Why Little Will Change At the UMC General Conference

 Featured, Methodism, Religion, Society  Comments Off on Why Little Will Change At the UMC General Conference
May 182016
 

As some of you may know, the United Methodist Church is holding their quadrennial General Conference in Portland, Oregon this week. As has been the case for the past several General Conference’s (GC), a major topic is the  full inclusion of LGBT people (or as the conservatives call us, “the self-avowed practicing homosexuals”) in the life of the church. My prediction is that little will change in regard to those issues.

There are several things at issue. One is some hateful language in the United Methodist Book of Discipline (BoD) which says that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. The others are the ordination of openly gay clergy, and of course; marriage is a topic, but not at the top of the list.

If anything changes in regard to these issues, it will be for the worse, and we’ve seen some of that already with the election of all conservative members to the Church’s Judicial Council, or the UMC Supreme Court if you will. Continue reading »

In A Mirror Dimly-Response to a Series by Bishop Michael Lowry-Part 4

 Featured, Gay Issues, Methodism, Religion, Right Wingnuts, Society  Comments Off on In A Mirror Dimly-Response to a Series by Bishop Michael Lowry-Part 4
May 072016
 
This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Response to Lecture Series by Bishop J. Michael Lowry
Bishop J. Michael Lowry, Central Texas Conference, United Methodist Church

Bishop J. Michael Lowry, Central Texas Conference, United Methodist Church

United Methodist Bishop, J. Michael Lowry of the Central Texas Conference, recently addressed a gathering of the United Methodist Scholars for Christian Orthodoxy Conference at Armstrong Chapel United Methodist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. He has put his address, “In a Mirror Dimly”: The Future of the United Methodist Church”© on his website as a four-part posting.

 

Bishop Lowry seems to argue that the Methodist Church should (or at least, likely will) split over the issue of the inclusion of LGBT people. As you might guess, given that he’s speaking to people who claim to be “orthodox,” that he is, as southerners might say, “agin it.” And of course, that would mean that, while I don’t disagree a split may happen, I don’t agree with his position on the topic at hand.

Part 4: Convicted Hope

This is a short conclusion to Bishop Lowry’s series. He claims, “signs of new life all around.” This is his clinging to the belief that it will be the orthodox church (his definition of orthodoxy) that survives and thrives, all evidence to the contrary. Continue reading »

In A Mirror Dimly-Response to a Series by Bishop Michael Lowry-Part 2

 Featured, Gay Issues, Methodism, Religion, Society  Comments Off on In A Mirror Dimly-Response to a Series by Bishop Michael Lowry-Part 2
May 042016
 
This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Response to Lecture Series by Bishop J. Michael Lowry

United Methodist Bishop, J. Michael Lowry of the Central Texas Conference, recently addressed a gathering of the United Methodist Scholars for Christian Orthodoxy Conference at Armstrong Chapel United Methodist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. He has put his address, “In a Mirror Dimly: The Future of the United Methodist Church”© on his website as a four-part posting.

Bishop J. Michael Lowry, Central Texas Conference, United Methodist Church

Bishop J. Michael Lowry, Central Texas Conference, United Methodist Church

Bishop Lowry seems to argue that the Methodist Church should (or at least, likely will) split over the issue of the inclusion of LGBT people. As you might guess, given that he’s speaking to people who claim to be “orthodox,” that he is, as southerners might say, “agin it.” And of course, that would mean that, while I don’t disagree a split may happen, I don’t agree with his position on the topic at hand. Given that, I’m going to respond to his article/speech taking on each of his parts in corresponding articles here.

Bishop Lowry starts Part 2 by raising the question weighing heavily on the Church as the 2016 General Conference approaches:

“What will happen at General Conference just a few weeks away? Will the delegates vote to eliminate the ‘incompatibility’ clause with regards to homosexuality and embrace marriage and ordination of those who self-identify as LGBTQ?  I don’t know.  Will current language about ordination and the prohibition of performing same-gender marriages be retained as a chargeable offense?  I don’t know.

He expresses his main concern as, “Secondly, should the Discipline significantly change on these presenting issues, those of us who live in the United States should expect some form of denomination- splintering rebellion in the worldwide (and in parts of the U.S. as well) church.” And cites the recent experiences of the Anglican communion, the Lutherans and the Presbyterians to support his statement, and I find common ground with him there.

There remains, even here in America, an entrenched group of the old guard, calling themselves “orthodox,” who continue to shroud their bigotry under the cloak of Christianity, and their belief that an unchanging biblical interpretation is about nothing more than sexual morality. They never seem to acknowledge the Church (at least the UMC) has evolved on issues such as women as elders, slavery, divorce and re-marriage, and even many of the ancient marriage rules. They will never say they want to go back to the time before those re-evaluations, but I suspect many of them might actually be OK with that.

