The past year, I’ve been thinking a whole lot about the Fourth Commandment. You know, “honor your father and mother”. Growing up in church, I along with just about every other child learned that commandment meant we needed to obey our parents because not to do so was a sin. Real teenage rebellion can be tough when you’re convinced the eternal status of your soul is at stake.
Starting last year, I’ve had conversations with my pastor, Rev. Jane Eesley, that have swirled around this particular commandment. Because, you see, this little bit of legal prodding has nothing at all to do with going to bed on time, doing the dishes when told, or otherwise saying, “Yes, sir,” or, “Yes, ma’am,” when Mom or Dad start asking you to do stuff. The commandment, rooted in a tribal culture where the strongest ties were intergenerational filial bonds through which passed the traditions, lessons, and religious and social practices that bound together disparate groups of people in to a more cohesive whole, is about saying, “Yes,” to the most important lessons your ancestors can teach. Most of all, it’s about honoring the bonds that link one generation to the next; grown children are the resource through which older parents can continue to live and thrive. We honor our parents not by making the bed or putting our clean clothes away (although that’s important, too); we honor our parents by recognizing the things they’ve taught us, the lessons from which we learned how to be productive members of society. We honor them by offering them the chance to live the end of their days with dignity and humanity, just as they offered us as children lessons that bestowed upon us that same dignity and humanity.
So it was this past late winter as my Mother lay dying. We gathered at the family home, each of us taking time and turns to make sure she was cared for. We were demanding because she would have demanded it. We kept an around-the-clock vigil in her room because we did not want her to be alone, especially as the end came. I know I left the room when they would wash and change her clothes and shift her in bed because I wanted my mother to have that little bit of parental dignity. The doctors and nurses said she wasn’t aware of what was going on around her. Maybe. That doesn’t mean I, for one, didn’t believe there was a part of her that was very aware, and was grateful for all we did.
So it is now, with my father, six weeks after entering the hospital with pneumonia and discovering he had congestive heart failure, he is finally in his home of nearly 46 years. He is much weaker than when he left, a product of age and physical decline. It seems at times to take all his energy just to remain seated upright and alert. The simple act of coming home this morning, moving through his rearranged house, and having lunch have exhausted him.
And as much as I miss my home and my family, I know that this is where I need to be: this place and this time, doing this work. I know I can’t stay forever. I also know I need to stay long enough to ensure both that the transition in his living status is relatively smooth, and that he and my sister settle in to a routine with which they’re both happy. Most of all, I am glad to be here now because I know the time is short. As I write this I really don’t want to believe it. The facts, however, are brutal, unfair, and plain as the nose on my face. So I am here when and as I can be, to be with and honor my father in these his last months.
In the way of things, I inherited from him a talent for and enjoyment of music. From him I learned the simple joys of reading a book, telling a joke, keeping a humorous and jaundiced eye on the world around me. I even learned what it is to be a father, both from the things he did right as well as the things he did wrong. Most of all, I learned what it is to be a man. Not some tough-guy; I learned it’s about maturity, thoughtfulness, love for your family and thoughtfulness for your friends; taking responsibility for the things that are yours while not getting too bogged down by things out of your control. I would never say he was a great man, because he was far better: he was and is a good man, filled with flaws and virtues. I wouldn’t be the son he raised me to be if I weren’t right here right now making sure this return home wasn’t something both easy and comfortable.
I know my family both understands and wishes I were home. There are some days I wish I lived just a little closer, but recognize that life has offered me many good things so I shouldn’t complain about things that are of little consequence. While we are no longer a people bound to a place and space designated holy we are still a people offered a time, a family, and a life in which we all lift one another up through all stages of life. This is what it means to honor our parents: To be the people we were raised to be, and to show that by the care we take for them as they enter the final stages of life.
I’ve had it. Up to here (imagine seeing me holding my hand just above my head, miming that I’m swamped by the shit rushing around about the Democratic nominating process). And, no, this is not a “pox on both your houses” post. It is rather a “pay attention to who might be stirring you up” post; a “nothing is decided on the internet so stop yelling” post; and a quick note to those few-and-far-between true Bernie Sanders’ supporters who really do exist (one is on my friend list).
