Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Warning: Using this logo might entail more work than you think

#StayUnited reads the social media statuses of many of my United Methodist Church friends from Florida. In a time where a handful of more conservative churches are threatening to leave the denomination over same-sex marriage and the ordination of gay and lesbian persons, the image above is in the same spirit of Methodism’s founder John Wesley who is sometimes attributed as saying, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” Some posting the image have said that it means to them a commitment to the mission of the church, to make disciples, over the infighting over issues of homophobia and heterosexism.

To my colleagues in Florida United Methodism… before you post this image, beware the work that is required of you to truly make us one.

The work of staying united has little to with avoiding the schism threatened by a handful of congregations who for the most part are already non-connectional.

The real work to be done in making us one begins in asking he question: who are the people who do not feel united or one with the body today?

By posting the image above am I willing to do the individual work that might be required to examine my privilege and the even harder work of listening to the stories of those who do not feel united because of oppression I have contributed to?

As a white male heterosexual clergyperson I have always felt united and one with the United Methodist Church. For example, my call to ministry was relatively easy compared to many stories shared with me by women, people of color, and LGBTQ people. As I listen to their stories, I learn that barriers are often placed in their way to live out their baptism that were nonexistent to me because of my privilege.

I felt more nurtured and supported by the church during my divorce than most gay or lesbian couples feel seeking to be married by their pastor in their church.

If I am serious about the work of making us one I must learn to trust the experience of others facing oppression over my own experience of doors that are always open.

In the case of LGBTQ people, their discrimination is still codified within our Methodist doctrine—naming their being incompatible with Christian teaching and blocking their desire to follow a call to marriage or ordained ministry. But even in our work to make us one and end the oppression of LGBTQ people in The UMC, it cannot be done at the expense of other people experiencing oppression. 

We must get there together.

If we want to stay united we have to all get their together working at the intersections of oppression—for me that means seeing beyond my privileged full inclusion to those who are not included fully because of bigotry, racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, and other isms that have already divided our body.

We cannot stay united if there are groups of people who have never been fully united to begin with.

The church I attend begins every worship service with a statement the congregation spent time writing together: Holy Covenant UMC is proud to be a Reconciling Congregation. Whatever your race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, economic situation, background or belief, age or condition of ableness, whether single or partnered, you are God’s beloved and are welcome here! 

For that congregation it is a statement of who they are, and who they are still striving to be, because there is much work individually and collectively to be done to make that statement a reality. For my friends in Florida, if you are interested in doing this work as a congregation, you should contact Helen Ryde of Reconciling Ministries Network. She will help your church walk through a process of writing a welcoming statement that seeks to include all people.

So if you are going to post the image above, beware of the work that is required for true unity. Avoiding schism is the easy part—at the end of the day, our complicated constitution and money will solve that problem.

The real work in making us one and staying united is in doing the work individually and collectively to build the Beloved Community. 

I'm in. Are you?

Monday, March 9, 2015

American Exceptionalism?

