Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” – Matthew 25:37-40
Did you know that, according to a 2012 Veterans survey, 22 Iraq and Afghanistan War Veterans commit suicide? Were you aware that 65% percent of members of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Association faced financial hardship while waiting for decisions on their disability claims ? How about the fact that the suicide rate for female veterans is three times higher than for civilian women? That the divorce rate for women veterans is higher than for male veterans? An IAVA Membership Survey pegged member’s unemployment rate at 10%. There is an organization whose mission statement is simple: “[W]here we support all our troops, families and veterans without conditions.” It isn’t, however, a church or congregation or denomination.
For quite a while now, the many challenges facing veterans of our recent long wars have troubled me. When I read of a suicide of a currently-serving service member or veteran; when I hear of issues of addiction, domestic violence, and other dysfunction; when I see people I know to be veterans struggling with our Byzantine DVA healthcare bureaucracy; when I see that, yet again, Congress has not followed through on proper funding for the DVA; all these things and more cause variations on sadness and anger, frustration and resignation. I’m not sure, precisely, what I or any other individual can do.
Since I’m not an individual, however, but connected to others through being a part of the Church of God called the United Methodist Church, I thought that, certainly, our Book of Discipline and Social Principles would contain statements that addressed the specific needs of veterans and their families. What I found, however, was nothing at all. Oh, we have general statements about promoting compassion for those living with mental illness; much of the section on the military deals far more with conscientious objectors than it does with veterans. Which is not to say that conscientious objectors should be ignored. It is, rather, to say there seems to be a rather large, gaping hole in our collective attention to the needs of many in our communities.
The two wars from which we are still emerging have placed an enormous toll on our financial resources as a nation. Even greater, however, is the debt we owe our veterans who return bruised, battered, and otherwise broken either in body, spirit, or both. Our politicians always seem to find enough money to send our young men and women to risk their lives fighting in the name of the rest of us. When it comes time to caring for our veterans with wounds of body and mind, however, for some reason the purse is suddenly empty. In the meantime, our veterans suffer immeasurably from inadequate care, interpersonal and social dysfunction, and a veteran’s healthcare bureaucracy that seems far more intent on making sure our veterans aren’t receiving unnecessary care and are worthy of whatever care they’re seeking than it is opening their doors to our veterans.
There are organizations out there advocating for better legislation. There are secular organizations that reach out and help veterans in a variety of ways, up to and including networking locally in support groups. What there is not, however, is a single United Methodist policy on providing as much care and assistance as possible, from offering local Iraq/Aghanistan vet groups meeting space through helping a veteran manage the twisting halls of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, to getting our suffering vets whatever emergent care they might need in a crisis. We United Methodists can do so much; there are eight million of us here in the United States. Some of those numbers have to include veterans from our recent wars. What, exactly, have we done, either as congregations or a denomination, to recognize the particular needs of our recent veterans? Other than “promoting compassion” – about as helpful as “I will pray for you” – what, precisely is our denominational policy on promoting the health and well-being of the men and women who need it?
We weep and moan about how we’re “losing millennials”. The thing is, among that particular cohort are men and women who signed up to serve their country, found themselves in wars without fronts, without clear boundaries between friend and foe, watching their comrades fall not in heroic battle, but because a homemade bomb exploded under their vehicle. The resulting physical and psychic damage, and the inadequacies of our political and policy response leave a gap one would think the Church would jump. Alas, we have been bemoaning our own troubles so long, we have failed to see that Christ is there in the pleading voices of the suicidal young woman; of the man under arrest for domestic violence; of the amputee or burn victim forced to fill out yet another form while still waiting the treatment they need. Our local churches have so much to offer our veterans, from space to assistance to actual expertise, but how many of our local congregations do so? Our denomination still has the wherewithal to call for real reform, real change, and real justice for our veterans while providing assistance to local congregations who might wish to start ministries such as these.
These are the faces of Christ for us, faces that often go unrecognized for what they are because of our own brokenness, our own sin, our own blindness. Perhaps we still can offer help. There’s time to act, to legislate, to organize, to minister. We shouldn’t wait for the next war to do this. We are called to be in service without prejudice or question. Let us show God we have heard the call.