After last week’s melee at the Nevada Democratic convention, at which supporters of Bernie Sanders, upset both over the outcome and the process, began throwing chairs and otherwise acting like children who’s binkie had been taken away from them, suddenly people who claimed to support Bernie, or claimed to support Hillary, started popping up all over the place, stirring the resentment and residual anger, getting people to start shouting at one another on the Internet. Then, folks like me and some others who watch all this with a jaundiced eye start complaining about “Bernie Bros”, and it soon spreads that the Democratic Party is experiencing a “civil war”.
As with all things, a few deep breaths, a quick survey of the landscape, and some thought lead one to one question: Who benefits? The answer, of course, is the Republicans and their putative nominee, Donald Trump. This is not to suggest what’s happening is some coordinated action being run by the Trump campaign. On the contrary, it usually takes very little to get people dedicated to a particular cause or issue suddenly to explode in anger at the least provocation. At least, online, where there are no consequences and a lot of the time anonymity allows all sorts of venting to occur. It really only takes a few somewhat clever trolls to type words like “rigged” and “stolen” and “Bern it down”, and soon enough a-tad-too-dedicated supporters for one or the other Democratic candidate start yelling at one another online.
Which leads me to my next point: Stop thinking that a bunch of hashtags, memes, and continually complaining about how “the system is rigged” will either convince people you are correct and therefore support your favored candidate; and stop thinking that telling Hillary Clinton supporters they are no better than Republicans, that she is a corrupt liar who gives secret speeches to millionaires for huge sums of money which proves she’s a corporate shill, and then sit and wonder why what seems so obvious to you might not be so obvious to everyone. No one, so far as I know, has changed their mind because of a bunch of memes, unsourced and long-debunked claims about corruption, or TYPING LIKE THIS BECAUSE ON THE INTERNET NO ONE CAN HEAR YOU SCREAM SO THEY HAVE TO SEE YOU SCREAM. No one’s suggesting that folks who support one or another candidate for President should dampen their enthusiasm. I am suggesting that trying to convince people who think that Bernie Sanders has run a good race – and maybe should stay until after the California primary! – but in the end should support (and urge his supporters to support) Sec. Clinton in the general election; trying to tell people like me that we’re actually Republicans, that we support corruption, that we aren’t real Democrats; that all that might well be counterproductive and make us – well, me – even less inclined to pay attention to you.
Finally, for those few-and-far-between true Bernie Sanders supporters who really do carry on about rigged systems and corrupt nominating processes: First, of course it’s rigged. Sanders entered the primaries and caucuses and conventions knowing it was rigged, but thinking he could use this rigged system to win, anyway. When he loses . . . don’t carry on that the system is rigged (it is); recognize that Sanders lost. Second, yes, the whole nominating process with its superdelegates and what not is corrupt and supports the status quo. This isn’t a shock or surprising, so stop yelling about it. Sen. Sanders entered this process knowing full well that both the system and those who support the system through the nominating process were against him. When Sen. Sanders loses don’t whine about the system being against him, because of course it is. He lost. Accept it and move on. Finally, Sec. Clinton isn’t Sen. Sanders when it comes to her positions on the issues, but that hardly means she’s a stealth Republican. Particularly in this election year, the differences between the candidates and their respective parties could not be more clear. While Clinton is certainly the status quo/stand pat candidate, compared to Donald Trump . . . well there really isn’t much at all of a comparison, now is there.
As for the rest of us looking on: There is not going to be a convention floor fight. There is not going to be more than one ballot. Mrs. Clinton will most likely arrive at the convention with enough delegates to win. I’m figuring that Sen. Sanders might well be offered a cabinet post – Secretary of Labor or HHS would be my guess – and, really, he’d be a fool not to take it. And if you really really really really believe the system is corrupt, that Sen. Sanders is actively being denied then nomination by an apparatus designed to prevent candidacies like his from winning, you are right, but remember – BERNIE SANDERS ENTERED THIS RACE KNOWING FULL WELL ALL THIS WAS TRUE. STOP ACTING SURPRISED THAT IT IS TRUE.
