Posts Tagged ‘United Methodist General Conference’

I Too Am Guilty; Ruminations Along a Turnpike Drive

June 5, 2016

I have been hesitant to write anything in reflection or response since our United Methodist General Conference, in part because I am still processing exactly where I think I am with its outcomes and decisions. I am encouraged by some of what I heard from our Great Plains Annual Conference Delegates and I am at the same time disappointed by much of what I watched via live-stream and what I have read.

Much of my disappointment comes from our continued inability to talk with one another, civilly and respectfully, of our diverse sexuality. For me though, it is not just about how we should be opening our denomination to all persons regardless of sexual orientation and identity, but what seems to be the undoing of much of our tradition of social justice in the UMC. From not voting to divest from questionable practices, to not supporting justice in Israel and Palestine, to our severing ties with the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. As a lifelong United Methodist it feels like we are undoing decades of progress in the area of social justice for all.

I am still in a wrestling match with our approval of the Council of Bishop’s Proposal for a Way Forward. While I understand the possibilities for hope, it also feels like we have kicked the can down the road for at least two to three years. My prayer is this can kicking will be an opportunity for the opening of a window in which we as a denomination might encounter the immersing grace of God for ALL.

Today, I believe, was a moment of grace in our own Great Plains Annual Conference. We passed a nonbinding resolution to ask our Committee on Investigation to pause the current process regarding our colleague Rev. Cynthia Meyer, and seek a just resolution and not go to trial. For me it was an opportunity for our Annual Conference to make a plea to the Committee as well as to our Bishop, to please find another way to resolve the complaint that does not necessitate a trial while not turning her away from the vital ministry she does in our midst; in the UM church she serves, and our United Methodist Church as a whole.

I was pleased with the nature of our discussion on the floor of Annual Conference this morning. It was calm, respectful, and civil. There were numerous people who rose to speak in opposition to the resolution as well as numerous, including myself, who spoke in favor.

As I sat and listened I was struck by a couple of things. Things that have wandered through my wondering mind before and I have addressed periodically but this time I had two hours to ponder them as I drove home from Topeka via the turnpike with nothing but my music, my thoughts, and the beautiful lush green flint hills to keep me company.

One is as we share about homosexuality and lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender persons, we, myself included, when I fail to remain mindful, are not talking about an issue, we are talking about persons, lives, good and faithful members of our churches and our world. And too often when we talk about an issue we can fail to acknowledge their person-hood, to put a face on those we are talking with, whether we are allies or not.

The other thing that struck me was, in conversing about our UMC Disciplinary language, is the lifting up how we are all sinners, if you will. That we have all, in one way or another, been incompatible with the faith, or at least our Discipline. There are unethical acts and practices that can go unchecked, there are those of us who have looked at another with lust in our hearts, thus according to scripture have committed adultery, sinned with our hands or eyes and still have them intact, and the list can get pretty long so I will just leave the rest to your own reflections.

While I understand the implications of these citations, and I have used them in the past as well, I have come to believe they are not parallel nor helpful to what we are talking about. These unethical and/or immoral citations have implications of harm and destruction. They can damage the self, one’s relationship with another, with colleagues, with friends, family, even God.

I know there are those good and faithful persons who cite the scriptural passages that in some way speak to same gender relations. However, in terms of loving, mutual, consensual, monogamous relationships, the scriptures do not address them, the Bible is silent. The citations used are addressing idolatry, purity laws, promiscuous, and non-consensual relations. All of which have destructive, harmful, and damaging implications regardless of one’s orientation.

The difference here is Cynthia and our other LGBT colleagues and friends, have done nothing wrong. Their willingness to be their authentic self as God has created them does not threaten me, it does no destructive or unethical harm to another. If we decide to put her on trial, we are trying her not for how she has damaged a covenant, but putting her on trial simply for being herself. And as such we risk harm and damage to the Body of Christ by losing called of God, valuable, and gifted clergy person.

As I reflected while driving home on the turnpike, what came to me was this. If we put her on trial for being who she is, it is not just her we are putting on trial, it is me, and it is all of us. If we put our LGBT colleagues and friends on trial for being authentically who they are, we are putting the church on trial. And if we do this, and we find our LGBT colleagues guilty, I too am guilty, we are all guilty, and the church is guilty for the trial and conviction of an innocent member of our community, a sacred child of God.

There is hope in the Bishops Proposal for a Way Forward. There is hope in the resolution we passed today as a Great Plains Annual Conference. There is hope because, although it may feel like the Committee and the Bishop have no other choice as to what they will do, there are prophetic and compassionate choices that can move us to a Way Forward that fits with the Council of Bishop’s language of finding a way to avoid further charges and trials without punishing one for who they are.

I believe, we, all of us, wherever we find ourselves in relationship with our LGBT brothers and sisters, must find a way to justly resolve the conflicts, a way to compassionately and faithfully navigate the future. We must find a way to remain together without inviting those we disagree with to simply surrender and leave. We must find a way to acknowledge and honor our differences and still realize we all serve the world in a way that welcomes more and more into the Kindom of God.

