Tag Archive | United Methodist News Service

A Different Way To Have A Conversation

The goal is for United Methodist decision makers to discuss the proposals through the lens of “the values of centrality of mission, unity for the sake of mission and our identity as Christians and as United Methodists.”

“What we’ve been doing hasn’t been working, so let’s look at an alternative,” said Judi M. Kenaston, the commission’s chair and conference secretary of the West Virginia Conference. – Heather Hahn, “Alternative Process Offered For Sexuality Debate,” United Methodist News Service, April 28, 2015


A view of the United Methodist Church's General Conference in 2000.

A view of the United Methodist Church’s General Conference in 2000.

When I saw the article at UMNS yesterday, it was like being slapped by Obviousman. I agree that our discussions are polarized. Charges and counter-charges of faithlessness, of a desire for schism, of exclusion fly around like paper airplanes in an office on Friday afternoon. Guilty as charged, by the way, as one of those who have done my fair share of poo-flinging. That the General Conference Commission is offering an alternative set of categories through which to discuss the whole matter of sexuality in the church is like a breath of fresh air, really. Rather than the extremes (of which I am a pretty good example) insisting on dominating and directing the conversation, the Commission has taken the bit in their collective teeth and are saying, “No. This is how we shall discuss these matters.”

Rather than the extremes cherry-picking Bible verses to proof-text their positions; rather than sinking in to endless discussions about doctrine, faithfulness, exegesis, and even whether or not the church is conceding to the larger culture a point of distinction from that culture or perhaps being faithful to the Spirit moving through the culture to tell the Church how to be more faithful; rather than all these endless, fruitless discussions, we are being offered the opportunity first to think about what it means to be in mission; what it means to be a church united for mission and ministry; and finally about our identity as heirs of Wesley in the whole Body of Christ. I say “think” because before anyone says, “Well, OK, fine. Let’s talk about these things,” I believe it is necessary to do the work of setting to one side all the ways we have thought about these matters up to this point. Until and unless we can consider carefully the categories on offer through which to understand any possible change of policy regarding sexual minorities, we shall end up back in the same place we currently occupy: dead conversations; endless poo-flinging; and nowhere closer to some resolution that brings together as much of our diverse body as possible.

I’m sure there will be those who resist this proffered change. So many people have so much invested in being right – regardless of which side one occupies – that any attempt to offer ways forward that set to one side one’s own preferred categories seems like a betrayal of some kind, a way to reach a particular, predetermined end that is (obviously!) not the end one would prefer. Except, of course, the General Conference Commission is doing no such thing. It is, in fact, offering a way for us all to think in different ways, to consider the life and ministry and mission and identity of our denomination as ways to consider how we as United Methodists can reach some kind of consensus on matters regarding human sexuality. Which is why, again, I say we should think carefully before jumping in to any discussion using these categories. I know I for one need to do some serious work, first, driving out all the ways I have approached the matter. Precisely because what is on offer places the church front and center in our discussion; precisely because we are being given a chance to think about what it means to be a United Methodist, to be in mission, to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, the new categories are no respecter of persons. They are, indeed, a marvelous example of one of my central dicta about the faith: It isn’t about me. Of course, a corollary of that is that it isn’t about you, either.

This proposal gives me hope. Not hope that my preferred end will be reached, because that’s not what this is about. Rather, my hope is that, should this proposal be accepted and acted upon, rather than talk circles around one another, or mustering raw political power to force through one or another preferred approach to reach a preferred result, we all can take the time to remember that, as the children’s song says, we are the church together. Only then are we strong. Only then can we really answer the promptings of the Spirit to be in service and mission to the world.


Our Confoundedness: What Does Leadership Mean For The United Methodist Church?

People ordained in our denomination vow to commit to upholding our denomination’s doctrine and rules. But a vocally disruptive minority basically choose to dissemble their way through ordination. Future church historians will note how so much of United Methodism’s destructive turmoil today was driven not just by the lack of integrity of radicals like Talbert, but also by other bishops’ failure to stand up to them in a sustained way. – John Lomperis, UMAction Director, The Institute On Religion And Democracy, January 6, 2015


Job leaves behind a behind a legacy of writing of more than 20 books including, “Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living” published in 2007 that has sold more than 300,000 copies worldwide.

