I knew that there was something deeply wrong with what we were doing to these forests.

My sense of outrage was deepened during one of those early visits when we took a tour of one of the paper mills, and I watched the process by which these majestic trees became paper. Ever since that day, I have never been able to use paper produced from trees without some sense of guilt for doing so. That trip to the paper mill was not as horrifying as my first tour through a hog killing factory two decades later, but it nonetheless made its mark on my spirit.

My sadness about what we were doing to the forests became more pronounced each year I would visit my grandparents. Each time I would fly into Seattle, I would see from my plane window more and more blocks of forest that had been clear-cut since my visit the year before. It was a sight that sickened me.

This sickness of my soul in the face of these clear cuts is one of the key experiences of my life that led me to become concerned about our natural environment, the ecological community of which we are all members. Witnessing the destruction of the forests in Washington led me to learn about deforestation throughout the world. Learning about the deforestation throughout the world led me to learn more about the other deeply intertwined ways that we as a human community are exploiting and desecrating our ecological community.

The gut punch to my nine-year old soul in the face of a horrifying clear-cut became a kind of seed that grew into a forest of desire to do something to save, renew, and regenerate our ecological community. It is a seed that has grown into a calling to care for all creation, a calling that I have answered imperfectly, but to which I feel compelled to keep trying so that this precious planet, our only home, might somehow experience healing.

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Persons of Sacred Worth


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

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

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

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

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

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Who Wouldn’t Want Ranked Choice Voting?

Ranked Choice Voting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Violence of Tradition

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

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

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

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

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

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Turning Over the Tables of ‘American Christianity’

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

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

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

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

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

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