Posts Tagged ‘LGBTQ’

Jesus and the Transgender Person

August 1, 2017

Galatians 3:23-39, Matthew 19:10-12

Humans are intriguing creatures. Each of us unique to ourselves and with similarities to others. We are as individual as our own fingerprints and unfortunately often way too predictable as a species. We are a volatile and beautiful mix of nature and nurture, and while we have the intelligence and technology to study this nature and nurture, there is constantly a blurring of the line between the two, and often uncertainty which plays how much of a role.

We are different. A diverse tapestry of personality and emotion. Even within our own families, where children are raised as nearly the same as possible, the differences and diversity are often noticeable from birth. Birth order plays a role. Being an only child plays a role. Traumatic experience plays a role. Parenting practices play a role. And sometimes, it is just our makeup, chemistry, the way the brain fires, and the synapses carry those currents…or not.

I think of my own family and the way my brother, my sister, and I were raised, raised very similarly. And yet, especially after my brother died when I was thirteen, I experienced a much different family dynamic than did my sister, who was out of the home by then, which I know shaped and molded who I am emotionally, psychologically. That dynamic affected how I respond to stimuli, how I react, how I interact in relationships, and of what I am aware in the world around me.

I think of our two boys, raised as near as we could the same, and yet from the very beginning we could tell they were different. Birth order plays a role, and yet, even at a very young age we could put our oldest in the middle of a room and surround him with toys and he would be content and play for hours. He liked to be rocked to sleep every night, didn’t want to be put to bed alone while he was still awake and aware.

Our youngest, we could put him in the middle of the same room surround him with toys and he would be pulling the cord on the table lamp, trying to stick something in the wall outlet, or chasing the cat across the room. He didn’t mind being rocked, but he enjoyed it enough he wouldn’t go to sleep. The only way we could get him to go to sleep, we learned after collection of long nights, was to just go put him in his bed alone, he would go to sleep on his own, out of boredom I suppose.

All this to simply say, we are different, all of us, diverse and unique. It made me think of that saying, “You are unique, just like everyone else!” Some of it is the way we are raised, some of it is the way we are wired from the beginning. It is true for all of us. For today’s message, I am speaking not just to all of us in general and our individual uniqueness, but in particular as it relates to those who are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender.

To a large degree, as I read and study, it becomes more apparent to me, I think it is unfortunate and unjust we (speaking of heterosexual orientation) in society and culture, as well as in the church, we have normalized heterosexual orientation to the point that we have to talk about this in order to inform our actions and relationships toward others as opposed to simply loving and accepting them into our lives, our families, our society and culture, and our churches.

While there continues to be medical studies regarding sexual orientation in terms of nature and nurture, there is growing evidence through brain imaging that sexual orientation is influenced greatly by nature it is the way we are wired, not just heterosexuality but homosexuality as well. It is how we are born. Yes, most studies I have read also cite that nurture, the way we are raised, our experiences, can also affect who we are. However, there is scientific evidence it is also who we are and how we are born. This is a broad statement especially for today’s message and in particular referring to the LGB person in our families, society, and in our churches.

While I selected Jesus and the Transgender Person for my sermon series on Uncomfortable Christianity last May, recent proclamations by our current administration in Washington D.C. regarding transgender persons in the military make today’s message especially relevant. I believe it is important for the church, the community of faith, to understand as best we can, to consider the most faithful way to respond to our country and world whenever such decisions effect our members and communities of persons in the world around us.

So, let me be a little more specific about transgender persons before we look at how Jesus might respond to our current environment.  I think it appropriate to begin with some common terminology and identifiers as we may not all be familiar with some of the language. While we most generally include the T(transgender) in our LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) there are other letters as well. There is also – Q – queer – which I still struggle to include as when I was growing up this was a term used as a weapon to diminish and abuse, however I understand LGBTQ persons, especially in recent years claiming it as their own to take away its power. There is also A – Asexual and I – Intersexual, and there are others as well, all of this signaling the fluidity of sexual orientation and gender identity expression.

I do not pretend to understand all the nuances of these person’s identity or experience, though I do try to study and understand as best I can, but my only experience is heterosexual orientation and cis-gender (denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender corresponds with their birth sex.) – which I acknowledge carries with it a power of position and privilege that needs to be noted held in check.

In other words, I believe this is important and crucial for the church, and for myself to address and hold before us as a person of privilege, as one who has never experienced nor feared discrimination or the loss of a job, or verbal abuse, or physical violence, or been told I cannot serve my country, simply because of who I am, such privilege carries with it responsibility to not only name it, but to use it to speak to the injustice and abuse that is leveled toward those who are discriminated against and oppressed.

This is not only a civil and human rights issue, this is a theological issue for the church and how we understand the love and grace of God and how we are called to live that love and grace in the world around us!

I want to point out just a few things regarding transgender persons specifically, I have learned through study and conversation with transgender persons outside of and within our community of faith here at CHUM.

In statistical studies by the Human Rights Campaign, n 2016 at least 22 deaths of transgender people in the United States due to fatal violence, the most ever recorded. These victims were killed by acquaintances, partners and strangers. 2017 has already seen at least 15 transgender people fatally shot or killed by other violent means.

Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24. The rate of suicide attempts is 4 times greater for LGB youth. In a national study, 40% of transgender adults reported having made a suicide attempt. 92% of these individuals reported having attempted suicide before the age of 25.

LGB youth who come from highly rejecting families are 8.4 times as likely to have attempted suicide as LGB peers who reported no or low levels of family rejection.

Each episode of LGBT victimization, such as physical or verbal harassment or abuse, increases the likelihood of self-harming behavior by 2.5 times on average. (in this and other ways I believe the church is complicit through doctrine, policy, statement, and silence)

Spanish investigators, led by psychobiologist Antonio Guillamon of the National Distance Education University in Madrid and neuropsychologist Carme Junqué Plaja of the University of Barcelona in a MRI brain imaging study made the following statement – “Trans people have brains that are different from males and females, a unique kind of brain,” “It is simplistic to say that a female-to-male transgender person is a female trapped in a male body. It’s not because they have a male brain but a transsexual brain.”

In a Boston University study, a biological connection with transgender persons was made as well. Not everyone is born into clear XY or XX chromosomes, there is a wide range spectrum, there are XXY or XXX, XYY, and other combinations. All this to say, we are born this way, it is not something that is chosen or something that can somehow be cured.

Douglas John Hall, Canadian theologian suggests in his book, “Thinking the Faith, Christian Theology in a North American Context,” we not only allow the scriptures and our theology to interpret the world around us, our culture and current experience must also be allowed to interpret and inform our theology and study of the scriptures. In other words, while we embrace our scriptures as a guide for our faith, we must recognize current understandings and discoveries and let this new knowledge inform our readings of scripture and our development of theology and practice.

So, how should the community of faith respond to a culture, a society, a church that continues to diminish, discriminate, abuse, and reject those of differing orientations and gender identities? There are some specific clues in our scriptures. In terms of orientation, the passages that are most often used to support discrimination and abuse are passages outlined in the purity laws which are designed to maintain tribal procreation and boundaries. Other passages are condemning of particular practices; non-consensual, abusive, promiscuous, unequal power and status. As far as loving, consensual, equal, mutual relationships between same gender persons, it is not in our scriptures.

As for passages, I might identify as relating to transgender and gender identity specific would perhaps be passages regarding eunuchs. Eunuchs, as you may know where often made eunuchs by crushing or removing the testicles of a male to provide protection for the king’s wives so they did not have to worry about the protectors having sexual desires, so to speak.

