It was 5 April 2008 all over again (I think I have the date right).

On that day, clergy from the Detroit and West Michigan Conferences, called together by Bishop Jonathan Keaton, gathered at the Lansing Convention Center to vote on merging the two Michigan conferences.  The firm expectation was that this time the merger would happen.  When the final tally was taken (on paper ballots rather than wireless, looks-like-refurbed-blackberry devices) the proposal to merge lost by a disciples-count of twelve votes.

Bishop Keaton, whose demeanor and meeting management were always so well prepared and managed, was gobsmacked.  It was clear that he was thoroughly unprepared for the failure of the merger proposal.  We were in a state of paralysis while he struggled to find something to say.

Roll forward to St. Louis and GC2019.  When the Traditional Plan was approved and the One-Church Plan relegated to the dustbin, it felt like 4/5/08 all over again.  My impression is that our Council of Bishops, informed by the One-Church Plan endorsement of the Committee on a Way Forward, were unprepared for the electoral result. They were gobsmacked.

The passage of the Traditional Plan by a narrow, but not razor-thin, margin (53%) has, and will continue, to invite speculation about what nudged the One-Church Plan over the edge of the UMC’s flat earth.  As interesting as it might be to know how each delegation voted, so we could map the vote in various ways, such statistics are irrelevant.  A more useful question to answer is, Why were the Commission on a Way Forward and our Council of Bishops blind to the theological demographics of our denomination?  Blind may be a bit harsh.  Maybe the more accurate characterization might be that they collectively suffered myopia, unable to see clearly across all of America and past the shores of the U.S. (but I’ll have to stop my speculation here as we’ve been told not to “blame Africa” or the rest of the more conservative UMC Central Conference world outside Western Europe for preferring the Traditional Plan).

My bishop was as gobsmacked as the rest of his colleagues, but unlike Bishop Keaton’s paralysis on (and after) 4/5/08, Bishop Bard has responded to the aftermath of GC2019 with wisdom in his words and a constructive intention to engage with all sides.  I appreciate his “we will talk about this . . . but not yet, let’s wait and give this space” approach.

In the wake of such unexpected results and dashed hopes, it is indeed better to step back and take a few deep breaths rather than flail into a reaction that only makes things worse.

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General Conference 2019 effectively did almost nothing.  If all of its elected petitions go into effect (which is uncertain at this time due to issues of constitutionality to be determined by the Judicial Council), then the only significant changes will be a more robust punishment for violating The Discipline‘s prohibitions regarding homosexuals in clergy and marriage, and a sort-of graceful process of separation from the UMC.  In other words, since the language and basic stance of the UMC regarding homosexuality and marriage remains unchanged, GC2019 did almost nothing.

What GC2019 did do was expose, surface, and exercise divisions in the church in a way that parallel the way we are divided and the ways we express our divisions outside the church.  For a GC that did almost nothing with policy and governance in the church, it did manage to hurt–even traumatize–a lot of people.

LGBTQIA persons have taken the UMC’s decision to retain the position that “homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian teaching” and its related prohibitions on ordination of LGBTQIA persons and the ban on same-gender marriage as a declaration that only cis-gendered, heterosexual persons are fully accepted by the UMC.  LGBTQIA persons feel disenfranchised and outcast, regardless of declarations that we of the UMC love all persons, including those among LGBTQIA.  How else can one interpret the mixed language we now use that says, “We love you and welcome you, but you have this characteristic that precludes you from full participation in the life of our church, even though we have yet to effectively justify our doctrinal position with a critical, compelling, and comprehensive argument.”  In other words, we of the UMC have now taken that stand that the LGBTQIA persons we say we love are sinful in such a way that makes them unworthy of the UMC.  While this surely sounds hyperbolically critical to my fellow UMs, I have tried to look at this from the perspective of someone outside the UMC where our mission field as a church lies.

LGBTQIAs are not the only ones hurting.  As GC2019’s decision to adopt the Traditional Plan has created ripples throughout the UMC, those who supported this plan are breathing easier that the UMC chose to retain its long-held doctrine and polity.  Their fears that the UMC would break from centuries of orthodoxy to accommodate liberal shifts in American and Western European culture were allayed.  Unfortunately, traditionalists are now being criticized, even attacked, as being ignorant, intolerant, bigots.  Traditionalist colleagues and lay UMs are being vilified as if their faithful and thoughtful interpretation of scripture and their love of the church and its traditions has made them monsters.  They, especially in a conference such as the Michigan Conference, feel disenfranchised and outcast, regardless of the majority declaration of their position at GC2019.

It is most disconcerting, and painful, that the UMC–my church–which should be a model of the Kingdom of God in order to show the world a more excellent way, has taken the model of division, partisanship, and emotional violence of our world as its own.  If we UMs are truly committed to following Christ and being a people of the Bible, then we should remember these commitments and do better.

“We’ve a story to tell to the nations . . .” . . . or do we?

