An Open Letter to an Old Friend

Dear United Methodist Church,
It has been some time since we have had a sit down talk, I suspect it has been about four years. Four years, because it seems like every time General Conference rolls around I feel the need to talk with you about our friendship and try to go about the difficult work of dialogue and conferencing in a way that we often end up agreeing to disagree.

You know, we have been lifelong friends, quite literally. I was born into the arms of your understanding of grace almost fifty-seven years ago. I grew up in your presence with my dad being one of your ordained, back when you were simply known as the Methodist Church. I was baptized in the waters of your presence in a little church in western Kansas. The same church my father would serve some thirteen years later where I would be confirmed in the faith and become a full member of the United Methodist Church.

I confess, through many of those years and many years following that confirmation, I took our friendship for granted. It was not something I thought a lot about, it just was. I went to church every Sunday, mostly because I was the preacher’s kid. After I graduated from high school and moved away from home I did not pay a lot of attention to you. I would show up now and then, but really not with any regularity.

Of course in hindsight, I know you loved me even if from a distance. You laughed with me and my friends, you mourned the loss of family members with me, you comforted me, and you fed me body, mind, and spirit. You celebrated the marriage to my best friend with me, you embraced both of my children with open arms and without condition.

And then you called me, you and God, you called me to be a part of the prophetic, compassionate, embracing, and serving clergy of the church. I carried with me into that experience all that I had known, all that I knew, and all I had learned and experienced from you. I was, am, deeply grateful and humbled by this calling you have placed upon my life and journey.

You have done, you do so much good in the world. You educate us, provide healthcare for us, teach us about the faith, care for us when we mourn and when we celebrate, you nurture our faith in Christ, and deepen our commitment to one another.

With that, I really do not know when I became aware of it, this troubling in my soul. I know it has been some forty years since the language was placed in our discipline. I only know that for at least the last twenty-four years, you and I have struggled with being together. We have worked together, changed lives, fed the hungry, transformed communities, served the poor, welcomed the marginalized, and introduced many to the Way of Jesus.

All of that being said though, we have not been able to come to agreement on how and if you will welcome persons of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender orientations. We have spent the last twenty-four years debating, dialoguing, and conferencing until we agree to disagree and try to continue to live in civility and grace.

I was sitting in a seminary classroom just a few weeks ago and the topic was debate, dialogue, and having difficult conversations. The discussion moved to that moment where individuals or a group have to agree to disagree and move on. And then the professor lifted this question, “How do we know when it goes beyond that? When do we know the moment we can no longer agree to disagree, take a stand, and state simply, ‘No, you are wrong’?” The question has haunted me ever since. And thus, I am writing you this letter dear lifelong friend. Sometimes, friends have to sit down and talk, and sometimes they have to say difficult things when agreement does not seem possible. While I recognize there are differing views about sexual orientation, different interpretations, and understandings, I have to say, dear friend, you are wrong.

To continue to hold a blanket belief that homosexuality is a sin is wrong. To claim a child of God is somehow sinful simply because of who they are and what their sexual orientation is, is wrong. To continue to claim that “we are all sinners,” and yet identify “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” as if this is somehow “different” denies the very grace of God, and is wrong. To continue to refuse ordination to gifted, faithful, and called individuals, does harm to the Body of Christ, and is wrong. To continue to turn away deeply committed Christians, who are in committed, loving, monogamous relationships who long to be married by their pastor and in the church they have embraced and who has embraced them, is to ignore the love and relationship with Jesus Christ in which the church was founded, and it is wrong. To disallow pastors who are called and long to participate fully in some of the most sacred and meaningful celebrations of the members of the church is to disavow that call of God upon their lives, and it is wrong.

Friend, all this being said, I want you to know I am not going anywhere. True friendship does not walk away, but stays engaged, even in the midst of conflict and anxiety until transformation happens. It is my prayer that at the 2019 special General Conference you manage to embrace and name your error and remove these unjust and discriminatory rules that do harm to children of God and the Body of Christ of which you are a part. To date I have promised to stay with you, hold you, fight for you, and I will not let you go. I love you too much.

Remember from where you have come. Remember the grace of God for all. Remember to make justice happen. Remember to love as God loves. Remember to be the very reflection of God in the world around you. I will continue to pray for you, for our General Conference, I will continue to be a prophetic voice, and with this call of the Divine, know sometimes I have to be the thorn.

May it be soon, my friend, may it be soon.
Love and Light for Our Journey –
Your Friend, Kent

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20 Responses to “An Open Letter to an Old Friend”

  1. Raye Street Says:

    Well done, Kent. It is a similar struggle for me. Thank you for daring to say the word ‘wrong’.

  2. Jim Searls Says:

    Well said Kent. We view it wrong to kill and the actions of the UMC have indeed killed. We can no longer be silent and agree to diagree our silence is killing our sisters and brothers.

