Monday, May 26, 2014

My Plea to Us United Methodists to Stay Together

     When I read the statement from eighty of my brothers and sisters in United Methodist Ministry declaring their belief that it is best if we surrender trying to stick together and figure out how to have an “amicable breakup,” I was not surprised.  And yet seeing it in print grieved me deeply.  I’ve invested much of my time, energy and passion into this church I love in general, and in particular on the issue that divides us.

     I could make my case against the looming divorce, or even the way we talk about our differences.  On both ‘sides’ (and the very concept of ‘sides’ in the Body of Christ grieves our Lord) we have those who strive to be holy and live out the Scriptures as best they know how; and on both ‘sides’ we have a lot of rancor, people who mirror the secular culture’s wars and platitudes more than they point to anything genuinely Christian or Methodist.

     I could ask for a reasonable explanation of the idea that, because you break the covenant, I withdraw? I could ask all of us, myself included, about our selective adherence to the Discipline, not to mention the literal commandments in Scripture. 

     I could reiterate my gloomy prediction that the split will not be win-win, but lose-lose.  Each congregation would be asked (I suppose), Will we be Progressive? or Traditionalist? Let’s say the vote in my parish is 2,137 for one, 1,792 for the other, with hundreds more abstaining.  What happens to the 1,792?  Don’t we in this way guarantee the most rapid shrinkage of membership imaginable, far more catastrophic than our current steady leakage?

     I could ask why, since we disagree on a great many things, this is the line in the sand? ...and we’d keep debating for a few more minutes, or decades.

     So, here’s my deepest, gut reason for resisting a breakup.  I do not wish to be in ministry, or to be a United Methodist, without any of the many wonderful friends I have made over many years.  I have longtime friends among the 80 proposing the breakup, and I have longtime friends among those who’d prefer to split but from the opposite side of the aisle.  I have grown to love progressives and traditionalists.  I’ve been loved by them, and I’ve been inspired by them.  I admire the faithful on both sides, and find strength, challenge, and hope in our differences.

     In my family, we have pretty ferocious disagreements about a great many things:  politics, religion, whether to cheer for UNC or Duke, personal habits.  We are covenanted as a family – but there is a lot of noncompliance, from my children, my wife, my cousins, my parents, and even from me.  But we love.  We don’t divorce.  We are a family.

     Thomas Merton, when asked about his views on whether those who believe differently are saved or not, answered, “I will have more joy in heaven and in God if you are also there to share it with me.”  At a personal level, I’m a little selfish.  I want the most joy, and I need all of us in the family for that joy.  I will never, ever look back and say “Whew, thank God we had that amicable split-up, and I don't have to deal with those wrong people any longer.”  I’ll lose too many who are beloved to me, and to God.

     God wants us to be holy.  God wants us to embody the Scriptures.  And holiness in those Scriptures tells me we keep our promises, and love.  I want to be right on every issue.  But love and personal commitments trump in over being right more than we're willing to admit.  I wonder if that's the holiness test before us today.  Let’s find the way to stay together – because I love so many of you, and need the joy.

19 comments:

  1. Thank you, James My thoughts exactly

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  2. When a husband and wife enter into covenant with each other, there are certain agreements and commitments they make to one another to deepen and further their oneness, intimacy, and shared purpose. When either party decides to act unilaterally against those commitments, i.e. infidelity, that covenant is broken. In such cases, healing and restoration are possible when God's grace reigns in our hearts. A pre-requisite to such healing and restoration however is a renewed commitment to covenant. Currently, there is a profound commitment in our denomination for folks to intentionally and provocatively break covenant by profoundly acting out against our current teaching on the issue of homosexuality. You cannot have covenant where there is no willingness to keep covenant. I am saddened, as well, by the language and movement towards amicable separation, but the other alternative of confession and repentance seems to not only be an impossibility but a propositional anathema to those who believe homosexuality is an acceptable Christian practice.

