Where All May Gather - A More Perfect Witness
A word from the outset--
I'm an advocate for The United Methodist Church to change its current position on human sexuality. If you are as well, I invite you to join me and sign on with our sister church in the Tennessee Conference, Belmont, who has been working to formulate petitions to the 2016 General Conference to amend all prohibitive and discriminatory language around LGBTQ matters. If you are of that mind and heart, you may do that here: If by some miracle I'm on the floor of General Conference and eligible to vote when it comes up, I will be casting my vote that way.
To sign on doesn't mean anything will change. It does mean that as a part of your particular witness of what you believe to be the most faithful witness of The United Methodist Church and the Realm of God coming into being, these codified exclusions must fall away so that a deeper and I believe more faithful witness may emerge.
This is my witness on this.
I recognize it is not everyone's. It can't be.
Some may be supportive for very different reasons than I am. And that's to be expected. I cannot nor will not puppet polarizing talking points so as to convince some constituencies that I'm a "true believer" about this or any other issue.
Anyone who knows me at all will know what my response to such litmus test expectations are.
Some are not supportive of this change at all and hold deep convictions for why it is so for them, even as I am confounded as to how we can be of any heart and mind but to change.
Thus is the tension of the Church. It is not the first time the Church has struggled, it will not be the last.
Many, I believe, are not sure where they are on this question. They have heard what the Church has said on this, and yet inwardly they know something seems disconnected between what is said and what they believe about the heart of God.
There are many issues occupying the Church's attention, and this is surely one. And while there are some who would want to lump this issue in with our struggles around discipleship, evangelism, generating leaders, and the rigors of an unwieldy system, to do so is to dilute this issue's import. Placed among the many we can hide from the particular. I contend that how we deal with the fundamental question of true inclusion will define how we deal with the others.
One thing is certain, we are better than what we've been showing. We are better than the anger, judgement, fear, condescension and bloviating we've been doing at each other. Because while that's happening people are hurting.
Is not our first rule "Do no harm?"
Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.
I love and hold deeply my commitment to The United Methodist Church. In addition to being a member of an annual conference, in my current work I serve as an officer of the conference where I am bound to uphold and honor the Church's rule. I have. And I will. And I want that rule to change.
Without equivocation, I do not want to see schism. I'm convinced that we are better, more faithful--together. There are days when I believe it's hopeful that there will be a way made out of no way in which the circle will be drawn ever wider with glad and joyful hearts. And there are days I know for certain that the inevitability of impasse leads only to one conclusion. All I have to do is look at the name of the church I serve that's engraved atop the sanctuary exterior to be reminded of that: ST.JOHN'S M.E. CHURCH SOUTH
About convictions...I preached on those recently:
"Convictions are conducted from the innermost place in the heart toward outward expression. They always are. The compelling question is not whether any of us have convictions. We all do. It’s being honest about the source within us that gives our convictions life. We may decorate our convictions with language that appears theological and biblical….boy, can we hide our true intent in that. But unless what is being conducted from our hearts into action is the love of God through Jesus expressed through love of neighbor, I don’t care what you say your convictions are based on, what people see outwardly is the truest expression of what exists within."
"If the courage of your convictions doesn't move you to live your love for God that confronts your bias, it's not a conviction, it's an idol."
We've got idolatry aplenty at work in the guise of convictions on both sides of this issue--even on the side of the issue I hold. This is not about theological treatise. Some darned good ones are out there. Knock yourself out. This is not about grandstanding in a sermon.
The whole biblical obedience thing is a ruse. It doesn't wash. Why does Aaron Sorkin have a better handle on biblical interpretation than most of us who claim to live with the Bible daily? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYaewOBGybw If that's where we're going to go it will always end up with winners and losers, and the Bible would have been weaponized yet again.
Lord, help me. If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times, Jesus does not need anyone to defend him. Jesus is just fine. What Jesus expects of us is something else...something that comes from the heart.
Herein lies the rub for me.
No matter what we say about sacred worth, The United Methodist Church is not drawing the circle wider. We are robbing the Holy Spirit from bringing about a new day in us and in our witness. We are robbing ourselves from being blessed and ministered by that of God in those who are gay.
Our witness is weakened because it is incomplete.
This isn't about nature vs. nurture.
This isn't about "how" sexual identity is determined or "why," or "what" to do about it if it falls within certain "acceptable" parameters and especially if it doesn't. My understanding of how our sexual identities are determined is not what guides me. I don't have to understand it. Which is a good thing, because I don't.
This is about "who."
This is about people, about children of God upon whom the waters of baptism have splashed being told that they cannot engage the Church like others. They cannot serve the God they've given their lives to through the pursuit of ordination. While they can marry elsewhere they cannot here and the ones appointed to be their pastors cannot solemnize their covenant.
These people, whom God loves, calls to ministry, and calls into sacred relationships are not welcomed within the rule of the Church, our Church, my Church like I am. There is something inherently wrong about that.
This isn't about the prior practices of the Church and frontiers never crossed. We've crossed into new frontiers before in our history. It's an easy survey of our history see that. Ultimately we discover there are moments when to let go of something long held so as to make room for something new defines our character regardless of how loving our rhetoric may sound.
This isn't about orthodoxy. I have deep respect for orthodoxy. And yet even it can made an idol.
This is about orthopraxy - about right practice of faith not as agents of the Church (which is always a fallen system in need of redemption), but as companions of Jesus, disciples.
Without fail, Jesus associated with those who caused great consternation and challenge to the previously held understandings of who God is, what God does and how God does it. If he had a mantra found in Gospels, surely it is "You have heard it said, but I tell you..." The very nature of Jesus' ministry was/is to confound previously held understandings for a newer way, a different path.
Why? To What End? Invariably, Jesus' teachings yield very specific fruit. That is, as we live out the "royal rule of love" through love of God expressed through love of neighbor, the product of that equation brings us all to Table, together. It welcomes us, each of us. And all of us are made worthy to be present only by God's grace. Whether I think you belong is not relevant. It's plenty enough to realize that I belong, that I'm invited.
This place is safe.
This place is sanctuary.
It is the place where all may gather.
And we've got to make some changes in the Church so that we may be made ever more perfect in love, where ours is a more perfect witness.
Veni, Sancte Spiritus.
Grace and Peace,