“Thousands of churches and hundreds of thousands of individuals reclaimed the general rules of Do No Harm, Do Good and Stay in Love with God through the little brown book. He put the most foundational and profound into 10 words that we could understand and then spent a lifetime trying to achieve,” said Susan Salley, associate publisher of ministry resources at the United Methodist Publishing House. – Kathy Gilbert, United Methodist Insight, January 5, 2015


Retired Bishop Hermann L. Sticher led United Methodists in Germany as western European culture was growing ever more secular. But he never lost faith in the church’s capacity to make more Christian disciples, say church leaders.

“I am deeply convinced that there is a tomorrow, a future for the church of Jesus Christ,” he said at the end of his service as active bishop in 1989. “The Lord of the church is also Lord of the future. His salvific will has not an end today. His mission to his people remains unchanged.” – Klaus Ulrich Ruof and Heather Hahn, “Bishop Sticher, German United Methodist Leader, Dead at 87,” United Methodist News Service, January 7, 2015

We are always in the midst of change.  A generation is passing, with prominent, powerful, faithful leaders no longer offering their experience, their solace, their faith, and their support even as so many in our denomination look around in something like desperation for what they could call “leadership”.  Yet, we have faithful leaders, prophetic and pastoral leaders, intelligent and thoughtful leaders, compassionate and strong leaders, from our current Bishops to our part-time local pastors.  Our problem is not a lack of leadership.  Our problem as a denomination is that we just aren’t sure in which direction we wish to be led.

The conclusion of legal action against retired Bishop Melvin Talbert for blessing a same-sex union demonstrates our confoundedness.  On the one hand, Bishop Talbert demonstrated both the courage of his convictions as well as the audacity of the Spirit in performing an act he knew very well could cost him his ordination.  He did it anyway, convinced that he was being faithful both to the Gospel as well as the vows he took at his ordination so many years ago.  That it was necessary for the Church to take legal action against him, even as it was clear, from precedents already set, that no real punishment would be meted out, demonstrates, again, our confoundedness.  Where do we wish to do?  Who are we as a People called United Methodist?

So many voices in our denomination cry out or demand our Bishops lead.  When they do lead, however, we mostly complain and insist that, whatever action they’ve taken, that isn’t what we wanted.  Our structure leaves us hamstrung for swift action from above; swift action from below only engenders confusion, controversy, and the appearance of drift and a lack of unity.  In many ways, as has been true throughout most of the history of the United States, the United Methodist Church mirrors our national confoundedness and confusion on what it is we want when we insist upon leadership.

When I say we have no lack of leaders, I think of the entire “Imagine No Malaria” campaign, in which we in the United Methodist Church along with our partners envision the eradication of this disease from sub-Saharan Africa.  It is a campaign that has already cut the death rate from malaria in half.  When I say we have no lack of leaders, I think of Bishop Sally Dyck, who accepted arrest on the streets of Chicago because of our country’s confusing and contradictory and Byzantine immigration policy and bureaucracy.

When I say we have no lack of leaders, I think of the clergyperson who holds “office hours” at a local restaurant every Tuesday night, inviting anyone and everyone to come and sit and talk about whatever they want.  This clergyperson will pay for the food.  I think of all the various experiments in online communities, small groups, various kinds of pastoral outreach such as offering Communion to Commuters in Chicago.  When I say we have no lack of leaders, I think of the Associate Pastor of my current church, a young man who has not let living with a disability slow him down or dampen his faith; indeed, his enthusiasm, his joy, all rooted in a deep and abiding faith are infectious.

We have leaders, from top to bottom.  These are leaders who live out our mission statement – making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Our problem is not a lack of leadership.  Our problem is there are so many visions about what this transformed world might look like.  We have had those in the past, those we have lost just recently, such as Bishops Job and Sticher, whose vision, rooted in deep faith and the best of our traditions, who can no longer guide us through our current predicament.  We have our celebrity pastors like Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter and Frank Schaefer, who offer themselves a bit more than they offer leadership.  Yet, in offering themselves, they at least offer experience at successful ministry or prophetic action.