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    1. Andy, I think the marriage analogy you used is a little imperfect. I agree with the covenant part but using infidelity is not congruous with the situation. Its not like people are choosing to believe or worship a different God. Its more like breaking the covenant to be the only one to do housework. Sometimes you need to stand up and say this needs to be more balanced in mutual respect. Its doesn't mean you aren't still committed to the marriage. That should be primary, the commitment to the marriage (e.g. being the Church).

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  3. I, too, am grieved by this. I joined the UM church by choice as an adult, because of the denomination's commitment to social justice issues. If we look back into our history as a denomination, people would be making the same arguments about whether ordaining women was "biblical", and a few years before that, about integration. I fail to understand how this issue, which isn't even a focal point of scripture (as opposed to, say divorce), can have become the wedge that may tear us apart. As a church that believes in justice and fairness under the laws of the land, I cannot understand how we cannot support the LEGAL rights of our gay brothers and sisters, even if we disagree about what the Bible may say about how they live. I would have a hard time being a part of either the church that chose to leave over this one issue, or remaining with the ones left behind. James is right. "Sides" are not what we are called to be on as Christians. We are called to find ways to love and to live together in harmony. Can we not leave the final judgment of this to God? I thought that was His job, anyway, not ours.

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    1. Ann your posting is beautiful I am honored to be able worship with you as a Gay man. Tommy Anthony

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  4. The highest form or holiness or honoring the other in human covenant is quite simply, love. Love trumps all of it. And if United Methodists would rally around practicing love as the highest form of holiness, all the talk of divorce would be done. In any marriage, there are times when your spouse is simply wrong, simply crazy, and you just throw up your hands.... and go cook dinner. And give thanks.

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    1. Love is not just saying "yes!" True love also involves saying "no!" For some reason we moderns have some how confused love with absolute tolerance. All marriages, all families, all relationships, have problems, struggles, failures, but marriages where one or both partners willingly, intentionally, and continually choose to be unfaithful lose the ability to be in covenant with each other.

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  5. As a Gay member attending the Methodist Church I feel very welcomed. As a child growing up in the Baptist Church I felt very torn and ashamed of my feelings as Child then young adult with my faith. As an college age adult I attended the Presbyterian Church and began to accept my life as a Gay adult and faith. Today I am a proud to worship at a Methodist Church that accepts me to worship and pray with my neighbors in Myers Park.

    My life as a Christian was not easy as a child I struggled so much with the teachings felt both judged and not worthy to pray or be a part of God's house. Today I am able to worship pray with my partner and Worship in the Methodist Church without being judged or hated. This has deepen my faith I pray the Methodist are patient and not divided. We all can worship our Lord together, while we may not agree on every issue the one issue we all should agree is to worship and Love our neighbor. Thank you for allowing me to worship our Lord as a Gay man with you in the Methodist Church.

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    1. You are indeed welcome in The United Methodist Church. I know of no United Methodist congregation that would reject you and your partner. That is NOT the issue in question. The issue in question is whether the church should actually BLESS a homosexual relationship, or should we maintain a 2000 year old tradition that views marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman. Personally, I have no problem with welcoming gay couples who have been legally married; but I do not believe the church should officially bless these relationships which are contrary to Christian teaching.

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    2. Holly your response makes me sad. My faith today is strong and I know The Lord loves my partner and does BLESS our relationship. I am glad that I can worship in the Methodist Church and some pastors will pray with me and my partner of 13 years and welcome us both into the house of The Lord as any couple would be welcomed. My journey to this point in my life was not without struggle from growing up in the Baptist Church. Today I know that God loves me and my Partner and made just as I am today.

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  6. As United Methodist, I believe we need to celebrate our commonalities, not our differences. The United Methodist Church has been experiencing a steady decline in membership, which is a trend in most Protestant churches. The last thing we need to do is bring national attention that there is conflict and division amongst the Methodist. If we as the United Methodist community speak of division and "amicable breakup", what message are we sending to the "unchurched", those who are seeking a relationship with Christ and a Christian community?