However, in Part 2, Lowry makes it clear that the primary concern for the orthodox is homosexuality, and keeping in the incompatibility phrase, and continuing to prevent ordination and marriage for LGBT people. He makes it a point to describe us as “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.” I’m getting so sick and tired of that. Let’s dissemble this bullshit a little. First off, LGBT people are not “self-avowed.” We are gay, made that way by God, and the only thing we “avow” is whether we will live honestly and with integrity. Then there is that whole “practicing” thing. No sir Reverend, after all these years, I don’t practice a lot; I pretty much have it down pat. What I want to ask willfully ignorant assholes like Bishop Lowry is, “are you a self-avowed practicing heterosexual?”

With the rant over, let’s get back to his article. He names 4 scenarios for those that would not concur if these horrible, horrible changes are made to the Discipline:

  1.  Embrace the change despite any misgivings and be hopeful that proponents are correct (despite all evidence to the contrary) that such actions garner an influx of new young disciples.
  2.  Stay in the church as a loyal minority (especially in the United States).
  3.  Leave the United Methodist Church to form a new branch of the Wesleyan movement as a part of the universal church. In doing so, make a corollary set of decisions around whether or not to pursue legal action over property, endowments and the like.
  4.  Simply leave (presumably to take up membership in another Christian tribe).

The rest of us have put up with their bigotry since the 1950s or so, when the “incompatible” clause was added, so I’d think they could stick around and put up with us not being incompatible for a while. But I love the statement in his last paragraph, ” We all, both those in favor and those opposed to a change, have much to fear from hasty decisions made in the passions of the moment.” Good grief, the church has been wrestling with this issue, and discussing for 20 years…hasty, really? Of course, should the Discipline change (an unlikely event given the inordinate influence being given the Central Conferences-Africa), it will be a hasty and ill-conceived change by Lowry’s measure. If things stay the same, we’ll hear from him about his relief that he can still hate gay people, uh, I mean, that the church has remained true to the Bible and tradition.

In A Mirror Dimly-Response to Series by Bishop Michael Lowry-Part 1

 Featured, Methodism, Religion, Society  Comments Off on In A Mirror Dimly-Response to Series by Bishop Michael Lowry-Part 1
May 042016
 
This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Response to Lecture Series by Bishop J. Michael Lowry

United Methodist Bishop, J. Michael Lowry of the Central Texas Conference, recently addressed a gathering of the United Methodist Scholars for Christian Orthodoxy Conference at Armstrong Chapel United Methodist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. He has put his address, “In a Mirror Dimly: The Future of the United Methodist Church”© on his website as a four part posting.

Bishop J. Michael Lowry, Central Texas Conference, United Methodist Church

Bishop J. Michael Lowry, Central Texas Conference, United Methodist Church

Bishop Lowry seems to argue that the Methodist Church should (or at least, likely will) split over the issue of the inclusion of LGBT people. As you might guess, given that he’s speaking to people who claim to be “orthodox,” that he is, as southerners might say, “agin it.” And of course, that would mean that, while I don’t disagree a split may happen, I don’t agree with his position on the topic at hand. Given that, I’m going to respond to his article/speech taking on each of his parts in corresponding articles here.

In Part 1, Bishop Lowry uses the Isaiah 20:43 verse, ““Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness.” to introduce his belief that he is seeing, “the re-emergence of a vibrant orthodoxy in the North American mission field.” Lowry believes the United Methodist Church (UMC) is slowly collapsing, but believes, “The decaying Christendom bureaucracy (which I too, to a very real degree, represent) masks the beginnings of a remarkable rebirth of a healthy Wesleyan Christian Orthodoxy.” Continue reading »

An Open Letter to the UMC General Conference Commission

 Featured, Gay Issues, Methodism, Religion  Comments Off on An Open Letter to the UMC General Conference Commission
May 132015
 
Robert Mugabe

Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe

It seems the Commission on the General Conference for the United Methodist Church, meeting last month, decided to hold the first quadrennial General Conferences outside the United States . The original choice had the GC going to Zimbabwe in 2024, and the Philippines in 2028. Fortunately, an ever-present advocate for LGBT people within the Church was there, and raised a few concerns, including the fact that Amnesty International has declared Zimbabwe one of the most dangerous countries for LGBT people. The years were switched.

Needless to say, I’m not happy, and am writing the Commission members to let them know. I can only believe this is an attempt to create such cost and hardship for the many constituent groups that attend the GC, that many won’t attend. There was some discussion this year to try to hold the General Conference behind locked doors, and indeed, a number of committee and commission meetings have been held in this way. Since that didn’t go over so well, I think this move is designed to effect the same result.

My letter is below: Continue reading »

The Discomfort of Faith-My Experience at the Methodist General Conference

 Gay Issues, Methodism, Religion, Society  Comments Off on The Discomfort of Faith-My Experience at the Methodist General Conference
May 192012
 

Candle in the darkI’ve been thinking back over the time I got spend recently at the quadrennial General Conference of the United Methodist Church held here in Tampa this year. It was a big event, and it was a mess from a church polity standpoint. Like Congress, little of great substance was accomplished, and few longstanding issues were resolved, but that may be a good thing.

I’d like to take some time to reflect on some of my experiences as a volunteer there, and as someone who wound up being involved in a demonstration that resulted in one of the morning plenary sessions being cancelled.