“Loving this country requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths. It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what’s right and shake up the status quo.”
~ President Barack Obama, speech at Selma/Bloody Sunday 50th Anniversary
In two short sentences President Obama answers critics who question his love of country, and he reframesAmerican Exceptionalism as something we are all working toward. America’s promise is still being realized through the interruptions of oppressed people pushing back against the idea that we have already arrived. Like those who marched on Bloody Sunday 50 years ago, American Exceptionalism is in the process of being made real by those who “loved this country so much that they’d risk everything to realize its promise.”
The words Obama spoke on that holy ground of Edmund Pettus Bridge are reminiscent of words uttered some 150 years ago by another president on a different blood stained battleground. People gathered at Gettysburg prepared to consecrate the ground, but President Lincoln instead told them it was they who were the ones who needed to dedicate themselves “to the unfinished work” of America. As President Obama said:
That’s what it means to love America.  That’s what it means to believe in America.  That’s what it means when we say America is exceptional.
It is dangerous when we allow an idea like American Exceptionalism to be claimed and owned by one group, allowing their radio and tv commentators the sole responsibility of defining that idea and the privilege of using it as a weapon against those outside their world-view. As President Obama said:
Selma shows us that America is not the project of any one person.  Because the single-most powerful word in our democracy is the word “We.”  “We The People.”  “We Shall Overcome.”  “Yes We Can.” That word is owned by no one.  It belongs to everyone.  Oh, what a glorious task we are given, to continually try to improve this great nation of ours.
In 2012, Bishop Melvin Talbert made a similar witness in reclaiming the idea of Biblical Obedience. He was not willing to allow those who oppose LGBTQ inclusion in the church to be the sole interpreters of the Bible. Bishop Talbert argued that the Scripture calls us to full inclusion of LGBTQ and all people—that we are required in the words of Scripture to act justly, love mercy, and to walk humbly with God, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Bishop Talbert has answered the criticism of those who claim those working for LGBTQ inclusion do so outside the tenants of Scripture by stating emphatically that Scripture is the story of full inclusion.
In the spirit of Bishop Talbert, and Presidents Obama and Lincoln, perhaps we should examine another idea that has seemingly been held hostage: the Unity of the Church.
In the history of The United Methodist Church, and really in all of Church history, this idea of unity has all too often been employed at times of change that threaten to splinter the faithful. Unity of the Church has been invoked at the sake of specific groups of people facing discrimination and oppression: slavery, people of color, women, and LGBTQ people.
Many of our UMC bishops have been all to quick to remember their charge in the Book of Discipline to “have a passion for the Unity of the Church” and all to forgetful concerning the proceeding paragraph charging them to be “a prophetic voice for justice in a suffering and conflicted world.”
Said another way, in the Book of Discipline, a UMC bishop’s calling to be an advocate for unity comes after (not at the sake of) their prophetic voice for justice. Unity of the Church is never to be invoked to maintain, protecting those with power and privilege at the sake of the marginalized and oppressed.
If we applied President Obama’s hermeneutic, the Unity of the Church might look something like:
Unity of the Church requires more than singing its praises or avoiding uncomfortable truths. It requires the occasional disruption, the willingness to speak out for what’s right and shake up the status quo.
Through this understanding Unity of the Church requires us to listen to the disruption by the oppressed as prophetic truth that calls us to that unfinished work—moving on to communal perfection—the Beloved Community.
Our continued work begins in watching for and listening to the stories of disruption, whether they echo from 50 years ago from a bloodied bridge, 46 years ago outside an inn called Stonewall, or are happening right here in our very midst. May these stories encourage and embolden us, helping us learn the art of disruption, so that we may dedicate ourselves to interrupt injustice wherever and in whatever forms it presents itself—together realizing America’s promise and for the Unity of the Church.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Imitation Game

It has been a long time since a movie made me cry, but I wept in the theater last night as the credits rolled.
**Spoiler Alert**
The Imitation Game is based on the true story of Alan Turing, the British WWII code breaker who, in the words of Churchill, made the single largest contribution to defeating the Nazis. Turing invented the machine that would decode German correspondence, possibly shortening the war by two years and saving 14 million lives. Today, we call the machine his work led to “computer.”
I had never heard Alan Turing’s story, but the ending was all too familiar. Turing was gay, and practicing that sexual orientation was a crime in England. Less than 10 years after saving the world from a foreign fascist dictator, Turing’s own people sentenced him to “chemical castration.”
This postscript closed the movie:
After a year of government-mandated hormonal therapy, Alan Turing committed suicide on June 7th 1954. 
Between 1885 and 1967, approximately 49,000 homosexual men were convicted of gross indecency under British law.
In 2013 Queen Elizabeth granted Turing a posthumous royal pardon, honoring his unprecedented achievements.
Unthinkable. In the words of a petition with half a million signatures being delivered tomorrow calling for the pardon of the rest of the 49,000, these men “were victims of an intolerant law that brought not only unwarranted shame, but horrific physical and mental damage and years of wrongful imprisonment.”
I wept in part for those 49,000, but also over the fact that it is still happening today—in my own country—in my own United Methodist Church.
The United Methodist Church still maintains intolerant doctrine that LGBTQ people are “incompatible with Christian teaching,” barring marriage and ordination—two of the potential ways United Methodists are called to live out their Baptisms.
I wept for the unwarranted shame inflicted upon LGBTQ people unable to hear through the noise of The UMC’s harmful teaching that they are made in the image of God .
I wept for the horrific physical violence inflicted upon LGBTQ people by bullies, citing the teachings of their church to justify their bigotry.
I wept for the mental damage inflicted upon LGBTQ people who have tried to live as someone they were not created to be, or were sentenced to reparative therapy.
I wept for the LGBTQ people wrongfully imprisoned in closets or locked out of the church altogether.
I wept for the LGBTQ voices silenced by The UMC.
And I wept for a church that desperately needs to hear those voices. As theologian Justo Gonz├ílez taught me—when the church silences the voices and gifts of the oppressed minority, we miss the fullness of what God has to say. Or, said another way to Alan Turing by his code-breaking colleague Joan Clarke:
This morning I took a train through a city that would not exist if it wasn’t for you. I bought a ticket from a man who would likely be dead if it wasn’t for you. I read up on my work, a whole field of scientific inquiry that only exists because of you. If you wish you could have been ‘normal,’ I can promise you, I do not. The world is an infinitely better place precisely because you weren’t.
Today isn’t merely Oscars Sunday.
Today is the first Sunday of Lent—a season of repentance, of turning away from the ways we have harmed our neighbors—40 days leading to a royal pardon of sorts—a calling to self-reflection, code breaking who God created us to be—the time we remember Jesus with his disciples, intimately washing their feet, sharing in a last supper, and inviting them to imitate him:
Love one another as I have loved you.
A gay mathematician named Alan and a Jewish carpenter named Jesus—“Sometimes it’s the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that no one can imagine”—a quote from the movie that God is kicking herself for not putting first in The Bible.
The Good News is that this Lenten journey ultimately ends not in shame, violence, or imprisonment, but culminates in life abundant and resurrection—a journey we individually and collectively as the church are invited to imitate—the greatest Imitation Game ever played.
. . .
If you are an LGBTQ person called to the ministry in The UMC, check out this national retreat: Be Encouraged!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Sad day for United Methodists in Florida