Regarding religious treatment, in the Hebrew scriptures, eunuchs were barred from the temple as well, they could not worship there. They were discriminated against. There is a citation in the book of Acts where a eunuch is welcomed into the Way of Jesus which indicates a place in the church for those who would identify differently in gender. The passage we read from Matthew, Jesus identifies not only those who were made that way, or those who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kindom, but also indicates those who are eunuchs from birth, they were born that way. Jesus, we are told here in Matthew, makes way for those who are of differing gender identity from how they may appear as their birth identity.

And of course, there is the passage from Galatians we read that might be paraphrased, or addendum added, and interpreted to say, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, no longer straight, nor gay, or lesbian, nor bisexual, nor transgender, there is no longer male and female;”

For in the community of faith, in the church, in the family of God, all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

For me this does not, nor should it, negate our diversity, our difference, it does not deny we are made up of straight, gay, lesbian, bi, transgender, but it says, we all belong, we are ALL, ALL children of the Divine, unique and authentically valued and sacred. I believe that is what Jesus would say.

The church, the community of faith cannot continue to be silent and complicit in the neglect and abuse of transgender persons, LGB persons, or any person, lives are at stake!

This is what Jesus would say to the church universal today, to the empire today, Did Say!

I would close with words, with an edit or two, from author blogger Glennon Doyle, “Straight, Gay, and especially in today’s cultural and religious context Transgender – “God says YES to you. God is FOR you and God made you just as you are and God says yes even when God’s beloved institutions, and the institutions of law and government … even when they have joined forces against you….  and are screaming NOT YET.” God still says “Yes!”

We See You. We Stand with You. God Loves You. We Love You. Period.

May it be so. May it be soon. May it be Now!

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I Will Persist; A Response.

April 30, 2017

One might consider this writing an addendum #2 to my previous writings in regards to our United Methodist Church’s continued mishandling of our stance on human sexuality, and in particular LGBTQ persons, both lay and clergy, and their role in our church. It can seem, at least to me, I have written about this too many times, but alas, as an ally and the lead clergy of a Reconciling Congregation, I refuse to be silent.

This current writing is a response to the recent United Methodist Judicial Council ruling in regards to the election of a gay or lesbian clergy to the episcopacy. I have hesitated in my response in part because I wanted to respond as best I could and not simply react. I have hesitated in my response in part because the ruling is not simple nor is it easy to understand. I have hesitated in my response because not only am I still heartbroken and weary, I am frustrated and I suppose still a little angry as well. I have been inspired and encouraged by colleagues and others who have written responses and analysis in clear, concise ways that have done a good job of keeping the emotion and anxiety at a minimum. I confess, I am not there yet, but I feel compelled to respond nonetheless.

I am not going to try and explain the ruling other than saying this, if I understand it correctly, while the Council found the election of Bishop Karen Oliveto violated church law, she is still a bishop in good standing, however now the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church, who elected her, will now have to seek resolution to the complaints that have been filed against her. It is entirely possible she could be defrocked, forced to retire, or there could be a just resolution and she remain bishop. It could be seen as a bit of both/and, there is still work to be done.

There is still some remnant of hope, at least for me, Bishop Oliveto will remain and serve faithfully and gracefully as a bishop in our United Methodist Church. However, the Council also set a dangerous precedent, if I understand it correctly, in a directive that Boards of Ordained Ministry be required to inquire as to ministerial candidate’s sexual orientation and also their practice. As a result, this decision and ruling was not just about Bishop Oliveto and bishops to follow her, this ruling does harm to all LGBTQ persons in our church, both lay and clergy, as well as LGBTQ persons in our society and culture at large when we deny God might have the audacity to call them into ordained ministry.

I am not surprised by the Council’s rulings; however, I am deeply heartbroken, and yes even angry. It is beyond me why a clergy in good standing, regardless of their sexual orientation, elected to the office of bishop in their respective jurisdiction is the concern of anyone other than their electing jurisdictional body. It is beyond me why a group or individual from a different conference and jurisdiction would feel the need to challenge the election. And I believe, this is the will of the Discipline, and the intent of the Western Jurisdiction’s reasoning at the hearing.

That being said, there are those who would say this is only a symptom of a larger problem of biblical authority and interpretation. Perhaps surprisingly, I would agree, and am continually frustrated by our insistence on the authority of the Discipline versus careful and good scholarship regarding our scriptures. Careful study of the scriptures would show the understanding of same gender relations in our canon of scripture and the passages used to condemn the children of God who are LGBTQ are limited to purity laws and abusive, nonconsensual, promiscuous, unequal, and non-mutual practices. These passages used to condemn LGBTQ children of God in the world at large and in our church, have nothing to do with mutual, consenting, committed, loving relationships between two adults, whether they be same gender or opposite gender. Condemnation for loving committed same gender relationships is not in there.

In my own journey in understanding the faith and in particular in relation to LGBTQ children of God, there is too much denial going on within the people of God, and in our context, the UMC. In regards our UMC’s current raging storm of how we are to move forward as a relevant church in the world my study of the scriptures, tradition, my own experience and reason has led me to three understandings of those who would deny LGBTQ person’s full participation in the church. Either one has not had the opportunity to do, study, or hear good critical biblical scholarship regarding same gender relations, one refuses to do, study, or hear good critical biblical scholarship regarding same gender relations, or one has done the study, hearing of good critical biblical scholarship regarding same gender relations and chooses to deny its veracity.

All of this to say while I am disappointed and disheartened at the Judicial Council’s ruling, I am still hopeful. While this points our denomination in a direction I would prefer it not travel, there is still important work to be done, in particular by the Bishop’s Commission on a Way Forward. This ruling by the Council makes the Commission’s work even more critical and crucial if we are to move forward in a relevant, compassionate, inclusive, and loving way. There is still hope.

In the meantime, I hope you will continue to persist with me, hope with me, engage with me, speak up with me, and pray with me that our church will preserve and prevail in love and welcome of all God’s children. For I am convinced grace and inclusion, welcome and love are The Way forward into a future where all God’s children are welcome on all sides of the table of Jesus Christ as we transform this world into a more compassionate, passionate, and just world. We shall overcome.

 

Peace and Light for Our Journey,

Rev. Kent H. Little

The Approaching Storm II an Addendum and Apology

April 21, 2017

I wrote yesterday of what I see as an approaching storm in our United Methodist Church. A friend and colleague responded which prompted a 3:00am wakening with a thought and a need for an addendum to yesterday’s writing.

While I always try to be aware and conscious of my privilege in the church, and larger culture and society as a straight, white, male, I woke in the night realizing I had written yesterday’s blog straight out of that privilege without acknowledging or even realizing it! And, for those for whom I presumed to speak without thought or sensitivity I apologize.

Here is what I mean and why I write again. My friend and colleague indicated he has “spent a good part of his ministry picking up the pieces” of the United Methodist Church’s continued harm to LGBTQ persons in our church by telling them they are not only incompatible, not worthy, and unwelcome to serve or even be married in the church, but denied the fact that the Spirit of God might even have the audacity to call them into ministry! The Storm has been raging for a long time.

I write this morning this addendum and apology because I had the audacity to suggest the storm had not yet arrived! It has been here. This storm has been wreaking havoc in the church for 40 plus years. It has been uprooting, devastating, and ruining lives for over 40 years, in some cases even contributing to the ending of lives. Who am I to say the storm is approaching? To a large degree, as a straight, white, male, I have no clue to depths of pain and struggle and storm LGBTQ persons have been enduring in the church let alone society and culture in general. But in the church our LGBTQ members and clergy this storm has been slinging debris far too long. In my privilege I have been huddled in the basement at best, and watching it all from the door at worst. Maybe it is time for those of us with privilege to rush into the storm that is already raging!