Our confoundedness as a denomination, like our confoundedness as Americans, comes from not being sure what it is we want, or how we want it.  And we live in the midst of changing times – we always live in the midst of changing times, but this particular historical moment just seems far more alive with change – and that confuses and scares us even more.  We would prefer reassurance when offered vision; we would prefer some kind of path through the murk when offered comfort and a reminder of the firmness of the status quo.  We want, in other words, someone to come along and tell us that things are going to be OK, that even as our numbers and our giving contracts that the United Methodist Church will continue to live in and through the Spirit as that part of the Body of Christ whose mission is discipleship and radical transformation, both personal and socially.  We want someone who comforts and challenges us; who reassures us and tests our ability to face change head on; who loves us and the world and does so by facing all the world has that denies our life and says, in answer to Charles Wesley’s hymned question, “Yes, we are still alive!”.

A generation of leaders is passing.  A generation of leaders is here among us.  We as the people called United Methodist need to become comfortable both with the change and the challenge, as well as those things that shall always abide – faith, hope, and love.  These last come from the God incarnate in Jesus Christ, whose death and resurrection took our fears and our confoundedness within the Divine Life and redeemed them, handing them back to us as the courage to stand and the willingness to continue moving forward in the midst of change and challenge to make of all discples, as the Great Commission states.  Our leaders, in whom we see that glimmer of the pastoral and prophetic, the comforting and the challenging, are so because they are merely vessels of our real leader – the Holy Spirit sent by the Son from the Father, to send us out, as the late Rev. Dr. William Holmes used to say in his benedictions, to be the scattered Body of Jesus Christ.  Our human leaders are those in and through whom the living presence of the resurrected Christ moves.  And they call us to a future overflowing with God’s prodigal love and grace, lived out in so many ways we are not so much confounded as joyfully celebrating all the ways God’s purposes are fulfilled

“Doing Good Of Every Possible Sort”

Dr. Martin Salia, Administrator Of United Methodist Kissey Hospital In Sierra Leone, Who Recently Died From Ebola

Dr. Martin Salia, Administrator Of United Methodist Kissey Hospital In Sierra Leone, Who Recently Died From Ebola

I am responsible for two of the worst songs in history. – Bob Geldof, quoted in Barry Malone, “We got this, Bob Geldof, so back Off”, Aljazeera.com, November 18, 2014

Geldof’s arrogance is simply in a different league. To suggest that he alone was responsible for creating a mass movement on global poverty is a direct insult to the millions of people around the world who have worked steadfastly for debt cancellation, trade justice, women’s rights, workers’ rights and environmental sustainability over decades. – John Hilary, “The Arrogance Of St. Bob”, UK Guardian, April 5, 2010

United Methodists in Liberia, Sierra Leone and other countries organized themselves to respond both as a denomination and as interfaith and community partners.

Various forms of communication – text messages, radio broadcasts, drama and song – have been used to relay facts about Ebola. Church-related health centers and health care workers have worked on the front lines of treatment. Prevention information and sanitizing supplies have been carried to remote villages. Food and supplies have been left at the homes of infected families.

The Rev. Jack Amick, who heads the international disaster response unit of the United Methodist Committee on Relief, characterized the reaction to the Ebola crisis in this way:

“People are looking to humanitarian assistance agencies to put out the fire, when typically what humanitarian assistance agencies do is help people who have been burned by the fire or are running from the fire.” – Linda Bloom, “As A Medical Disaster, Ebola Calls For New Strategies”, United Methodist News Service

With recent news that Bob Geldof was planning a re-recording of “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”, with the aim of assisting with the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone and Liberia, I got thinking about the recent death of Dr. Martin Salia.  As noted on his photo above, he was a surgeon as well as the Administrator of Kissey Hospital in Freetown, Sierra Leone.  The hospital is supported in part by the United Methodist Church, through our General Board of Global Ministries.  If you clicked the link to Linda Bloom’s piece at the United Methodist News Service, you would discover that for months volunteers and paid aid workers from the United Methodist Church have been at ground zero, trying every way they can, working with local officials, schools, hospitals, and others to get the word out about Ebola-prevention.  All sorts of political, social, and cultural barriers exist that prevent that message from spreading as quickly as it could.  Not the least of these is a general distrust for official channels of information, due to years of political violence that has discredited these same official channels of information.  So, the United Methodist Church is being creative, doing whatever it takes to spread the word so that they can help stop the spread of Ebola.

