Posts Tagged ‘Theology’

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

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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