Granted there is an approaching sense of anxiety with the Judicial Council’s deliberations next week and the Bishop’s Commission recommendation at the Called Conference in 2019, but in reality this is not the approaching of the storm, this was the General Conference finally forcing the issue. This was a jurisdiction who said, we have a qualified, gifted, called of God candidate for Bishop and this is who we will elect. This was the General Conference saying, “We have watched the storm from the doorway for too long, and too many lives have been left strewn upon the lawns of our church, left knocking on the doors, and we need to decide who we are, a church of the grace and love of Jesus Christ, or not.”

Perhaps a better analogy is that the storm approached years ago, at least 40 years ago, and we have been huddled in our basement or standing at the door watching as too many have been left in the wake of spiritual and theological malpractice, left in the wake of a church who refuses to let go of the door and finally let the winds of the Spirit blow it open or better yet, blow it off its hinges.

As I have pondered my writing of yesterday I stand corrected, the storm is not approaching, the storm is here my friends. And the church, the United Methodist Church needs to get out of the doorway and let it open. There will still be pieces to pick up. We will still need to pray and discern how we will respond to the upcoming decisions. We still need to keep the church, the Council, and the Commission in our prayers. I do pray for unity, but as from a book recently read by Rachel Held Evans, “unity does not require uniformity.” But regardless, we cannot continue to remain huddled in the basement in fear of the storm, nor can we simply stand in the doorway and watch the destruction of lives and families. Let go of the door church, and trust the Spirit knows what it is doing.

Pray, Reflect, Meditate, and Hold Us All in the Light.

Rev. Kent

Beautiful Hearts

April 2, 2017

We attended the Trans Day of Visibility: Rally for Equality. I confess, I know and understand very little about the journey of transgender persons and what they have been through, though I know many and am educating myself by studying, listening to their stories, respecting their presence and rights, deliberately seeing them, and loving them. While I can never fully understand, I can understand better. As it was said at the Rally Friday, it is up to me, up to us to do the work of study and educating of ourselves to try and better understand what our transgender friends and family are going through and have been through. I am working on that, I want to better understand so I can be a better pastor, ally, advocate, friend, … a better person in my loving of all of God’s children…all of us.

trans

Speakers at the rally shared stories of loss and pain. Friday I heard not just stories of bullying and hatred, but witnessed it firsthand. I listened as speakers shared of youth and adults who have ended their lives because of religion, culture, and society who diminish and belittle who and whose they are, and I was moved to tears. I can only hope to somehow understand a small fraction of the pain and fear they have encountered on their journey, but I can be here for them as they make that journey, we can all be here for them as they make that journey. Transgender persons and their journeys, though filled with tragedy and pain, fear, risk, and struggle, are courageous and beautiful, all of them.

I think of that familiar passage about the anointing of David when God shares that God looks upon the heart. I can honestly say, the transgender persons I have encountered and come to know, have beautiful hearts of grace, compassion, courage, and love. I have much to learn from my transgender brothers and sisters that already has and will continue to deepen my understanding and walk with them as well as my walk with God in Christ. I am grateful and I look forward to a new journey each morning!

For our church, here at College Hill. The first of the year I had the congregation fill out note cards expressing what they loved about CHUM, why they came, what was our purpose. I shared those responses in our newsletter and we will be visiting them at our next Extended Council meeting. While we want to be aware and attentive to all the responses, the overwhelming nature of the responses had to do with our open, loving, welcoming, and inclusive posture and vision. We will be focusing on that and talking about how we can better share that message not only with our current membership but with our city and Annual Conference.

I want to emphasize my place here in this writing in that I stand with and will advocate for transgender persons, and gay, lesbian, bi-sexual persons, and those regardless of sexual orientation, race, gender, and age who are marginalized and oppressed. It is my passion, my vocation, my calling, and I believe what and who God with Christ has called me to be in this world so filled with brokenness, bigotry, hate, and exclusion.

I implore our society, city, state, country, and religious communities, to stop the discrimination and hate. Sit down with someone, talk less and listen more to the stories of those who simply want to live authentically as they were created to be. Here at CHUM, we are, and can be even more of a beacon of justice, grace, wisdom, and love. It is a beautiful way to join the beauty of this diverse tapestry of us God has created. Join me won’t you?

It is one of the many ways we seek to be faithful to the Spirit and one another here at the Hill, where you are one of the community, the whole community of God’s children!  Here where there is always an open door, a safe space, a warm welcome, and a place at the table.   Until next week, God bless, and know you are never alone.

Pastor Kent

The Evolution of Our Discourse

February 1, 2017

It is an evolution of conversation. There was a day in political as well as religious discourse when reaching across divides, finding common ground, give and take, even dare I say, compromise, was the work of those in leadership. We are years, perhaps even decades beyond that notion, it seems an almost fantasy laden idealism now as I look at our culture and society today.

For at least eighteen to twenty years I have been saying our society and culture, be it in the halls of government or the hallowed halls of the church, has devolved into an us versus them attitude. I have been guilty of it as well, my way or the highway mentality. I slip into that frame of mind when I find myself frustrated, overwhelmed, and tired. I have shared on more than one occasion that we are a nation, church, perhaps even world who have an insatiable need to be right and an insatiable need to be right at the expense of someone else. There seems no longer room for civil discussion, committed engagement, and compromise that furthers the common good of all.

I wrote a blog a year ago telling my denomination it is wrong in its treatment of LGBTQ persons. I still believe that. I stand by it with every fiber of my being, informed by my study of scripture, the traditions of the faith, my own experience, and reason… the foundations of my journey of faith! And while I believe this unequivocally I believe there is room for discussion and compromise in ways that build up the church that no longer does violence and harm to the faithful who are LGBTQ.

It is larger than that though. It is an issue and a problem that reaches across the landscape of what I believe to be God’s vision for the world and our corner of it. This notion of the need to be right has evolved into an even deeper ingrained entrenchment of society. It is an all or none scenario, and I would say, arguments that play the, us vs them, in ways that are untenable and unsustainable.

The extreme ends of any issue seem to believe that if they can even find one person that upholds their views it must be true for all and the other is obviously wrong. We no longer consider the middle ground of gray to even be a valid part of the discussion. It seems we have forgotten how difficult engaged and committed citizenship and faith are. It is not an easy thing this “We the People” or as the one of my tradition stated, how very difficult it is to practice “the narrow way.” You have to want this kind of freedom and place in the world badly and to continue with the incivility and bigotry is the easy way out because one does not have take responsibility for their own participation in the problems they can just blame someone else. Perhaps what we all need is a mirror.

I am often drawn to the words of a favorite speech in the movie The American President, when the character Andrew Shepard shares these words,

America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight. It’s gonna say, “You want free speech? Let’s see you acknowledge a man whose words make your blood boil, who’s standing center stage and advocating at the top of his lungs that which you would spend a lifetime opposing at the top of yours.” You want to claim this land as the land of the free? Then the symbol of your country cannot just be a flag. The symbol also has to be one of its citizens exercising his right to burn that flag in protest. Now show me that, defend that, celebrate that in your classrooms.

Then you can stand up and sing about the land of the free.

One of the reasons I like this quote so much is I hear it applying not only to our political landscape in our country and world, but also to the religious landscape, especially in our own United Methodist Church. Living together as progressive and conservative Christians as well as other religious theologies and ideologies is hard work, “You have to want it bad!” Sharing our passion and commitment to our vision of the world and the church requires the ability and finesse of finding common ground that ensures the common good of ALL concerned, not just the privileged few.

Maybe this writing is preaching to myself, I certainly know I have been guilty, but the question keeps coming back to me and so I will pass it on to those who take time to read, “How long?” How long will we refuse to listen? How long will we continue to make one another the enemy rather than owning we are all in this together? How long will we continue to deny we belong to one another? It takes ALL of us.

