Lifestyles, Vows, and Obedience (A response to a comment on my last post)

IMG_4576To my last post I received this anonymous comment: “…YOU want to follow culture, not the Bible. You want to have it your way, rather than work together. YOU want to promote a lifestyle that the Old and New Testaments say are abominable… YOU want to change the Bible to fit the modern world, rather than following the Bible in the modern world. Leave. No one will miss you…” The comment goes on to say that I call those who want to follow 2000 years of precedence “bigots” and those who want to enforce vows as “inquisitional.”

I would like to be wrong, but I’ll assume that this is not satire. Therefore, I want to offer some clarification, seek understanding, and invite others into a different vision, using seven points.

  1. To all who share the views of this comment I want to say, “I would miss you.” As a “centrist” (if we must label) I want to be in a church that honors different perspectives on many issues. This keeps us all humble.  It helps us learn how to love with patience and kindness and without arrogance or insisting on our own way (See I Cor 13).  Giving this witness is so much better than withdrawing into like-minded camps.  This witness, however, does not work if some insist on drawing hard lines that exclude others and don’t allow for other perspectives.
  2. I am not the one who called the traditional plan “inquisitional.” That description came from the Judicial Council. I do believe that it captures the spirit of this plan (with reasons given in the previous post). To not resist the draconian measures of this plan is to put one’s own soul in danger.
  3. I did not use the word “bigot” at all. And I have not heard others use it in this way, even though that is a common accusation. I do believe we can all learn from Wesley’s caution against bigotry. It is a part of our doctrinal standards. Bigotry is an “attachment to, or fondness for, our own party, opinion, church, and religion.” Underlying bigotry is always a form of self-righteousness, that causes us to focus on the outward sins of others while conveniently able to overlook the “subtler, but no less destructive, forms of disobedience” within us. Wesley challenges us to be attentive and open to God’s work in others, especially in those who differ from us in religious opinion or practice.  That glorifies God! (See my post – “Bigotry in the Church”)
  4. To the accusation of promoting a “lifestyle” and following culture, let me say that the only “lifestyle” we are called to promote is faithfulness in Christ. We do not promote a secular or political agenda – as some falsely accuse. As a church we ask: “How do we respond faithfully to anyone who desires to live and grow as a follower of Christ and live in relationships where they can grow in faithfulness and love?  Many of us are asking, “Is it faithful to exclude certain people based solely on the way they identify rather than on their character and calling?”  “Do we welcome some but saying they need to change in ways that we don’t ask others to change?” We want to develop a serious sexual ethic based, not on identity, but on the virtues to which we are all called – monogamy, faithfulness, commitment, and all the characteristics defined by the word love. If we want to talk about “abominations” or “giving into culture” or promoting “lifestyles” that are not of Christ, let’s start with attitudes that cause division, with sexual immorality that objectifies others for personal pleasure, and perhaps with the temptation to judge others as “incompatible” as a way to avoid dealing with our own stuff.  We have the opportunity to give a positive witness to the world, based on the things in which we could all find agreement.
  5. The Bible! In my personal quest for faithfulness I have searched the scriptures and have come to the conclusion that my old traditional perspective, on the issue before us, cannot be maintained without proof-texting, selective literalism, and totally ignoring “guiding passages” that help us interpret the whole – passages centered around what it means to love, with Jesus himself saying that is the key to all scripture. Personally, I cannot see how to affirm the perspective in this comment without abusing what I truly believe to be God’s word.  (If you want to share in this journey there is a whole series called “The Way Forward Bible Study”).  
  6. My personal nightmare! I do fear that there will not be enough voices and votes to overturn this plan that does so much harm. Keeping my vows (in baptism, in marriage, in ordination) demands that I speak. Within these vows there is room for principled disobedience. I am reminded that the word “obedience” comes from the Latin, “to listen.” Obedience is not slavery or compliance.  It means to listen in respect and allow this to influence us. Sometimes listening deeply to some vows challenges others. Right now, there is a movement calling us to reflect more deeply on our baptismal vow to “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” That vow has gotten my attention of late.
  7. I invite all who hold to positions found in this comment to open your heart to a new movement of the Holy Spirit. It is spreading as sacred fire. This movement is characterized by hearts expanding to make room for all and by the desire to promote unity in love rather than uniformity by law – by judgment and inquisition. In the light of this calling, perspectives are changing by the minute. You are invited to be a part of it. “Holy Spirit, may this post be an instrument of this light.”

