An Open Letter To United Methodist Progressives And Centrists

My dear Sister and Brother Centrists and Progressives in the United Methodist Church,

I do not know if you will read this or not. But sometimes…sometimes the heart must speak. I will be honest with you upfront: I am first and foremost, a servant in the Kingdom of God. This submission to the Rule of God is absolute and unconditional; though at times I am rebellious and disobedient. I am secondly, an Orthodox Methodist, a label that has been put upon me, yet I wear it with humility and honor. Knowing this about me, you are now free to stop reading and make up your mind about me, without ever knowing what I will say. Based upon past behavior, I will not be surprised if some of you do just that; but for you who are still reading, please allow me the grace you say you so deeply believe in, be given to me as well.

I have a question ONLY for Centrists and Progressives.

“Why should I remain in the United Methodist Church, a church I have loved, supported and serve in the name of God’s Kingdom, when so many of you hate me?”

 I am sincere in this question. I acknowledge, with much shame as a follower of Jesus, that some who say they follow Jesus have said and continue to say hurtful and hateful things at the LBGTQIA community. And to my United Methodist sisters and brothers who have said those things, please, go join the Westboro Baptist Church. If you live too far away, start a local chapter. I’m sure they would be glad to become a multi-campus church.

Allow me to also say to my Sisters and Brothers who are Centrists and Progressives in the United Methodist Church, what I am about to say is not a blanket, “one-size-fits-all” comments. Some of you share the love and grace professed to even those who do not agree with you theologically. And to you who practice what you preach, please accept my gratitude for your consistency.

Alas, not all show the love and grace they profess. Rev. Tom Berlin has compared me, and my sisters and brothers in Christ, to a virus. More specifically, an Ebola Virus. Furthermore Rev. Berlin, under the banner of love and grace, you said that unless the UMC credentials the LBGTQIA members, then my credentials should be removed. You see, Rev. Berlin, I have been divorced…and remarried. Sir, you are right, myself and the gay community do share something in common. We are sinners. My sin isn’t any worse than any other sin. Sinners are equal at the foot of the cross.

Rev. Berlin, I have confessed my sin of divorce (along with several other sins). This means I agree with God, that it is sin in my life. I have also repented. I have turned away from ever divorcing again. And I turned to the only place I knew I would find grace–at the feet of Jesus. He forgave me. I even went through a process with my annual conference who held me accountable to confession and repentance. And now, Rev. Berlin, though I have confessed, repented and turned back to follow God with all my heart, you say I am unfit (after all, that’s what taking away my credentials because of divorce means) even though I’ve gone through God’s process for sinners, and the church’s process to continue in ministry. Though I and my LBGTQIA sisters and brothers share the bond of sin, I have admitted my sin, while the LBGTQIA refuse such an acknowledgement. See, Rev. Berlin, though we are the same–we are different in how we choose to deal with whatever that sin may be. Because I choose to admit it, I’m mean and unloving? Really?

And to Rev. Adam Hamilton, you choose to belittle me and those like me. You consistently espoused hate at us in St. Louis. And afterwards, your accusations continue to flow. You say I am homophobic (though I have friends who are gay). You say I treat them like second-class citizens (though I cried with someone who lost their partner, because we are friends).

You say I am refusing them grace (though I have served them Holy Communion and will continue to do so). You insist that I am full of hate because I choose to believe the Truth about marriage. That I am hateful because I cannot embrace a theory that isn’t even accepted in the behavioral science community. I am accused of not caring, all because I believe and am convinced that the Bible clearly defines marriage as a man and a woman. Rev. Hamilton, you say that I am not open to the Holy Spirit because I believe in the Biblical teachings on sexual ethics. I did not realize that God had given up the right to judge of my heart and given it to you.

I did not watch all of the 2019 General Conference, but I did watch a lot of it. I’ve also read the blogs, read the Tweets, and listened to the videos. After it all, I am left with only one conclusion: I am hated by the majority of United Methodists in my own country; this according to Rev. Hamilton. Even my former Bishop, Will Willimon, says that I am the problem–because I am over 40 years old.

So, my Centrist and Progressive Sisters and Brothers in Christ, I will ask you again:

“Why should I remain in the United Methodist Church, a church I have loved, supported and serve in the name of God’s Kingdom, when so many of you hate me?”