We aren’t a knighted rock singer.  We aren’t from the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  We are just a bunch of church folk who think it’s important to end suffering.  Sure, there’s probably some of that “white savior complex” going on among many in our churches; after all, what do most Americans know of Sierra Leone or Liberia?  All the same, on the ground in these countries where the outbreak continues, even as it slows, folks from the United Methodist Church are trusting locals, people who know how to communicate, how to get the word out, how to work around inefficient bureaucracies, how to circumvent official intransigence and travel bans and other measures that actually make the situation worse.

Lord knows I’ve spent just a bit too much time on what’s wrong with the United Methodist Church.  None of this sets that aside.  It’s important to remember, however, that even in the midst of our ongoing troubles and arguments, our declining numbers and giving, there are still United Methodists who understand the second General Rule of the United Societies, a summation of which serves as the title of this post.  We aren’t trying to make news, or be famous.  We’re just trying to do as much good as we can whenever and wherever possible.  Even as the celebrities and aid agencies with large marketing budgets get themselves and their projects splashed across the Internet and large media outlets, the people of The United Methodist Church will continue to work in Sierra Leone and Liberia until this outbreak ends.  Then, these same folks will stay, working to comfort the mourning, to repair the broken lives and broken systems of communication, to work with local and national officials at developing plans to address future outbreaks more efficiently and effectively, and to create some kind of workable public health infrastructure, one that won’t break under the strain of what is, for all intents and purposes, an extremely easy disease to contain.  Long after Bob Geldof shouts at people at news conferences; long after the CDC folk have returned to Atlanta; long after the reporters have gone because there’s no more bad news about “Africa” to report, the United Methodist Church will be there.  We will be there because that is who we are called to be, what we are called to do.

If you’re looking for hope in the midst of this story, instead of reading mainstream news outlets, check out the United Methodist News Service, The United Methodist ReporterUnited Methodist Insightor check out the websites for various United Methodist Boards and agencies.  We may be fighting amongst ourselves over matters of identity; we may be divided in to all sorts of factions and parties, with all sorts of the usual nastiness of politics; all the same, we, the people called The United Methodist Church have not and will not forget that we have a job to do, a mission to carry out, and we are always trying to learn new and better ways to do that.  Not for fame or to see our church’s name in the newspaper.  We do it because that’s what we do: We are called to transform the world.  Not because we are the world, but because we’re United Methodists.

And Another Thing . . .

The two extremes in the United Methodist Church have likewise forgotten the nature of the Church. Both seek to control it. – Joel Watts

The other day, I wrote a piece criticizing the notion of the indefectability of the Church, the original written by Joel Watts.  After a couple days, these two sentences, which had troubled me since I first read them, crystallized for me in to a matter that lies behind all the offering of distractions, the insistence on a particular type of “christian discourse” that ignores any reality save its own sense of its elevation above the give and take of actual discussions and arguments, and now a movement to notify delegates to General Conference on matters that might not have the full support of delegates prior to them coming to floor.  What lies behind all this is a distaste for politics in the church.

Discussions, arguments, positioning prior to actually considering legislation, presenting the public with alternatives – this is all part of politics.  Sometimes, it can get downright nasty, especially when people feel as passionately as they do about something like their faith and the Church in which they practice and live out their faith.  While I refuse to reduce the realities to “extremes” versus those far more sober, orthodox, middle-of-the-roaders, there is little doubt that the nub of the matters before us as United Methodists is, indeed who controls our church.  And there is nothing wrong with that.

The orthodoxy which Joel Watts praises so highly wouldn’t exist without political trickery.  Martin Luther would be just another dead martyr to ideas for reform of the Roman Catholic Church if not for the internal politics of the Holy Roman Empire (and Charles V’s felt need to wage wars elsewhere rather than deal with the rising heresy within the borders of his realm).  The United Methodist Church in the United States wouldn’t exist without Thomas Coke and Francis Asbury calling a Conference at Lovely Lane Chapel in Baltimore and arranging for delegates to elect them our first Bishops, severing the American Church from its British parent.  I could go on, but I think the point is clear enough: politics is part of church life, and politics is dirty, sometimes nasty, and always about power and control.

