Posts Tagged ‘United Methodist Church’

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

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

 

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

2015 Great Plains Annual Conference ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF DIVERSE BELIEFS REGARDING HOMOSEXUALITY

June 13, 2015

I have had questions about the actual petition, for those who are interested in the Petition Approved by The Great Plains Annual Conference asking our General Conference of the United Methodist Church acknowledge our differing opinions and to remove the restrictive and discriminatory language in our UM Discipline here is the petition as amended and passed by by our GPAC today. The portions with the strike through are the language that would be deleted and the bold is what was added.

PETITION 7
ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF DIVERSE BELIEFS REGARDING HOMOSEXUALITY
Financial Implications
None
Rationale
Since 1972 the United Methodist Church has taken increasingly firmer positions opposing non-
heterosexual orientations. Attempting to make all United Methodists conform to traditional beliefs has not
decreased denominational tension. This petition attempts to relocate decision making to the appropriate level, i.e. Annual Conference and Pastors, and ease tension.

Whereas the United Methodist Church has been gradually centralizing control in matters of ordination, candidacy, and pastoral authority as regards “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals,” and

Whereas
the 2012 Book of Discipline(BoD) asserts that pastors have the authority to determine who to marry
(¶340.2a3) and Annual Conferences have the authority to determine who is qualified for ordination (¶330, ¶335), And

Whereas
our Doctrinal Standards are silent on sexuality but explicit in quoting John Wesley that “As to all
opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think,” (BoD, ¶102) and

Whereas
scholars in the United Methodist and other Christian traditions have made coherent cases that loving,
monogamous relationships including same-sex relationships can be affirmed without jeopardizing the authority of Scripture or “strik[ing] at the root of Christianity.”

Therefore, be it resolved
that the Great Plains Annual Conference petition the 2016 General Conference to amend the Book of Discipline as follows:

1. Paragraph 161F: “…We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.

A significant majority of United Methodists continue to hold the long-standing belief that homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian teaching, while we acknowledge and respect differences in opinion on human sexuality. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.”

2. Paragraph 304.3: “While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world. The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”

3. Paragraph 310.2d footnote 3: delete paragraphs 1-3, (ending with “…affirms its high standards) and 8-9 (from “The General Conference has made it clear…” and ending with “…against persons because they are single.”). The remaining footnote references Wesley’s Questions and the final two paragraphs.

4. paragraph 341.6: “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.”

5. paragraph 613.9: “To ensure that no annual conference board, agency, committee, commission, or council shall give United Methodist funds to any gay caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality or violate the expressed commitment of the UMC “not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends” (¶161.F). The council shall have the right to stop such expenditures. This restriction shall not limit the Church’s ministry in response to the HIV epidemic, nor shall it preclude funding for dialogs or educational events where the Church’s official position is fairly and equally represented.”

6. Paragraph 2702.1: “1 A bishop, clergy member of an annual conference (¶370), local pastor, clergy on
honorable or administrative location, or diaconal minister may be tried when charged (subject to the statute of limitations in ¶2702.4) with one or more of the following offenses: (a) immorality including but not limited to, not being celibate in singleness or not faithful in a heterosexual marriage; (b) practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings, including but not limited to: being a self-avowed practicing homosexual; or conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies; (c) crime; (d) disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church; (e) dissemination of doctrines contrary to the established standards of doctrine of The United Methodist Church; (f) relationships and/or behavior that undermines the ministry of another pastor; (g) child abuse; (h) sexual abuse;(i) sexual misconduct or (j) harassment, including, but not limited to racial and/or sexual harassment; or (k) racial or gender discrimination.”

Implemented by
Secretary of Annual Conference

Submitted by: David Livingston, Kent Little, Kurt Cooper, Nancy Brown, Jerry Feese, Kate Johnson Martin, Brian Sutton, Andrea Paret, Jamie Norwich McLennan, Jack Dutton, Shelly McNaughton-Lawrence, Sandy Simmons, Jan Rhind, Cynthia Meyer, Nancy Liston, Loren Drummond, Karen Nyhart, Linda Stoker, Joey Hentzler, Kent Melcher, Linda Miller, Cynthia Walley, Debora Cox

It’s a Broad Tent

July 31, 2014

It was a huge, sprawling, and beautiful apricot tree in the backyard of the parsonage at the church I was serving at the time. This particular year it was loaded with blossoms, so much so that one just needed to pass by the house or open a window to be enveloped in the intoxicating fragrance of apricot blossoms. It was absolutely beautiful.

