Saturday, July 01, 2017

We United Methodist are at an impasse. We are praying for the Commission on a Way Forward to find a way to keep us together even though we seem unable to get beyond conflicting convictions of earnest Methodists over the issue of human sexuality and the place of LGBTQ people in the life and leadership of our denomination.

I offer these two proposals as a UMC pastor who wants to resolve the issue and move on to more pressing and consequential concerns like generational poverty, global and personal debt, environmental catastrophe, our denomination's "death tsunami," etc.

First a structural change... If division is inevitable let's soften the impact by being bold about greater Christian unity. It's passed time to unite with our closest friends, the AMEAMEZCMEELCA and TEC, and form two denominations. There is already mutual recognition and cooperation in ministry, mission and worship among all six traditions. Becoming one is ideal but moving in that direction is better than continued decline and limited engagement as separate institutions.

Second, a principled compromise... In our culture, ideals are too often confused with principle with anything short of unconditional surrender and total submission seen as moral caving.

Why not witness for a different way? Not by staying together in stalemate but by doing something substantial that moves forward both traditional and progressive values and shows LBGTQ communities that we care deeply enough about their acceptance and holiness that we are willing to sacrifice our privileges in order to be in suffering solidarity with them.

One way this could be done is to follow the example of Green Street UMC. The Reverend Kelly Carpenter and the people of this congregation in Winston-Salem, NC have decided not to have weddings of any kind in their sanctuary until gay couples are granted that same privilege throughout our denomination.

Admittedly, their cause is full inclusion of LBGTQ couples and persons. However, the same action could be taken by traditionalist pastors and congregations for a different purpose.

Imagine, if you will, the Reverend Talbot Davis and the people if Good Shepherd UMC deciding to give up the privilege of having weddings in their sanctuaries as a means of standing in solidarity with and empowering LGBTQ persons to overcome their same sex attraction or to remain celibate.

This sacrifice, though significant, would not be a rejection of heterosexual marriage but rather a way to have integrity and credibility in witnessing to God's plan for human sexuality. Members of this and like minded congregations might even strengthen their witness by calling on heterosexual disciples to take up the cross of celibacy in partnership with gay and lesbian persons who want to commit themselves to God by forfeiting the privilege of having sexual relations even with those they love.

Because gay marriage is now legal, both progressives and traditionalists could develop liturgies in which both gay and straight couples renounce the church's blessings of their unions even while remaining in faithful and legal covenant with one another.

Giving up the blessing of a church wedding may be painful but it does send a meaningful message of deep commitment to LGBTQ persons and couples who strive for both acceptance and holiness.

If we eventually go our separate ways over this issue, perhaps this second option of abstinence in moral allegiance to one another will make our separation more respectful and perhaps even hopeful. Why would any denomination want to forfeit the blessings of either of these great pastors, their thriving congregations or any deeply committed disciples regardless of their gifts and struggles?!

Sentimental but well meaning calls to endure and respect our differences are no longer tenable in anybody's eyes. A denominational divorce would be a great tragedy and deep wound on the Body of Christ. There's got to a committed way forward to preserve and strengthen our connection, even if it's unconventional.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Bush's Failing War on Terror and What Could Have Been

