Monday, December 12, 2022

To my Disaffiliating Friends: Don't Believe What You've Been Told

    I was stunned, then I just shuddered and sighed the other day when I read an email from a member of a disaffiliating Methodist church in another part of the country, hurling ferocious and false accusations at me for staying United Methodist. The surprise is that this is someone I know, who’s been in my church for worship, and even went to Israel with me 13 years ago.

   It began “We thought you were a believer who preached the word and accepted Jesus as the divine son of God. But after learning you’re still in the United Methodist Church, we are shocked that you now believe Scripture is not the Word of God.” It went on to express disdain that I don’t accept Christ as my Savior and that I deny there’s a Holy Spirit, and that I don’t have any moral standards – and on and on, at great length.

   I share this, and my response to this friend, because it is a witness to why some Methodist churches are being duped into disaffiliating – and it’s just plain wrong to hurl mud at fellow Christians period, much less for what is a fabrication. I replied, “You know me, a real live United Methodist pastor who from your own experience is deeply rooted in the Scriptures. Yet you’ve swallowed the misinformation and caricatures being spread by those who are recruiting churches to disaffiliate. You’ve concluded I’m not a believer, I don’t lift up Scripture as the Word of God, and I deny the divinity of Jesus. False, false, and false. The Holy Spirit does not guide Christians into bogus, malicious ideas about other Christians.” I might have added that I know hundreds of United Methodist pastors, and I can't name one of them who doesn't take Scripture as of God, or denies the divinity of Christ or that there's a Holy Spirit - or that there are no moral standards.

   Trying to be gentle but clear, I suggested that the only place such misinformation might have come to them was their own disaffiliating Methodist church. Even knowing me, the emailer didn’t ask what I believe or if I’d changed, but simply parroted what had been spoonfed – so all I can conclude is that this well-known disaffiliating church teaches a smug, judgmental way of behaving, which is not of God or any moral standard that qualifies as Christian.

   Near the end of my friend Ryan Danker’s very fine book, Wesley and the Anglicans: Political Division in Early Evangelicalism, he tells how in 1764, John Wesley wrote a letter to 40 or 50 clergymen, who were divided on issues, challenging those Methodists who were at odds with one another to “speak respectfully, honourably, kind of each other; defend each other’s character; speak all the good we can of each other.”

   So, if any disaffiliators are reading: stop the libel. Stop the falsehoods. Stop the misinformation. Stop the logical fallacy of finding some United Methodist somewhere who said something awry, and then inferring that, Aha, that’s United Methodism!

   And if you’re a United Methodist who’s sticking around, don’t get too smug either. Our sisters and brothers who are disaffiliating are more like us than we realize: operating out of hidden fears, we all rush to judgment against those who aren’t us. Wesley could be a harsh dude, but he was right on what God asks of us. We don’t assault one another’s character. We defend, we speak respectfully, always. And we always tell what really is the truth, and if we don't know, we just hush.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Pilgrimage to Turkey, September 2023

Join me as we return with yet another group to visit ancient Asia Minor, modern Turkey, the historic birthplace of worldwide Christianity! We’ll visit 6 UNESCO World Heritage sites, take in stunning landscapes and architectural wonders, and delight in Turkish food and culture.

September 17-29, 2023

Cost (as of today, could fluctuate a little due to flight variables): $4,200.

       $750 single supplement, and $545 for a 2 night extension in Istanbul.

           -- includes flights (US to Turkey, and short flights within Turkey), hotel, breakfast and dinner daily (almost), guide, driver, tips and taxes.

  Our guide will be Gülin Pazaroğlu, who has become a treasured friend to the Howells and others in our church family! She is an extraordinary guide and a great friend. You'll love her! 

  Our itinerary will be different from any other, beginning in the far east and heading west. We begin in:

  Antioch, the cradle of Christianity in Acts. We explore the ancient “cave church” of St. Peter, and other biblical era remains, staying at the Museum Hotel. Then on to:

  Tarsus, the birthplace of Paul, and Seleucia, the port where Paul and Barnabas sailed on mission. Then to:

  Urfa (ancient Edessa, the cultural center of early Christianity), taking time to visit Gobekli-Tepe, Zeugma and Gaziantep, among the most astonishing archeaological finds ever, rewriting all we’ve known about the early history of humanity. Then on to:

  Cappadocia, the geological wonderland, with cave churches; the home of the Cappadocian Fathers, the wisest of early Christianity’s leaders. We’ll stay at Cappadocia Estates, an unforgettable venue. After a stop in picturesque Aphrodisias, one of ancient Rome’s grandest cities, we’ll make our way to:

  Pamukkale, the visually stunning calcite deposits, with the healing waters of thermal baths, right next door to Hierapolis and Laodicea, excavated cities once visited by Paul, and recipients of the Book of Revelation.. We’ll stay at the lovely Doga Thermal Hotel. Then, with a stop at Sardis (another of the “7 cities of Revelation”), we’ll get to:

  Ephesus, the crown jewel of Turkey, where Paul preached and was imprisoned, where John and Mary lived out their days, the site of one of the Wonders of the Ancient World, the Temple of Artemis, and its famous library. Finally, we come to:

  Istanbul, ancient Constantinople, which replaced Rome as capital of the empire, the home base of the Church for centuries, literally littered with great churches and mosques. This will be a shorter than usual visit, just a day. For those who wish to see more, we offer a

 2 night extension, to see more and enjoy the city’s sites, the fabled market, and restaurants.

   *** To learn more or to apply to join this pilgrimage, email me at james@mpumc.org

 

Thursday, December 1, 2022

Christ was born!... so Methodists could vote?

     This morning, I woke up remembering how often I’ve said “A virtue of Methodism is it’s not in our DNA to wake up in the morning and think ‘We’re right, and everybody else is wrong’ – and how within Methodism, we can disagree without killing each other, or getting a divorce.

    This recollection probably drifted into my head because last night, like so many nights in recent weeks, I went to bed grieving questions that had come my way about some Methodist church or another ramping up to a vote on whether to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church. When I hear this, I shudder, and try then to recall the humorous truth of a clergy friend of mine who will snap a photo of the crowd during an especially tedious, cantankerous and dull denominational meeting, and text it to me across the room with the caption, “Another unintended consequence of the resurrection.” I saw a Facebook photo of church I love holding hearings to help them decide. Not what Jesus had in mind.

    An unintended consequence of the resurrection? or since it's Christmas, of the incarnation? Jesus came so we could… vote? Zealously, I advocate voting – in the United States. In the church, it’s hard to imagine a more destructive activity. Quakers, and a great many other Christian bodies, don’t vote. They discern. And the kicker here is: United Methodists don’t have to vote. And shouldn’t vote. “Somebody told us we need to vote.” You don’t, and if they told you this, or recruited you, they are well-meaning, but misguided. If your church is gearing up for a vote, you can and should back up, take a deep breath, and not forge forward into what will inevitably be a church division – the worst conceivable witness to a skeptical world, not what Jesus had in mind when he came into Mary’s womb or went to the cross.

    An analogy: Lisa and I have stayed married for 36 years. What if, for Christmas, we entertained speakers on the virtues of divorce (“I finally found the love of my life,” “No more socks on the floor”) vs. staying married (“He’s getting creaky but he’s a dear”) – and then we took a vote on whether to aim for 37 years. Thankfully, we don’t have to vote. We have disagreed with one another on a great many issues (as has our church) all along. What I find, with her, is that when it gets tense and I am sure I am right, I quite often am wrong. Being right is way overrated anyhow. As best I can tell, it only hurts the other person, and puffs up my ego.

    Some say to me “We have to draw a line!” Did Jesus say this? Here’s maybe the single most important reason not to vote to disaffiliate: at the 2008 General Conference, I spoke from the floor and said "We have for decades declared that ‘We do not condone the practice of homosexuality.’ This has not prevented one person from being gay. It has, though, alienated tens of thousands not just from our church but from any church." Want to talk about an unintended consequence of the resurrection or incarnation? The question isn’t Who’s right? but, as in my marriage, Who’s hurt? I meet them all the time: people who used to go to church, don’t and won’t now, and the first or second reason they give is because the church is judgmental, and specifically because they judge and exclude gays.

    Those who lobby churches to disaffiliate argue “It’s not about LGBTQ inclusion.” I’ve been wrong in saying they are wrong. I’ve been right, in that Methodists have strongly disagreed and stayed together over dozens of huge issues – but it’s this one that has created congregational votes. And yet, they are right. It’s about how to be the Body of Christ in this moment in history, when division is little more than a mirror image of what’s going on in our country politically. Instead of healing America, voting Methodists are letting themselves be ruined by America.

    On sabbatical several years ago, I found myself in a pub, sitting next to a guy. I asked what he does in life. “I’m a shepherd.” This piqued my attention, so I quizzed him about shepherding, including this question: “Why are there always sheep and goats, never just sheep, never just goats.” He glanced upward as he stroked his beard and said “We just find that they do better together.” That’s United Methodism; we're better together. Instead of a smattering of broken-in-half churches all over this country, none thriving while all claim they are right, if we simply don’t vote, and stay with the one who brought us to the point, we can still be better together – an intended consequence of the resurrection and, since it’s Christmas, the incarnation.