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  8. I have watched my views on these issues evolve over the past 20 years. Yet still I struggle to form a cohesive, internally consistent personal viewpoint. However, I have enjoyed and learned from the many conversations that I have had with friends, pastors, ministers, educators and strangers over those same 20 years.

    I don't believe that there is a single one of us that understands all that God has said to us through scripture, tradition, reason and experience. I rather suspect that what we really understand about God is but a grain of sand compared to all the beaches of the world.

    I would have missed a lot had I drawn a line in the sand 20 years ago.

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  9. I have watched my views on these issues evolve over the past 20 years. Yet still I struggle toward a cohesive and internally consistent personal viewpoint. However, I have enjoyed and learned from the many conversations that I have had with friends, pastors, ministers, educators and strangers over those same 20 years.

    I don't believe that there is a single one of us that understands all that God has said to us through scripture, tradition, reason and experience. I rather suspect that what we really understand about God is but a grain of sand compared to all the beaches of the world.

    I would have missed a lot had I drawn a line in the sand 20 years ago.

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  10. I apologize for the double post. I don't use this medium often and wanted my post to show under a personal email to be clear that I was expressing my opinion and not representing my workplace.

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  11. I see the argument here time and again that this belief about homosexuality is like being unfaithful in a marriage. How is that a fully developed comparison? Having an affair in a marriage is more like a Christian leaving the church to be Buddhist. Disagreeing about this issue is more like one spouse wanting to buy a new car while the other wants to buy a well maintained used one. It's a difference of understanding about what is the best use of financial resources in a relationship based on how you understand financial responsibility. In the same way, interpretation of the Bible and discipline is translated into beliefs about homosexuality.

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  12. Having just gone through a split of an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America parish, I can tell you it was very painful and devisive. There are people with whom I used to worship weekly that don't even speak to one another. Now that the split is official, the "winners" want the "losers" to unite and be one congregation, but it is highly doubtful this will happen. This one issue has split lifelong friends and feels just like a divorce. We just started attending my childhood Methodist parish last year and when I read the Observer article this morning, I thought "here we go again". I don't want to see this happen in the UMC. If we were divided on every Biblical prohibition, there would be many more denominations than there are currently. Let's focus on the two greatest commandments and let everything else sort itself out.

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  13. Several years ago at a pastors’ get together to discuss his excellent book, “Blood Done Sign My Name,” Tim Tyson was asked a question about the ongoing argument over homosexuality in United Methodism. I don’t recall the first part of his answer, but he ended with a very sarcastic statement that, “The Gospel is about homosexuality.” I believe he meant this to be a critical statement towards both “sides” of the argument; I certainly took it that way.
    I don’t wish a pox on both sides, but maybe a moderately severe head cold—just enough to ask for God’s mercy. I believe those who put homosexuality at the center of what is important to the Gospel and to the United Methodist Church, whether they are pro or anti, are doing a great disservice to the Body of Christ.
    To those who want to split and argue that accepting homosexuality means abandoning biblical authority I ask, “What about divorce?” We don’t follow Biblical teaching on that issue, but you aren’t ready to divide the church over it. What about charging interest? I bet most of you have both paid and received interest.
    To those who want to split because others don’t believe in accepting homosexuality, I want to ask, “Is this really the most important issue of justice and suffering you can find?” When people are starving to death and dying from curable diseases, we should focus on homosexuality? When there is mass unemployment and inequality and we are making the world uninhabitable by pouring carbon into the atmosphere, we should fight to the end over homosexuality? I am not indifferent to the violence and discrimination shown towards homosexuals, but I would not put it near the top of the list of the most critical issues in the world.
    The issue of homosexuality and its place within the church is an important issue. It is not important enough to commit suicide over. And we are talking suicide, not divorce.

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  14. We had this same debate around sixty years ago. Maybe we should learn something from it instead of repeating the same crime over again.

    http://www.northalabamaumc.org/blogs/detail/29

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