Life it too short to deny basic rights, equality, and justice to all of our citizenry, to all of God’s children. Life is too short to unfriend, belittle, attack physically and verbally, life is too short to live in hate and suspicion of the other. These are the reasons I continue to speak, to march, to protest, and to listen.

But if we continue on this path of exclusion, closed doors, closed hearts, closed minds, of either or with no common ground… will devour ourselves. There will be more of these ponderings… this is what is on my mind today.

Peace Be –

Kent

The Throw Down

November 14, 2016

It takes a long time to construct our institutions. It takes a long time to construct those things we hold as sacred. It takes a long time to construct those things we hold close to our hearts and souls. It takes a lifetime to construct how, what, where, we believe, and encounter one another and God. It takes a lifetime to construct our passion and journey discovering what we believe God wants for our faith and our life. It takes a lifetime.

Depending on what scholar one reads, the temple of Jesus’ day took somewhere between a few years and 46 years to construct. It takes a long time to construct those things that feel sacred in our lives and faith. 46 years in Jesus’ day was a lifetime.

Construction work today is hard work, whether is talking literally or metaphorically. Construction work was literally a whole lot more difficult in Jesus day, and certainly as hard metaphorically.

The journey of construction is difficult work. Whether we are talking literally constructing a physical thing, temple, church, house, office, etc., or whether we are talking about constructing our life and faith. In my own experience, regarding our life and faith journey, it takes building and tearing down, questions and supposed answers, second guessing, doubts, grief, tears, laughter, celebrations, heartache, and struggle.

And when one thinks they know, according to authors such as Richard Kearney in “Anatheism, Returning to God after God” and John Caputo in “What Would Jesus Deconstruct?” once we think we have the faith, the journey, God figured out, it is time to deconstruct those images, admit we can know virtually nothing about God and begin all over again our quest to understand.

It is heart breaking to believe in an ideal, to trust the sacredness of our hopes and dreams, it is devastating to trust, know, believe to the very core of who we are; what we know of the Kindom of God, what the peaceable Kindom is supposed to look like, what justice, kindness, and humility ought to be about, to know in our very heart of hearts what the common good for all should be, and have it destroyed, attacked, and torn asunder.

That is what many heard when Jesus suggested “not one stone will be left upon the other; all will be thrown down.” It had taken years, decades, lifetimes to build and he is suggesting it was all for naught. At the time this was written the temple was already gone. It was already devastated, destroyed, not one stone was left upon another, which I have no doubt influenced the writing of this text. It had to, what one of us could experience such a devastating event and it not effect and influence everything we do?

So here I am, and we need to talk, and listen, and be together. First, I am not going to presume nor critique how any of we in our community of CHUM voted in the recent election. Not only would that be inappropriate and unethical for me, but illegal in this setting and context.

I am a political junky, I suppose not to the extent of many, but I have long loved to read about, see, study, and watch the political process unfold. It is an interesting place to be as a clergy person who is staunchly committed to the separation of church and state. I often find myself dancing with that line between my own personal opinion and political passion and my role as pastor and religious leader in the church I serve and the broader world. But, for the most part I think I do well the dance along that line staying true to our founders and their passion for a freedom of and from religious privilege in our government, while honoring the diverse expression of religious and non-religious belief and practice in our country. And while I believe this, there are some things we need to talk about this morning.

There are those in our world, in our country, in our community, and here in our church who are grieving. I want to say, it is okay, grief is fine, normal, and important, and I nor anyone here or outside these walls has the right to diminish your grief in the aftermath of hopes unrealized and dreams shattered. No One. Tears, anger, confusion, bargaining, are all part of the grieving process, and those of us who are grieving need to take as long as we need to in order to process what we are going through. I am here for you, whatever your grief looks like, on whatever side of the political and ideological aisle you find yourself on. You are not alone!

As for the politics of our day, I have colleagues and friends who tell me the discussion of politics has no place in the church, or at the Thanksgiving table either. If by that they mean partisan, political party politics in the church, I wholeheartedly agree! We are not going to talk about Republican, Democrat, Independent, Green Party, Libertarian, etc., it is not going to happen.  But if by that we mean politics in any sense of the word, I disagree. Jesus was deeply political, a fierce critic of the oppressive political structures in his day in the church and in the government. I have had to really struggle with what I wanted to say this morning, dancing that line of separation of church and state.

I have been wrestling and dancing in the tension between gentle pastoral care and prophetic anger and passion. I thought I was firmly in place in my gentle preparation for today, until I continued following the news and media. While I will not talk partisan party politics I will be an active, loud, committed, and unrelenting voice against the politics of fear regardless of who is using it.

I attended a peaceful protest and gathering Friday evening. I was present and supportive of all who were there. Not so much because of the outcome of the election. My presence and support at this protest rally was in love and support of those who have been targeted and harassed by what has been unleashed by the campaign; women harassed by strangers on the street, fear and slurs directed at persons of other religions, livelihoods and marriages threatened and increased bigotry toward those LGBTQ persons. This protest rally was not about sour grapes or being “crybabies” because a candidate lost. This protest rally was about REAL emboldened and blatant harassment, hatred, and bigotry in our country and our communities as a result of the campaign rhetoric and hate directed at certain groups of God’s children. I will not be silent nor will I stand by and passively listen to others condemn persons who are being targeted and harassed. Please think before you speak! If you disagree and want to talk about it I am here. If you are threatened and afraid and need a safe person and place to talk, I am here.

Yes, when I encounter these things I too get angry, but our anger in and of itself will do us, me, no good, we need to find ways to channel it and my channel will be do all I can to make justice happen! I will Love as God Loves! I will to the best of my ability be the very reflection of God’s love and justice in the world!

My grief and struggle over the last few days, over the last year, is not about political ideology, though that is the context in which it was often born. What has broken my heart is borne out of my faith in God and my role as pastor as I witness the fear and pain that has been instilled because of the vitriol language, hatred, and bigotry that seems to have raised its ugly head in so many ways.

I am profoundly aware I need to temper my words so as to not assume I know or have experienced the kind of fear and hate many are feeling today because I do not and have not. I am white, male, and straight, and as such, I carry a certain amount of privilege. My responsibility is to listen and stand with those who have come to trust me enough to be vulnerable.

When I listen with those who have been the victims of sexual assault and we feel that recent comments made, objectifying women, have fueled and normalized that kind of talk and abuse, and it brings all of that experience back for them, my heart is heavy. And I say… Enough!

When I listen with those who are lesbian, gay, trans-gender, and bi-sexual who fear for their livelihood and their marriage and family because their rights have been promised to be reversed, my heart is heavy.
I say… Enough!

When I listen with immigrants and parents who are of a different color and national origin who had to comfort their children the morning after the election because their children feared they would be sent away, my heart is heavy.
I say… Enough!

When listen with those who are disabled fear they will be mocked and chided even more than they have been in the past, my heart is heavy. When I listen with persons of color victims of racism, still rampant in our society and culture, who are made to feel less than simply because of the color of their skin, my heart is heavy.
I say… Enough!

When I sit in the Mosque and pray with my Muslim friends, brothers, and sisters and listen to their stories. Stories of hate filled language, suspicious looks, vandalism against their place of worship, and fear of their neighbors, my heart is heavy.
I say… Enough!

It’s time to listen to ourselves. It is time to listen to one another. We need to listen not to diminish, not to critique, not to try and fix the others anger or grief, not even to respond. We need to listen, really listen to one another, to understand what all of us are going through.

We all process and deal with grief and anger, heartache and fear differently. I would encourage you to not cast it off too soon. Don’t just smooth it over for smoothing over sake. Sit with it for as long as you need, abide with it for as long as you need, breathe it in and breathe it out. When you are ready we will gather together. We will gather to figure out how, what, when, we want to do something. We will gather to find hope, find support for our grief, tears for our tears, and love for our Fears.

