Some Deeper Troubles

[W]e call on all United Methodists to pray for us and for one another. – Statement from The United Methodist Council of Bishops, partial

I shared yesterday’s post on Facebook, and I must admit, perhaps out of naivete, perhaps out of blindness borne of what I thought was a well-rounded criticism of the rejection of the Council of Bishops’s Call To Prayer, I was unprepared for the results.  Joe Piercey, Jr. wrote:

OK.
Dear Lord, Please look the other way while the church leaders continues to insist on unity over excluding people left and right over how you made them because the leadership is terrified of losing even more money and bodies and influence and maint
aining an unfaithful institution is more important than anything.
And please hold that front row parking place at WalMarts for me.
You’re Awesome!
Signed, Elie Wiesel

A comment, by the way, that straddles the line between meaningless and offensive.

Most of the comments were similar in spirit to the following from Earl Dickerson:

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford, most days I sound very much like you. But then I started to think about Luke 15. It’s addressed to people like us, those already within the family of God. But it was about Jesus’ horrible habit of hanging with known sinners, the worst – at least according to the people of God. I am not for humans redefining what God has called “sin.” I am a bit more about acting like the savior, who’s horrible habits about sinners tend to annoy me… Peace be with you, Geoffrey.

Another example of this kind of thing comes from Michele Smith Vasquez:

Praying is important, but I recall a very famous minister saying, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” That includes churches, folks! We can pray, but we must take action beyond that! The time is NOW!! How many more people have to suffer and feel unloved because of the rules of the UMC?? Nobody is belittling prayer; I pray for our Bishops and others within the church to accept Christ’s teachings and love EVERYONE! “The time is always right to do the right thing” and that applies to accepting ALL people into our church, equally and without restrictions.

And, from the same person:

“The moral arc of the universe bends at the elbow of justice.” Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who DIED in the fight for equality and justice and fair treatment of ALL people!

Joy Butler tried a slightly more tactful approach:

Geoffrey Kruse-Safford, you castigate those whose perspective differs from your own by labeling their words, “self-righteous grandstanding.” Which sounds like a nice way of saying “having a pissing contest.” I’m not interested in either, or in getting into unnecessary arguments. No one here has said they have a problem with prayer, we all agree prayer is a good practice. Some of us are saying the bishops could have done more. Because they could have and should have, in my humble opinion. You may disagree. That’s your opinion and I respect that.

As for praying for unity—there were many who did the same in the days before slavery emancipation and during the times when churches when segregated. Unity above all else comes at the cost of not allowing us to invite all to God’s table. I wish to stay in Christian relationship even with those with whom I disagree, and I will continue to pray, but I will not wait another 42 years for change by worshipping at the altar of “unity.”

Calling people names, such as suggesting they suffer from a “sickness”, just because you disagree with them seems a poor way to engage in dialogue, if that is your intention here.

Finally, my favorite comment, from Robin Scott Andress:

Yep, I remember when I was asking for churches to get involved in HIV prevention. They offered to pray. But actually welcome HIV+ folk, no. Too many of us have had the “we will pray for you” experience. If your prayer does not result in action for justice I am not terribly impressed. Bishops gave us piety, but not the vital kind. Leadership is needed.

Since the Bishops were asking for prayers for themselves in the midst of their disunity, which is reflected in the church as a whole, of what, precisely would “leadership” consist?  Who would lead?  With the church equally divided, who would follow?  What would be the outcome of such “leadership”?  Along with the moral grandstanding and the desire for action absent any actual thought as to what such action should be, or what the results of such thoughtless actions might be, it seems that some people are tired of the drift, a status quo that is no longer tenable yet entrenched in church law in such a way that radical action – in particular from Episcopal leadership divided among themselves – is impossible, my hope is the anger directed at the call to prayer is more about directing that frustration and anger at a convenient target.

On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder at the source of such vitriol directed at a request for prayer for a body divided, a prayer for unity so that the leadership so many seek can actually take place, a prayer that the divisions within the Council, mirroring the divisions within the denomination, can be healed by unity.  Not unity of vision.  Unity, rather through the Spirit who calls us to be the Body of Christ for the glory of the Father.  The statement was a humble admission of the weakness that flows from division, and a request that this particular organ of the church be strengthened through prayer.  I’m mystified by the dismissal of a request for prayer, the self-righteous posing, the demand for action even though what that action might be and what the consequences of such unnamed action might be is never made clear.

We are in the midst of a painful time in the United Methodist Church, although hardly the worst through which our denomination or its predecessors have traveled.  There is no way around it, either through setting aside politics, or acting without thought – and certainly without prayer – and removing the language from The Book of Discipline that we all find so offensive will not end the division, the acrimony, or the calls for action.  It is only one step in a far longer process, taking years, perhaps longer than the remainder of my lifetime to shake out.

Thus the need for prayer.  This is a long slog.  I first spoke out publicly against discrimination in ordination in 1988, at the tender age of 23.  It’s been a long haul for me, and I’ve watched friends I’ve loved leave the church and the ministry, people gifted and filled with the particular grace for ordained leadership, over the past quarter century.  This, however, doesn’t absolve me or anyone else from acting responsibly, from thinking clearly, and from praying continuously.

I said on Facebook that the reaction to a call to prayer such as the ones I’ve seen bespeaks a deeper malaise than division over the status of sexual minorities.  I think that’s the case.  Something seems to be rotting the heart of a people who would sneer at a request for prayer, and castigate those who support such a call to prayer.  The need for prayer, then, is even more necessary.  Our disunity has led too many of us to deafness to the first thing we all must do, as the people called Methodist.  We must be in prayer for one another.  We must be in prayer for the Council of Bishops.  We must be in prayer for those with whom we disagree.  We must be in prayer, praying without ceasing, trusting that though we do not know how to pray as we ought, that the Spirit will make of our groanings something pleasing to God.  Rejecting a call to prayer is rejecting the God who calls us, the God who saves us, the God who will perfect us in love.  Too many would rather be right than be in prayer.

I don’t know who’s right.  I hope I am.  I have faith that the Spirit will lead us through this mess and we come out the other side stronger, more faithful, more perfect in love and action than we have been in the past.  I do not, however, trust either my own motives or my own sense of righteousness.  Thus, the call to prayer, so that God’s will is done for the whole church.  If we can’t hear this, if we reject it out of hand as weak, as lacking leadership, as eschewing action – any action, although what that action might be, I say again, no one has made clear – then I fear far more for the United Methodist Church than our current disagreements over sexual minorities in the life of the denomination.  Something is very wrong with a people who reject a request for prayer.  Thus, I pray for us all.

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About gksafford

I'm a middle-aged theologically educated clergy spouse, living in the Midwest. My children are the most important thing in my life. Right behind them and my wife is music. I'm most interested in teaching people to listen to contemporary music with ears of faith. Everything else you read on here is straw.
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