Notice the trajectory developed in a very short period of time: from a resolution that called for a public event (something significant & costly at least happened), to a resolution which promised future consequences in exchange for avoiding them at present, and lastly to “Just Resolutions” that quite literally result in nothing happening. (Other than the progressive wing of the church taking them for what they clearly are, despite all the administrative rhetoric to the contrary: unambiguous victories.)
To be sure, these Just Resolutions had much blood, sweat, and tears poured into them. Some of them even put up quite beautiful smoke screens: quotes from the Book of Discipline, soul-searching, hand-wringing, and apparently sincere language of “accountability” and “unity” abound throughout . But as Harry G. Frankfurt says in his classic essay On Bullshit, “However studiously and conscientiously the bullshitter proceeds, it remains true that he is also trying to get away with something.” (23) – Rev. Drew McIntyre, “‘Just Resolution’ Or Just Bullshit?” United Methodist Insight, Feb 6, 2015
My family taught me the greatest life lesson I’ll ever learn: how to laugh at myself. So many people take jokes too seriously when it’s so important to just let go & laugh at yourself. I have learned how to take a joke, but I’m not going to laugh at one that isn’t funny cuz I GOT THICK SKIN AND AN ELASTIC HEART (sia ) Someday I hope to see kids my age accepting one another for who they are. Not overlooking one another’s differences. Differences are beautiful. Blake is apart of who I am, now, and I’m not ashamed of it smile emoticon I’m very proud to call my best friend my boyfriend and if you have a problem with it, I’m better off without you. Do not offer me help for loving someone. I’m the same person as I’ve always been and I’ll never change for anyone. I’m so thankful for my family and friends who have been there for me throughout this decision to be honest with people. The phone calls, texts, and loving conversations have meant the world to me. You can never fully love people until you fully love yourself and I finally love myself full heartedly, beautifully broken and ready to help anyone who may feel alone or is afraid to fully be who they are. – Steve Gruner, Facebook, January 26, 2015
The Rev. Drew McIntyre insists the United Methodist Church has a bullshit problem. I would tend to agree, although we are poles apart as to source of the bullshit. For McIntyre, it’s the Administrative procedures that have resulted in lenient sentences for pastors who have violated the United Methodist Book of Discipline and married same-sex couples. For me, it’s hiding behind legalities, bad formulations of human actions, and even worse Scriptural interpretation to disguise a fear and bigotry toward sexual minorities. The question, of course, is who’s right. For those who “wish to uphold the Discipline”, the matter is clear. What’s fudging things are a group of clergy and Bishops who are refusing to abide by the clear mandates of our church law. On the other hand, there are those clergy who believe they are following the Discipline, serving their people as they are called to do, in the name and Spirit of Christ. This leaves our Bishops in a quandary. With the spread of legal same-sex marriage, the clergy who perform such weddings are certainly within the rules of the Discipline save one: that United Methodist clergy don’t officiate at same-sex weddings. Yet, how is refusing to do so fulfilling the pastoral duty and call? How are these clergy, ordained to Word, Sacrament, and Order fulfilling their vows before God and humanity to serve all who come to them for assistance?
For the McIntyre’s of the world, all the talk of grace, of pastoral responsibilities, of being servants to all flies out the window when the person coming to call is a sexual minority. Suddenly, clergy are supposed to forget all the Discipline says about pastoral duties, put up their hands, and insist they can do nothing for these people. Furthermore, the duty laid upon the church is clear to the McIntyre’s of this world: the church needs to try and punish these clergy who “flaunt the Discipline” by performing same-sex marriages in jurisdictions where they are legal and the people want their marriages officiated by clergy and sanctified by God. Cost doesn’t matter. Pastoral leadership doesn’t matter. The bulk of the Book of Discipline on how clergy are to serve their congregations doesn’t matter. Grace, love, acceptance, inclusion in the diverse and distinct family of God doesn’t matter. All that matters is these clergy get what’s coming to them. Instead, McIntyre insists, they’re being coddled by a system overwhelmed by bullshit.
Steve Gruner is a young man, 19 as a matter of fact. He is a member of Cornerstone United Methodist Church. He was in the youth group, a good friend of our older daughter. He is handsome, funny, a bit self-effacing, with a deep faith such that he applied to and was accepted at one of the most conservative Christian universities in the United States, Trinity International. In the past couple weeks, however, Steve made a decision. Tired of hiding and lying and being forced to laugh at “jokes” that aren’t funny and denying who is he, Steve came out. I’m sure – at least I hope he did so – he talked to his parents first. Then, he went to Facebook, writing the above status. It is beautiful, courageous, defiant. He embraces his identity, no longer wishing to pretend he is something he is not. Then, in the past couple days, he produced and posted the video posted above, demonstrating what it is to live with a secret like this for most of his life.