It is already happening, I have had numerous persons reach out to me over the last few days with questions, “What do I do?” “Where do I turn?” “How can I help?”

We will gather here to do the work of compassion and hope. I here at College Hill we do discuss politics. But never a politic that divides, always a politic that unites and brings us all, ALL together. And not only politics but unity. There will be those who will call us to come together and unify. This is good, but not unity for unity’s sake. Never a unity that denies compassion and justice.

We may need unity…
But never unity at the expense of humanity.

We may need unity …
But never unity with a system that governs by fear.

We may need unity…
But never unity with rights for just a few.

We may need unity…
But never unity with oppression and hate.

We may need unity…
But never a unity with a politic of intimidation and privilege.

Because…

In the church, here at College Hill,

Here we believe in the politics of hope not intimidation.

Here we believe in the politics of compassion on bigotry.

Here we believe in the politics of inclusion not exclusion.

Here we believe in the politics of the rights and humanity of ALL not just a few.

Here we believe in the politics that we are all children of the divine regardless of the religion or lack thereof we practice or not, not the politics of who is in and who is out.

Here we believe in the politics of the human race not racism.

Here we believe in the politics of welcome not locked doors.

Here we believe in the politics of justice for all not just the few.

Here we believe in the politics of kindness not threat.

Here we believe in the politics of humility not arrogance.

Here we believe in the politics of Love not fear!

We will be gathering a group together in the next week and a half. A group to brainstorm, support, and figure out what to do. We need to do something to support those in our midst who know the real fear of threat to their families, livelihoods, and lives AND especially those beyond these walls who are living in fear and uncertainty. It is not enough to stand idly by with only words of support and comfort. We have to put actions behind our words, ALL of us. It doesn’t have to be anything huge, though I have some pretty grand ideas for a few things. We need to start small, knock on a neighbor’s door and tell them you care. Take a plate of cookies to the Mosque, or The Center downtown, offer you support, your solidarity, your presence, and your love. We will rise, and we will rise together for Justice, Kindness, Humility, and Love.      This. IS. SO. Amen.

 

These are lyrics to a song written by Joe Crookston sung following this sermon and communion together here at College Hill UMC.

My father, he could use a little mercy now. The fruits of his labor, falling right slowly on the ground. His work is almost over, won’t be long he won’t be around, and I love my father, he could use some mercy now.

My brother, he could use a little mercy now. He’s a stranger to freedom, shackled to his fears and his doubts. The pain that he lives in, is almost more than living will allow. And I love my brother, he could use some mercy now.

My church and my country, they could use a little mercy now. As they sink into a poison pit, it’s going to take forever to climb out. And they carry the weight of the faithful, as they follow them down. And I love my church and country, and they could use some mercy now.

Yeah, I love my church and country, they could use some mercy now.

Yeah, we all, we could use a little mercy now. We may not deserve it, we need it anyhow. We hang in the balance between hell and hallowed ground. Every single one of us, could use some mercy now. Yeah, we all, could use some mercy now.

 

A Broad Tent United Methodist Church?

October 11, 2016

I am a second generation Methodist/United Methodist clergy. My father, a United Methodist Elder, served in the Methodist/United Methodist Church for thirty three years. I was born into the Methodist/United Methodist church, was baptized in 1959 and confirmed and became a full member in 1972. My journey toward ordained ministry was similar to my father’s. I spent a good deal of time running the other way from my calling, finally entering the process toward ordination at the age of thirty-two. At this date I have been in pastoral ministry in the United Methodist Church for twenty-four years. All this simply to say, I am a lifelong Methodist/United Methodist of fifty-seven years.

I share this writing as I watch our United Methodist Denomination continue to struggle to stay united and one. I wrote a blog sometime back about the United Methodist Church’s official position on same gender relationships, and while this date’s writing may take a gentler tone, I remain firm in my views on that position.

I write this day wondering about the future of the Broad Tent United Methodist Church under which I grew up. There are many, not unlike myself, who have used that language to speak to inquiring persons as they ask questions about our denomination, as well as long time members who are on the journey to better understand who and how we are in the church. Language that speaks to the truth that we are not a creedal church, language of a Broad Tent denomination where there is room for a breadth of conservative evangelical members as well as liberal progressive members. I have heard those words from conservative evangelical and liberal progressive lay persons, clergy, and bishops. We are a Theologically Broad Tent denomination.

That being said, this writing is about two primary and current topics in our denomination. One is the bishop’s commission being created to study our current disciplinary language regarding human sexuality and in particular our church’s position on same gender relationships. If we are indeed a church that is of open door, open heart, open mind…if we are indeed a church with a theologically Broad Tent of belief and practice, I am troubled by the apparent makeup of the commission. The makeup of the commission as of this date appears to be twenty-one clergy, eight of whom are bishops, and eight lay persons. Theologically speaking I do not know the makeup of the commission. However, to have an imbalance of clergy to laity seems to me to strike at the heart of who we are as a denomination. Our Annual Conferences and our General Conference work hard at equity and equal representation. Not to mention we are creating a commission to determine a recommendation about how the church will move forward in relation to our LGBTQ members, and though I do not know the orientation of any of the suggested commission members, our LGBTQ members are not mentioned and I would assume then, not included. An unfortunate exclusion and rejection once again with LGBTQ persons on the outside looking in having to wait for someone else to decide whether they are welcome or not. Such exclusion from the commission is unjust and not in keeping with a so-called Broad Tent denomination. It grieves me and I can only imagine the pain and anger my LGBTQ friends and colleagues feel.

My other concern with our long championed notion of a Broad Tent theological denomination is in regards to a recently formed group, The Wesleyan Covenant Association. I think it is wonderful for like-minded Christians to gather together to share ideas, theologies, purpose, mission, and worship. I do that on a regular basis. I am a member of the Reconciling Ministries Network, and my affiliation with this group feeds my heart and soul whenever we gather in prayer, worship, conversation, and brainstorming ideas. My concern rests with the portion of their covenant that would appear to nullify the Broad Tent denomination we have long claimed to be.

In referencing the bishop’s commission a portion of their statement includes the following: A plan that requires traditionalists to compromise their principles and understanding of Scripture, including any form of the “local option” around ordination and marriage, will not be acceptable to the members of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, stands little chance of passing General Conference, would not definitively resolve our conflict, and would, in fact, lead to the fracturing of the church.

While I would agree with the beginning words that a plan should not compromise their principles and understanding of scripture, I would hope the same courtesy would be offered to those who embrace other understandings of Scripture which shape principles and practice. The portion of the statement that would allow for a Broad Tent, i.e. “local option” around ordination and marriage, as not acceptable, would indicate that no longer would we consider a Broad Tent understanding to be tenable. I pray this would not be the case. To lose this sense of a willingness to live in community, with Christians, United Methodists of all stripes; conservative evangelical, liberal progressive, straight and gay, to lose this community with a broad understanding of theology and practice grieves my heart and at least in my life and faith would diminish our denomination’s appeal and work in the world around us. I have served eight congregations in my twenty-four years of ministry and have cherished each and every one of those congregations, none of whose members all agreed with me, nor I with them one hundred percent. Still I am committed to the belief that diversity and a willingness to acknowledge difference and still work together participating with the Spirit in bringing the Kindom here within and among us is a gift and a grace of God.

I hold our United Methodist Denomination in The Light of prayer and the Spirit every day, all of us, because I still believe in the hope and grace of the theologically Broad Tent denomination in which I was raised and in which I serve. We are all in this together, at least that is my hope and prayer. Perhaps in 2018 we will see how it all turns out. I pray there is still a place for all of us, for my more conservative evangelical friends and colleagues, a place for me, a place for my LGBTQ friends and colleagues, a place for inclusion and grace. I pray.

May it be so. May it be soon.

