This Is The Story So Far

Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence. – 1 Peter 3:15b-16a

Geoffrey, I don’t know how you misconstrued any of our postings as a refusal or resisting prayer! Nothing could be further from the truth! Churches have been down this road so many times on exclusion of those they feel aren’t fit to be Christian and I, for one, am sick of it. I have a right to feel that way whether you agree with me or not. Here’s what gets me…these Bishops are supposedly our leaders, the ones with the wisdom and have a deep understanding of Jesus Christ. Really?? I don’t think so if they cannot grasp that the Lord said, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul AND Love your neighbor as you love yourself (PERIOD)…there is no “but,” “unless,” “however,” after yourself. And since when do men know better than God? Why are so many reluctant to practice what He asked of us? Why does the UMC insist on hurting people with their “rules” made by man? Say what they will, our wise Bishops and other leaders who think or believe those within the LGBTQ community are somehow not equal or as worthy as the rest of us, but it’s old, tiresome and complete BS. Stop judging, picking and choosing the worthy people and start loving ALL people! What is hard about this??? – Michele Smith Vasquez, from Facebook in response to a discussion after posting this

My preference would be to move on.  At the same time, that very first sentence floored me.  Was it possible Ms. Vasquez hadn’t read the things I quoted in the linked piece?  Did she not read a sampling from the piece I wrote yesterday?  Perhaps she should read some of the comments on Cynthia Astle’s commentary at United Methodist Insight.  The very idea that I was somehow imagining a dismissal of a call to prayer, when just above Ms. Vasquez’s comment comes the following:

prayerThat just blows my mind.

Part of the problem, perhaps, was focusing on one particular thing I wrote – and perhaps not even reading it thoroughly – and not taking in to account a history that goes back decades, literally, speaking out and fighting for justice in the United Methodist Church.  As I wrote yesterday, my first public statement against discrimination in ordination came in 1988.  I repeated here that I have been an advocate of direct action on the part of the clergy since around 1991 or so, the first time I suggested ending discrimination would entail the simple act of all LGBTQ clergy standing together during an Annual Session, outing themselves, and challenging the Bishop to remove them all at once.  When the Schaefer decision came down, I made it clear that, for all intents and purposes, the actions in Eastern Pennsylvania, the decision by the Judicial Council, and earlier Administrative actions in the New York Conference have rendered the language of the Book of Discipline toothless.  The precedents are many and varied, and there is no longer any reasonable expectation formal, legal action will be taken against any clergy who defy the ban on officiating at same-sex weddings.

Which says and does nothing about ordination, although far more clergy are living out without any action on the part of Bishops, Boards of Ordained Ministry, or judicial action.  As a matter of course, if not law, it seems to me that the matter has, in a sense, been decided.  For too many in the denomination, however, this is still controversial.  Consider Dr. David Watson of United Theological Seminary, for whom an end to clergy trials is “a non-starter”.  The demand from so many commenters for “action” and “leadership” ignores (a) the ways Bishops have all ready, in various way, taken a lead to dampen the fires by refusing to hold trials; and (b) led us forward to a time when, as I say, as a matter of fact if not of Church law, there is no longer any expectation for punishment for violating this particular clause of the BoD.  Our Bishop in Northern Illinois has made it clear – No More Trials.  In so doing, the ban on officiating at same-sex weddings is toothless.  While this may upset Dr. Watson, it is an Episcopal consensus de facto if not de jure.

My biggest pet peeve, perhaps, is one stated above: the demand for “action” on the part of the Council of Bishops, absent any clear consensus, or perhaps even plurality toward any specific action whatsoever.  As I asked yesterday, absent such plurality, who is going to lead?  To where?  Who will follow?  What will be the result of such rudderless “leadership” with a following that is no more coherent than a group on social media?  In many ways, this demand that someone, or perhaps some portion, of the Council “do something”, without any sense of what that might be, reminds me very much of demands from some people that our conversations on this topic be civil, decorous, and follow some set of rules.  I have made my feelings abundantly clear on this matter, calling such concern trolling “tone policing” and noting that, compared to so much discourse on the Internet, our debates and discussions about LGBTQ persons in the United Methodist Church has been heated but civil, never once approaching the depths that far too many such conversations reach.  Most of all, I have supported an intra-church political process that is indeed messy and rancorous, demonstrates to the world our divisions and need for prayerful guidance.  I have also made it clear that I believe that politics, rather than a test of faith, is (or at least should be) a practice of faith.  There is no way around the stormy seas of church politics on this matter, nor should there be.  Looking to the Council of Bishops mistakes authority for power, and ignores the myriad voices on the Internet, voices of those ready to do what it takes to change the language of the BoD.

As for that wording in the BoD, I took some time to look very carefully at it, repeating ad nauseum that it is not only rooted in an antiquated understanding of human sexuality, but is theologically dehumanizing, effectively declaring a portion of the human race outside the bounds of grace, no matter what precisely because of how they were created by God to live out their lives.  And speaking of lives, when the video concerning Ben Wood became public, I not only made clear my sadness and anger at the situation; I also made clear that all of us in the United Methodist Church share a measure of culpability in young Ben’s death just by creating space for a “youth leader” who would do something so cruel and hateful.  I also made clear my contempt for Bishop J. Michael Lowry for refusing to feel shame for the role the United Methodist Church played in young Ben’s decision to take his own life.  To suggest, even obliquely, that others have a greater feeling for the lives at stake in this discussion is not only insulting and ignorant; it demeans the very real struggle some of us have been waging a very long time against the language of the BoD.

Finally, I should note that this is not exactly a new issue, either for us or for me to comment upon.  I wrote something about the inability of the United Methodists to argue coherently and constructively in the run-up to the 2008 General Conference.  As I keep saying – this is a long slog.  “Leadership”, at least as some folks would like to see it enacted (“Just go out there and do something”), will come from us, lifting one another up.  Even those with whom we disagree.  We can pose as holier than all; we can insist that someone come forward to lead us all to the future light of justice.  Or, we can maybe, just maybe, accept this is a long process – one in which I’ve been engaged all my adult life – and rather than whine about a lack of leadership, or dismiss a call to prayer, we gird ourselves for what lies ahead, trusting in the God who calls us a people called Methodist that the end will be God’s end.  Not mine.  Not Ms. Vasquez’z.  Not the Council of Bishops.  Not Good News.  Because this is all about the Body of Christ known as The United Methodist Church, not me or him or him or her or any other individual or group.


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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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