A special General Conference held in St Louis 23-26 February 2019, met to decide what to do with the report from the Commission on a Way Forward, which described several plans to deal with how the UMC might move forward amidst the differences among its membership on whether to ordain LGBTQIA persons and perform same-gender weddings. In the end it would have to decide what to do with the The Discipline‘s language asserting the “incompatibility of homosexuality with Christian teaching.”  By a vote of 57% the so-called Traditional Plan was accepted, a plan which retains the UMC’s ban on homosexual clergy and same-gender marriage and adds rigor to the enforcement of these bans.

Did I miss something . . . something critically important to the arguments, way-forward plans, and decisions made at GC2019?  I read through the plans (One-Church, Traditional, and Connectional Conference), watched much of the live stream from St. Louis, listened to lots of speeches, and heard how the One-Church Plan allows for our expression through our polity of Christ’s love for all, while the Traditional Plan upholds biblical truth and authority.  Somehow, I missed the discussions/debates over the fundamental issues around our understanding of what the Bible says related to the questions GC2019 met to answer.  I do not remember hearing anything about how the UMC interprets scripture.  I realize that diversity within the UMC prevents our settling on a consensus about we interpret scripture, both in general and specific.  Even so, I have not seen anything in documentation to provide the detailed exegesis upon which to base the various plans and positions, especially vis-a-vis LGBTQIA and marriage.  At the risk of sounding naive, do we not need to do careful, critical, and comprehensive exegesis of all relevant biblical material?  How can we appeal to the Bible’s revelation and authority without such a foundation?

For example, I heard a number of supporters of the Traditional Plan cite Jesus’ teaching that marriage is a coupling of a man and a woman but I have yet to hear their, or the plan’s authors’, exegesis to support this claim.  In the places where Jesus quotes Genesis regarding marriage, one may use the cotext of those quotes to argue that Jesus is not concerned about whether marriage involves a man and woman since its composition is assumed within his tradition and culture, but about the strength of the marriage covenant and its longevity, not to be undone by easy divorce. In other words, Jesus cites marriage as involving a man and woman because there was no other conceptualization of its composition, and what he is truly concerned about is treating the marriage relationship as something a man can void on a whim.

My big question then is this:  Did anyone involved in the plans that were before GC2019 do the necessary exegetical work to provide defensible biblical foundations for their plans, or did the Commission on a Way Forward, Traditional Plan authors, and GC2019 move forward without having established such a foundation?

If I missed this step, then I apologize for wasting your time having read this. . .

New Music — Autumn’s End

Posted: 2018/12/10 in Music
Tags:

Pulled this together yesterday while avoiding church work . . .

https://soundcloud.com/jazzpastor/autumns-end

With the 2018 midterm election just days away, I offer the following recommendations for the voter’s consideration:

  • VOTE! Just do it! Yes, your vote matters. Our democracy is based on our right and responsibility to vote.
  • DO NOT LET ANYONE SCARE YOU INTO A DECISION ABOUT WHERE TO CAST YOUR VOTE! Fear is used to manipulate voters. Do you want to let yourself be manipulated? Get a well-rounded view of the issues that are most concerning.
  • Ignore political advertising, propaganda, etc. on social media. Most of the time we don’t know where the content originates. Social media is where the Russians messed with the 2016 election by originating hot-button postings.
    Remember, if you pass something along in Facebook, Twitter, or whatever, you have taken ownership of it. Do you want that responsibility?
  • Ignore TV advertising by PACs and SuperPACs (those ads with fine print saying something like, “by XYZ and not affiliated with any candidate,” or related language). The rule of thumb is–ignore any ad in which you cannot determine who has created it.
  • VOTE!
  • Ignore TV advertising by candidates. Whether a candidate says good things about themself or slings mud at an opponent, what they say will almost surely be cherry-picked bits bereft of the context that fills in the whole story.
    Also, we live in an age in which we no longer need joke about politicians’ dishonesty as lying is now in fashion and made quite acceptable by example. How can any of us watching a candidate’s TV ad know that they are truthful?
  • VOTE!
  • The choices we make should reflect our ethics. Therefore, take a moment to decide what kind of ethics you want to be remembered as having. You have two choices:
    a. Utilitarian Ethics — at its best, this ethic can be described by asking the question, “What decision leads to the greatest good for the most people?” However, most of the time our natural selfishness and short-sightedness leads us to practice this ethic under the rubric, “the end justifies the means.” Over the last few years, utilitarian ethics has acquired the crass description of “hold your nose because what is promised is worth it.”
    b. Virtue Ethics — this ethic asks, “what kind of person do I want to be and what decisions do I make to reflect this?” In other words, the end does not justify the means and it matters how we get from a concern or desire to a reality. Virtue ethics makes it unnecessary to hold one’s nose. Typically, virtue ethics seeks the good always, but prioritized the common good.
    Each of us will vote informed by our ethics, therefore it might be wise to take a moment to make sure you can live with them. If you have to hold your nose, can you defend the smell?
  • If you want to be known as a person of integrity, vote consistent with your ethics.
  • VOTE!
  • Be open-minded and willing to cross party lines if the best candidate is on the “other side.”
  • When discussing the election, or anything related to governance and politics, unload your pre-determined proclamations, shut-up and listen, and give the other person respect enough to constructively converse with them. This is a lot more difficult than simply presenting a list of your hardened opinions or refutations, but the work is worth it.
  • VOTE!
  • The news media IS NOT the ENEMY OF THE STATE. Historically, it has been totalitarian and fascist regimes who either denigrated or manipulated the media in order to control public opinion and hide the worst of their offenses against their own people. A vital and unencumbered news media is a crucial safety feature in our democracy as it provides transparency into the government who exists to serve us.
    Take a critical look at all news media to understand any bias, but make your own analysis–don’t let anyone else make it for you.
  • VOTE.