Among some other things I did, I especially liked handing out the daily newspaper, and was approached two of those days by female ministers (interestingly enough) who wanted to know how I got involved with RMN, and then tried to “straighten me out.” They had apparently been to some program where they had some musician give testimony about coming out of “the lifestyle.” I also think they had been provided a script because they both started the conversation with the same question, “How did you get involved with that group?”

I explained to one of the ministers that I understood someone could decide to get married and not have sex with a member of the same-sex, but that did not mean that person had changed. She said, “Well, he has nine children now, so I think that says something.” I responded with, “Well, you know, that’s just a skill, and we gay people are very talented. We can pick up skills quickly.” That’s when she decided she’d talked to me long enough.

The other female minister rocked my world with an unexpected response. My primary response to people who talk about it being a choice is to explain to them that there have to be at least two options for it to be a “choice.” So that means, if they believe I could wake up tomorrow morning and decide to find women attractive, they could wake up the next morning, and decide to find people of the same sex attractive to them. That would constitute a choice. Well, believe it or not, this Minister responded that, yes she could, she could even remember the exact summer and the girl with whom she could have made that decision, but she resisted. I decided to let that one slide, because all I could muster at that moment was a feeling of sadness for her, for having made the choice to deny who she was for her entire life.

I just as well get in my 2 cents worth, as everyone else, friend and foe, has expressed an opinion about the protest. The difficulty is, they all are, to some degree, correct. Some thought it wrong and disruptive and possibly turned off some people. On the other hand, sometimes you have to call something out for what it is. I don’t think I would have crossed the bar, had it not been for the African Delegate comparing my life to that of an animal. Sadly, I think the net effect of the protest action could be zero, but I just really don’t know.

I’d like to note a personal campaign I’ve been waging of late. Whenever I read stupid things the hate crowd spouts about gay people, I try to find a way to contact them, and ask them to “say it to my face.” (You can read about my favorite one here.)

I had a conversation with the Bishop presiding at the time. I walked up to the daïs before he could leave and called him out. I told him that I was not raised to sit in the back of the church bus, and that he should not expect I would sit by and watch as a delegate from that same church stood up on the floor of a General Conference and compared my life to that of an animal, and worse, that the presiding officer would not gavel him out of order, and remove him from the hall altogether. I pointed out that had I been a delegate and said the same thing about the Africans, he would most certainly have called me out of order. (Personally, I think there should be some consideration of a letter writing campaign to that Bishop providing personal stories, and pointing out a disappointment in his lack of leadership.)

For me, one of the good things that came from this experience was a lot of thinking about the future of the Methodist Church, my place in it personally, and what I need to do about it. On the day after the action I was discussing it with my partner. He’s not Christian. He asked me, as he often does, a challenging question. He asked, “So why do you stay in a Faith that makes you uncomfortable?” He’s a master of the obvious.

After having to think about that for a while, the answer I gave him was that a sound faith doesn’t make one comfortable. That faith is, in fact, there to make us uncomfortable. It’s that uncomfortable state that drives me to be my better self; that makes me want to change the world; to make things better for others; and especially as people called Methodists, to take a stand for social justice. It is my faith that makes me so uncomfortable I have to work to do justice. It’s my faith that makes me uncomfortable when I see injustice, or people hurting, and it is that uncomfortable feeling that moves me to act.

I spent four weeks teaching a Sunday School study on Micah 6:8. One of the things I learned in preparing the study (We teach best what we most need to learn is a fundamental truth in my experience.) is that all the commandments in it are actions…things we are supposed to “do,” not things we are supposed to believe. When you think about Micah 6:8 and the Great Commandment from Jesus, it’s never about doctrine, it’s about something you are expected to do, and it’s often something hard, and something that makes you uncomfortable…”do justice; love mercy, walk humbly with God; love your neighbor; turn the other cheek; love God; pull the splinter from your own eye.” “In as much as you have DONE it unto the least of these.” It’s always about having to do something. That’s faith. Faith isn’t a belief God will take care of us, it is faith that calls us to do right, even (maybe especially) when it’s hard. It is in true faith we are called to take care of others.

Paul wrote about this in his first letter to the Thessalonians, “We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1:3) Paul’s not a big fan of “works,” but here’s one time when he talked about “work produced by faith.”   And it’s written about in John 14:12, “I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.” If one has faith, one can DO. True and honest faith is always causing us to do something, working to make us uncomfortable with the status quo.

Dr. Martin Luther King was an obvious person to inform my thoughts these past weeks, and he said this about faith, “Faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the whole staircase.”

I believe too many people today are looking for religion to make them comfortable. So, we bend the gospel to talk about prosperity, when faith really calls us to relinquish our material wealth and follow Jesus (follow, another of those darned action words). We bend religion so that we can exclude people we imagine to be different from us…women, slaves, people of color, Muslims, and of course LGBT people, even when the Bible tells us, “come unto me all ye…” I always thought God actually did mean “all.” We bend religion to justify yanking away the social safety net, when Jesus says, “in as much as you have done it unto the least of these…” Continue reading »