Rev. Kent H. Little

Tragedy and Prayers

June 23, 2016

What is prayer for you?

The teaching we are focused on this morning is Jesus’ words from Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount addressing prayer. I had intended to talk about public prayer versus private prayer; the notion of prayer in school, before government meetings, sporting events, etc. I still want to do that briefly. But it seems to me Jesus is pretty clear about how he feels regarding prayers in public. A paraphrase might be perhaps it best you don’t do it, or at least, if we do, don’t ramble on and on just to hear the eloquent words one might be able to string together.

Prayer for the most part, should be kept to an intimate conversation with God, in private, one on one.

When you pray, don’t be like those show-offs who love to stand up and pray in the meeting places and on the street corners. They do this just to look good. – don’t talk on and on as people do who don’t know God. They think God likes to hear long prayers. Don’t be like them.

When you pray, go into a room alone and close the door. Pray to God in private. Your God knows what you need before you ask.

I am not sure how much more expounding those teachings need. Are they still relevant today? I believe so, I think we could all find a lesson in those words. I have been guilty of the first. There have been times I have been invited to pray at our city council meetings and once the invocation for the opening session of the Senate in Topeka. I confess, I work really hard at making my public prayers conversations with God and not a directive to the hearers. However, while driving home from Topeka that day and my good friend, who knows me well, called and I told him I had just delivered the invocation at the Capital, he asked me, “So, were you prayin’ or preachin’?” I had to confess to my friend, “I was preachin’”

I have been grateful for the latter. I have found profound comfort, solace, as well as challenge and been disturbed in my private prayers behind closed doors.

I have been known to say there is a line between praying and preaching, and it is not a fine line, it is a bold one, a chasm. If one is praying to get a message across to those in the meeting hall, the sports arena, even the church meeting, rather than talking to God, one is not praying any longer one is preaching! And it is exactly what Jesus is addressing here. And he doesn’t like it!

So, I’m not sure what more I can add to that. While pondering prayer over the last many weeks, I have really been wrestling with what to say this morning. Especially, around prayer, and the horrific events of Orlando and so many other tragedies. I want to speak to it, and in so many ways, I have no words. As I listen and read some responses to the tragedy I find myself wishing others would have no words as well.
What do we say as a community of faith? How do we speak a faithful word in the midst of such pain and devastation? It is important that we speak, but where do we begin?

Here at College Hill we began last week with a vigil and a prayer service. This prayer flag was created by Cate Adams and is made up of the 49 names of those victims of the mass shooting and the colored cards are prayers and thoughts written by those who attended the vigil through the day on Tuesday.Prayer Flags

I still struggle with what to say and do in moments of my own reflections. While I have been critiqued for sharing this before by colleagues, let me say this anyway, perhaps we do not begin by continuing the mantra of “the families are in our thoughts and prayers.” For me it has become the subject of Jesus’ teaching, “people who talk on and on as people do who don’t know God.” It has become the mantra in particular of leaders and authorities who express words of outrage and prayer with no action, and for some only serves to deepen the anxiety and distrust in our country.

Bear with me for a moment, and let me tell a story.

I was I believe in the fourth or fifth grade when it happened. I was sitting in my bedroom at a card table building a model car. You know the kind from a box with all the plastic pieces molded into a framework you had to twist and free in order to put together. I had my paints and glue spread out on the table. As I was working on one piece it had significant excess plastic I could not manage to remove just with my fingers.

I went out to the garage to rummage through my father’s toolbox and retrieved a small cardboard box, kind of like a matchbox, except this on contained single-edged razor blades. Yes, I know you are probably way ahead of me at this point. I returned to my project, pulled out a blade and removed the cardboard shield and went to work.

The blade slipped off and I managed to cut just below my thumb nearly to the bone. I went into the kitchen and yelled for my dad. He found me standing, two bloodied hands and dripping on the floor. He took me into the bathroom and began running cold water over the wound and said, “Son, this is going to need stitches.” He called the doctor in our little town and we headed to his office.

Dr. Ubelaker was, at least in my nine or ten year old mind, perhaps described best as the old country doctor. He still made house calls when he needed to. He was perhaps a little gruff, or at least that was my memory, or maybe just a man of few words. Anyway, he removed the towels that were wrapped around my hand, numbed up the wound, and stitched me up. He then shared with me a few stern words, “No recess.” “Don’t get it wet.” “No horsing around.”

A few days later we were at a family gathering. My cousins were playing basketball and I wanted to as well. I talked my aunt into wrapping up my hand so I would not get it dirty or wet. If I recall she slipped a bread bag over my hand and taped it to my arm.

That evening I noticed the bandage was seeping some blood so I untapped my bandaged to take a look. All the stitches were untied and the wound was gaping open once again. I remember I sat on the edge of my bed staring at the open wound for what seemed like a long time, speechless, just sat there in silence before I went to look for dad. I wasn’t so much afraid of telling dad, I was afraid of telling Dr. Ubelaker! Dad took me back to the Doc, who was not happy, and we started it all over again. As a result I have no doubt it took much longer to heal than it would have had I followed the right actions and directions to promote a proper healing.

There is a time for sitting with the grief. There is a time to gaze speechless into the pain. There is a time for silence. Presence can be more powerful than words. Often words can deepen the wound rather than provide a healing balm and comfort. Sometimes, “I’m here,” can be more appropriate than, “I have you in my thoughts and prayers.” Too often in these tragedies religious leaders, politicians, and others speak on and on, and nothing happens to find a cure.
What does this have to do with prayer and in particular Orlando and the attack on our LGBT friends and families? Every time this happens the wound is ripped open again, preventing its healing. I believe we need to spend time in silence, surveying and embracing our grief and shock. I also I believe it is time for people of faith, people who believe in justice and compassion and grace to do more than pray words, we must pray with our actions.

It is not enough to lift the families in our thoughts and prayers. God calls us to live our prayers, act out our prayers for comfort and resolution. To continue to lift the words of “The Families are in our thoughts and prayers” with no action to address the violence is to lift empty phrases and words that do nothing. And with every event of gun violence and acts of hate, the wound is opened again with no hope of healing.

Our country, even dare I say, the Christian church and other religions have a violence problem. It is not just mental health care, though that is part of it. It is also an addition to the idea of redemptive violence lodged deeply in the roots of the churches atonement theories, our stories, the kind of traditions and interpretations that are twisted and warped by extremists and violent people who put the stamp of God upon their acts.

Our country and our religions our churches have to own our contribution to the problem. We cannot continue to belittle and dehumanize the “other” and expect it not to influence those who would carry out violent acts of word and deed. Our words matter!

In last Sunday’s attack on the Pulse Club in Orlando, I believe the church as well as other religious traditions are culpable. We cannot continue as a church, even as a United Methodist church, to claim LGBT persons are incompatible, abominations, worthy of death, a threat to our children, our families, or that we should fear even being in the same restroom with them and not expect those words to influence not only hateful rhetoric, but violent acts and even massacres such as in Orlando. And for religious and political leaders to offer their thoughts and prayers while at the same time rejecting and passing laws that threaten the well-being of LGBT persons and others is seen as disingenuous at best.

We must find a way to pray for and then act not only with LGBT persons in the midst of this tragedy, but all who continue to be threatened by violence and hatred, all of us in a world that is increasingly perpetuating the sense of being unsafe for a community who longs for safety and peace. There must be action behind our prayers, or they become prayers in the public realm, just to look good or prayers that talk on and on as people do who don’t know God.
So, what do we do? On this Sunday Prayer, of Fathers, of Remembering, of gathering in the wake of yet another tragedy? Fathers, those who have been a father figure, teach your children about prayer as not just words, but of action and justice and compassion work. Teach our children and grandchildren about inclusion, about understanding, about welcome, about equality, about grace, about the unconditional love of God for all, for ALL! And the depths of why it matters, to us individually, our families, our country, and our world.
And here in our community of faith? In some sense, we here at CHUM, continue to do what we have been doing. Educate ourselves about process and theology and justice and action. Be not only present in prayer and support of our LGBT community, our Muslim brothers and sisters, our children and public education, and the poor, those who are marginalized and belittled, but to be a prophetic voice in the church, in the community, government, speak out against injustice and discrimination. ACT!

