Doing Harm in the United Methodist Church

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.

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Who Will Save Us?

Corporations are not going to save us. Politicians are not going to save us. Judges are not going to save us. Philanthropists are not going to save us. Preachers are not going to save us. Scientists are not going to save us. Celebrities are not going to save us. Universities are not going to save us. Technology alone is not going to save us. The hand of God is not going to save us.

We are the only people who are going to save us from the climate chaos we are creating, and by we, I mean a mass movement of revolutionary proportions for systemic transformation that will radically alter our relations to each other and the planet and lead us to forever see nature as our community rather than simply a commodity to exploit.

Our climate scientists are warning us that the next ten years are our last opportunity to avoid the worst of the worst case scenarios in relation to climate change. Let’s not be the worst generation that lets a livable climate slip through our fingers. May the powerful forces of love, empathy, and justice create in us a new heart that will not allow us to sit idly by while we hurl ourselves towards a future of horrific suffering in an unlivable climate.

We have it in us to do this, but will we find the courage and the spirit to give our lives for the very life of human civilization itself and the well-being of all life? What will motivate us to finally respond to the greatest existential threat to ever face humanity and our ecological community?

It is going to take more than changing out light bulbs, carpooling, and programming the thermostat. It will require a revolution of agriculture, transportation, energy, and industry. It will require a transformation of our economic and political systems to make right all that we have done wrong to our one world house over the past three centuries, and we must be willing to give our whole lives to this effort so that our earth might flourish and humanity might not perish. Only we can save us.

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Clinging to Centrism: Broad Center Bell Curves, Incompatibilism, and Compatibilism

Broad center bell curveImage 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.

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Imagine if a person were being investigated for possible crimes, and he had the power to pardon all of his associates who were being investigated with him.

Imagine if this same person being investigated could make public statements and write daily tweets about the investigation, about persons who are doing the investigation, and about his associates being investigated.

Imagine the person being investigated has a vast array of media organizations who are willing to coordinate with him to repeat his criticisms and argue for his criticisms on a daily basis.

Imagine if he could repeatedly and publicly float the idea of pardoning his associates.

Imagine if the person being investigated had the power to publicly berate and eventually fire the person who recused himself of leading the investigation process owing to a clear conflict of interest.

Imagine that the person being investigated fires this person and replaces him with a person who has been publicly critical of the investigation and who has vowed not to recuse himself even though he also has a glaring conflict of interest.

Imagine this new person overseeing the investigation process gets to be the first person to see a report of the investigation and is the one who is authorized to write the summary of its findings for the public to see.

Imagine the leader of the United States Senate, whose wife is serving in a cabinet level position appointed by the person being investigated, coordinating an effort to keep the public from seeing anything but a four page summary of the report of the investigation written by the person appointed by the person being investigated.

Imagine a world in which roughly 42% of the people in a society think all of this is a fair and appropriate process.

Imagine losing the integrity of a republic.

Welcome to America.

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Never Give In

The Mueller Report Process (I say process since we really know almost nothing about the actual report), confirms that the current president was surrounded by and assisted by a number of criminals in his 2016 Campaign. It apparently also confirms that there was a significant effort by Russia to influence the election, and although there were numerous contacts with members of the Trump Campaign and Russians, Mueller did not find enough evidence to show that there was a conspiracy. The process apparently also shows that in Mueller’s estimation the evidence does not exonerate the current president in the area of obstruction of justice.

In the Mueller investigation process, 34 persons have been indicted, 5 Trump associates have been convicted, and one (Stone) is awaiting trial. As with any crime family, it is often difficult to convict the leader of the crime family as they usually have others do the direct criminal activity for them.

I write all of this simply to note that the spin on the yet to be released Mueller Report (it really has not been released despite what people say – Have you seen it? Has Congress seen it?) is typical of the spin one would hear from the lawyers of a crime family boss, and that is because what we are dealing with is a crime family boss.

The existential danger of our current situation is that almost an entire political party and tens upon tens of millions of persons in our country are cheering the boss on and enabling, even encouraging, his activities. Now and in the days ahead, the current president and his associates will be calling for retribution and payback (punishing their enemies). Their calls are not about justice. They are about intimidation and revenge, which is also typical of organized crime families.