When I saw his coming-out status, then the video, I teared up. I was so proud of Steve, knowing the kind of courage it took for him to do what he did. As much as we’ve made strides in the social acceptance of sexual minorities, there are still miles to go before we sleep. Here was my response to the video:
He has managed in just a few days, to come out, and produce a video representation of how it is to live closeted. Stevie Gruner – I am so proud of you, and love and support you. And I’m so sorry you are part of a church that just won’t accept you as you are, at least officially. Please know you are a precious child of God, and our whole family just thinks you are the best. Please know, if you ever feel alone or scared – you can always come to any of us. Blessings.
Behind all the blather about rules and laws and which parts of the Discipline to follow lie real human lives. These human lives are impacted enormously by how others react to their declarations of their sexuality. So, my question for Drew McIntyre and the rest of those in the United Methodist Church who feel as he does is simple: Where’s the real bullshit problem? McIntyre’s post, and previous ones of a similar nature, ignore that real people are hurt by his words – and far worse, the actions reflected by those words – and we lose yet another graced and gifted person whose faithfulness has already been demonstrated through dedication to his local church through his prayers, his presence, his gifts, his service, and his witness. McIntyre would make young Steve a liar in his membership vows when Steve denounced the spiritual forces of this world and affirmed the vows made at his baptism, accepting Christ as his Lord and Savior. McIntyre would deny the efficacy of Steve’s faith, demonstrated in his life and work already accomplished in and for Cornerstone, the United Methodist Church, and the Church Universal. McIntyre would do all this for one simple reason – because Steve happens to be gay. For this reason, he cannot fully participate in the life and work of the church, he cannot have his relationships blessed by United Methodist clergy, and he could not, if he felt called, serve openly as a United Methodist clergyperson. McIntyre thinks this is OK.
Me, I call bullshit.
I greatly dislike the name-calling and personal attacks on individuals on both sides of the debate. To be sure, there are those on both sides of this argument who are staying focused on the argument, but others are so obsessed with this one issue, they seem to assume that anyone who takes a different view somehow has nefarious motives. I am the first to admit that at times I am not above name-calling. It is an act over which I need to ask forgiveness and repent. But as a periodic name-caller, I can certainly say that it does not further the discussion. I understand that some people on both sides have a sense of outrage, but I can say unequivocally that your outrage will win no converts – Alan R. Bevere, Sex & Schism #1: One Issue Obsession (emphases added)
One of the things that really gets my goat, in any heated discussion, are the voices that insist “both sides” are equally guilty of some horrid crime against civility. Somehow, there’s this idea out there that if we stick to constructing arguments and stay clear of making disparaging comments about those with whom we disagree, we shall prevail.
In the particular instance of the discussion over the status of sexual minorities both within the United Methodist Church and how we minister to them, including whether our clergy can officiate at same-sex weddings, I find this “both-sides-do-itism” to be not only ridiculous and counter-productive, but it betrays what is actually happening, what the stakes in the discussion really are, and how we should make clear that those who promote injustice are, well, promoting injustice. The language of the Book of Discipline, in regards to “homosexuals”, is both factually inaccurate as well as theologically dehumanizing. Those who insist on keeping to the status quo – that “homosexual activity” is “incompatible with Christian teaching” – are, for all intents and purposes, claiming that some human beings very existence removes them from even the possibility of receiving God’s grace. Calling that language out for what it is, and insisting that those who continue to promote it are using homophobic language and perpetuating injustice is not at all the same thing as insisting that some human beings are “incompatible with Christian teaching”.
As I made clear a month ago, I’m not interested in “arguing” with those who continue to promote the dehumanization of some class of persons. In the first place, we aren’t engaged in an argument. This isn’t an intellectual exercise in which whoever has the better theological method, Biblical hermeneutics, appeal to tradition, and examples from our collective lived experience will somehow magically convince others, and thus ends the debate. As the Nameless 80 made clear, this is about power, a punitive clerisy controlling the lives of both clergy and lay, underpinned by a view of Biblical interpretation that is antithetical both to our Wesleyan tradition and just plain common reason. If this were an issue of “argument” or “debate”, those advocating change would have won decades ago. We have better theology, better Biblical hermeneutics, and better appeals both to our traditions and our common experience.