To attempt to stand above it all, declaring oneself adhering both to an orthodoxy and a practical via media that excludes those extremes that are so busy dirtying themselves and others with church politics is as much a political move as all the rest.  The difference is the pretense of being above it all.  As political as we are – Aristotle’s famous dictum about humanity being a political animal has yet to be proved wrong – especially we Americans are somehow averse to the idea that we are practicing politics.  Thus in the secular world, we insist we don’t want a President who is political, but more like a corporate CEO.  We want Congress to manage our national budget and financial affairs in the way households do, even though this is both impossible and unwise.  We distrust politicians, insisting “they’re all alike” despite abundant evidence that politicians are as different as night and day.

To disdain church politics because its central concern is power and control is as unfaithful as disdaining the practice of the Sacrament because of intinction rather than separating the elements, or discounting baptism because one was sprinkled rather than immersed.  Church politics are like anything and everything else in the Church – a vehicle for God’s will to become known and lived.  Yes, politics can get nasty.  Arguments can get heated and not always follow the niceties some would prefer.  To insist one is above or between the extremes, thus outside the give and take and push and pull of politics is both to fool oneself and to offer others a vision of Church life that never has been and never can be.  The pursuit of Church practice and polity always includes politics.  Yet, if we are faithless enough to refuse to pray for and see the presence of the Holy Spirit even here as all sides, not just the extremes struggle both to have their voices heard and to get their positions part of Church life, then we might as well hang up our stoles, desacralize our buildings, and find something else to do.  If we are so weak in our faith that we would rather imagine ourselves outside the all too human politics of Church life, then how is it possible to proclaim the Good News, if we do not trust it enough in our common life?

Church politics isn’t a test of faith.  It’s a practice of faith.  Accept that, and so much of the dross can be discarded.

Breaking The Law

"And sometimes you have to go above the written law, I believe."

“And sometimes you have to go above the written law, I believe.”

I would suggest that the greatest danger to this tradition today does not come from those who wish to push back with simplistic law-and-order thinking — as dangerous as that can be. The greatest threat comes from assumptions that there is no such thing as divine moral law.

At particularly arrogant times in history, some have scoffed at the moral law and insisted that the very idea of law is nothing more than a set of norms constructed by society. This claim may allow for change, and that is good. But it respects no eternal standard of dignity and can end up sanctioning heinous policies. – Rev. Chris Momany, United Methodist News Service

As I’m old enough to remember the Iran-Contra scandal, back when Presidential scandals were real things, whenever I hear or read someone defending the concept of “higher law”, my mind immediately turns to Fawn Hall, who thought she was above the law of the United States, sneaking classified documents out of the White House and shredding others in service of this higher law.  So it was with trepidation indeed that I read Chris Momany’s editorial at The United Methodist News Service.  I do not know Rev. Momany’s political or theological leanings – nor do I care all that much – but invoking MLK in defense of the notion of some “higher law” to which human law is accountable is always an interesting exercise.  For instance, Momany doesn’t note that Rev. Dr. King and his companions were quite willing to abide by human law even as they protested its unrighteousness, submitting to arrest and jail time.  Whether or not one acknowledges such a thing as “higher law” does not, nor has it ever in the tradition from which King drew inspiration, advocated ignoring the possible penalties for defying human law.

I have to admit that Rev. Momany’s piece is puzzling.  Writing in defense of Divine Law as the basis for human law is neither new nor interesting.  Furthermore, there seems to be little more than the bare assertion that such exists – Momany tosses around not only King, but Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative and Martin Buber (this latter, however, is odd in this context) – without any other goal.

The assertion that positive law is rooted in Divine Law is indeed old, given its most thorough formulation in the works of St. Thomas.  Martin Luther, however, made the distinction between Divine Law and Human Law in his Two Kingdoms theory; the appeal the Radical Reformers such as Thomas Muntzer were making to Divine Law to overthrow municipal and human law was anathema to Luther, who wrote repeatedly to Muntzer to submit to human law before things got out of hand.  Muntzer, however, was a believer in the supremacy of Divine Law and ended up being burned at the stake.

The idea Momany mentions, that rights are prior to civil society and positive law, our Founders drew from thinkers as various as Montesquieu and John Locke.  Ripped out of context, and void of any sensible coherence to a 21st century audience, they are little more than categorical assertions without foundation.  Unless, of course, Rev. Momany wants us all to be 17th and 18th century philosophers, completely ignoring four centuries of advances in thought.  The growth of positive law is a direct response to the crumbling of the assumptions behind the very categorical statements Momany insists are the basis for “higher law”.