That’s all. Have a great week.
I have a short, thick volume in my library. It’s entitled Creeds of the Churches. Editor John Leith went about the monumental task of gathering statements of faith, expressions of belief, and affirmations of communal confession throughout Christian history, from the Scriptures through the formation of the World Council of Churches and the Second Vatican Council. Apart from the content of the work, which is invaluable when trying to figure out what, exactly, are the differences between the Reformed tradition and the Evangelical (Lutheran) tradition, or what the Assumption of Mary actually means (I made that up; that’s not in the book, although the declaration of Papal infallibility from the First Vatican Council is in there), by its sheer mass the book shows us the futility of settling on any single human statement of faith as full and sufficient for expressing the human faith in the God of Jesus Christ. Each and all, from the Scriptures to the present, are little more than snapshots in time of what particular bodies of Christians sought to affirm about the God they encountered in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit.
Which is why I’m so glad I’m a member of a non-creedal tradition. That doesn’t mean we can’t and don’t read creeds, because of course we do. We United Methodists are non-creedal because we recognize there is no single, simple formula that captures the depth of the human experience of the Divine. Our Articles of Religion, Wesley’s Notes On The Old and New Testaments, and John Wesley’s Sermons lie at the heart of our faith because, let’s face it: How is it possible that any creed could express the fullness of our belief?
One of the things I like about our United Methodist system is that just ordinary folks can submit petitions for considerations by various legislative committees. A FB friend of mine, Joel Watts, submitted a petition that would have added the Nicene Creed to our Articles of Religion. Now, on the surface, this seems both uncontroversial and perhaps even beneficial. After all, the statement that emerged from the series of Councils at Nicaea and Constantinople in the 4th-5th centuries are the heart of our Trinitarian faith (albeit a tad weak in pneumatology, but I digress). The first such statement, printed above in its original Greek, was forged in a fight between two bishops over the metaphysical status of the Incarnate Son of God. Unable to win the fight “in the pews” as people might say today – the vast majority of Christians, including the Emperor Constantine’s mother were followers of Arius, who taught that, while certainly central to the faith of the believer, and whose sacrifice was necessary for the salvation of humanity, Jesus Christ was not Divine – Athanasius had the Emperor call a Council, making sure there would be sufficient numbers of Bishops present at the resort city of Nicaea to overwhelm any Arian bishops (and that all of it would take place before Arius could arrive).
I’m not saying this rather overwrought history means I’m not Trinitarian. On the contrary, the Trinity is perhaps the single most important religious and philosophical innovation in the West in 2000 years of church history. It violated everything people thought they knew about Divinity, Humanity, and their relations. It encapsulates the whole of what German scholars used to call Heilsgeschichte. Honestly, I believe took the dirty, underhanded politicking of that Imperial suck-up Athanasius and used it to further our understanding of who God is and how God loves us.
As I said, however, the creed we call The Nicene Creed is actually an amalgam of statements from several council over a couple centuries, demonstrating it is neither as simple or clear as it might seem. The Creed we read is in English, a language not even imagined when those Bishops gathered at the hot springs in Anatolia 1700 years ago. Most importantly, woven throughout the text are notions rooted in a mixture of neo-Platonic and Aristotelean thought that, quite rightly, is largely unintelligible to our contemporary ears. Affirming that the Son is of the same substance as the Father, after a few moments thought, seems rather odd to us. It was of vital importance to those Bishops who first gathered, however. Matters of physics and metaphysics were central to an understanding of the dispute between Arius and Athanasius. To say that the fully human Jesus of Nazareth was also fully divine – of the same substance – was to make a metaphysical claim that was absurd. Even with the floor packed with those who followed him, Athanasius only managed to pull off inserting a single word, homoousious, into their final statement by the skin of his teeth.
