Tag Archives: full inclusion

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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Year of Gratitude

Last week, I didn’t get a prompt posted for our year of gratitude. It’s not that I wasn’t grateful or that I didn’t send a thank you note, I just didn’t get the blog written. Some of that had to do with the life of the global United Methodist Church. While I have tried not to be anxious, I have been.

As I write, General Conference has not yet concluded, but the One Church Plan which I supported and many of my colleagues and friends supported was defeated twice. I am heartbroken. Sunday, I preached a sermon about why I was going to continue to be on the side of love and acceptance of all. You can find both the worship service or the sermon by itself here.

Today I was attending a Sunday School lunch which was called  “picnic.” There was napkin that looked like this:

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Honestly, I have probably felt more like the cat than the girl! And yet being sad and angry and grieving does not mean I am not thankful. Many of my collegagues and friends from the Great Plains Conference have represented the church I love well. In the four short days, these persons have found themselves at the microphone using the legislative process to do what is right and just. The have diligently worked for good for the greatest amount of people. I am grateful for their passion, their faithfulness and willingness to serve in such a difficult time.

I can not say thank you enough to Amy Lippoldt, Adam Hamiliton, Cheryl Jefferson Bell, David Livingston, Mark Holland, Shayla Jordan (one of the youngest elected to the General Conference), Stephanie Ahlschwede among others. I know I missed some, but still I am deeply grateful for their commitment to living out God’s love for all people. I don’t know what the future holds. For so long, 35 plus years as a clergy in the United Methodist Church I have supported and worked for full inclusion of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters and friends. I don’t intend to stop.

I want to tell those who feel most bruised and broken by what is occuring that you are not alone, there are many allies who will continue to work for justice, for love, for grace, for everyone to be part of the community of faith. We do not lose hope, we cling to faith, we remember that nothing, NOT ONE THING can separate us from the love of God in Christ. I am grateful for the reminder of that promise and that somehow, in someway, we will go forward.

Years ago, a wonderful song was penned that has been sung for several decades: the story and sharing of that song is one that I pray brings hope and promise to those of us who continue to sing for our lives and the lives of the church together you. You will find that story and song here.

 

 

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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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