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Powerfully Beautiful, Beautifully Powerful

So, let’s disagree. Let’s hold to our positions with the vigor they deserve. Let’s be passionate. Let’s speak truth. But let’s also be humble. Let us love. And in this divorce of the United Methodist Church, let us love one another well.

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Changes Crossroad Sign

Well, our Special General Conference is over, and for most of us, it leaves us with more questions than answers. Sadly, much hatred has been vomited out upon people. Maybe it’s because I’m an Orthodox-Kingdom-Believing-Follower-And Pastor, I feel like I, and like-hearted people have had the most projectile vomiting spewed out on us by those who consider themselves progressive-forward thinking-people-in-the-name-of-love-and-grace kind of people.

And there is much I wanted to say on Tuesday–because so much hateful words were projected onto me. I was hurt and wounded by the Tribe I have been a part of all my life–and I was angry. But The Spirit would not allow me to write what I was feeling. Probably because it would have been my own projectile vomiting towards progressives. (See, I did learn from my mistake last year!)

I promised I would speak to this event, and I am now ready. But not with my own words–but the words of someone much younger, and probably wiser than I was Tuesday. Below is the link to his blog. His name is Jesse Tosten. I don’t know him personally, but I want to get to know him.

https://www.jessetosten.com/single-post/2019/02/28/General-Conference-2019

Remember, love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

When Do You Pull The Plug?

The real problem centers around The Bible and deciding what amount of authority it holds over our faith and conduct.

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I do not choose this Title without understanding it may well bring up painful memories. I have sat with family members who were facing this most difficult decision. I have seen firsthand the angst in their faces. Long before we met, my wife Debbie had to make this choice after her youngest daughter was in an automobile accident. When she talks about it, I hear and see that angst again. Regardless of how right that decision is, there is something that lingers within the heart of the person who made the decision. So, you see, I enter into these thoughts sensitive to the memories it creates.

Beginning today, Saturday, 24 February 2019, marks the most important gathering of the people and Tribe known as Methodists since the 1784 Christmas Conference in Baltimore. That Conference formed the “Methodist Church” independent of the Church of England. Today’s Conference may mark (notice I said “may mark”) the beginning of the end of the United Methodist Tribe.

We are a Tribe in turmoil. In the U.S. we have been a Tribe in a steady decline and it’s starting to look like it’s entering into a spiral. In other parts of the world our Tribe is growing, but here, it’s on life-support. In an attempt to resuscitate it, it was decided in 2016 to form a Commission (which was just another name for something us Methodists seem to have perfected–a committee) whose sole purpose was to find a way forward out of this turmoil induced chaos. The question, beginning today, is this: “Can there really be a way forward in light of the chasm that exists?”

Truth is, we have reached the Yogi Berra “fork in the road”. This special called General Conference is convened in the hope that this fork in the road will magically form a single road, or that we can miraculously make another road appear between the fork in the road. All of the media and comments are focused on a single issue: The rights of the LBGTQI in the United Methodist Tribe. However, that focus is only a symptom of a deeper problem.

The real problem centers around The Bible and deciding what amount of authority it holds over our faith and conduct. At some point by the end of the day Tuesday, they will either make a choice to follow Biblical Authority, be our own authority, or allow the chaos and turmoil to continue by doing nothing; which will be a choice that it will make if it happens. Unfortunately, in my Tribe it seems the choice most often made is NOT to make a choice; and that is a choice, a poor choice.

In the last 3 years, I have been praying, seeking and listening. Praying to God, seeking His wisdom and plan, and listening to both sides of this issue, especially to those on the opposite from me. And here is what I have learned: that we who identify as Orthodox, and those who identify themselves as Progressives, each hold positions that are incompatible.

You see, the real issue facing our Tribe isn’t the rights of the Gay Community, but the authority of Scriptures. At this point let me say that no person should be discriminated in the secular workplace because of their sexual orientation. This is plain ol’ wrong. And allow me to also say that under our current laws, same gender weddings are legal and that no one should stand in the way of that marriage BECAUSE it is the law of our land. I will not perform those ceremonies nor allow them to occur in the churches I serve, but I will respect their rights under the law, and I will discourage anyone who tries to deny them that right under law. If there should ever be a federal law that demands I perform such ceremonies or be sent to jail, I choose jail.