Naming Our Values in a New Reality

IMG_4576At a recent gathering of around 80 of us, under the title of “Uniting Methodists,” we spent time naming our values in a new reality after GC2019. If you were at this meeting you will recognize much of what was said.  The hope of the conveners is that these values will serve as a light to guide us into a faithful way forward. We invite you to prayerfully use them for guidance and for holy conversation. We value…  

Unity in Love rather than Uniformity by Law

The plan passed at General Conference establishes strict mandatory penalties around only one concern, requires oaths to be taken to serve in certain leadership positions. and takes accountability away from resident bishops and peers.  Parts of this plan have been likened by our Judicial Council as establishing an “inquisitional court.” There are many with traditional, progressive, and centrist perspectives who do not believe this represents the calling of Christ. We are called to come together at the holy table where unity is not rooted in uniformity of opinions but in the call to love in the midst of blessed diversity. We will continue to have many theological and social issues to discuss.  It is through our struggles together that we learn how to love.

Making Room for All

The value of inclusiveness has been expressed with a variety of constituencies in mind. At the holy table, we value those with traditional, centrist, and progressive perspectives. In the light of our current conversation, we want to affirm our LGBTQ+ siblings, and honor the gifts they bring into the community of faith.  We want to encourage young persons to be leaders among us, and we continue our commitment to be more inclusive in terms of ethnicity.  As United Methodist Christians, we want to reclaim the “big tent,” practice hospitality, avoid “us and them” language, be transparent, and cultivate ministries that are attentive to contexts. We believe that diversity, within the Body of Christ, is a great strength and helps us give witness to the kingdom of God in our midst.  

A High(er) View of Scripture

As the inspired Word of God, the scriptures come to life in holy conversations and relationships.  In these conversations, we often do not get easy answers but must struggle with the tensions and different perspectives found within the scriptures themselves.  Faithfulness moves us beyond proof-texting and using scriptures to affirm our prejudices and opinions.  In community, we honor the whole, notice the context, and seek God’s intended message for us in our time and place. With Wesley as our guide, we look to key texts to help us interpret all of scripture, with the summary of the law and prophets offered by Jesus as the master key, where love is described as the royal law.  We read scripture through the lens of the risen Christ and through his will for us and for all.   

Wesleyan Holiness

In defining holiness, Wesley consistently used the virtues of humility, patience, and gentleness. He also talked about the opposite of holiness with words like pride, passion, judgment of others, and zeal for our own righteousness. True holiness is rooted in the love God has planted in our hearts.

A Sexual Ethic Rooted in Values rather than Personal Identity

While we affirm unity rather than uniformity, faithfulness does demand some agreement.  In humility, we acknowledge that we do not fully understand matters of sexual orientation and identity. At the same time, we affirm a strong sexual ethic rooted in the values of monogamy, faithfulness, commitment, and the virtues summed up with the word love.  We affirm pastors and congregations who want the freedom to respond in contextual ways to all who desire to grow in God’s love and live in relationships where they can practice these life-giving values. We want to adopt a denominational policy built on a shared ethic around calling and character, as opposed to policies that make judgments around personal identity.

Being Hopeful and Realistic

We affirm our calling to bear with one another in love and to seek unity of spirit in the bond of peace (Eph 4:1-3).  After General Conference, we have concluded that this calling may not manifest itself as “unity of structure.” At the same time, we do not believe we should retreat into another “like-minded camp” where the virtues of our calling – humility, patience, and kindness – are not really needed.  We want to cultivate a community where all are welcomed at the table and where we can truly learn how to love. 

We also trust that politics, defined as the art of making good decisions for the whole, can be consistent with the call of the Holy Spirit.  In this light, we ask you to help elect persons who will be active and vocal advocates for the values we have named above.  We do not believe that this is a time for neutrality or to elect those who might approach General Conference with a desire to perfect the Traditional Plan.