With the establishment of the Church of England, with the Monarch as titular head of the Church, Great Britain established what one author, Roy Jenkins in a biography of William Gladstone, has called “a mild Erastian” compromise.  The Church, rather than dominating the state – a theory that extended back to the high middle ages when Popes demanded obeisance from kings and princes – is the state’s servant.  The state provides the Church space in which to do its work in exchange for the church (with the exception of archbishops, who served in the House of Lords) staying out of civil affairs.  Our tradition, coming from Wesley, is steeped in this kind of via media approach, with the addition, here in the United States, of ideas from Martin Luther regarding the Two Kingdoms.  While always politically active, the United Methodist Church and its forebears recognize the supremacy not of Divine Law but of the Constitution’s guarantee of free exercise, provided churches are neither partisan nor in violation of positive statutes when pursuing their ministries (just ask the Latter-Day Saints how their revelation regarding polygamy suddenly changed when that became the stumbling block for Utah statehood).

To argue for a “higher law”, however, offers me the opportunity to quote from one of my favorite passages from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Now, his Ethics were never complete.  Some scholars and those close to him during his lifetime insist they shouldn’t have been published, at least under the pretense of some kind of coherent theological statement.  All the same, at the very beginning, Bonhoeffer drops the boom on the whole “moral law” or “higher law” tradition from a Christian perspective:

The knowledge of good and evil seems to be the aim of all ethical reflection.  The first task of Christian ethics is to invalidate this knowledge.  In launching this attack on the underlying assumptions of all other ethics, Christian ethics stands so completely alone that it becomes questionable whether there is any purpose in speaking of Christian ethics at all. . . .

Already in the possibility of the knowledge of good and evil Christian ethics discerns a falling away from the origin.  Man at his origin knows only one thing: God.  It is only in the unity of his knowledge of God that he knows of other men, o fthings, and of himself.  He knows all things only in God, and God in all things.  The knowledge of good and evil shows that he is no longer at one with this origin. . . .

. . . The knowledge of good and evil is therefore separation from God.  Only against God can man know good and evil. . . .

The freedom of Jesus is not the arbitrary choice of one amongst innumerable possibilities; it consists on the contrary precisely in the complete simplicity of His action, which is never confronted by a plurality of possibilities, conflicts or alternatives, but always only by one thing.  This one thing Jesus calls the will of God.  He says that to do this will is His meat.  This will of God is His life.  He lives and acts not by the knowledge of good and evil but by the will of God.  There is only one will of God.  In it the origin is recovered; in it there is established the freedom and the simplicity of all action. . . .

The will of God is not a system of rules which is established from the outset; it is something new and different in each different situation in life, and for this reason a man must ever anew examining what the will of God may be.. . . It is no longer a matter of a man’s own knowledge of good and evil, but solely of the living will of God; our knowledge of God’s will is not something over which we ourselves dispose, but it depends solely upon the grace of God, and this grace is and requires to be new every morning. . . . . The voice of the heart is not to be confused with the will of God, nor is any kind of inspiration or any general principle, for the will of God discloses itself ever anew only to him who proves it ever anew. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Ethics, pp. 17-18, 30, 38

From a Christian perspective, then, there is no “higher law”.  There is only and ever the pursuit of the will of God, not an eternal thing, but something that changes each day, as our circumstances change.  Whether he realized it or not, Bonhoeffer was doing ethics for a universe in which entropy and quantum mechanics dominate our material reality.  The very idea of some eternal law that exists in all times and places and to which especially we Christians should adhere flies in the very face of the call of Christian Discipleship, which it always and only to seek the will of God each day, in each circumstance of life.

Finally, what would a post of this title be without the following?

On Civility. Again

Civility always favors those in power, and those in power don’t need to be uncivil because they have power. They don’t need uncivil words because they can act.

Firing someone is a very uncivil act but is never caught in these codes. Calling a chancellor a greedy son of a bitch because he’s firing people while his own salary increases causes far less damage to the chancellor than his ‘civil’ actions cause to people who get fired, but of course it’s not about promoting a happy community or bonhomie, it’s about protecting the delicate sensibilities of the powerful.

