Tag Archives: equality

Year of Gratitude: June

We begin a new month in our year of gratitude. This month our focus is:

June 2019

Sabbath: This month begins summer break for people in school. Vacations, camps and all kinds of outdoor activities abound. Summer vacation has often been a time to relax, enjoy outdoor activities and time away. This month we give thanks for Sabbath and time off.

I always loved summer, either as a kid or when I had children at home. It was an easier time, with trips to the pool and the park and grilling out and time away. I still love summer for riding my bike, walking, hiking, eating every meal I can outside, listening to the birds a different rhythm.

In this weeks blog, I don’t want to focus on sabbath so much, as the historical events remembered this week. I don’t know about your news feed, but mine been filled with the honoring Women’s Sufferage and the 75th anniversary of D-Day. There are precious few that are still alive that participated D-Day and none that were part of passing the Woman’s Suffrage bill in U.S. Senate.

Both of these events were historic for the lives of many. On June 4, 1919 the Women’s Suffrage bill passed to allow women the right to vote. It would not be until August 20, 1920 that the ninteenth amendment would be ratified by a majority of the states. It wasn’t perfect, women color still to this day continue to struggle to exercise their right to vote. But Methodist women, both Anglo and women of color, have been on the forefront of this important step toward equality.

D-Day was a changing point in World War II. The sacrafice made by the soldiers and the medics in life and limb and sanity of mind and spirit was great. This was the event that began to turn the tide against the ugliness and the hatred and the bigotry of nazism. We must never forget the horrors inflicted upon our Jewish brothers and sisters, the Roma, homosexuals, dissendents against the Nazi regime, athletes, theologians, artists and others who were systematically murdered. Fascism in whatever form it rears its ugly head must be called out and named so this can not happen again. I am forever grateful for all those who stood up and fought against this perverse political understanding.

So while this is not a post on Sabbath, it is a post to encourage us to think about those who have gone before us. This is an invitation to thank someone today who has made a real difference,  has made stand for equality and against the powers of bigotry and hate. Perhaps you know someone who is serving in the military, as an Americorp or Vista or in the Peace Corp. Could you write them a note and say thank you? Maybe you know someone doing an internship in the church, in the schools, at a medical facility and is working to make the world a better place, a place where all are welcome. Today, write a note, pick up the phone or find a way to say thank you to those who continue the work of those who have given of themselves to make the world more peaceful and more just for every one.

 

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Tired, Sad, Still not leaving

Last week, the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church met to rule on the legality or the constitutionality of decisions made in February by the General Conference. I have not posted much about the what happened. Judicial Council has a particular role in the United Methodist Church. Two years ago, I wrote a blog on the ruling the Judicial Council made on the election of Bishop Karen Oliveto in the Western Jurisdiction. It explains the process and my response.  You can read my thoughts here.

Those who know me well, know I was grieved and saddened and angered that in 2019 we still can not move forward on full inclusion. On my church’s website, I posted this video in response. I have no say or vote in the matter, but I felt that the One Church Plan, while not perfect, offered the biggest tent for people who have deep disagreement over the issues of human sexuality to dwell together.

I was wrong. The General Conference voted (by a slim majority) to not only uphold the current stance in the Book of Discipline but to add punitive and mean measures to make sure everyone toed the line. The Judicial Council’s role is to look over the legislation and make a ruling on what is legal and what is not. While this comes from a Progressive point of view, this chart is a good visual for understanding the decisions made.

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I am not particularly surprised by the most recent Judicial Council rulings. Their job is to see how decisions are legal or not legal by the United Methodist Discipline and Constitution. That does not stop me from being sad. I understand that different people can come to our Holy Bible and interpret it in different ways. What I have trouble understanding is the punitive nature of how to punish those who disagree.

The Reverend Doctor Rebekah Miles has reflected on the General Conference actions and the Judicial Council’s response.  I highly respect her thoughts and recommend you read her article in its entirety. She is the Professor of Ethics and Practical Theology at Southern Methodist University, an elder in the United Methodist Church and has attended General Conference many times.

Personally, what stands out for me in Dr. Miles post is this statement:
Only one offense with minimum penalty

Speaking of the many things, including celibacy, that have nothing to do with sex, we can at least take strange comfort in the fact that none of them will trigger mandatory minimum penalties for clergy. We, in the United Methodist Church, have mandated minimum penalties for only one offense: officiating at a same-sex marriage. Your pastor could steal the church’s money, have sex with various and sundry people, or even stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone, without triggering a mandatory minimum penalty. But if he agrees to officiate at the wedding of his beloved lesbian daughter, we have made it more difficult for his conference to avoid a clergy trial and have mandated that the conference must suspend him for a year without pay if it is his first offense and take away his ordination credentials if it is his second. 