Today is a sad day for United Methodists in Florida.
Today on Epiphany, the Church celebrates the big reveal of Jesus being the Son of God to the Magi. It is today that the Gentiles who followed a star are said to have appeared to where Jesus was born, bringing him gifts. Gentiles, kings in their own right, but yet the outsiders of this story, today are among the first to be introduced to the Messiah.
Today is also the day, thanks to a judicial ruling that overturned the popular vote banning same-sex marriage, that gays and lesbians are able to marry in the state of Florida.
It is a joyous day for so many same-gender couples, some who have spent their lifetime fighting for the right to have their love recognized and celebrated.
So why is it a sad day for United Methodists?
Because today, if you are a gay or lesbian United Methodist couple and you ask your pastor to officiate your wedding, it doesn’t matter how long you have been a member, how ready you are for marriage, or how much money and time you give, by church law, your pastor is required to discriminate against you and your loved one and not officiate your wedding. In fact, the church is not even allowed to permit your wedding to happen on their property! As Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once remarked, the church is again “standing as a tail-light behind other community agencies rather than a headlight leading people to higher levels of justice.”
Thankfully there are pastors and churches of conscience who, like MLK, have said they will ignore discriminatory and unjust laws, even if that means they will be put on church trial and possibly defrocked. Many of the signatures on this list come from the West, the North and, the Northeast, but increasingly clergy from the South are adding their commitment to be obedient to their vows they took at their ordination and offer the ministries of the church to all people.
The responses to such actions by church officials are regional as well. If you are a gay or lesbian couple in the US outside the South, there are plenty of UMC churches and clergy willing to do your wedding. And in many of those areas, complaints filed against the clergy or churches never see the light of day.
This regional divide has to remind us of another day in our history when laws codifying discrimination were enforced especially viciously in the South. Sadly many United Methodist clergy and churches in Florida value discriminatory church law over doing the right thing in welcoming and affirming all people in the full life of the church. Church leaders who say they feel caught in the middle will suggest things like clergy referring gay and lesbian couples to other denominations who allow same-sex weddings.
When will the church learn? Making a couple go to a separate church to profess their love is insulting and denies them their personhood as members of the Body Of Christ within their specific community. Calling a same-sex couple’s desire to be married a “culture war” forgets that these are real people, made in the image of God, following God’s call to be in greater ministry to the world with another person.
Today, Bishop Ken Carter of Florida in a statement urged clergy to find creative ways to be present in the marriage of their gay and lesbian parishioners, suggesting clergy might say a prayer, give the sermon, or offer pre-marital counseling. This is a huge step forward for Florida and is far more inclusive than regions like Northern Alabama, where United Methodist clergy are forbidden by their bishop from having anything to do with gay and lesbian couples seeking marriage. Sadly, Bishop Carter’s guidance still advises clergy to treat their gay and lesbian parishioners as if there is something wrong with their love, instead of the church celebrating and affirming their covenant together.
One day in the near future, I know The United Methodist Church will learn, apologize, and confess its sin, but until that day, the Church needs bold witnesses to do what is right and challenge injustice in whatever forms they present themselves.
And come to think of it, maybe it is fitting for today to be both Epiphany and same-sex marriage day in Florida. The popular vote was overturned long ago by Christ bringing justice and reconciliation to a broken world. Maybe again today, like some 2000+ years ago, signs of love will be shown to “kings” in The United Methodist Church who find the normal power structures have been turned on their head. My prayer is that one day, these “wise men” in The United Methodist Church will have their hearts and minds changed by Christ’s love displayed in same-sex love, and they too will bring gifts of the full ministries of the church to an altar for all.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Why Ferguson matters to RMN