That we have come to a moment when the elected leader of the most powerful country on earth is such a person at a time when the world needed visionary leadership to address multiple and significant global challenges, represents the deepest of failures of our country, our institutions, and our people. It is unclear if our country, our institutions, and our people are up to the challenge of rectifying the damage we have done by electing such a person for such a time as this, but the well-being of the entire world depends on us continuing to try.

As Winston Churchill once said, “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never-in nothing, great or small, large or petty – never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense” (Winston Churchill, Speech at Harrow School, 1941).

For now not giving in means we must demand with all of our being that the actual Mueller Report be released to Congress and that the public be given the opportunity to see all portions of the report that do not compromise national security or the safety of persons. At the moment the Mueller Report has not yet been released. It has simply been captured by the Attorney General, who of course was appointed by the president for such a time as this.

With hard work and sacrifice, may goodness and justice prevail. Never give in, never, never, never, never.

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Fossil Fueled Fascism

There are at least four things about which our current president is quite consistent:

1. He is anti-immigrant and anti-refugee in relation to non-white immigrants.

2. He is anti-Islam, except in the case of Saudi Arabia and its allies.

3. He supports Christian Fundamentalism.

4. He supports the fossil fuel industry.

These four things contribute to Trump’s deep and abiding support among racists, xenophobes, white supremacists, Christian fundamentalists, industrial agriculture, the fossil fuel industry, and the petrochemical industry; and it is their interconnected interests that have brought Trump to power and which are working to keep him in power.

Racists, xenophobes, white supremacists, and Christian fundamentalists support Trump primarily for ideological reasons; but the industrial agriculture, the fossil fuel industry, and the petrochemical industry (all of which depend heavily on fossil fuel) support Trump primarily for financial reasons. Trump’s ideological base and the fossil fuel industry are mutually supportive of each other and mutually dependent on one another. The need each other to maintain power, and they know it. Trump knows it too.

Racists, xenophobes, and white supremacists tend to subordinate any concerns they might have for the environment to their more immediate concern of making America white again, so climate change is easily discarded as a concern of the opposing “globalist” team. From their nationalist perspective, they are easily convinced that increased fossil fuel development for the sake of energy independence is in both the national and nationalist interest.

Christian fundamentalists, few of whom are explicitly racist, xenophobic, or white supremacists, are nonetheless willing to overlook Trump’s popularity among these groups because Trump is supporting their most important agenda items of ending access to legal abortions and protecting what they understand to be their religious freedom – even if that freedom calls for discrimination of other persons in the public sphere. As long as Trump continues to appoint judges who will support their agenda, they will never stop supporting Trump, and given that a very large percentage of them literally believe the world will end in their lifetime, climate change is of little concern to them. They are much more focused on uncritical support for Israel (another point Trump knows how to work) less out of concern for the Jewish people who are living in Israel than as a means to bring about the Second Coming (yes, they really are working for this). This is why Trump moved the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Ideological support for Trump is crucial to his success, but without the financial and organizational support of the fossil fuel related industries; Trump would likely not have come to power. Trump has rewarded these industries mightily with a massive rollback of environmental regulations and a withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. Trump’s problematic ties to Russia are not a problem at all to the fossil fuel industry as there are hundreds of billions of dollars to be made on drilling agreements with Russia. This is likely why Rex Tillerson, former CEO of Exxon, was appointed as Secretary of State. To Tillerson’s credit, he could not bring himself to continue working under Trump, but his initial appointment was a testament to how closely the fossil fuel industry is connected with this president.

Most fossil fuel executives are likely not racist, xenophobic, or white supremacists; and they are probably no more likely to be Christian fundamentalists than any other segment of society. Most fossil fuel executives probably don’t see themselves as being pro-Putin or even pro-Russia, but their desire to cash in on the trillions of dollars worth of fossil fuel yet to be exploited has led them into a mutually reinforcing and mutually beneficial relationship with Trump’s ideological base. The relationship is becoming stronger and more inextricable to the point that, whether consciously or not, the fossil fuel industry is supporting dangerous right-wing nationalist ideologies around the world. The existential danger we are currently facing is that this collaboration of convenience to further ideological and financial interests seems to be leading us down a pernicious path to fossil fueled fascism with dire consequences for people and the planet.

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Clinging to Purity

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.

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