Tuesday, April 12, 2016

What if...?: Hard Questions for United Methodists

Author Anne Lamott has astutely noted that “the opposite of faith is not doubt, it is certainty”:

“I have a lot of faith. But I am also afraid a lot, and have no real certainty about anything. I remembered something Father Tom had told me--that the opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.” (Anne Lamott, Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith)

As we United Methodists approach General Conference, I have been pondering this quote. I have asked myself, “Where has my certainty caused me to stray from faith? Have I been willing to engage in the hard questions regarding my own understandings as I expect others whose views are different from mine? Am I willing to wade into the troubled waters of our beloved church and be open to and surprised by the Spirit’s work?”

I have been especially asking myself these questions in light of recent statements by bishops within our church. The bishops of Africa addressed our denomination. They highlighted two major concerns, global terrorism and homosexuality. These bishops have a front row seat to the brokenness, injustices and death that terrorism has imparted, reminding all of us of “the massive human rights abuses against innocent”

However, the very next paragraph chides the church for “drifting” away from this high calling for “God’s reign of peace, justice and freedom to all” due to the church’s pastoral ministry with LGBT persons:

“Over the past four decades, from 1972 until the present, we have watched with shock and dismay the rapid drift of our denomination from this Holy call to a warm embrace of practices that have become sources of conflict that now threatens to rip the Church apart and distract her from the mission of leading persons to faith and making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. One of such practices is the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender).”

In the United States, one bishop, Scott Jones, offered an unprecedented exit strategy to Rev. Cynthia Meyer, a lesbian clergywoman. Should the 2016 General Conference retain current language prohibiting gay and lesbian clergy from serving openly, Rev. Meyer will be asked to surrender her credentials and “[I] will explain the process foundin ¶2548.2 to a church conference of Edgerton United Methodist Church . .. to assess their interest in withdrawing from the UMC and retaining Rev. Meyeras their pastor in a new denomination.” Bishop Jones is taking the GC 2016 theme of “Therefore Go” quite literally.

So I have been wondering, what if our certainty is preventing us from not only living fully into our faith, but also from recognizing how others are living into theirs as well?

I have been asking myself, as I prepare for General Conference, “What if I’ve been reading the Bible wrong? What if God really abhors homosexuality? What if it is a sin that automatically excludes one from participating in the life and ministry of the church? What if the loving relationships of gay men and lesbians are not reflections of God’s love?”

Now, to those who hold a view of homosexuality that is more restrictive than mine, you, too, must ask yourself the questions:

“What if I’ve been reading the Bible wrong? What if homosexuality is one more example of God’s creativity? What if homosexuality like heterosexuality really is a sacred gift, and those who are gay or lesbian are equal partners in creating God’s beloved community? What if loving relationships of gay men and lesbians are a reflection of God’s love?”

If I am wrong, what has been the cost in welcoming gay men and lesbians to the table as equal partners with straight men and women? How have I failed as a follower of Jesus?
If nothing else, by welcoming LGBTQ persons to the faith community, I have offered a group of people that have been kept at the margins a chance to experience the love of God. In addition, the church has benefited from the gifts of those who have participated openly in the life of the church (let’s be clear—the church has, is, and always will benefit from the service of lgbtq persons who are called to make The United Methodist Church their spiritual home. No amount of legislation will prevent the Spirit from calling people--including lgbtq persons--to ministry within our church).

However, for those who currently seek to maintain the restrictive policies regarding homosexuality and The United Methodist Church, what if you are wrong? What has been the cost in excluding gay men and lesbian from full participation in the body of Christ as found in the UMC? What have we lost? What has it done to the souls of lgbtq persons, and yours?

I, for one, would rather be faulted for erring on the side of grace.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

NO HATE IN OUR STATE: Decide to Love

Transcript of a speech given at a "No Hate in Our State" Rally, in response to the homophobic message of Franklin Graham, in Sacramento, CA March 31, 2016:

We are here today, because we want to show the world that Franklin Graham doesn’t speak for all Christians. We are here today because we are committed to a state and nation where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer persons and their families receive equal protection under law as straight and cis-gendered persons and families. We are here today, because we will resist evil, injustice and hatred in all the forms they present themselves, and we will fight back boldly and beautifully through the power of love.

The Christian faith I was born into and have committed my life to is one that embodies the great commandments that Jesus taught: to love God with all of who I am, and to love my neighbor as myself. We are to love God with all of who we are: in the fullness of our gayness or straightness, in the fullness of our whiteness or our blackness, in the fullness of our abilities. There is no part of us that should be held back or kept closeted, away from God. And we are to extend the love that we feel about ourselves to those around us, whether they are like us or not. To do anything less, is to fail to live into the faith that Jesus has set before us.

For God is love, and love is of God. When the church, when a faith leader, when Franklin Graham fails to see or recognize love, yes, even that love between two men or two women, I believe they have failed to live into the faithful example that Jesus embodied. Love is the heart of Christianity. It ought to be evident in the work we do, the positions we take, the relationships we build. It ought to manifest in breaking chains of hate and shame that have ensnared our brothers and sisters from living into their full selves.

We who are religious leaders have a responsibility to let folks know that they are beautiful, just as they are, and never beyond God’s loving embrace.

Franklin Graham is not leading with love when he calls marriage equality “detestable”. He is not leading with love when he says that when lesbians and gays live out their love openly it is “moral corruption.” He is not leading with love he claims that lgbt rights and advocacy are the works of Satan.

I will say this: Franklin Graham, who is on a Decision America tour, is right: it is time to make a decision, America, but not the decisions he thinks:

·       There is a decision to make, America: will we continue to fan the flames of racism or will we live into the beauty of diversity found in the human family?

·       There is a decision to make, America: will we ignore the cries of the poor or will we seek economic justice?

·       There is a decision to make, America: will we allow transphobia to become legislated into law, or will we seek to ensure that every person be allowed to live into their full gender expression?

·       There is a decision to make, America: will we roll back the great legal strides that the lgbtq community has made, or will we remain vigilant, so lgbtq children can grow up without fear, without shame, without bullying or violence?

·       There is a decision to make, America: will we build walls that divide, or will we build crosswalks of hope at the intersections of oppressions?

I will not allow hate to fester in our state. I will stand up and speak out, on this day and every day, for justice, for hope, for love.

Will you stand up and speak out with me?