I am saddened titles like the one above need ever be written.
It might not seem obvious at first as to why an LGBTQ organization would advocate against oppression that falls outside the realm of human sexuality and gender identity. Some might feel that if RMN embraces the immigrant, speaks out about racism, denounces sexism, or calls out privilege, RMN is “muddying the waters.”
Let me suggest instead, we do not control the makeup of the waters of justice and righteousness that roll down like an ever-flowing stream. The river isn’t under our control. RMN understands our mission to point to the waters of baptism that are fully inclusive of LGBTQ people… waters that call us to ministry as lay and clergy, as singled and partnered. However, these aren’t calm waters to be controlled.
These are raging waters that drown oppression and discrimination of any kind.These are not RMN’s waters to muddy. God alone controls the rushing waters of justice.
Reconciling friends, think about what first brought you to RMN. Remember your desire for freedom from oppression and injustice that you yourself experienced or that you witnessed in the life of your child or friend. Is not this desire intimately connected with the desires expressed on the wall pictured above?
Before I die, I want to… live, see justice, see my brothers live, be loved equally, know the truth, stop violence.
Are the voices of power and privilege calling for the status quo in Ferguson not echoes of voices in our own church that value the harm to an institution’s unity over harm to perpetrated against LGBTQ children of God? Are clergy that are attempting to silence angry voices in Ferguson not unlike clergy in our own church who attempt to silence angry LGBTQ persons?
Deep in those waters in 1966, a clergy person who practiced non-violence named Dr. King reminded us that  “a riot is the language of the unheard.”
So what can we do? We can listen.
The next Michael Brown is attending school this morning in your local community. He is one of your many neighbors who the system does not work to serve and protect—much in the same way The UMC does not serve and protect many in our Network. If you want to do justice, listen and help stories of oppression and injustice be heard. Don’t fool yourself into believing that we will ever achieve full inclusion in The UMC by ignoring Michael Brown.
Our struggle is one and our place is in the raging waters as witnesses for justice.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

For the Unity of the Church...

Lectionary text from Philippians 1:3-6
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.
“Why would people want to change the Discipline?” At that time I thought it was perfectly reasonable for my church to say that gays and lesbians were people of sacred worth, even if their behavior was “incompatible with Christian teaching.” I was 19, in college, and asked this question in my United Methodist campus ministry office.

Pam looked up at me from her administrative work and said very plainly, “Andy, not all Methodists believe homosexuality is a sin.”

This began in me a 15 year journey to where I am now, with many people shaping my convictions along the way...
  • Pastors like Rev. Tom Price who told me when he was young he was quite convinced gays and lesbians were living in sin, but the older he got, the less certain he was of such things. And like Rev. Bill Yeager who asked me if I really thought it was God’s plan to create gays and lesbians in God's image and ask them to live a life void of intimacy with the person they love.
  • Theologians like Justo Gonz├ílez who taught me that when we fail to listen to minority and oppressed voices we miss the fullness of what God has to say.
  • Bishops like Melvin Talbert who told me I have a moral obligation to be obedient to the Bible, even if that means ignoring unjust, discriminatory laws of my church.
But most of all, it has been the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer people in my life who have shaped my reading of scripture…
  • Seminary colleagues like Chase Bannister who asked me quite pointedly, “If you are empowered in any way whatsoever and believe injustice is afoot, would you stand trial on my behalf—in the service of my ordination (and one day, my marriage)? Would you speak so boldly that you're censured, dismissed, or defrocked? If you live in fear, why do you still live there? Would you stand trial for me and my kindred?”
  • Like clergy who faithfully serve and seek to serve our churches—living and loving in secret, prevented from their full humanity by the fear of being outed and persecuted. Some named, some unnamed, many more silently walking away from a vocation they were called to by God.
As I have wrestled with how to read scripture, the extra canonical stories of these people’s suffering has shifted my lens. As I have sought to practice orthodoxy (right belief), their witness of love and orthopraxis (right practice) has shaped my ministry more than anything else.