And this debate is hardly new. General Conference created a study commission to report on possible changes to the Discipline in 1988. That commission, and its report, were sabotaged before it could even complete its work, with blatant lies brought to the floor of the 1992 General Conference, as outlined by Cynthia Astle. Just weeks prior to GC92, Maxie Dunnam was instrumental in writing what became known as “The Memphis Declaration”, the seedbed for the Confessing Movement. What’s ironic, at least to me, is the document is riddled with theological and doctrinal errors in the name of upholding doctrine. In any event, the threat of schism was being wielded 22 years ago in the name of preserving the status quo, and those intent on preserving it showed themselves willing to do whatever it takes to do so. Events of recent months are nothing more than a replay of the same people saying the same things, including using the same threats, to insist that some human beings are not capable of receiving God’s grace.
So I make no apologies for calling them out. I make no apologies for saying that homophobic language, dehumanizing language, actions promoting injustice and discrimination against an entire class of human beings is antithetical to the very meaning of being the Body of Christ. If the folks don’t like these things being said, the onus is not on me to be nicer to them. Rather, the onus is on them to stop dehumanizing human beings in the name of Jesus Christ. There is no equivalence here. “Both sides” have not and are not doing “wrong” in an “argument” because this isn’t an argument.
This is about power. This is about the identity of the Church as the Body of Christ. This is about a denomination continuing to dehumanize and discriminate against an entire class of human beings for no reason whatsoever other than fear and prejudice. If saying these things hurts either their feelings, or the feelings of people like Alan Bevere, well, that can’t be helped.
I agree with some of what Bevere writes, especially the part about the United Methodist Church lacking a coherent sexual and marital theology and ethic. I’ve even written about that. I’ve also written that, for all we need to be clear about the stakes in the discussion, and passionate and clear in our pursuit of justice, we should always be willing to admit we might well be wrong. That doesn’t mean we temper our language or actions in pursuit of justice. It only means what it says – we might well be wrong. That decision, however, waits until another day and time, and a different judge. For now, we should continue to make clear who is right and who is wrong, why, and if some folks get their feelings hurt in the process, I’m not responsible for that. This isn’t about anyone’s feelings, mine, Maxie’s, Alan Bevere’s or anyone else. This is about justice, and being the Body of Christ. That’s worth fighting for and declaring that both sides are not equally at fault.
The Chicago Tribune has a story that summarizes the damage our Book of Discipline continues to wreak on pastors, churches, and people. Ann and Holly Cook-Graver, a couple for 21 years, could finally be legally married in Illinois, once the law takes effect this summer. They planned, they sent out invitations, their son was going to walk one of them down the aisle.
Then the pastor of their church, Faith United Methodist Church in Orland Park, who had previously agreed to preside over their ceremony in the sanctuary at Faith, realized that, thanks to the language of the Book of Discipline, he had committed himself and his congregation to a course of action that threatened their status within the denomination. First, he offered to move the wedding to a local Lutheran church (Lutherans are more sane on sexual minorities than we United Methodists). The Cook-Graver’s were understandably hurt, feeling betrayed by their pastor, and the congregation of which they had been a part, and which they had served as faithful lay members for years.
And now they’re gone. No matter what happens in the future, no matter what changes come to the language of the Book of Discipline, no matter what act of contrition we perform as a denomination for the pain and suffering from our discriminatory policies, the Cook-Gravers are gone.
More than any discussion of principle, or doctrine, or history, or what John Wesley might or might not have thought; more than any single Bible verse, or group of Bible verses; the decision to continue to deny to sexual minorities full participation in the life of the church because some people insist there is something called “homosexual activity” that is “incompatible with Christian teaching” hurts people. When church law interferes with the ability of clergy and congregations to be the Body of Christ for those who are a part of them, that law ceases to be Christian. For all the Ann’s and Holly’s out there whose stories aren’t printed in the Chicago Tribune, or any other paper, let’s work to get rid of this language once and for all so we can be the Church again.