Question 1 Are we safer? The answer to this depends is uncertain and specualtive to some extent. The consolidation of governmental offices into one homeland Security Department will perhaps lead to better communication and knowledge as to who is in the country who might poise a threat. The communication between and within the various intelligence agencies was a major problem before 9-11 and there seems to be a good faith effort to remedy these problems. However, I think that our premature invasion of Iraq has set back the war on terror. We had Saddam contained and we could have gradually tightend the noose while pursing Osama bin Ladin and Al Qaedia more vigorously, using the good will of the world and the unity within the nation we had to psuh the Palestinians and Israelis towards a peace treaty, facilitated the entry of Turkey into the EU, supported democracy and economic development in Indonesia and created more good will among Muslim nations, pushed the Turks to recognize a Khurdish homeland and helped to solidify the democratic forces already developing within Northern Iraq. The president is right to say that democracy will make nations more peaceful. However, he has facilitated the creation a suicidal insurgency in Iraq, severely undermined international cooperation and short-changed the effort to capture Osama bin Ladin. He has portrayed bin Ladin as mad man and not respected him as a very clever enemy whose continued presence only serves to embolden Islamic extremists. The war in Iraq and the neglect of the peace process between Palestine and Israel has heightened resntment throughout the Muslim world and served to stimulate more sympathy for terroistic causes. meanwhile, Iran has moved closer to acquiring a nuclear weapon and our over extention of troops and resources in the Iraq war has prompted them to work quickly to get the one weapon they can use to deter an invasion by us and possibly use against us. The list of miscalculations about the consequences of invading Iraq go on and on. We have created a situation in which our servicemen and women are bound to make mistakes and these mistakes be used in the Arab world as further propaganda against us. Far more non combattants have been killed in Iraq than were killed on 9-11. Someone recently said that "terrorism is the war of the poor and war is the terrorism of the wealthy." If only soldiers were killed in war no wars could ever be won. Terrism is the most logical (though certainly not moral) means for people who see themselves as oppressed by us to achieve their goals. It is the short cut to do what ever people or nations does in war to make their enemies compliant. Force is probably necessary in combatting terrorism however, we have not used it wisely and we have underused our diplomatic powers and undermined our intelligence capabilities by belittling our allies and not doing everything possible to win over populations who have been skeptical about our intentions long before 9-11. So i would say, no we are not safer. Our actions and inactions under the leadership of the Bush administration has heightened hatred toward us, magnified sympathy for the terrorists and alienated our closest democratic allies whose uncompromised cooperation, especially in intelligence matters we greatly need if we are to win the war on terror.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Dogma for Demoralized Democrats

With the election over many Democrats are wondering how to capture the working clas folks who have sided with the Republic (intentional incomplete spelling)Party because of values. Shall 2008 be another case of Republic Lite? I think what Democrats need is to get their asses back in church. Progressive politics in this country came from the churches but now progressives have outgrown the church. This ecclesiaphobia is leading Democrats to not know how to talk. Kerry won all three debates but look at how badly he stumbled on the question of public funding for abortion. First of all, this should not be the litmus test that it is within the party but couldn't Kerry have simply said that he is, as a Catholic, strongly opposed to abortion and that he wants to see it ended but that he also recognizes that the government can do little in the form of prohibition type laws to stop it. The otherwise quick on his feet Kerry, I suspect, stumbled because the issue has been framed for him in such secular political terms that he was totally speechless as to how to distinguish the moral from the political and still be moral. Let me say here that I think the Democrats have this issue all wrong. The arguments they make for choice are straight out of libertarian thought. We need to start thinking consistently in terms of the interdependence and ecological view of life rather than body as property model.
The issue of anti-gay marriage is another matter. We have to state in no uncertain terms that laws should treat everyone equally and that the marriage amendment would be a violation of the principle of equal rights not special rights. However one might also be able to say that as a Christian, one views homosexual behavior as contrary to Christian teaching. I think that might be an argument which would win the day with many evangelcials although admittedly very few have yet to think consistently about the distinction between ethics and public policy.
The issue is not so much about these particualr wedge issues. The issue is how we frame all of our issues. We need to get over the ridiculous notion that public figures cannot or should not talk about the spiritual narrative which informs their policy choices. Unfortunately these folks have abandoned the church and left it to a few pastors to deal with many people who still believe that Noah's ark is sitting atop a mountain in Turkey. If you want the political sphere to change, get your butts back in the pews and Sunday schools. Otherwise the cultural drift rightward will accelerate. Cultus makes culture. And the economy is never going to be divorced from the culture, stupid! Get with it and help us lonely progressive evangelicals and liberals out.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Advent Hymn

When God made covenant with us,
His promise did not fail.
He sent his Son for everyone
To make us free and well.

He chose a lowly maiden girl,
A child of Abraham,
To be the one to raise his Son,
The King from Bethlehem.

Messiah came that holy night
While all the world went by
And we like they would never say
That he would lift us high.

The Word Eternal came that night
And dwelt in human form.
He came to save from sin and grave
All caught in this great storm.

The wise men warned his family
When Herod drew his sword
That they must go to Joseph's foe
And wait there on the Lord.

He grew like us and more than we
In wisdom and in grace
That we receive and never leave
The blessings of his place.

In temple where the elders taught,
He asked and answered them.
They stood amazed when up he gazed
And said he came from Him.

His students came from shore and shame
To follow where he went.
He taught them well but they would fail
To know why he was sent.

Poor Peter drew his mighty sword,
His Master to defend,
But Jesus would return with good
Until the bitter end.