As a result the tree produced more fruit than I had ever seen on the tree in the years we had lived there. I even announced at church one morning for people to please come and help themselves as the branches were beginning to bend clear to the ground under the heavy burden of fruit. Unfortunately we did not respond quickly enough. One morning I stepped out the side door of the parsonage to see the weighted down and burdened tree split right down the middle, through the very center of the trunk, clear to the soil. It was a sad sight to see this once tall and fruitful tree sprawled out on the ground with no hope of repair.

I’ve been doing a lot of reading and pondering in preparation for our Love in Action Great Plains Reconciling Ministries Network Conference scheduled to begin this coming Friday evening. There are a lot of blogs, theories, scenarios, and “ways” out there regarding our current conflict in the United Methodist Church around how we are in ministry with, or not, our lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgendered friends, brothers, and sisters, and members.

Before I continue on I want to be upfront and honest about where I am in regards to theology and perspective regarding inclusion of LGBTQ persons in our United Methodist Church. I am what one may consider a progressive Christian and work for the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the full life of the church including marriage, membership, ordination, and service. I want to name that because even though as much as I try to consider the current conversation with a balanced eye, I am biased; I believe we are all biased even at our best attempts not to be.

My struggle, and the reason I felt moved to write about this again, anyone who follows my blog even semi-regularly knows I have written about LGBTQ inclusion often, is my perception of the blogs and theories that I see being put forth.

It seems to me, in my experience, those with what would be considered the more progressive view point have been willing to live in this tension of conflicted Disciplinary language ever since the restrictive language was placed over forty years ago, at least have been willing to live in that tension until recently. Recently, in a movement known as Biblical Obedience and others, there have been those who have participated in ecclesial disobedience in order to live out faithfully their call and ministry, not only individuals but conferences and even a whole jurisdiction. There have been some consequences, albeit according to some not near enough consequences.

 
Recently, and I attribute that to our upcoming General Conference in 2016, there has been much talk and publication about the pros and cons of a split in the UMC. Some groups are suggesting an amicable separation and others are less amicable; some are saying schism is not the way, and still others have been trying to strike a balance between the two.

As I read though, and I admit I am sure I have not read all blogs, publications, proposals, etc., there is for me a striking difference between those who would consider themselves progressive, supporting the removal of the restrictive language regarding LGBTQ persons in our Discipline, and those who are conservative, supporting the current restrictive language in our Discipline.

It has appeared to me that those who claim the progressive, full inclusion perspective are not promoting a split or schism but rather would rather find a way to live together with our differences, and those who would claim the conservative, supporting the current Disciplinary language have proposed split either by their leaving or inviting the more progressive churches and clergy to leave.

The conversation can be seen as burdensome and divisive and when the focus becomes on those who can stay and those who can leave and before we know it this once fruit laden denomination may find itself sprawled out on the ground with no hope of repair.

That being said I realize there are probably numerous variations of this observation, I have no doubt there are those who are progressive that would just rather split and there are those who are conservative who would rather find a way to stay together. I am simply expressing the majority of what I have read and listened.

I do not believe schism is the Way. As one who embraces the more progressive theology and stance that we should remove the restrictive language and make open our Discipline to fully include in all aspects of our church regardless of sexual orientation or identity, I believe, to quote a colleague of mine, “there is room under the broad tent of United Methodism for all of us,” and I am not going anywhere. It would appear to me that the loudest of the voices I read and hear from the more conservative of our UM church do not hold such a view and do not believe our “tent” to be broad enough. I believe such a stance is lamentable and the wrong direction for this church I love. I believe there is room for us if we are willing open our hands and honor that notion of Wesley that our hearts are not that dissimilar, we have hearts made for love, love of God and love of one another. Perhaps it is too little too late, perhaps, or perhaps we find a way to live together with our differences where all … gay, straight, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgendered; better yet simply all God’s children can find welcome, inclusion, appreciation, and live their faith fulfilling calls to ministry in the church on all sides of the table. May it be so. May it be soon.

Checking the Church Yard

February 4, 2014

I was asked recently how big an issue marriage equality and LGBTQ inclusion and rights were in my ministry. I think it was a good question. And there are times when I suppose it might seem to those who listen to me or read my blog that it seems to be a pretty significant part of how I view my ministry and calling at this point in my life.