LGBTQ people have taught me what the unity of the church really looks like… a commitment to life together, even with people who disagree, so that we might all see, hear, feel, and taste the fullness of God’s love. I have continued to be made into a disciple of Christ in that I have found Christ in the suffering, hope, and resurrection living in the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people in The United Methodist Church.

I have seen Christ more plainly in two specific gay men: Robert Jackson and Tim Leslie. Individually they have each taught me so much about loving others, and together, in their love for one another, they have shown me what God’s love looks like for the world.

Bj tim

So for the unity of the church, I will continue to bear witness to how their love has changed my life, and in turn, I will stay committed to showing others how wonderfully inclusive the fullness of God’s love really is. I am committed to unity, even if that means ignoring unjust, discriminatory laws of my church to do so. When the story of our church is told, it is those abolitionists who fought to undo an institution of slavery, it is those who kneeled in protest of a segregated church, it is those women who continued to preach yes to a church who told them no to their call—it is these people who are the true builders of unity. Unity is built more by those who do the right thing, serving as midwifes to labor our church into a new future God is constantly re-creating.

I am committed to unity, which is why I will officiate weddings for all couples ready to together be a living, outward, and visible sign of God’s love. I am committed to unity not to protect a broken institution called The United Methodist Church, but because it is the best way I know how disciples are made and moved on into perfection—in life together, one with another. I am committed to unity so that oppressed, rejected, Christ-occupied people like BJ and Tim can continue to make disciples of us people who think we have it all figured out.
Philippians 1:9-11
 And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Prayer for those preparing to be stoned

Acts 7
51”You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are forever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. 52Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. 53You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.” 54When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. 55But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56“Look,” he said, “I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” 57But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” 60Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he died. 

O God, you can’t make this stuff up. Sunday’s lectionary text is the stoning of Stephen. Tomorrow, another one of your chosen prophets goes before the masses.

When Mary Ann sits before the Southwest Texas Board of Ordained Ministry, like Stephen will she find stiff-necks, uncircumcised hearts, and closed ears? Will she encounter prophet persecutors, betrayers, and murderers? 

O God, fill Mary Ann with your Holy Spirit, just like you did for Stephen. May she too see and feel your presence. 

And if she should feel the blows of stones thrown her way: words of discrimination, judgment, and fear… then O God, may we witnesses join with Stephen in this prayer: “do not hold this sin against them.” 

We know you transform stones cast in fear into stones that roll away. God, will you once again turn death into life?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

A prayer for God to teach me what it means to be an ally

Praying the lectionary before the ordination interview of Mary Ann Barclay.

Psalm 116
I love God, because God has heard my voice and my supplications.
Because God inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.
The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me; I suffered distress and anguish.
Then I called on God: “O Lord, I pray, save my life!”
Gracious is God, and righteous; our God is merciful.
The Lord protects the simple; when I was brought low, God saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest, for God has dealt bountifully with you.
For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.
I walk before God in the land of the living.
I kept my faith, even when I said, “I am greatly afflicted”;
I said in my consternation, “Everyone is a liar.”
What shall I return to God for all his bounty to me?
I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on God,
I will pay my vows to God in the presence of all his people.
Precious in the sight of God is the death of his faithful ones.
O Lord, I am your servant; I am your servant, the child of your serving girl. You have loosed my bonds.
I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on God.
I will pay my vows to God in the presence of all his people,
in the courts of the house of God, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise God!

O God,

Hear the cries of my gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer brothers and sisters. You know the hell they have been put through these past 42 years… seeking to be faithful to you, having no choice but to follow your call on their lives to serve in your church as elders, deacons, lay persons. 

You God know what their journey has been like. You are one who came to walk among us to teach a new way and yet you were ridiculed, called names, doubted, rejected by the established church. Because of your faithfulness to your calling, you had unspeakable violence done to you, so perhaps you, better than most, relate to the violence and harm done today against LGBTQ persons: physical, spiritual, emotional, personal, institutional, visible, and hidden. Whoever wrote this psalm knew you to be a God who saves: gracious, righteous, merciful, protective, abundant, deliverer—even a God who wipes tears and unstumbles feet. 

God, it sounds like this psalmist knew you as the Great Ally. God, in my privilege, I admit I do not fully know this pain that you and others suffered. Teach me how to be an ally—to stand with my LGBTQ friends, so that they may too boldly proclaim with the psalmist that 

they WILL lift your cup of salvation at your table,
they WILL make their ordination vows to you in the presence of all your people,
they WILL serve your people. 

God, I think this is what it means to praise you with loosened bonds. Amen.