They knew at last but they did run
When pressured all around
But sure and true for me and you,
The Savior wore the crown.

He suffered their upon the cross
Mid thieves and slaves to sin
For we like they have lost our way.
Still he has let us in.

The Son of Mary, God's own Child,
Bid John to take her home
And she to be his mother too
And none to live alone.

He hung abandoned on the tree
By friends and Father too.
The sinless One by sin undone
Instead of me and you.

God gone into the godless land
To capture captives' home
He chose to stay in sinners' way
And be without shalom.

Jesus, the name above all names
Is power to the dead.
From Mary's womb to Joseph's tomb,
His blood for us was shed.

And so he rose our lives to save
And set our bodies free
With this our time and lowly clime
To live eternally.

Our bodies members have become
Of his community.
The Mother Church the world does search
To find more babes like he.

The Spirit of the Holy One
Was sent to bring us in
And send us out and all about
To call the world to him.

And when at last he comes again
To judge the quick and dead
We'll know that he shall surely be
The One whose promise said,

"Surely I'm with you to the end
And will be everyday,
So trust me now and ask not how
I love you all the way."

He came at first long, long ago
In humble human state.
He'll come again at this world's end
And take you through his gate.

To live with him forevermore,
He comes in to your heart,
The Prince of Peace with endless feast
Will not from us depart.

Copyright 2002 by CFB

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Epistle to a Preteristic Adventist

Wow....two things you said here that were brilliant: Perhaps Jesus gets lost in translation.... and the principle of reciprocal regard. I wonder if your self worth(and with it of course the self worth others) has beome your ultimate concern (Tillich's synonym for God)? I think this scandal of particularity in the NT is a big problem which is not easily resolved (perhaps it cannot be). Did I send you my blog link...I have an article on Christology there you might want to check out: You and I are trying to walk the thin line between exclusivism and pluralism. My fall back when it gets really slippery and I have to say Jesus is the one true way is to say that heresy is not something that keeps you out of the kingdom. I guess I have become so generalized in my escahtology that the Adventist stuff no longer means anything to me. Jesus was here, is still here and is coming here again. Jesus is the way and he is on the way. And if He maintains his humanity, he is still growing. He is still in conversation with us and maybe we can convince him to save the Hindu who refuses to accept him (if he has not already decided to do this). I actully think that Divinity in all three persons of the Trinity is growing. God is learning and listening and he has created at least one creature whom he cannot ultimately control (a rock He cannot lift or perhaps he has made himself so small and weak he cannot lift a pebble). It is a mystery and mystery is sacrament and sacrament is finding the universal in the particular, the real presence in, with and under (as Luther would say) all mystery and the particular mystery that the church receives and communicates.... And there is the connection: communicate, communion, commune. Risen body becomes body in bread becomes (as we are what we eat) the body of Christ. He is the bread, the bread is the bread and the Bible is the bread. I have come to believe that holy communion should be served every time the holy scriptures are read (I do not practice this belief but we Methodists are trying to get back to our Anglican roots). My rule is this(or at least one of them as I have so many to ignore): Christ is present in the Bible in the same manner and to the same degree as he is in the sacraments (be they 2 or 7 or more). I am also at the point where perhaps I am no longer protestant (well yeah I am and always will be protestant) but I am in agreement with the Orthodox and Catholic traditions...The Church is to be added to my rule...I wish I could find away to elevate the Bible above the Church but it is the Church's book and this book must be read under the illumination (is this not the same as inspiration?...I try as best I can to conform to my protestant heritage) of the Holy Spirit in a Christ centered and trinitarian bound manner (and here's the last catch) within the community of faith (this being, at least, the universal (I dare not say catholic) Church). And yet the Spirit is wild; we cannot control her or her companion Sophia Logos in the flesh ascended. The light of the moon illumines the trees at night, revealing a glitter in the leaves not seen in the daylight and yet that light is one light from one source. (This metaphor I arrived at myself but a professor told me that von Balthasar beat me to the punch.) It is late. I think I shall call this Epistle to a Preteristic Psychologizing (love that moment of self critical reflection)Adventist. I love you my brother.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Further Thoughts on Gays in the Church

