Posts Tagged ‘Social Justice’

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

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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

 

An Open Letter to an Old Friend

February 2, 2016

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

Making Disciples or … not about choosing either or …

June 9, 2014

Simeon is probably the real culprit, though Moz participates when he decides he has the opportunity; that is digging in the backyard. Luckily they always dig in exactly the same spot, so it’s not like we have holes all over the yard, just one that they dig and I fill, they dig and I fill, and repeat. They both have a couple of other habits that I do not tend to appreciate; one is they like to wrestle. Not unlike two legged boys when they get to wrestling in the house I send them outside, it’s not bad; it is just that two 65-70 pound dogs wrestling in the living room can create a lot of collateral damage. The last thing I will mention is Moz and his walking. Simeon heel’s very well, walking dutifully by my side; Moz, not so much, he is distracted easily, likes to be out in front, and goes from side to side.

Of course knowing what I need to do to correct all of these I decided to consult the experts anyway, and so I began reading. I looked up in the doggie helps, “digging,” “wrestling/playing,” “training to heel,” because I have read many of these before I already knew deep down what I needed to do but I looked anyway, just in case there was an easy answer for one of them. These are all part of the same thing, if your dog has these kinds of behaviors they are probably bored and if they are bored you are not giving them enough exercise, and if you are not giving them enough exercise you are not walking them enough. Dang! They are all interrelated.

That was the long way around getting to what I really want to write about this morning. I participated in a poll I rather stumbled upon the other day from the United Methodist News Service. The poll asked a series of questions asking the participants to identify the most important “issue” facing the United Methodist Church today. Here is the basic list of choices the poll offered as what might be the most important issues facing the UMC today; Creating Disciples of Christ, Youth Involvement, Spiritual Growth, Decline in Membership, Poverty, Children at Risk, Social Injustice, Sexual Orientation/Same-Sex Marriage, Structure of UMC, Economic Inequality, Women and Minorities in UMC, Racism, and Immigration Reform; a valid list of very important concerns within our UMC.

After the poll had closed I had some initial concerns regarding length of time the poll was available, to whom it was available, how it was advertised, and sample size; as the headline for the results were,

“Poll: Making disciples tops sexuality as church priority.”

Which would lead one to believe that this poll of 509 members, clergy and official UM staff excluded, speaks for the majority of 7.4 million United States UM members in the local church. Now, that very well may be the case, I am not an expert in polling nor statistics gathering.

However, as I pondered the poll more and the questions asked and “issues” raised a larger concern emerged for me. It was the issue of Making Disciples as a separate category. It seems to me all of these “issues” they have identified are part of Making Disciples of Christ for the Transformation of the world. To me to hold out Making Disciples as somehow disconnected or separate is at best misinformed and at worse disingenuous. Every single one of the issues identified is related to making Disciples of Christ.

It is not unlike my story of Simeon and Moz. If I were to ask dog lovers whether walking your dog was more important than teaching him not to dig, or wrestle, or teaching him to heel, of course they are going to say walking your dog is most important, not because it is somehow separate from the others, but because they are all interrelated, one is still going to teach them not to dig, not to wrestle, how to heel AND walk them for exercise.

I believe too often in our UM church stating the purpose of our church, “To Make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World,” is used to deflect genuine conversation around the issues and concerns that face us today. Too often when topics of equality for all regarding sexual orientation, or immigration reform, or youth involvement, or social injustice are raised it will invariably be stated, “Well, we have gotten away from our main purpose of “Making Disciples,” some times, too many times I believe that can be a cop out. Yes, we need to be about Making Disciples, but we do that through including, loving, welcoming, embracing, and working for a more just, kind, and humble world for those who have been marginalized by not only society but the church, our church, the UM church.

I am unwilling to concede that 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, age, social or economic status, or the other issues this poll raised in order to make such a broad sweeping statement that somehow the other identified concerns are somehow “less than” the others. Disciple making and inviting is about walking with God in Christ, learning, following, evolving, acting, reaching out, and loving. We are all called to and practice “Discipleship,” straight or gay, rich or poor, young or old. Equality, inclusion, and justice work IS “Making Disciples of Christ for the Transformation of the World!”

And it is one of the many ways we seek to be mindful of the Spirit and one another here at the Hill, where you are one of the community. Here where there is always an open door, a safe space, a warm welcome, and a place at the table. Not Your Ordinary Church. Until next week, God bless, and know you are never alone.

Peace and Light on Your Journey,
Pastor Kent