America–October 2018

Posted: 2018/11/02 in Christianity, Church

[This was first posted on Facebook on 28 October 2018]

America, October 2018 — division, derision, deceit, & desperation for a better world — Today’s epiphany is that the Church …
… does not exist merely as a retreat and ancient rock of stability in an unstable world,
… does not exist merely to remind us that God loves us and Jesus saves us (if we need weekly reminders, we haven’t been paying attention and need to look at our trust in God),
… does not exist merely to entertain with great music and arts,
… does not exist merely to give preachers a pulpit for eloquent and articulate (and occasionally inspiring) oration,
BUT the Church DOES EXIST in order to SHOW THE WORLD A GLIMPSE OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD…
…where grace, peace, love, community, compassion, care, generosity, courage, truth, forgiveness, reconciliation, and justice are the rule of the day.

BTW – the church is full of real people. One of them may hurt you or at least make you unhappy. Your pastor may not do whatever spirituality you want in the way you want it.
So what! If you claim Christ as your Lord & Savior, then you might try seeing past these to the bigger, more important calling of being part of that glimpse of the Kingdom that offers hope to the world. Just because the world has forgotten forgiveness doesn’t mean that we who follow the crucified Christ have done the same.

Lord, have mercy. Brothers and Sisters, let’s change the world! Lord, have mercy.

 

How shall we respond to the October 27th mass shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, PA?  An article on the United Methodist News Service website offered a thought-provoking recommendation by the bishop presiding over the Pittsburgh area:

It will not do for United Methodists to expect God to step in to bring about change after a deadly shooting that killed 11 and wounded six at a Pittsburgh synagogue, said the Pittsburgh Area United Methodist bishop.

“As you pray, I urge you not to suggest to God what you want God to do to bring about change,” said Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi said in a statement. “But rather, I urge you to listen to God so that God can reveal to you what to say and what to do in order to provide comfort to our Jewish sisters and brothers, the first responders and all those for whom this tragedy reignites previous trauma.”   (emphasis mine; see the full article here)

This caught me out because I have a bad habit of telling God what I want God to do about various troublesome things as if God hasn’t been paying attention and I know best.  How weak my own faith if I believe that God has not witnessed the tragedy and is unaware of the suffering!  How presumptuous of my ego to tell God what has to happen in response!

Of course, we pray for God’s grace of healing, comfort, and peace for all affected by the shooting, from the families of those killed to those recovering from their wounds to the congregation and neighborhood of the synagogue to first responders to all who are touched by the tragedy.  But then, I feel an urge to pray that God tweak lawmakers so that how we manage guns in America be made more safe and sane, and that President Trump’s hair fall out for responding to the tragedy by suggesting the victims shared responsibility for the tragedy by failing to have an armed guard in their sacred space.  Whether unrealistic, unreasonable, or simply silly, these last two petitions are hardly worthy of both the God whose vision and wisdom transcend the universe and his humble servant who is often not nearly as smart as he thinks he is.

If I understand Bishop Moore-Koikoi’s recommendation correctly, then I agree that the first step in our response is to shut-up and listen for God’s guidance with regard to sharing the comforting and healing love of God with those most directly affected by the shooting.  Our subsequent response is like the first–shut up and listen for God’s guidance for what to do next.  Typically though, this is then the time when our own preferences and politics enter in and we seek to impose our own solutions by having God do our will under our guidance as if we know best.  Worse yet, we might even go a step further asking God to implement our solutions.

Maybe it’s time to simply ask God for what is right and what God wants of us in this situation.  We might also ask for help in shedding our intellectual ego and presumptions so as to more clearly listen for God’s wisdom free of our presumptions, prejudices, preferences, and politics.  And then we might ask God what God wants us to do rather than telling God what we want God to do.  After all, we’re here to continue the ministry of Jesus Christ in the world.

The shootings at the Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue are horrific and tragic.
Now then, what, God, do you want us to do?