I shared my answer and said I do not want to be seen as a one issue pastor. I am oriented and focused on not only my own, but on the Spiritual journey of the church I am fortunate enough to serve as well as those I serve with. I am involved and share ministry in the areas of hunger and poverty, theology and study, prayer and inviting disciples, creation care and sustainable choices, nurturing and encouraging an active, living, loving faith in Christ.

That being said, I believe a large part of my own faith and calling, at this point in my journey, focuses on social justice for all. And, as a result, I am going to give significant voice to justice and equality for the LGBTQ persons I serve and love. I would hope if this were the 1930’s and before I would be a voice against child labor, or the 1950’s and 1960’s, while serving the broad range of church and world concerns, I would be investing significant time and energy to the cause of civil rights and the rights of women in society and the church. LGBTQ equality in the world and in the church is on the forefront of society and culture as well as the church and as long as there is injustice, I will be a voice in support these persons who are being oppressed and unjustly excluded, as well as a voice for the poor, marginalized, hungry, women’s rights, care of creation, serious study and scholarship, practices of prayer, faith, and love.

That was perhaps a long intro into a story I want to share. It was brought to mind after reading a Reconciling Ministries Blog on this snowy morning at home. Here is the link if you would like to read it yourself; http://www.rmnblog.org/2014/02/walking-in-other-peoples-shoes.html. The blog invites LGBTQ persons to share their stories in part so others might know what it might look like, feel like to walk in their shoes. I am a straight ally of my Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, Transsexual, and Queer brothers and sisters, but I thought I would take this opportunity to share my story as well.

I do not remember the exact point in my seminary journey, but I would say probably late in my third year. I was taking a human sexuality class as an elective to help with my counseling skills once I graduated. I had for some time been a quiet supporter of LGBTQ inclusion and equality without much background or experience to really speak to it either at the seminary or in the churches I served at the time.

There was a young woman in the class who was very openly lesbian; she was charming, witty, and well, just a hoot to be around. She had a wonderful sense of humor and I really enjoyed her participation in the class and our few interactions outside the class.

One day following class we were walking toward the dining hall and she was directly in front of me and I decided to take a chance. I sped up next to her, I will call her Brenda as I have not secured permission to use her name in a story, and asked, “Brenda, would you be willing or have time to tell me your story? I’m straight, and well, I don’t understand, and probably can’t on a deep level, but I want to. Is that something you would be willing to do?” Brenda looked at me and said, “Of course!” I was greatly relieved and said something along the line of, “Whew! I was a little nervous as to how you would respond.” She replied, “What did you think I was going to do hit you with my book bag?” “Didn’t know,” I said.

We made time over the next several weeks to meet over coffee or lunch to talk. Brenda told me her life story, the pain, the heartaches, the rejections, the relationships good and bad, the struggle to be who she was meant to be. Our times together were filled with tears and much laughter, and for me these visits were sacred time as I found deeper understanding of what my friend, and so many others like her, had been through in order to embrace who God had created her to be. I have lost touch with Brenda over the years. The last significant contact I had with her was in preparation for my ordination. I had sent her a note to participate in stole TruDee was making for me. TruDee had me make a list of persons who had a significant role in my Spiritual journey. She then sent the notecards to share a scripture, a quote, or a thought with their signature. TruDee then transferred that information to fabric and created my favorite stone. Brenda returned her card with words to this effect, “On your journey in the church, don’t forget to check outside in the church yard for those who have been left behind.”

That quote and Brenda’s story has shaped my ministry ever since. I will never forget those weeks of conversation and though I have lost touch with Brenda I will never forget how she changed my life, my perspective, my understanding, and my commitment to the cause of equality, inclusion, and justice for all, until that day, ALL of God’s children are welcome on both sides of the table of grace and love.

Rev. Kent H. Little

Silence is Not an Option

November 23, 2013

I have written and preached on the topic of our United Methodist official position regarding LGBT persons, weddings, clergy, and ordination many times. There have been a few days when I wonder if I have done that too much. I have pondered what the saturation point is especially when one may be preaching to the choir so to speak. And at the same time, when voices go silent things do not change.