All this being said, let’s get back to the issue at hand. Can the United Methodist Tribe be resuscitated or, is this the moment to pull the plug and take this long time Tribe off of life support? This is, to put it mildly, a difficult decision. In times past it has been easier, far to easy, simply to bail out and jump ship that to stay in and fight the good fight of faith. This is the reason why I’ve stayed, and the reason why I have been disappointed in my colleagues and fellow congregations who I believe gave up way too soon.

When all this began to happen in 2016, I prayed about, to borrow a line from a song of my era, “should I stay or should I go?” And the answer was clear as a bell: “No, not YET!” Before the answer was always a definitive NO, NO, NO! So for these past almost 3 years, I have focused on that word YET. The way God wanted me to focus on the YET was to pray and listen. I have prayed and I have listened; listened to God and to others on both side of the issue.

And now, now I sense the question that the doctor would ask a family member in a dire situation: “Do you think the best option is to disconnect your loved one from life support?” is the question facing our Tribe. So, where am I? Well, let me tell you where I am!

  • I am longing and praying for the wind and fire of the Holy Spirit to fall
    at the Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis, Missouri that turns the hearts of the delegates and observers back to God and His Word.
  • I am praying that the need for accountability will be seen as that necessary part of following Jesus.
  • I am praying that eyes will be opened that Truth (homosexuality and all others sins are not part of God’s design) AND Grace (that His grace helps all of us overcome our propensity to sin) EXISTS together in tension, and in that tension (thanks Caleb Kaltenbach for this gem) is where true love happens.
  • I am praying AGAINST fear, anger, and resignation.
  • I am praying that fellow Orthodox hearts will remain gracious and kind throughout this Conference, and long after it adjourns.
  • And I am praying something I’ve been adding to my messages over the past few years: What’s The Next Steps?

I am not hopeless, but am more hopeful now than ever. If the delegates hearts are closed to another Pentecost at The Dome, God will not give up on His Kingdom, and that He is prepared for the outcome, even though none of us know that outcome right now. I am both hopeful and confident that there is a new path opening up for us right now. It will be either in that Tribe called United Methodist, or it will happen in the formation of a new Tribe.

If the Bible is rejected as the final source for doctrine, faith and conduct, then the answer to that painful question is rather clear; at least to me: It’s time to pull the plug. But, if the Bible is affirmed and faithfully followed for all doctrine, faith and conduct, then get the patient out of ICU and unleash her on the world! Either way, Satan is trembling with fear, and that’s always a good thing when the Enemy trembles in fear!

All that is left for me to do–and for you like-minded Wesleyan hearts–is to keep praying and not think about whether or not to pull that plug. Come Tuesday evening, God will give us the answer, the answer that is both right and timely.

The Not So Simple Plan

 

I don’t know how many of you will read this post to the end because…..well because it is primarily about my Tribe, the United Methodist Church.  But I would encourage you to hang with this post because it will have something that is a reflection of our culture….and a challenge to those who are more than fans of Jesus.

Here’s a brief background for this post.  In the United Methodist Tribe, our “official” group that develops our official “beliefs” and “social principles” is called the General Conference and it meets once every 4 years.  These “beliefs” are published each 4 years in what we call The Book of Discipline, or called “The Discipline” for short..  Since 1972 our official “stand” on human sexuality is that all persons are equally in need of God’s grace and are people of worth and should be allowed to attend any United Methodist congregation (we turn no one away).  However, the only form of “sex” that has God’s blessings is that of a monogamous marriage between a man and a woman.  We further believe that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching and that no self-avowed or practicing homosexual is eligible for licensing, commissioning or ordination in the United Methodist Church.  This has been our stand since 1972.  Every 4 years attempts have been made to declare other forms of sexuality are OK and that the Bible is wrong.  Yet each time our wording, that I consider to be most gracious yet true to the Biblical Standards for sexuality, has been preserved by the General Conference.

However, in recent years, there has been open disobedience without much in the way of consequences for this rebellion.  Clergy and Bishops have broken their vows to support  and maintain the standards set in The Discipline.  In 2016, this General Conference was facing the same attempts to change our Discipline to declare that homosexuality is now OK.  Some attempts to change our stand had already been voted down by the body when a motion was presented and passed to form what we call the Commission On A Way Forward.  A group of individuals were selected by the Bishops to serve on this Commission with the charge to form a plan that would settle this issue once and for all.