Whenever I hear a powerful person call for civility I instantly lost any respect in them and am suspicious of their motives and other actions. – Nobdy at Lawyers, Guns, & Money

These pastors are not following church doctrine and are following false teachings. The church doctrine regarding homosexual behavior follows the inerrant Bible. It is better to remain chaste than to disregard the authority of God’s Word. Oust them, enough said. – UMC.org/news

Making your own rules and teaching them as commandments are things that God will not accept. How quick people forget we are to be a holy people, set apart to belong to him and obey him.
“He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the Lord”. Proverbs 17:15 – UMC.org/news

Recent events from the Trayvon Martin murder through the Michael Brown murder have reminded us how matters of civility around race are handled.  When it is noted that yet another young person of color has been killed by a white person, immediately some screech about “playing the race card”, even going so far as to insist that it is African-Americans and their white supporters who are the “real racists”, since they are the ones who notice the races of the victims and perpetrator.  Somehow claiming some imaginary moral high-ground in a self-proclaimed “color blind society”, these defenders of the murder of young black and Latino males insist that, once we set aside our ability to understand the history of white supremacy and the ongoing violence against communities of color, we can see these crimes for what they are: random events with no connection to anything but themselves.

Bringing up history, then, as well as race, as well as policies of official violence against persons of color is uncivil.  It is, perhaps, far worse than the actions themselves because some people become acutely uncomfortable being reminded that race and the attendant violence continue to plague our country.  Wouldn’t it be nice, to quote the Beach Boys, if we could just pretend our racial problems were fixed?  Wouldn’t it be nice to treat yet another killing of yet another young African-American, Latino, or Native American man by law enforcement as a singular incident, void of any context save the immediate circumstances?  Alas, we cannot; being moral people, we must not.  It is incumbent upon us to bring this up again and again and again in order to make clear that this cannot continue.

In the United Methodist Church, as we attempt to discuss how we as a people will minister to sexual minorities in our midst, hear many of the same voices.  It would be far better not to demand equality and justice; it would be far better to sit around a table and allow all voices to be heard, arriving at some compromise through the magic of consensus through prayer.  It might even be the case that those who oppose any change in our official policy toward sexual minorities be offered space in which to continue to practice religious-based bigotry without rancor from the larger denomination.

Like our on-going debates about race, the UMC’s debate about sexual minorities is neither new nor even, at this point, interesting.  The basic terms of the discussion are, as they have been since 1972, clear.  The options on the table are what they have always been: as a world-wide church we open ourselves to all persons without any regard save, as John Wesley said, a desire to flee the wrath to come; or, as a world-wide church, we continue to give in to narrow, proof-texted bigotry, closing our minds, our hearts, and our doors to our gay and lesbian and bisexual and trans brothers and sisters.  There have been, over the past several months, a slew of proposals laid before the denomination that attempt some kind of compromise, all of which boil down to disrupting the one thing that gives the UMC its strength: our connection would be severed in order to grant to those churches and pastors who continue to refuse the movement of the Spirit across the land space to continue to discriminate.  The results of such actions would be horrendous, not only on the finances and well-being of the connection as a whole, but the morale of all the clergy.  Once we carve out an exception for those who wish to continue to discriminate against sexual minorities, the flood-gate has been opened.  We are either a church ruled by the Discipline of faithful obedience to law or we are not.

And yet, too often, making clear that statements against sexual minorities are hateful, un-Christian, and in violation of the Spirit of the Church to which we belong is considered uncivil.  It is far better to allow statements such as the latter two quoted above pass without comment than to make clear just how wrong, how hateful, and how antithetical to the Spirit of life they are.  Those who demand justice inside the church are being uncivil; those who demand civility, as Nobdy notes (and I’ve said before) serve a status quo that is not only untenable in the long run, but hurtful and not in keeping with our call to be the Body of Christ for the world.

So I will not be civil, if civility is the demand that hateful comments not be called hateful.  I will not be civil if civility means remaining silent about changes to church polity and practice that will be in tune with the way the Spirit is blowing across our land.  I will not be civil if civility means allowing those who would prefer to practice discrimination, damning those whose only sin is living their lives as God has made them to be, continue to dictate to the rest of us what is and is not proper Christian conduct.  I will not be civil because civility has never changed systems of injustice.