I am blessed to be able to serve in a community of faith that is a Reconciling Congregation and open to full involvement of all of God’s children. However, as we all know our United Methodist Denomination as a whole is far from where we here at College Hill would hope and dare to dream they be. For though we are open, we are limited in our openness by the current negative, unjust, and restrictive language in our United Methodist Discipline which prevents our clergy from being fully in ministry with LGBT persons and prevents LGBT persons from being in ordained ministry with us.

Many if not all of you have heard the recent news of the church trial of a UM clergy person who was found guilty of performing a same gender marriage ceremony for his gay son. The sentence imposed was a thirty day suspension and at the end of those thirty days will be required to promise to uphold the Discipline in its entirety including a promise to never perform a same gender marriage again. If he does not he will be required to surrender his credentials as a UM Elder.

Unfortunately, though I realize the verdict and sentence requirement are within the bounds of our rules and laws of the church, I believe our UM church got this wrong. It is seems one more step in the wrong direction. I believe such a trial is an abuse; belittling and rejecting of faithful LGBT members of our United Methodist Church. It is unjust and not inclusive as our Discipline calls us to be. We are not a denomination with Open Doors, Open Hearts, and Open Minds, not anywhere close.

Trials, guilty verdicts, and sentencing do not belong in a community of faith, especially when the community is not of one mind regarding the inclusion of our LGBT friends, family, and colleagues. There is once again much talk about coming to the table for holy conferencing, conversation, discernment, and prayer in hopes of finding resolution.

I may be wandering out on a limb here but I am going to say it anyway. We have done holy conferencing, conversed, discerned, and prayed about this for over forty years. I believe we have talked about it long enough. It is time to be honest as a denomination and move to the right side of not only history, but to the right side of the love and grace of God in Christ. Jesus turned away no one, and the ones he chastised were the religious leaders of his time who excluded, took advantage of, and rejected others. It is wrong now.

My heart says we need to find a way to live together with this division and embrace a way of peace that honors all. But it seems to me, rather than seeking a way of peace and compassion, there are those who prefer division and exclusion more than cooperation and invitation. Maybe it is time the denomination find a way to amicably divide. That would not be my preference, but perhaps it is inevitable.

As I have struggled with this most recent trial I have realized I need to do more. I need to speak more. I need to be, as our church’s vision states, Wiser, Bolder, and More Graceful. As a result I reworked a statement and blog I had written into an open letter to the bishops of our denomination expressing my heartache and belief that we need to remove the restrictive language from our Discipline. But mostly, we need to stop these trials that do nothing but deepen the wounds that are already laid open.

As I pondered my letter I decided, after reading responses to the trial by our own members here at CHUM, that perhaps we can do something together, as a community of faith that is weary of the hurt, pain, and exclusion of our official UM statements. As a result I have modified my letter into a letter from our church. I would like to offer it for approval at our Annual Church Conference Monday evening at 7:00pm in the fellowship hall. I would offer it for your approval and make it available to be signed by as many as would support this call for a moratorium on these trials, verdicts, and sentences regarding clergy performing same gender marriages.

If you would like to express your support of this letter to be sent to our Council of Bishops I invite you to be present for our Church Conference Monday and stand in solidarity with Rev. Frank Schaefer and all those clergy who are currently or may face the travesty of another church trial. I look forward to seeing you Monday evening at 7:00pm. If you would like to come for the potluck dinner it begins at 6:30pm. An opportunity to sign on will also be available in the church office next week for you and the community to sign next week. If supported by the our Church Conference the letter will be forwarded to the Council the 1st of December.

Below is a copy of the letter. Thank you College Hill for being who you are, your wisdom, boldness, grace, and love inspires me on a daily basis.

Update December 3, 2013 – I am overjoyed to report the Annual Church Conference of College Hill United Methodist Church in Wichita voted unanamously to send the letter below to our United Methodist Council of Bishops. The letter was mailed today along with over 150 signatures attached.

Peace and Light for Your Journey
Pastor Kent

An Open Letter to Our Bishops of The United Methodist Church

You have heard it said, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” [i]  But I say to you, “All persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God and that God’s grace is available to all.”[ii]

            You have heard it said, “Self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”[iii] You have also heard it said, “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.”[iv]

            But I say to you, “We live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ loved and accepted us.”[v] I say to you, “Churches and families do not reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends, for we are committed to be in ministry for and with all persons!”[vi]

            As illustrated above by the language of our own UM Book of Discipline, we at College Hill United Methodist Church believe The United Methodist Book of Discipline is far from clear on our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual, Queer colleagues, friends, and family. It is a conflicted document that makes a theological claim of grace and inclusion and a political statement of negative restrictions and exclusion.