I was honored, surprised, humbled, and pleased by Prof. Mark Teasdale’s thoughtful response to my commentary on his contribution to last week’s Connectional Table panel discussion on sexual minorities and the United Methodist Church. It is precisely because his response was so thoughtful, that I would like the conversation to continue. In that spirit, and I hope Spirit as well, I would like to continue this discussion with what Prof. Teasdale considers the keystone of his own reading of Wesley – holiness.
Holiness is a much-overused term, believe it or not. For Wesley, holiness was nothing more or less than conforming one’s life to the dictates of Christ, to become perfect in love, as our Father in Heaven is perfect. To that end, the practice of holy living – reading the Scriptures, prayer, regular attendance at worship including partaking in the sacrament, and work on behalf on the suffering – was not a way among others to express one’s faith. When done in community with like-minded others, holding one another accountable in a spirit of love, justice, forgiveness, but strict adherence to what he called “The General Rules”, Wesley understood this as the way of discipleship as contained in the Scriptures. This is our call as Christians: To love God and our neighbor so fully and completely that all our actions spring only from that love that is the Holy Spirit in our lives.
That last generation has seen a revival and attempt to reclaim this powerful heritage of Wesleyan holiness of heart and life. It has borne much fruit, and is to be commended.
At the same time, to staple a mid-18th century understanding of human life and the human person – including discipleship in the name of Jesus Christ – on to persons living in the second decade of the 21st century, without due consideration for all that we’ve come to learn about what that word, “human”, means, leads to a constricted, incomplete understanding of what it means to be human as God created us to be fully human. Part of what it means to be human as God created us is to be sexual creatures. If holiness of life and heart does not include making human sexual relations something holy, blessed by God, and conducive to perfection in love and service to others, then it is not true holiness. While I take Prof. Teasdale’s cautions about mixing contexts seriously, I still believe he has yet to deal substantively with the central issue before us – the dehumanizing, and by using terminology with which we’ve been working, unholy, language of the current Book of Discipline. As I wrote on April 28, the phrase “homosexual activity”, as descriptive of something that people do that is “incompatible with Christian teaching” in meaningless on several levels. I would add, thanks to Prof. Teasdale, that it is meaningless if we are going to try to think of holiness as a Divine project we humans undertake in faith. As holiness is for the whole person, if it does not transform us as sexual beings, it is no less complete than if we are deficient in prayer, worship, or any of Wesley’s categories. Being holy is being fully human, and that includes our sexuality.
Since “homosexual activity” is not “a thing” people do apart from who they are – as persons attracted to others of the same gender or those attracted to both – it is impossible to say that it is “incompatible” with anything, Christian teaching included. Now, a sexuality that is psychologically and relationally unhealthy, pursued for its own sake, is certainly nothing the church could or should endorse. Our sexuality can become destructive, of ourselves and others, just as any other part of our lives can be. Destructive actions, flowing from sin and a refusal to live a life pursuing holiness of heart and mind, are not exclusive to human sexuality, certainly not one particular expression of it. The way “homosexual activity” is described by the current language of the Book of Discipline, however, it seems to separate out for special condemnation one particular expression of human sexual love, without regard to the way “heterosexual activity”, when lived in ways that are sinful and destructive, is also “incompatible with Christian teaching”. Yet, it is only “homosexual activity” that is so condemned. As it stands, then, the current language of the Book of Discipline not only dehumanizes sexual minorities; it separates our humanity as sexual creatures so created by God from the pursuit of holiness of heart and life.
As Wesley understood holiness, it is the person filled with the Love of Father for the Son, and Son for the Father, that is the Holy Spirit, to the point that all our actions flow from that Divine Love. It is something that grabs hold of the whole person, or it is not holiness. That includes our humanity as sexual beings. We can be holy and be sexual; our love for others, including the sexual expression of love for spouses, is a holy mystery. Unless Prof. Teasdale is willing to argue, as some do, that sexual minorities are not created so by God, then it seems to me that claiming they cannot be holy because of how they express their sexuality towards those with whom they are intimately in love is just nonsensical.
Furthermore, why this should disqualify sexual minorities from the set-aside offices of ordination for Word, Sacrament, and Order, as well as deny clergy the opportunity to celebrate and consecrate the marriages of same-sex couples also makes no sense, if we take holiness seriously as being something that we are to pursue together as members of the Body of Christ.
Again, I want to thank Prof. Teasdale for his thoughtful response. To be noticed as my comments were, that is a great honor. If you read this response, sir, please take it in the spirit in which it is offered.