  3. Brent Oson Says:

    You’re a better man than I, because about a month ago I just left, after hearing something from the pulpit that I simply could not endure without damaging my conscience beyond repair.

  4. Paula Sauder Says:

    Very well written. Let’s work together to bring about change now!

  5. Sandra Soli Says:

    Every time the discipline comes up in a conversation, I go into stress mode. This topic is the elephant in the room for all of us. It’s time to stop ignoring the issue. We have United Methodist clergy as well as congregants who have waited long enough to see the church become Christ’s people in the world.

  6. Marcia N. Burns Says:

    I understand and wholly agree! Thank you for stating it so clearly.
    Methodists are known for our courage and compassion. We say we want to follow Jesus’s model. THIS is the year to stand up and correct this

  7. Mark Wilson Says:

    I am troubled by your “Open Letter.” Your main arguments, while emotionally playing to the hearts of people in America, don’t play well to the heart of God. You say that calling “Homosexuality a sin” is wrong. But by who’s standard? Your standard? the Standard of popular opinion? Certainly not by the standard of scripture. You cannot get around the expressed will of God in scriptures against Homosexuality. Some have creatively tried but their arguments are weak at best. You say that the stance in the discipline, “‘homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching’ denies the very grace of God”. But grace is only grace where there is sin and mercy. Grace is offered but repentance is connected to it. But the Homosexual says to God, “I am not sinning but you have ordained my sexual behavior.” Therefore I don’t need your grace to cover my actions here, because it is within your will and your pleasure. This brings me to your question of what makes the issue of homosexuality different from other sins. What about the Holiness of God? The fact that the practicing homosexual stands and says, “I am not sinning! This is ordained of God, supported by the Scriptures, and in His divine plan for not just me but people!” While it is true that Methodist preached grace, we also preached Truth and Holiness!” Holiness! And yes, Jesus was concerned with Grace and Holiness. While he told the woman caught in adultery he did not condemn her, he did render a judgment. He told her to go, and sin no more!

    Sometimes friends come to a loving separation. This might be the time for this separation. The Episcopal Church in America changed their stance on Homosexuality. As a result the Anglican Church of America was born and is now growing. The Episcopal Church is dying. Members are voting with their feet. And it is now under discipline by the world wide Anglican Church. If the United Methodist Church changes their stance on Homosexuality we will see our members vote with their feet.

    You want Justice, but it seems like you don’t want a Judge. Well, not the God of the Scriptures. And let’s not forget that the first time Jesus came, he came to offer grace to the sinner. But when Jesus comes back he’s coming in judgment! He’s coming to separate the sheep from the goats! And His justice and judgment will not be that of popular opinion. It will be by a standard of righteousness and holiness. It’s by grace, offered to and accepted by the repentant sinner that will “Save us from the wrath to come” as our old friend John Wesley said.

    • littlerev Says:

      Thank you for your comment. It is clear we have a differing interpretation and understand about how and what texts in our bible address when speaking of LGBTQ persons. I pray we can all stay seated fully at the table.

    • Christopher Brush Says:

      Mark, in case you haven’t noticed, Methodists are already voting with their feet. It’s not for the reasons you suggest, however, and in fact it’s quite the opposite. We tolerate all kinds of sinners in our churches, yet certain factions continue to single out “the homosexual” (as you put it). Last time I looked around my church, no one was castigating the gluttons, the liars, the adulterers, the thieves, or the divorced. You might note that the Bible talks more about those things a whole lot more than homosexuality. People have lost faith in the UMC because we are not committed to practicing what we preach. We cannot lead people to God’s grace if we ourselves are unwilling to show it.

    • estherirwin Says:

      Well said.

  8. Kurt Gwartney Says:

    Kent… I’m posting this on the Phillips Seminary Facebook page for the weekend. I wanted to give you a heads up. Thanks for writing this. It’s appreciated.

  9. Travis Carlson Says:

    Well said sir. My wife grew up in a little UMC in NW Kansas. She has the same types of feelings you just expressed in your letter. I am going to show her this tonight. Do you mind if I quote a couple of pieces for my blog next week.

  10. P. Gunn Says:

    Sorry, but I disagree. I still love the sinner but hate the sin. It seems the only thing you want to define a person by is their sexuality. I can not accept gay clergy. However we should welcome all sinners into the church, as we are all sinners.

  11. Mark Wilson Says:

    Interesting that you only post comments from those who agree with you. I thought you were supposed to be open to discussion. Tolerant! open minded!

    • littlerev Says:

      My apologies for my tardy response. I do not respond to every comment. Some I simply “approve.” Response generally takes me a little longer to get to.

  12. Kurt Gwartney Says:

    This article on what the Bible says (or doesn’t say) about homosexuality was written by the Hebrew Bible professor at Phillips Seminary. http://ptstulsa.edu/BibleandHomosexuality

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