Posts Tagged ‘United Methodist Discipline’

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

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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

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.