Dear members of this Tribe,
There is so very much about our Tribe that I dearly love. It was here that I was surrounded by God’s indescribable grace. It was here that God’s Prevenient Grace surrounded me, loved on me and nurtured me. At the age of 16, it was here where I experienced and after much struggle finally accepted for myself God’s Justifying Grace. And it is here that His Sanctifying Grace has been at work in my life for the past 44 years and I am confident that this Grace will continue to be at work in me until either Jesus returns or I graduate to the life God intends for all of us to experience, that life Adam and Eve enjoyed until The Fall.
I have been in the Tribe all 60 years of my life and I have remained here, not because I grew up here, but because God called and planted me here. I had always believed that I would end this journey still with this Tribe but recent events have now caused me to have for the very first time, to doubt if my journey will end in this Tribe we call United Methodist. For the past 42 years whenever someone would ask me about joining another Tribe or if I had that thought, the immediate answer from the Spirit was an emphatic “Absolutely NO!”
But our current situation and controversy over human sexuality has caused me to enter into a season of deep reflection and even deeper prayer. And now when I am asked about leaving or pondering the thought of leaving my beloved Tribe for another one, the answer that the Spirit gave me caught me off guard. This time the answer is, “No, not yet. Let’s wait and see what develops.” My heart is literally breaking and I am having many restless nights over this issue. I need to work through this for myself in order to be first His follower and then the leader God created and called me to be. So to work through this, I want to write a letter, actually several letters, to those in my Tribe, whether they read it or not. Writing serves as a catharsis for me. Here goes in no particular order of importance:
Please stop using the word “abomination” when describing and/or addressing the LGBTQ community. Using the Bible to beat anyone over their head has never accomplished what God’s Word is designed to do. I once heard that the Bible is God’s love letter to us and that in the front of our Bible we should write “Dear (insert your own name)” and on the back write “Love, God.” I have done my due diligence in trying to understand the progressives and LGBTQ views about the Bible, and I have learned much; not that I agree with their views, but I have learned much about the progressives.
After seeing and hearing many comments addressed by you to the progressives and LGBTQ communities, I can see why they want to reject parts of the Bible. Homosexuality is NOT the worst sin, so stop treating it like it is. I made this statement once and I was asked by someone, “Brother Randy, what do you think is the worst sin? I think it is rejecting Jesus. Don’t you?” I think my reply caught them off-guard. I thought for a moment and replied, “No, I don’t.” No sooner than those words rolled off my tongue, that person looked at me with an expression that said, “I heard you were crazy, now I know you are.”
I continued my thoughts, “Sin is sin is sin. There is no sin that is worse than any other sin. Sin cuts us off from the relationship that God wants with us and messes up the intended design God has for us. But I would say there is one particular sin that disgusts God more than any other.” The question I longed to hear was asked, “Well, which one is it?” I replied, “For a church or follower of Jesus to be lukewarm. In Revelation 3:16, Jesus said that a lukewarm (meaning ‘mediocre’) church (or follower) made Him sick at His stomach. I do not recall Jesus ever saying that about any other expression of sin.” So to you, the conservative/evangelical members of this Tribe who insist and continue to use the word “abomination” in addressing the LGBTQ and progressive community, I want to say, “STOP IT!” This tactic is only widening the gap and creating deeper wounds. Instead, let them see in you the driving desire to be more like Jesus, yourself. Letting anyone see Jesus transforming our own life is always the best way to invite them to Jesus, and for them to allow Jesus to transform their whole life, which is more than the term “sexual orientation”. Transformation is about the whole person.
Dear North Alabama Annual Conference,
I write to all of you–both clergy and laity–individuals and congregations–leadership and those of you in the trenches. The first thing I would say is to our leadership–please say something definitive about these recent events. Let me know where you stand on this issue–clearly and decisively. Please avoid being like the politician who, when questioned about his position on a certain issue, replied, “Some of my friends are for it and some of my friends are against it. And I want you to know that I stand with my friends.” Some of you have done so in a public manner, and others have done so privately. Whether I agree or disagree with your views, I want to hear them, I need to hear them. You are among the leadership in my life and my local church and in times like these, make up your heart and mind and then speak it. Even though the concept of “unity” would be great right now, there are moments and situations where unity is not a possibility, or at least unity as we try to define it. I think this is a time that fits what Jesus said in Matthew 10:34 (NLT), “Don’t imagine that I came to bring peace to the earth! I came not to bring peace, but a sword.”