To ask of United Methodists to make the Nicene Creed a test of our faithfulness, then, involves much more than reciting some word. It asks of us to adhere to an outmoded philosophical system, a set of ideas on the nature of reality that have no meaning at all except to specialists. It is to make a measure of our faith a statement that existed long before John Wesley; long before Coke and Asbury; long before our Uniting Conference in 1968. Adding the Nicene Creed actually invalidates our Articles of Religion because they are rooted in a very different metaphysics, very different ideas about the nature of being and reality.
Words mean things. The meaning of the words in the Nicene Creed run deeper than matters of theology. Those words hold meanings that no one, really, can affirm say anything about the makeup of the Universe, or human beings, of what it means to exist as a created being as opposed to a Divine being. Adding the Nicene Creed as a test of faith strips it of its substantive meaning precisely because, translated from a long-dead language filled with its own baggage to a modern language unburdened by all that rigomarole about substances and essences and accidents, the real importance of the Nicene Creed is stripped away, leaving a husk of words that serve no purpose other than to make clear who is in and who is out.
Not just substantive meaning, however; inserting the Nicene Creed into our Book of Discipline robs it of its historic importance. In the 1964 Hymnal, on which I grew up, recitation of this creed was prefaced with the words, And now let us join in this historic expression of the Christian faith. That preface summarizes precisely what the Nicene Creed, and all formal creedal statements, are: historic expressions of the Christian faith. Moments captured in time, vitally necessary to the story of our faith yet not at all the end-all and be-all of our Christian confession. Our faith, like our God, is a living thing. We should always be ready and able to confess our faith as the Body of Christ. We should never claim that our confession at any one time is the sole and sufficient rule, containing all that is necessary to understand the lived experience of the Church. By refusing to allow the Nicene Creed to become some kind of test of fiath, we have staked our claim on the future as the hope of our faith. We have allowed the Nicene Creed to live on as it is, rather than killing it and stuffing it and shoving it in a museum called The Book of Discipline where it would sit while people walked by without seeing it. We have kept our faith alive, and kept the Nicene Creed alive in all its historic importance, precisely by rejecting it as some contemporary ruler to smack the hands of recalcitrant Christians.
Thanks be to God.
I have been dismayed by the “entitlement” mentality that stand is stark contrast to the humility we were invited to yesterday. I am watching my brothers and sisters speak angrily and horribly to wait-staff, hotel-staff, convention center staff, and even to one another. At a restaurant, a “gentleman” reduced his server to tears and at the top of his voice screamed, “No way you get a tip!” Today, a booth scheduled to open at 7:30 had the audacity to not open until 7:38. People took their annoyance out on the poor volunteers working the booth. On person spat, “I am much too important to be made waiting this long.” And another muttered abut the “stupid assholes” who couldn’t tell time. I wish these were the only two incidents I could name, but they are examples of multiple encounters I have seen in the past two days. What a witness to the world about United Methodists… – Rev. Dan Dick, “GC2016 – Day Three”, United Methodeviations, May 12, 2016
What I worry about, however, is whether we have any ability to call ourselves Christian in the wake of how we treat one another. Granted, we have valid differences and our passion for our beliefs can lead us to use language and maintain a tone that is somewhat divorced from the call to gentleness, patience, and kindness mentioned in the scriptures. I understand passion, and often say things that I later regret, so I get that sometimes our words get away from us.
The bigger concern for me is the sense of entitlement held by several who think that their position, their office, or even their election as a delegate grants them a status beyond that of “sinner in need of God’s grace.” Humility seems to be less valued than certainty and that often misunderstood quality known as “leadership.” In the face of self-importance, God’s command of love often gets trampled. – Jay Voorhees, “Commentary: And Are We Yet Alive?”, United Methodist Reporter, May 12, 2016
But this is the one to whom I will look,
to the humble and contrite in spirit,
who trembles at my word. – Isaiah 66:2b
I had high hopes for this General Conference. I really did. After the disaster in Tampa in 2012, one would think everyone would be mindful of the need not just to do things differently, but to do them better. The sad fact is there seems to be even more anger and animosity among the delegates, even more distrust and disrespect, and pretty much none of the humility toward which the Bishop’s have been calling us each morning.