In my previous article on this topic, I shared thoughts on how Christians and Christian churches ought to treat gay people even if they disagree with them concerning the morality of gay relationships. I have received, without surprise, hostile reactions from some for what they perceive is an article endorsing gay marriage. The basis of this accusation is that I said the government ought perhaps to legalize it or get out of the business of defining marriage all together and instead allow adults whether in a sexual or non-sexual relationship to form civil partnerships. By this logic one would have to say that if you agree that cigarette smoking should be legal for adults then you are endorsing cigarette smoking. Any libertarian minded Republican (which I am neither) would tell you that is non-sense. I was simply saying that compassion towards all sinners ought to include homosexual sinners and that such compassion demands we defend their civil rights at least as much as we would defend the right of the KKK to assemble, speak their minds and perform whatever ritual bonds they desire. Additionally, I mentioned several ways in which the church could be more hospitable. Of course my Methodist tradition is only one of many profound, orthodox and legitimate Christian traditions. We believe that Holy Communion ought to be open to all and that this sacrament is also a "converting ordinance" (Wesley) which can and does transform sinnners' hearts and lives. Other traditions, for equally profound reasons, practice closed communion. They stress that repentence from sin should precede approaching the Table of the Lord. Additionally, some stress a right understanding of the presence of Christ to be a prerequisite for partaking of the body and blood of Christ. While I disagree with the latter, I respect it. With regards to the former I am able to respect it as well if it is enforced consistently. If in such a tradition love is to be shown to the unrepententant homosexual by refusing her reception of the elements at the table of the Lord, those who are unrepentent gossipers, gamblers, greedy and glutonous should be be shown the same love. The homosexual sinner would thus be shown that her sin is not singled ought for special penalty but all unrepentent sinners are denied the sacrament. Whether the Table of the Lord is opened or closed within your tradition, it should be so administered consistently.
I also suggested in the previous reflection that orthopraxi towards gay people can help lead us to orthodoxy over the issue of homosexuality. Jesus gave the church the authority to bind and to loose, to permit and to forbid when there is controversy in the church. How far this authority extends is up for debate; however, that authority is dependent upon the Church being an engaged body, intentionally reflecting upon how well its members are loving one another and always listening for the Holy Spirit's directing while it continually reads the Church's sacred Book and the Tradition which has faithfully sought to carry on its message forward throughout all history and all lands. In this holy and apostolic process, the Church has permitted and forbidden various practices and teachings. The church does not always do this explictly. The practice of slavery (except, of course, slavery to the Lord) has ceased to be permitted in any form even though the Bible in both testaments permitted it and forbade slaves from seeking their own freedom even from cruel masters. Today, the Church forbids its members to practice slavery as it was authorized to be practiced in the New Testament as well as how it was practiced in the ante-bellum South. The Church in many traditions has come to say that the sabbath is to be kept on Sunday even though as a weekly observance the Bible teaches it to be kept on what we call Saturday. (I realize that some Christians want the Church to re-embrace the keeping to the seventh day sabbath while others believe that because Christ himself gives us eternal rest here and now 24-7, Christians need not keep Sabbath on any day at all.) Surely if the Church has authority to loose and bind on this issue which is, like marriage, a "creation ordinance", then it also ought to have the authority to loose and to bind on the issue of Christian marriage. The Church as a whole may come to agree with our Seventh Day Baptist and Seventh-day Adventist friends, that we should have never switched or abrogated the day of sabbath observance. Likewise, the Church, should it decide to bless gay marriages and ordain married gay pastors, could re-embrace the traditional understanding of Biblical prohibitions and forbid the same again. In doing so, the harm would not be more or less than the centuries of Sunday Sabbatarian tradition.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Quick random thoughts

I hear so often conservative and fundamentalist evangelicals saying abortion is murder. I want to let them know that Rudi and Arnold are welcome to receive communion at my church. How about theirs? The hypocricy of all those cheering delegates who constantly call John Kerry a baby killer is so blatant I wonder whether the Republican party has become their church. That being said, I wish my party would be more open to pro-lifers like Kucinich used to be. Lot of good his change on this issue did him. Dean grabbed all the progressives and DJK was virtually ignored even though he was clearly the more consistent anti-war president and unlike Dean he called for reductions in the Pentagon's bloated budget which makes the progressive agenda a fiscal impossibility. The next Kucinich who comes along I hope holds her (his) ground....(S)he couldn't do worse and maybe all these folks who would otherwise vote Democratic might be willing to switch parties. I do not think we are ever going to get anything done about economic justice until we lighten up on this kneee jerk pro-choice agenda.