The second group I want to address are those who are seriously considering pulling out and abandoning this Tribe simply because of what a minority have either said or done. Do not consider abandoning your post because it seems to be the best or only answer. And definitely do not abandon your post because you feel like it is now or never–that somehow God is going to judge you if you don’t pull out right now. I am convinced that God’s guidance for me–“Not yet. Let’s wait and see what happens first”–is the message He is trying to get out to more of us orthodox Tribal members. I just recently heard about one of our churches that has already left our Tribe. If God is actually guiding this local church in a new direction, then they will be blessed because of their faithfulness to God. But my greatest concern (and heartache) is that they simply have given up hope. If you are about to give up hope and leave our Tribe, then understand that you will have gone A.W.O.L. (absent-without-official-leave) and are M.I.A. (missing-in-action) at a time when the Tribe needs your faithfulness and your hope.
And to my fellow Tribe members who simply do not care or have not kept yourself informed, I want to encourage to arm yourself with facts–and not the “Google or whatever blog you happen to read” facts. Ask questions and share truthful information with each other. Search for the truth and then pray–pray without ever stopping for our Tribe. Arm yourselves with other prayer warriors. In your prayers make sure you take enough time to listen to what God might want to say to you. If He gives you guidance to speak or act, then be faithful to that guidance.
And to everyone in North Alabama Annual Conference, please remember that progressives (and for you who are progressive–remember that us orthodox) are NOT your enemy, and neither is the LGBTQ community. There is an enemy who is trying to uproot our Wesleyan orthodox heritage–but it’s not people. This is a spiritual battle and it needs to be fought with spiritual weapons against spiritual forces–not against human beings. And we all need to be accounted for and counted on.
Dear Council of Bishops,
I hear your call for unity and on the surface, this sounds very nice and good. No one wants to lead a divided organization. A general does not want to lead forces into battle who are not of one heart and mind. And it appears to me that your basis for unity is that progressives accept the orthodox and that the orthodox accept the progressives. Hey, that would be great IF it could actually happen. Like some engineering designs, it looks great on paper, but it does not translate well, or at all, into the real world. And here is why it will not happen and cannot happen.
You have framed this storm around the context of human sexuality, but this is not the true cause of this storm. Ask a physician if it is possible for her or him to treat a symptom but not treat the disease and they will tell you not only is it possible, but it happens on a daily basis. They will also tell you that while the symptoms may become better, it is only temporary. Eventually the disease consumes the person and hopefully it will be recognized before it is too late. Bishops, the real storm and the cause of our malady is the rejection of biblical authority. Does the Bible have authority over us or not? Progressives answer this question with, “yes, but not all of it. Some of it is just plain wrong.” The orthodox answer with, “yes it does over all matters of life, faith, order and action.” These two views are antithetical and by definition antithetical means “directly opposed; mutually incompatible” (emphasis mine).
One of the most important ways you can lead us is by ceasing to frame this storm around human sexuality and lead us through this storm by addressing the real disease: rejection of biblical authority for life, faith, order and action. You and I were ordained as clergy in our Tribe with a vow and covenant that included to embrace with example and through proclamation a life framed within the Bible. I do not recall any words that resembled, “do this with the parts of the Bible you agree with and disregard the parts you either disagree with or don’t like.”
John Wesley once wrote in his private journal, and expanded it later in one of his books of sermons about the Bible, “O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be homo unius libri.” (means: “people of one book”) Though Wesley loved to read other books, his anchor was and his roots remained in the Bible. All other books were measured by THE Book. As United Methodists we have 2 clear choices: to be progressive or to be Wesleyan orthodox. And by definition, these 2 views are mutually incompatible. Make your choice, either lead us to be homo unius libri, or make your decision to lead us away from the unius libri. It is mutually incompatible to be both a people of one Book and a people of “let’s choose which parts of that one book we like.”
Dear Progressives And LGBTQ Community,
As I focus my heart on Jesus to frame my words, I have much to say, so where do I begin? With my focus on Jesus, I want to begin with an apology for the ways that some conservatives/evangelicals have treated you by using the Bible as a billy club and a bully pulpit. Neither of these are ways that the Sacred Scripture should be used. I sense many deep wounds inflicted on you and I am praying that God will heal your wounds and that you will be able to forgive these colleagues for their misplaced zeal. Hopefully you read my “first letter” that was addressed to them who use the Bible in the wrong ways.