This is stunning. I can basically do all kinds of immoral and unethical and illegal actions, but the United Methodist Church has no minimum penalties for those actions. Now, at any point in the process, a pastor can lose their credentials, but the only “offense” that has specified punishments and penalties are for officiating at gay weddings (which in the United States is legal in all 50 states.) I can get a divorce, remarry, get a divorce, remarry, get a divorce and remarry again and again and again; no questions asked. I can abuse people, steal money, create a hostile work environment at church, and there is no minimum penalty for these offenses. If you want to know what “chargeable offenses” are in the United Methodist Church you can find that information here.

Perhaps this is an overstatement, but the truth is that the Discipline of the United Methodist Church does not prescribe any particular resolution for these pastoral failings. This is an entirely new path that the United Methodist Church is taking. The definition of what it means to be homosexual has been changed as well as the understanding that if a person is celibate, they can still serve as an elder, a deacon, a bishop, etc. Now, it only takes a declaration of being “gay” to exclude one from ministry.

After thirty five plus years, I might be given some grace if I had decided I didn’t want to fight any more. It might be understood if I decided to give up, to turn away from any organization that would be so closed, so deeply entrenched, so unwilling to continue to delve into scripture and to find the grace and love I see in Jesus.

I am still not leaving. I am probably too stubborn and pig headed to give up. I just can not imagine giving up on the church that I have served and loved for decades. I may have to, but I am not willing to stop working for what is just and right and good yet. I continue to share with the young LBGTQ people that worship at First that hope is still available. That some day, it is possible that they can live fully into who God has created them to be in the life of the church. Someday, when they want to pledge their love and their life to their partner, I will be able to be their pastor.

I hope and pray that will be true. I know there are discussions on the future of the UMC. I know we may be looking at schism. For the first time in decades, I am believing this may be the way forward. In the meantime, I will continue to work, to pray, to preach, to pastor and do the work of God in downtown Wichita. I will continue to open the doors for all people, no matter their age, their race, their ethnic background, their social economic status, their political leanings, their gender, or their gender identity or their sexual orientation. I am not leaving, I am not going away. I am continuing to believe and base my ministry on love, on inclusion and on justice.

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For the Love of Jesus, I am not going away

Yesterday, the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church (UMC) released its decision on a request from the South Central Jurisdiction of the UMC concerning the application of certain paragraphs from the Discipline on the nomination, election and consecration of bishops. In shorter terms, the question had to do specifically with the nomination, election and consecration of Bishop Karen Oliveto from the Western Jurisdiction of the UMC, and the paragraphs have to do with “self avowed practicing homosexuals.”  Here is the link to the full review of the case before the Council.

There are a “lot of words” out there on this case, before the Council met and now since they have released their decision. For non United Methodists, the Judicial Council is basically our Supreme Court. They make decisions based on requests from United Methodists that question acts by bishops or pastors or annual conferences and rule on what is “lawful” or “constitutional” within the UMC. The Judicial Council doesn’t make the laws or the rules that are within the Discipline, they only make decisions as to whether entities within the church are following them, or upholding them. The General Conference is entrusted with writing or rewriting or changing the Discipline every four years.

The church, for some time, has wrestled with the issues surrounding human sexuality. This is not the first debate the “church” has had over biblical issues. The church has split over many other kinds of issues, over power, over structure, over biblical authority, over slavery, over women in the ministry, divorced people in the church and in the ministry, over the use of alcohol, playing cards or dancing. I am not making light of the conversation and deep divide that is in front of the UMC right now. I am pointing out, that the church is constantly struggling to figure out how to be the church and how to live out following Jesus Christ in a real way in each generation.