Which leads me to ponder something I thought about yesterday. I was speaking to someone about my impressions of General Conference so far, and the one thing that’s stuck out for me has been the gulf between what is powerful, Spirit-filled worship and the rancorous deliberations on the floor. There is much commentary in the Hebrew Scriptures on worship. Over and over again the message is clear: authentic worship is humility, an open and contrite heart. The prophets in particular deliver words that show Divine disgust at worship more concerned with outward devotion to ritual than with the inward Spirit of love for one another, a community gathered knowing they are sinners before a God both of love and justice, a God that desires Holy Community rather than liturgical exactness.
So after three powerful worship services so far, during which the presence of the Spirit was palpable, I have to wonder . . . who was really worshiping?
Which brings me to a radical thought rooted in sadness: I think General Conference needs to start all over again. Before anyone enters the main auditorium, rather than being prayed over, delegates should the prayer Jesus said on the Mount of Olives: Not my will, but yours be done. Rather than following Robert’s Rules of Order – endlessly exploitable by those who understand their confusing intricacies – our General Conference should follow different rules. Only speeches that build up the body should be allowed. Only words that seek to bridge gaps and heal divisions should be heard.
I am all for anger. I am all for the silenced to be heard. There is, however, a time and a place for everything, and the floor of General Conference is no more the right place for grandstanding than it should be the place for parliamentary maneuvering and sowing seeds of confusion and mistrust.
For all the glorious worship and music, for all the calls for humility, this General Conference is descending quickly in to a morass of mutual spite. If Dan Dick’s stories are true, this is spilling over in our dealings with those with whom we have no disagreements, those outside the circle of General Conference. We need a do-over and we need it NOW. For the sake of our church, its ministry, and how we might live together and serve together going forward.
This morning’s General Conference day began with beautiful worship, a powerful sermon from Bishop Christian Alsted, and spiritual music leadership from a Danish Gospel choir. With presiding chair Bishop Hope Morgan Ward leading the way, early business moved quickly and decisively. Then came – yes; again – consideration of Rule 44. For the third day in a row, everything ground to a halt. First came a motion to overrule the chair’s decision from the previous day that only a simple majority would be needed to pass the Rule, thus requiring a 2/3 majority in order to implement it. That passed by five votes. Then came points of order, a motion to resubmit Rule 44 to the Rules Committee to be brought forward again in four years. Then more points of order. Declarations that motions were out of order. Demands to be called on by the chair despite the rules of the Conference. People so confused even the Chair wasn’t sure whether people should be speaking for, against, which motion might or might not be on the floor.
Finally, a delegate for Northwest Katanga Conference stood and said, “I’m confused. We’re all confused.” Another point of order asked for prayer, which received applause (even though it was out of order, technically). An exhausted and exasperated Chair called for a short recess.
In the midst of all the speeches, in and out of order, a delegate from Western North Carolina stood and, speaking against the motion to refer Rule 44 back to the Rules Committee, noted that, while Robert’s Rules of Order were intended to bring a measure of order out of chaos, they could also be exploited to sow chaos. He noted that Rule 44, being a different way of discerning among the gathered delegates, offered something other than doing the same thing the same way, which seems only to bring the same results.
The reality is simple: What was supposed to be a simple, direct move either to adopt or not adopt was diverted toward confusion, which is never conducive either to trust or humility. The first is sadly lacking; the second is obviously lacking. It would seem that, as much as people seem to love to worship together, to hear prophetic calls to act as the Church, and to sing our faith as good United Methodists should, we aren’t willing to trust, we aren’t willing to surrender our agendas and preferences and demands to speak and desire to toss proceedings off the rails. This is what we’ve always done. Thus the result that we’re getting what we’ve always received.