I also need to make a confession to you. I have not taken the time to listen to your perspective and why you believe what you believe. But in the past few months I have reached out with the desire to listen and ask questions. Some of you have engaged with me in dialogue and what I have heard has helped me understand your position better. It was in those dialogues that I became acutely aware of the wounds that religious bullies have inflicted on those in the LGBTQ community.
But unfortunately most of you end the conversation when I ask the question that no one from the progressive Tribe has answered in a way that adequately described the quest we all share–the quest for that meaningful life, the life that God intended when He created us. Here’s the question that has ended our conversations: “What is the Biblical and/or scientific basis for the premise that God created some people to be gay?”
The only consistent response has been centered around the concept of “feeling”. “I have felt this way my whole life.” “I started having these feelings in college.” And since you have these feelings, then you believe God made you this way and any verse in the Bible that says this goes against God’s intended design for you must be inherently wrong and should simply be ignored. I had one progressive tell me that when God created Adam and Eve He put the capacity for “being gay” inside them and it was just there, waiting for the right moment to come out. When I asked if it could be that the Fall messed up God’s intended design for sex, I was told, “Oh no, in fact, the Fall was good because it liberated us to discover and become all that God created us to be.” When asked for the source and evidence of this theory, the response was yet again silence.
Feelings are rooted in the arena of human emotions. Human emotions were given to us in Creation, so they are not bad–it’s in how we use them. Feelings are unreliable as an anchor or foundation for our life. My emotions change from the time I awaken in the morning until I lie down to sleep–usually several times during any given day. The temptation by Satan in the Garden to Adam and Eve was focused on their emotions. His lie was “You can be a god.” Being a “god” means you can make up your own rules, be in charge of your own life. So to my gay friends who may read this, and to the LGBTQ community, I encourage you to not trust your feelings and look deeper.
Forget what the morons say about you being an abomination to God, for you are not. But neither are you and I yet what God designed us to be. To find that design you and I need to look back to the very beginning–that season before sin entered God’s creation and messed me us, messed you up, messed everybody up. The act of sex was given by our Creator as a gift to be the expression of the deepest, intimate love between 2 people, man and woman. (I had that same progressive whom I mentioned earlier tell me that sex didn’t happen until after the Fall. I wonder how Adam and Eve were to be fruitful and reproduce this image of God into creation?)
I want to ask my gay friends, the LBGTQ community and you who identify yourselves as progressives to carefully read the Creation saga. Here is what God intended to happen and the life He intends for you to experience. Do not read the Bible with the echoes of those who misuse and misunderstand the Bible. Put that garbage behind you and look at the beginning with pure eyes and simple faith. Do not bring my orthodox view to the table and do not bring the progressive view to your reading and reflecting. Set aside for that time your feelings and begin to talk with God and also to listen to God.
And to the progressives of this Tribe who do not “feel like” they are gay, I want to say to you, “Leave the LBGTQ community alone, at least for a season.” Whether we are orthodox or progressive, we are all broken–somewhere, at some place we are a mess. My mess isn’t any neater than yours, nor yours than mine. But this I have noticed about the nature of sin that lives in all of us. We seek to find some means to justify our messiness, as if finding a justification for our mess makes it neat–or at least, less messier.
The Bible still has authority over us in all matters of life, faith, order and action. Just because the bullies and morons misuse it, or because progressives think the Bible is wrong on some points because it was put together by human beings doesn’t we can use our “reasoning ability” to come up with some other way where we can see with fresh eyes how that the Bible, with authority can help us answer the questions of faith, life, order and action in that way which helps us become the person God intended.
And my final words of this letter to the Progressives and the LGBTQ community is this: If you cannot find a way to understand Scriptures the way our Wesleyan heritage guides us, then perhaps it is time for you to part paths with the Wesleyans. If you choose to leave, please know that I will not see your leaving with great joy–but even deeper sorrow than I feel now for our Tribe in this current storm. Oh, and if some of you from the bully pulpit community are thinking right now, “Yes, go on and leave and good riddance”, shame on you. If that’s how you feel, go join Westboro Baptist insane asylum, you’re not Wesleyan. Jesus wept over the unbelief of Jerusalem, and we should weep for those who continue in the way of Adam and Eve as they set out on the journey of deception. I frame and pen these words not with a sense of spiritual superiority or anal arrogance. I frame my words most keenly aware of my own brokenness but also with an invitation to you. I am broken but I am on a journey to wholeness, to restoration at the hand of God who has revealed His plan and His ways for all of us, and it’s known as The Holy Bible.