It takes all of us, not just one or two. This kind of prayer is not political posturing, or pious street corner attention, it is seeking the guidance and wisdom of the Spirit, and then praying with our feet and our hands and our voices to make this world a safer more compassionate kindom in which to live, for all of us.
We cannot be willing to stop talking about it. We cannot be willing to rest. We cannot be silent, until we can all walk the streets regardless of the color of our skin, until we can all dance at a club of our choice, attend a movie, go to a bible study, or sit in a classroom without fear of another massacre.

Otherwise these forty-nine represented in this prayer flag and the hundreds of other senseless deaths due to gun violence and other acts of hate and terrorism will be statistics, wounds with no healing.

Let us begin/continue the faithful work of God until finally justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. God hasten the day. May it be so! May it be so!

I Too Am Guilty; Ruminations Along a Turnpike Drive

June 5, 2016

I have been hesitant to write anything in reflection or response since our United Methodist General Conference, in part because I am still processing exactly where I think I am with its outcomes and decisions. I am encouraged by some of what I heard from our Great Plains Annual Conference Delegates and I am at the same time disappointed by much of what I watched via live-stream and what I have read.

Much of my disappointment comes from our continued inability to talk with one another, civilly and respectfully, of our diverse sexuality. For me though, it is not just about how we should be opening our denomination to all persons regardless of sexual orientation and identity, but what seems to be the undoing of much of our tradition of social justice in the UMC. From not voting to divest from questionable practices, to not supporting justice in Israel and Palestine, to our severing ties with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. As a lifelong United Methodist it feels like we are undoing decades of progress in the area of social justice for all.

I am still in a wrestling match with our approval of the Council of Bishop’s Proposal for a Way Forward. While I understand the possibilities for hope, it also feels like we have kicked the can down the road for at least two to three years. My prayer is this can kicking will be an opportunity for the opening of a window in which we as a denomination might encounter the immersing grace of God for ALL.

Today, I believe, was a moment of grace in our own Great Plains Annual Conference. We passed a nonbinding resolution to ask our Committee on Investigation to pause the current process regarding our colleague Rev. Cynthia Meyer, and seek a just resolution and not go to trial. For me it was an opportunity for our Annual Conference to make a plea to the Committee as well as to our Bishop, to please find another way to resolve the complaint that does not necessitate a trial while not turning her away from the vital ministry she does in our midst; in the UM church she serves, and our United Methodist Church as a whole.

I was pleased with the nature of our discussion on the floor of Annual Conference this morning. It was calm, respectful, and civil. There were numerous people who rose to speak in opposition to the resolution as well as numerous, including myself, who spoke in favor.

As I sat and listened I was struck by a couple of things. Things that have wandered through my wondering mind before and I have addressed periodically but this time I had two hours to ponder them as I drove home from Topeka via the turnpike with nothing but my music, my thoughts, and the beautiful lush green flint hills to keep me company.

One is as we share about homosexuality and lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender persons, we, myself included, when I fail to remain mindful, are not talking about an issue, we are talking about persons, lives, good and faithful members of our churches and our world. And too often when we talk about an issue we can fail to acknowledge their person-hood, to put a face on those we are talking with, whether we are allies or not.

The other thing that struck me was, in conversing about our UMC Disciplinary language, is the lifting up how we are all sinners, if you will. That we have all, in one way or another, been incompatible with the faith, or at least our Discipline. There are unethical acts and practices that can go unchecked, there are those of us who have looked at another with lust in our hearts, thus according to scripture have committed adultery, sinned with our hands or eyes and still have them intact, and the list can get pretty long so I will just leave the rest to your own reflections.

While I understand the implications of these citations, and I have used them in the past as well, I have come to believe they are not parallel nor helpful to what we are talking about. These unethical and/or immoral citations have implications of harm and destruction. They can damage the self, one’s relationship with another, with colleagues, with friends, family, even God.

I know there are those good and faithful persons who cite the scriptural passages that in some way speak to same gender relations. However, in terms of loving, mutual, consensual, monogamous relationships, the scriptures do not address them, the Bible is silent. The citations used are addressing idolatry, purity laws, promiscuous, and non-consensual relations. All of which have destructive, harmful, and damaging implications regardless of one’s orientation.

The difference here is Cynthia and our other LGBT colleagues and friends, have done nothing wrong. Their willingness to be their authentic self as God has created them does not threaten me, it does no destructive or unethical harm to another. If we decide to put her on trial, we are trying her not for how she has damaged a covenant, but putting her on trial simply for being herself. And as such we risk harm and damage to the Body of Christ by losing called of God, valuable, and gifted clergy person.

As I reflected while driving home on the turnpike, what came to me was this. If we put her on trial for being who she is, it is not just her we are putting on trial, it is me, and it is all of us. If we put our LGBT colleagues and friends on trial for being authentically who they are, we are putting the church on trial. And if we do this, and we find our LGBT colleagues guilty, I too am guilty, we are all guilty, and the church is guilty for the trial and conviction of an innocent member of our community, a sacred child of God.

There is hope in the Bishops Proposal for a Way Forward. There is hope in the resolution we passed today as a Great Plains Annual Conference. There is hope because, although it may feel like the Committee and the Bishop have no other choice as to what they will do, there are prophetic and compassionate choices that can move us to a Way Forward that fits with the Council of Bishop’s language of finding a way to avoid further charges and trials without punishing one for who they are.

I believe, we, all of us, wherever we find ourselves in relationship with our LGBT brothers and sisters, must find a way to justly resolve the conflicts, a way to compassionately and faithfully navigate the future. We must find a way to remain together without inviting those we disagree with to simply surrender and leave. We must find a way to acknowledge and honor our differences and still realize we all serve the world in a way that welcomes more and more into the Kindom of God.

Such a way will take much prayer and discernment, such a way will take courage and hard work, and such a way will take real listening, dialogue, love, and prophetic leadership. It can be done. It must be done. We must stop the abuse and harm we continue to visit upon those of our LGBT colleagues and friends for no other reason than who they are, a child of God, just like me, just like you.

My reflections and prayers for the day, I pray they are received in the grace in which they are intended.

May it be so…May it be now.

Kent

Peace; Passive and Active, We Are Not More, But We Can Be. A Comment and Call for General Conference

March 29, 2016

This is a rather long “blog” as it is a sermon, but I have had several requests for the transcript. This is the extended version. The delivered version in audio is available on our website at http://collegehillumc.org/gathering under the media tab.

Peace; Passive and Active,
We Are Not More, But We Can Be.
A Comment and Call for General Conference

March 13, 2016

“It’s Windy” “No, it’s Thursday” “Yeah, me too. Let’s get a drink.“ It is never easy to know if one is being understood or if the hearer is understanding correctly. We can be in a setting listening or speaking and hear the words or speak the words and then find ourselves in that conundrum of, “I know you think you understand what you thought I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

[Let me say here I have since this sermon and writing visited with our communications director and we are visiting and working on how to communicate this campaign in a way that is open and affirming of the diverse expressions and commitments to faith and justice in our conference and jurisdiction]

I found myself in that position a few weeks ago, a disturbing, reactive, troubling place I knew I needed to process before I responded. The troubling in my soul has been present for a lot of years. This particular troubling brought it to mind again at a gathering of our clergy in Lincoln, Nebraska a few weeks ago. I learned of a communications campaign, for lack of better words, entitled We Are More, which I would confirm later is a United Methodist jurisdictional collaboration among many areas in our region.