            We implore our Bishops to call for a moratorium on all church charges and trials, such as the recent proceeding regarding Rev. Frank Schaefer, until our own book of doctrine, rule, and law is clear, consistent, and concise on how the clergy, lay, and church are to be in ministry for and with our LGBTQ colleagues, friends, and family.

            We believe this is a significant reason we are currently losing members of the UM Church as well as why many will not consider joining our increasingly declining denomination. We as a United Methodist Church here at College Hill believe it is time! It is time to remove this unjust and harmful language from our Discipline in 2016. It is time to move beyond this conflicted letter of law and side with grace and love and justice for ALL, where All Means All!  Please stop the charges, the trials, the harm, hurt, and rejecting of the children of God. Please.

Living and Serving in Love with Christ,
College Hill United Methodist Church
2930 E First Street North

Wichita, KS 67214


1 The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2012, The United Methodist Publishing House Nashville, Tennessee. Pg.111 Para. 161F.

2 The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2012, The United Methodist Publishing House Nashville, Tennessee. Pg.111 Para. 161F.

3 The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2012, The United Methodist Publishing House Nashville, Tennessee.

Pg. 220 Para. 304.3

4 The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2012, The United Methodist Publishing House Nashville, Tennessee.

Pg. 270 Para. 341.6

5 The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2012, The United Methodist Publishing House Nashville, Tennessee. Pg.111 Para. 161F

6The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church 2012, The United Methodist Publishing House Nashville, Tennessee. Pg.111 Para. 161F

Living and Serving in Love with Christ,
College Hill United Methodist Church
2930 E First Street North
Wichita, KS 67214

How Long?

May 6, 2013

A good friend of mine asked me a very pertinent question the other day regarding our United Methodist Church in the wake of another one of our prophets facing charges for presiding at the wedding of his son and his partner, “When will UMC leadership finally “get” that this issue is about civil rights? How many more good pastors will have to be sacrificed on the altar of the Judicial Counsel before the Book of Discipline is changed?”

It is a good question. It is a question that I have myself asked as I read the reports from our last General Conference. It is a question I ask myself again as the news spreads across our denomination and our country. It is a question that brings me to echo the Psalmist cry, “How long O Lord?” How long will we continue to exclude and reject some of God’s children because of our clinging to what I believe to be antiquated understandings and continued bigotry?

I read so many publications, leadership articles and books, blogs and ponderings and hear us asking, “Where are the young people in our churches,” and we wonder why our churches are declining. I believe a significant part of the answer is in two parts. One is our own conflicted nature in our Disciplinary language, we say all persons are welcome to participate in our church and are of sacred worth to God….except if you happen to be gay, lesbian, trans-gendered, or bi-sexual, if you are a part of those children of God you can only participate partially.

For most young people I visit with, the idea that the church continues to say we support equal civil and human rights for the GLBT community, and then proceed to deny them equal rights in the church is at best double speak and at worse hypocrisy. Why would they want to be a part of our church when we cannot even agree to disagree, when we say come to our church but you will only be allowed to sit in the pew and listen, we don’t want you to lead, to be married, or to preside at table and follow your God given call into ordained ministry?

How long will it take? I don’t know. Will it split our church? I do not believe it will split our church any more than it already has. I do not believe that because I believe this is not an either or conversation. In my opinion the United Methodist Church will finally come to its senses and remove the restrictive and unjust language of its Discipline regarding same gender relations, or it will die. Do we really believe we can continue to invite disciples in order to transform the world and invite our GLBT members be satisfied with only partial inclusion or to be asked to leave altogether? Is that what we really want? I know it certainly is not in my image and vision of the Kindom of the God of Love.

This is a human rights issue. This is a civil rights issue. This is a justice issue. That is why I continue the fight and run the race; I love my church too much to let it die. But I must admit as I read these stories I believe as long as we continue to cling to the letter of the law and disregard its Spirit, compassion, inclusion, grace, and love I am pessimistic at best. So I will remain steadfast at the side of my gay and lesbian friends and community until the day they are welcome on both sides of God’s table. Because until that day we are none of us really fully welcome.