The Methodist church divided over slavery a little over 150 years ago. Each side believed they were right. Slavery is biblical, there are verses in place as to how to treat a slave appropriately. And yet…..I do not believe there is a church left that still believes that “owning” another human being is Christian. Women have been in the pulpit just a bit over a 100 years, and yet it was not until 1956 women were full members as clergy. There are still people who walk away from the church when a woman is appointed as pastor. There is plenty in the New Testament to cling to if one wants to deny women the opportunity to live out their call as pastors and preachers and teachers. It has only been since the 1970’s that divorced people could be ministers. If a pastor went through a divorce he (and at that time it was usually a he) had to turn in his credentials. Of everything that I have noted, divorce is the one thing that Jesus had some very strong and judgemental words to say. (Matthew 5: 31-32)

I was saddened by the Judicial Council’s ruling, but not surprised. Their job is to rule on what the Book of Discipline states. As someone who has been clergy for 35 years, I know what the Discipline states and have worked to change the language. Our, as in United Methodists, statements that all people are of sacred worth and that homosexuality is not compatible with Christian teachings is contradictory. Obviously I disagree, but the Discipline states what it states, so the decision by the ruling should not surprise anyone. Judicial Council’s function is not to question or change what is in the Discipline, it is only to rule on whether or not the question before them is valid and then what if any acts are in violation of the Discipline. The Western Jurisdictions College of Bishops released this statement. The College (which is the name of the group of bishops for a particular area) already has had Bishop Oliveto’s “case” under review. The sad thing is that her jurisdiction elected her with no dissenting votes, which is practically a unanimous vote. They elected Bishop Oliveto because they believed she had the gifts and the graces to lead the church forward. Her assigned annual conference also have many who agree with her giftedness for the church.

I am saddened by this because I continue to see the best and brightest and most gifted people turned away because they are gay or lesbian. Men and women are told they are sacred worth, but not holy and sacred enough to share their lives and their gifts for ministry in the church. Some congregations won’t even allow them to be on staff or in leadership. I, divorced and remarried, am allowed to stand up Sunday after Sunday and preach grace, love and hope and promise and faith and the good news of new life in Jesus. Yet, someone, who happens to have a different orientation than I, is denied that privilege not because of an action that Jesus clearly condemns, but on the basis of their “being.”

I have been told that those who think the church needs to change should just go away or start a new church. What if those who had worked diligently for slavery to be abolished had just gone away? Or those who worked for full inclusion of people regardless of the color of their skin had just gone away? Or those who worked for the full inclusion of women just went away? I have loved the United Methodist Church my whole life, I am not going away. I am not leaving. I want to be part of bridging the divide that honors what I believe is the real grace and love of Jesus for ALL people.

There are many bumps and mountains and disappointments in the long round to justice, to the reign of God. I never thought I would see in my lifetime, all the changes that have been made. I never thought I would live to see gays and lesbians being able to marry legally, to have the same basic civil rights that I enjoy. And yet, it is now the law of the land as well as the law in many countries around the world. In the church, I have seen many things that are disappointing, but I have seen a movement towards equality and justice. Baby steps, I tell myself, baby steps.

Yesterday, in Egypt, Pope Francis spoke these words, “”History does not forgive those who preach justice but then practice injustice. History does not forgive those who talk about equality but then discard those who are different.” While I know Pope Francis was not speaking about the UMC, he was speaking about equality and justice. I will continue to work for what I believe is true justice in the UMC. I will work with and walk with those who are most hurt by our lack of compassion and grace. I will not walk away or leave, because I believe that I am called to do the working of inviting, including and proclaiming God’s grace for ALL. For the Love of Jesus, I will continue to Stand Up!

 

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To live out “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors”

Yesterday, I was appointed for the 34th year in the United Methodist Church. The first time was in May of 1982, I was young, had absolutely no training and the then Kansas West Conference took a risk on a 23 year old who had a call to preach that was passionate, but perhaps not so directed. On July 1, I begin my tenth year as senior pastor at West Heights UMC. I am grateful, blessed and awed to still be in this church I love and experienced a call at the age of fourteen.

Before I really knew what it meant, I was a “feminist” and a “liberal” or “progressive.”  I experienced grace as an awkward, uncertain child and youth. I knew that in spite of voices and pressure in the opposite direction I wanted to be pastor/preacher and share grace and love and faith that I had found. I refused to believe I should not be a pastor because I was a “woman” and it was too hard, or because the Bible said I should keep “silent” or be “submissive.” No one could ever explain in a way that made sense to me that I should pretend to be something I wasn’t in order to be accepted or loved. God loved me, in spite of my flaws, horrible failures and sins. Many tried and I just ignored them, I am stubborn that way.

For years, the United Methodist Church, as well as other denominations and religions have struggled to understand and affirm those we do not understand. In my time in the church, that has focused particularly on the homosexual community.  For those who know me best it is no surprise that I have always been in support of the full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the life church. The first time I stood toe to toe with a pastor I was still in high school. The pastor had preached about supporting the firing of teachers in the school system if they were homosexual. His point was that they would “affect” students in some way. I was furious, of course, I don’t think I was taken very seriously.