When I first learned of it what I heard was at our upcoming General Conference of the United Methodist Church there would be many discussions around controversial topics. The media will choose to focus on these topics and the communication campaign is designed to suggest, while these topics are important, we are more than these topics. My first and immediate reaction was concern and a bit of a knot in my stomach.

The approach sounded to me like an attempt to deflect and move the conversation away from these topics and talk about something else. My colleague Rev. Mark Holland put words to the troubling in my soul when he asked the question, “Are we more than justice?”

While I believe I can hear the intent of the campaign, I confess it still troubles me, in how it might be communicated and used to deflect, diminish, and even shut down fruitful and much needed conversation about our Denomination’s commitment to justice and in particular social justice.

As I understand the campaign to date, it is to create a collection of videos and statements inviting persons to share their conversion and faith stories and to say, while these topics are important, regardless of our differences we all agree that, Making Disciples of Jesus for the Transformation of the World,  is our primary responsibility. i.e. We are a world-wide denomination with a great deal of concerns and ministries.

I do not disagree with that sentiment and commitment, and while I do not disagree it could be construed that there is somehow a difference or a disconnect between our social justice concerns and making disciples. I have no doubt, in particular, for our LGBT colleagues and members, as I have heard their concerns, the campaign feels like a deflection and diminishing of their place and their concerns, as do many of us who are allies and committed to justice for all of God’s children.

As for me, I am unwilling to concede there is some kind of disconnect or separation between Making Disciples and Equality and Inclusion for All Persons in the church regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression. Disciple making and inviting is about walking with God in Christ, learning, following, reaching out, and loving. We are all called to practice discipleship, straight or gay. Equality, and inclusion IS Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.

The personal grace and salvific nature of our journey of faith and United Methodist heritage is truly an important part of our conversation. John Wesley was certainly concerned with piety, relationship, and personal transformation. And he had a strong emphasis on social justice as shared in our United Methodist Discipline which states, “there is no religion but social religion, no holiness but social holiness.” In other words, for Wesley, our faith is not individualistic, it is social in nature, we need each other. Faith doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The troubling in my soul and the knot in my stomach is how our communication of this campaign can be, and has already been, seen as an either/or rather than a both/and.

One of the primary tension filled topics of our General Conference will be human sexuality and sexual orientation and how our United Methodist Church responds to our brothers and sisters who are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender. These faithful persons in our congregations should not be seen as a but we are more, rather they are more as well.

As I shared with our Bishop one morning, I do not want to be seen as a one issue clergy person, and I know our denomination does not either. While there are other issues of social justice needing to be addressed, how we respond to persons who are LGBT and to the LGBT members and colleagues in our churches is a priority and of utmost importance.

In our own prophetic tradition there is precedent of preaching and proclaiming justice in the face of injustice until justice is made to happen. Some days it can feel like I am a broken record, and yet I refuse to be silent in the face of a belittling, diminishing, and dismissing of the faith and person-hood of so many of my friends and colleagues. We are concerned here not with a topic or an issue, but rather with people’s lives and livelihoods, calls and commissions, and the faith and practice of all children of God, persons of good character and love.

While human sexuality and sexual orientation is a priority, I also believe the critique of a but We are More communication campaign applies across the board of justice in our world including the death penalty, education, refugees, immigration, Medicaid expansion, poverty, homelessness, and the whole spectrum of justice, and particularly social justice concerns of our denomination. We are not more than these social justice concerns, I would rather say, We are These Concerns, All of Them, when it comes to justice for all.

In the familiar passage we read from Ecclesiastes, most scholars agree the author of these words was most likely depressed, frustrated, he or she was a realist of realists. Perhaps beaten up, oppressed, excluded, and treated unjustly by life. A life, they have determined that is futile; work, eat, drink, be merry and what else is there? For the author it is simply seasons and times of life. The journey of life, in culture and society, In relationship, all the times there are, and for the purposes of this sermon, in particular, times of speaking and times of silence.

I agree with this passage. There are times and seasons to our lives. Time to mourn and dance. Gather together and separate, embrace and refrain from embracing, weeping and laughing, there is a time to keep and throw away, a time to keep silence and a time to speak.

I have been told by some colleagues and others that perhaps now is the time to be silent, to be in prayer, to seek understanding and conversation in silence and solemnness. While there is nothing wrong with these things, I do not believe this is the time for silence. This is the time to speak, especially now as we approach General Conference. Especially now when the conversation is growing more and more prevalent. Now is the Time to speak, silence only serves to promote the injustices our world and fellow pilgrims on the journey are experiencing.

It is time to speak, time for ALL of us to speak and to acknowledge there are times for silent reflection, and inner peace, perhaps even passive practice of peace and meditation, AND there is a time for active peacemaking, justice making, and I believe that time is now! Speak up, let your voices, your faith, your lives be heard, until Justice is made to happen!

This posture and way of living and loving is about participating in the vision of God’s justice for all, and with God’s help, into a just, compassionate, and peaceful place for which we all yearn. Living into this vision of God’s compassionate justice in the world is about justice for all. And in terms of our denomination, in terms of the church, the Body of Christ, to emphasize my friend’s words once again, “We are not more than justice.”

All of this being said, I do believe we can be more than the injustices we promote as a denomination, as local churches, and as members. I was struck this week as I studied in Isaiah and his words for the community in which he was a part, listen –

…that you come before me – Who asked that of you? Trample my courts no more; bringing oblations is futile, incense is offensive to me. New moon and Sabbath, proclaiming of solemnities, assemblies with iniquity, I cannot abide. Your new moons and fixed seasons fill me with loathing; they are become a burden to me, I cannot endure them. And when you lift up your hands, I will turn my eyes away from you; though you pray at length, I will not listen. Your hands are stained with crime-wash yourselves clean; put your evil doings away from my sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan; defend the cause of the widow.

These are the prophetic words from Isaiah for his community and ours…

We can be more than excluding good, qualified, faithful, loving LGBT members of our churches and congregations by welcoming and ordaining them into the full life of the church.

We can be more than the injustices we promote when we claim to be nonviolent and then lobby for fewer firearm restrictions when we are outside the walls of the church.

We can be more than the injustices we promote when we claim to love the poor and yet shame them by supporting drug testing and calling them lazy if they need to be on assistance.

We can be more than the injustices we promote when we claim to welcome all and then support banning Syrian refugees from our country.

We can be more than the injustices we promote when we state healthcare is a right and then condemn the only attempt to provide health coverage for all.

We can be more than the injustices we promote when we claim to value life and then lobby for continuation of the death penalty.

Yes, we can be more than stating “all persons are of sacred worth to God,” while claiming “except for these.”

I do believe we can be more than the injustices we promote as a denomination, as local churches, and as members. We can be more when all of God’s children have access to both sides of the table.

We can be more when all have enough. We can be more when we are as concerned with tearing down the walls of injustice as we are with keeping the doors shut.

We can be more when we are as committed to justice for all as we are with maintaining the status quo.

We are not more than the important, compassionate, grace-filled, welcoming, loving, justice of God, all of it and more. I pray daily for our beloved United Methodist Church and our General Conference and delegates, praying one day we become more than a Denomination that fears conflict, difference, diversity, and change.

As shared with me by a friend and colleague, we are a broad tent denomination, with a wide variety of theology, belief, and practice and yes, we are more than a single issue church, but we are not more than justice for all God’s children, all of them.

Here I stand. Here I remain. In love and service with the United Methodist Church. May grace abound and love immerse us all. May it be so. May it be so in 2016. Speak Up! IT’S TIME!

Rev. Kent H. Little