Posts Tagged ‘UMC Bishops Commission’

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

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