In 1988, at the General Conference in Saint Louis, I was pregnant with my son Joshua. I was to be ordained elder, but was at General Conference as one of the editors of the daily newsletter published by MFSA (Methodist Federation for Social Action). When the action of General Conference continued to affirm that “the practice of homosexuality was incompatible with the Christian faith,” I was crushed. When the protest happened on the floor of the conference, I struggled with whether or not to participate. I didn’t have full membership, I wasn’t ordained yet, but I looked at my friend, who was struggling the same way and together we rose to our feet. As we chatted later, if we were not willing to stand then, when we didn’t have our “union” card, we would always find an excuse not to be supportive or be counted.  Knowing my district superintendent and bishop could see my action, I stood.

Every four years the UMC has struggled and continued to exclude incredibly talented people on the basis of their orientation. I have cried more tears over those decisions than I care to admit in public. I don’t want to seem weak or vulnerable. I have despaired that the church I have loved for so long would ever see, truly see people, particularly our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters as persons of sacred of worth.

Fast forward to yesterday morning, June 13, 2015 at the Great Plains Annual conference.  A petition was shared that if passed would be forwarded to the 2016 General Conference. The resolution in its original form is shared in this blog by Rev. Kent Little. Honestly, After so many years, decades really, I didn’t have any real hope that things would change. I am not really a cynic, but….but, it has been a long journey.

Yesterday, one of the pastors got up to speak in opposition of this petition. Dramatically he said, “if the Great Plains Conference supports this petition I will surrender my credentials.”  I suspect he thought it would move many people to vote against the petition. Honestly, I would never bet my ordination on that. It was very manipulative and dramatic. Yes, I guess that is judgemental, but that doesn’t make it any less true. When the vote was taken and the annual conference voted to send the petition to the General Conference, he walked up on stage handed his name tag to the bishop, shook his hand and then kneeled, Tim Tebow style with his head in his hands and walked off the stage.

I understand differences in biblical critique and insight and understanding. God knows  I, and many others, have hung in there with the United Methodist Church when we disagreed. I never threatened my local church, my district superintendent, bishop or annual conference. I never held them hostage to my understanding of scripture. I prayed, I cried and worked to broaden a deeper and more graced filled church. Others have left. Others have given up. Maybe I am too stubborn. Maybe I just not willing to give into despair and hopelessness.

Our history as a church has been fraught with tension and struggle for understanding and living into an understanding of what it means to be a follower of Christ in every generation. Certainly not an exhaustive history, but in the 1840’s the Methodist Episcopal church split over the issue of slavery. People would “leave the church” if slavery was condemned. It took until 1939 for the Methodist Episcopal Church, South (ME,South), the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Protestant church to become unified.

Now, before I pretend that this was amazing, the only way for that to happen was to create a special “jurisdiction” for African Americans so they would not be appointed to white churches. The Central Jurisdiction remained until 1968 when the United Methodist Church was formed. People shouted, screamed, threatened to leave if we allowed “those” people to be part of our church, if we allowed full integration.

Then there is the whole issue around the inclusion of women in full leadership. I truly stand on the shoulders of all those who go before me. Without listing the entire timeline, women were not even seated at General Conference until 1922 in the Methodist Episcopal Church. They were granted licenses to preach as local deacons and elders in 1922 (without full voice and vote). In 1956, women, as clergy were granted full membership with voice and vote and pension. Up to that point they were not given a vote, even though lay women had the right to vote at annual conference. Every step of the way people threatened and screamed and cried that if we gave women equal rights…well what would be next?

The church needs to continue to live into where the Holy Spirit is leading us. Hostage takers will always threaten to leave, to withhold money and to have tantrums if not given their way. The tension of not agreeing is a holy moment. The petition passed at the Great Plains Conference allows for such differences and such tensions. Those tensions are not easy, but are necessary and promise to lead us into deeper faith and deeper understanding if we don’t draw lines in the sand. In our deep conflict to look each other in the eye and acknowledge we are brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of God.

I don’t know what the General Conference will do. After 34 years, I don’t pretend to know. I know I pray that I can speak words of hope and grace for all people. I am tired of turning down the opportunity to marry people who long to make a life time commitment because of what my church requires. I am not willing to harm my local church by breaking covenant, but I am saddened by not being able to be pastor to people I love and long to serve.

Today in worship our youth caravaners shared a song by Wailin’ Jennys called One Voice that made me once again be grateful that I have been called to serve, to love and to offer grace to all people. Still on the journey, hanging on to faith, I am graced to serve.

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