I wonder if there’s anyone in that crowd of over 800 delegates, various Bishops, special guests, volunteers, and observers who might yet help make the General Conference see what it looks like to those outside. Just one small voice to remind us all we stand in judgment before a world we are trying to serve.
This first full day (General Conference actually opened yesterday afternoon) of the 2016 United Methodist General Conference was greeted with a powerful call from Bishop Gregory Palmer not to surrender to our worst selves, but to be about the business of the church as stated in our Mission Statement. He reminded all those present and watching that we already have all we need: the promise of Christ’s presence as we go forth making disciples for the transformation of the world. He called out those who would dehumanize and banish from communion those with whom they disagree; he noted our current animosities are tearing the soul from the Church. His wasn’t a plea; his Word was a demand that we be the People Called Methodist for the 21st century.
After the Episcopal Address, most things would pale in comparison. When the morning plenary was called to order, after some other preliminary business was attended to, the Rules Committee once again brought forward Rule 44, a different discernment process in the midst of difficult and important matters, forcing people to face one another and speak honestly about the matters before the body. Only after a sense of the House has been determined would Roberts Rules be reinstated and proper consideration continue. This offers an opportunity for far more people to have their voices heard and considered than is allowed under standard Robert’s Rules.
After some back and forth over this, that, and the other thing, a motion to table Rule 44 was offered and passed by 8 votes. All the hullabaloo was over; despite the fact that, technically, a tabled motion could be brought forward, for all practical purposes tabling Rule 44 was done.
Then a gentleman from Europe stood and spoke for many who are not North Americans: They misunderstood what “to table” meant. In Europe, “to table” means “to discuss” rather than to remove from consideration until it might be brought forward again. He therefore asked for a reconsideration of the previous vote.
Now, Rule 44 is not the be-all and end-all of hope for something new to happen at General Conference. It is a procedural change that transfers power from a select few speakers and those who understand the intricacies of parliamentary procedure to any and all voices. It gathers people of diverse languages, cultures, local traditions, theological outlooks and makes them sit around a table and talk, face to face, openly and candidly. Some critics insist defenders of Rule 44 claim it is part of “holy conferencing” as John Wesley understood it. Except last evening’s presiding Bishop, Warner Brown, made clear Rule 44 is not and never has been considered “Holy Conferencing”. It is what it is, an opportunity for more voices to be heard, to move power to the whole body, to all voices, forced to face those with whom they might disagree and consider important matters before the whole body not as abstract pieces of legislation but as actions that will impact people around the world.
The chair ruled that, indeed, it was in order to vote to return consideration of Rule 44 was proper and in order. It passed by thirty votes.
This doesn’t mean Rule 44 is now in play. After being brought back for consideration, several amendments were offered that need to be addressed by the Rules Committee, and tomorrow morning the process begins again. There will be the opportunity to further amend – and therefore further delay – Rule 44. There will be a challenge to the chair’s ruling that Rule 44 needs to pass by a simple majority vote rather than a 2/3 majority; there will be a challenge to the chair’s actions recalling the Rule for consideration. And should it pass, Rule 44 can only be implemented with a majority vote of the whole body prior to its actual use. And Rule 44 hardly changes the world and universe and church as we know it.
What it does, however, is offer hope. By offering those who have not had a voice in previous years the opportunity to be heard by others; by offering the whole Body a sense of direction in which the body might yet move; by being different and new it offers a change from the way we have always done things; for these reasons alone, Rule 44 offers a chance not so much of change of outcome as change of process, the chance, perhaps, to face those with whom we disagree and see them, in the words of Bishop Palmer, as children of God. For this reason alone, taking Rule 44 off the table and offering it yet another chance for consideration might yet be that most difficult and invisible thing – a resurrection, a resurrection that brings hope, a resurrection that offers new life. That is, after all, what we preach, isn’t it? That Jesus rose from the dead, the first fruits of the New Creation, promising to take us with him?