After several meetings they formed 3 plans that will be submitted to a called session of General Conference in February 2019.  I won’t go into all 3 of those plans, but I refer you to the website and you can read for yourself. (Click Here for the Report of Commission on Finding A Way Forward).  But I will give you my summary of those 3 plans:

  1. The Traditional Plan:  Maintains our current wording and belief but with mandatory penalties for those who violate The Discipline.
  2. The One Church Plan:  Every church, every lay person, every pastor, every Annual Conference determines their own view of human sexuality–without fear of penalties for anyone who disagrees.  Summation:  YOU get to choose.
  3. The Connectional Plan:  Regional Conferences would be formed based solely on their views of human sexuality and then churches and pastors select which Conference they want to be aligned with.

I’ve said a lot and could have said even more.  At the risk of sounding like a late night Infomercial Hawker….but wait, there’s more!

Now a group has come up with and will present what they call “The Simple Plan” (Click here for that report).  It will remove all of what is termed “restrictive language” concerning homosexuality and ordination in the United Methodist Church.  Let me say this:  to my gay friends, you are my friends and I love each one of you.  I am not judging you or your relationship with Jesus if you have one.  I am, however, maintaining my conviction that the Bible IN CONTEXT is the source of authority for life and faith.    Furthermore I do not consider you or any gay person an abomination.  I reserve that term for churchians and tenured pew sitters.  After all, it was only towards the “really religious” folks that Jesus was ever tort or gruff.

Here is what The Simple Plan seeks to accomplish, in my humble opinion:

  1. The Elimination of The Bible as the source of morality, faith and life.  If it can’t be trusted in the arena of human sexuality, how can it be trusted anywhere?  Taken to its conclusion–God is nothing at all like the Bible portrays Him and this includes the concept of God being Gracious and Merciful.  The Simple Plan declares that The Bible is unreliable.
  2. It reduces the Creation Saga to a fanciful myth and pigment of the imagination of writers.  In the Creation Saga, God establishes all order, including human sexuality.  The gift of sex is reserved for husband (man) and wife (woman).  Only this act of intimacy has God’s blessings.  All other sex is outside the blessing and approval of God.  Notice, I did say ALL other sex, not just same gender sex.  The Simple Plan reduces the Creation Saga to a mythological context with no real application for today.
  3. It promotes feelings as the final determinant for what is authoritative for life in the Church.  For millennia, the people of God have relied upon The Bible.  Granted, it’s been misused and taken out of context to justify all kinds of immoral behavior and systems.  But it was, and should continue to be, the Guide for determining holiness of both heart and life.  The Simple Plan throws out this Sacred Writ for what we believe about ourselves–not what God says.
  4. It reduces humanity to the status of slaves and prisoners.  I know that some liberal-progressive-ProAgressive (a term a friend uses and I have to agree with it) will argue me that The Simple Plan doesn’t created slaves and prisoners–rather it liberates.  Not so fast, bucko!  You are defining people by whom they want to have sex with–i.e.–that humans beings are nothing more than sexual beings.  Sex creates bondage when it is engaged in outside the place that is blessed by God.  The Simple Plan says that a person is identified by their sexual partner, rather than the whole person.
  5. It closes the door for personal transformation.  This is akin to Point 2, but goes deeper.  The Simple Plan closes the door to the act of God’s Grace to change and transform us from sinner to saint.  It avoids even the hint of sin, ergo, without sin we do not need to experience change.  All we need is to declare that God has created and blessed who we really are.  There is no model for personal transformation, but emphasizes self-acceptance.
  6. Finally, The Simple Plan demonizes everyone who disagrees with the plan.  While insisting that they be heard, they refuse to listen to other views and resort to calling them bigots and declaring they really don’t know Jesus.

In reality, The Simple Plan is nothing really new.  In fact, it’s rather old.  I mean, really, really, really, really, really, REALLY old.  It goes back to Eden.  The Simple Plan promotes the lie that Satan told Eve and Adam.  “Look, you can be–you NEED to be your own God.  Forget what God said.  Be who you want to be.  This fruit is just what you need to be a complete person–and your own God.”

You see, in reality, nothing is simple about sin.  It is convoluted and destroys those who allow it to define them.  My prayer, and my hope, is that the Tribe for which I have been a part of for 62 years–The Tribe where God called me to serve–will adopt The Traditional Plan.  And if not–then I know God will lead me to where I can continue to experience transformation and offer transformation to a world led astray by The Serpent’s Lie.