Resurrection is the most implausible, impossible thing. Yet, just as will happen to us one day, Rule 44 was brought back to life, different indeed than it had been (but that, too, is part of our faith; it is part of St. Paul’s discussion of resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15), yet still bearing the marks of its prior life. Let us take this opportunity we have been given and embrace this moment of resurrection hope that we may yet do things differently than we have before in order that we may yet be more faithful than we have been before.
There are many voices within The United Methodist Church who want us to break up with them. From bishops, Boards of Ordained Ministries, and other leaders, we are told to simply leave. Is leaving home ever that simple? We are United Methodists because there is no other denomination with our unique connectional polity and distinctive Wesleyan spirituality. We are here because God has called us to serve in this denomination, and our souls are fed by the theology in which we’ve been raised.
We are coming out as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer/Questioning, and Intersex persons at this moment for several reasons. Foremost, we want you to know we still love you and seek to remain in relationship with you. Even if we should leave and you seek more restrictive language against LGBTQI persons, know that God will continue to move mysteriously in the hearts of LGBTQI young people and adults and will call them to serve within this denomination. You cannot legislate against God’s call. The “LGBTQI issue” is not one that can be resolved through restrictive legislation but instead by seeing that all persons are made in the image of God and welcomed into the community of faith. – Reconciling Ministries Network, “A Love Letter To Our Church From Your LGBTQI Religious Leaders”, May 9, 2016
It’s happening. What I have been advocating for 25 years is finally coming to pass. Over a hundred United Methodist leaders have signed an open letter to our denomination as it gathers for General Conference, making plain for all to see and hear they are both LGBTQI and not going anywhere. This mass self-outing challenges the stated preferences of at least some United Methodist leaders to hold trials for each and every person who violates church law regarding the ordination of sexual minorities or those who officiate at same-sex weddings. On the one hand we have the principle that those who violate church law in this regard be put to a church trial (even though the Book of Discipline doesn’t restrict administrative responses to legal action) and the reality that there are now, always have been, and always will be sexual minorities serving church, as District Superintendents, Bishops, youth leaders, seminary professors, and candidates for ordination. Even should those seeking not only to uphold our current language regarding the legal status of sexual minorities and those who officiate at same sex weddings get their way, that not only doesn’t guarantee a successful prosecution; it also doesn’t change the reality that people whose sexuality is different will continue to be called to serve in the United Methodist Church. Restricting the language even further only changes the perception of who holds power within the Church.
I’m sure there are some people gathering in Portland who feel blindsided by this open letter. Even if they support changing the Discipline, this letter would seem to force a quick and decisive decision upon what was intended to be a consciously deliberative process allowing all voices the chance to speak and be heard. This letter is a direct challenge not only to the current Discipline but a challenge to the 800 delegates in Portland to act rather than prayerfully dialogue and conference together on such a sensitive matter. Truth is, I have some sympathy with this point-of-view.
I think, however, that the delegates in Portland might be able to see this as just another part of the deliberative process, another piece of the puzzle they’re trying to put together that is the future of our denomination. Just as there are those, I am sure, who would prefer not to hear the story of Ben Wood, or would prefer we not use our Doctrinal Standards or our Articles of Religion as a guide through the thickets of deliberation, I’m sure that this open letter, precisely because of its audacity, is something delegates would prefer not to consider. It is every bit as relevant, however, as all the other parts of the matter, from Biblical interpretation through practical considerations. All of it must be in the mix, not least the potential future of our brothers and sisters who have dared risk so much so that others might benefit from their audacity.
We stand on the brink. All of us, not just the 800 in Portland, have the gravest of responsibilities: facing the future of our Church together, regardless of how we believe that future should look. I think it is important to recognize and name the courage, the challenge, the promise, the hope, this letter represents. Nothing is as fearless as Christian hope. We should honor that in our thoughts and prayers, our dialogue and arguments, in all that we do to see that the People Called Methodist continue to serve the world in our unique, evangelical, liberating way. Our moment of reckoning is upon us. Let us be the Church circumstances call us to be.