Such a way will take much prayer and discernment, such a way will take courage and hard work, and such a way will take real listening, dialogue, love, and prophetic leadership. It can be done. It must be done. We must stop the abuse and harm we continue to visit upon those of our LGBT colleagues and friends for no other reason than who they are, a child of God, just like me, just like you.

My reflections and prayers for the day, I pray they are received in the grace in which they are intended.

May it be so…May it be now.

Kent

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Peace; Passive and Active, We Are Not More, But We Can Be. A Comment and Call for General Conference

March 29, 2016

This is a rather long “blog” as it is a sermon, but I have had several requests for the transcript. This is the extended version. The delivered version in audio is available on our website at http://collegehillumc.org/gathering under the media tab.

Peace; Passive and Active,
We Are Not More, But We Can Be.
A Comment and Call for General Conference

March 13, 2016

“It’s Windy” “No, it’s Thursday” “Yeah, me too. Let’s get a drink.“ It is never easy to know if one is being understood or if the hearer is understanding correctly. We can be in a setting listening or speaking and hear the words or speak the words and then find ourselves in that conundrum of, “I know you think you understand what you thought I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”

[Let me say here I have since this sermon and writing visited with our communications director and we are visiting and working on how to communicate this campaign in a way that is open and affirming of the diverse expressions and commitments to faith and justice in our conference and jurisdiction]

I found myself in that position a few weeks ago, a disturbing, reactive, troubling place I knew I needed to process before I responded. The troubling in my soul has been present for a lot of years. This particular troubling brought it to mind again at a gathering of our clergy in Lincoln, Nebraska a few weeks ago. I learned of a communications campaign, for lack of better words, entitled We Are More, which I would confirm later is a United Methodist jurisdictional collaboration among many areas in our region.

When I first learned of it what I heard was at our upcoming General Conference of the United Methodist Church there would be many discussions around controversial topics. The media will choose to focus on these topics and the communication campaign is designed to suggest, while these topics are important, we are more than these topics. My first and immediate reaction was concern and a bit of a knot in my stomach.

The approach sounded to me like an attempt to deflect and move the conversation away from these topics and talk about something else. My colleague Rev. Mark Holland put words to the troubling in my soul when he asked the question, “Are we more than justice?”

While I believe I can hear the intent of the campaign, I confess it still troubles me, in how it might be communicated and used to deflect, diminish, and even shut down fruitful and much needed conversation about our Denomination’s commitment to justice and in particular social justice.

As I understand the campaign to date, it is to create a collection of videos and statements inviting persons to share their conversion and faith stories and to say, while these topics are important, regardless of our differences we all agree that, Making Disciples of Jesus for the Transformation of the World,  is our primary responsibility. i.e. We are a world-wide denomination with a great deal of concerns and ministries.

I do not disagree with that sentiment and commitment, and while I do not disagree it could be construed that there is somehow a difference or a disconnect between our social justice concerns and making disciples. I have no doubt, in particular, for our LGBT colleagues and members, as I have heard their concerns, the campaign feels like a deflection and diminishing of their place and their concerns, as do many of us who are allies and committed to justice for all of God’s children.

As for me, I am unwilling to concede there is some kind of disconnect or separation between Making Disciples and Equality and Inclusion for All Persons in the church regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity, or expression. Disciple making and inviting is about walking with God in Christ, learning, following, reaching out, and loving. We are all called to practice discipleship, straight or gay. Equality, and inclusion IS Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.

The personal grace and salvific nature of our journey of faith and United Methodist heritage is truly an important part of our conversation. John Wesley was certainly concerned with piety, relationship, and personal transformation. And he had a strong emphasis on social justice as shared in our United Methodist Discipline which states, “there is no religion but social religion, no holiness but social holiness.” In other words, for Wesley, our faith is not individualistic, it is social in nature, we need each other. Faith doesn’t happen in a vacuum. The troubling in my soul and the knot in my stomach is how our communication of this campaign can be, and has already been, seen as an either/or rather than a both/and.

One of the primary tension filled topics of our General Conference will be human sexuality and sexual orientation and how our United Methodist Church responds to our brothers and sisters who are lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender. These faithful persons in our congregations should not be seen as a but we are more, rather they are more as well.

As I shared with our Bishop one morning, I do not want to be seen as a one issue clergy person, and I know our denomination does not either. While there are other issues of social justice needing to be addressed, how we respond to persons who are LGBT and to the LGBT members and colleagues in our churches is a priority and of utmost importance.

In our own prophetic tradition there is precedent of preaching and proclaiming justice in the face of injustice until justice is made to happen. Some days it can feel like I am a broken record, and yet I refuse to be silent in the face of a belittling, diminishing, and dismissing of the faith and person-hood of so many of my friends and colleagues. We are concerned here not with a topic or an issue, but rather with people’s lives and livelihoods, calls and commissions, and the faith and practice of all children of God, persons of good character and love.

While human sexuality and sexual orientation is a priority, I also believe the critique of a but We are More communication campaign applies across the board of justice in our world including the death penalty, education, refugees, immigration, Medicaid expansion, poverty, homelessness, and the whole spectrum of justice, and particularly social justice concerns of our denomination. We are not more than these social justice concerns, I would rather say, We are These Concerns, All of Them, when it comes to justice for all.

In the familiar passage we read from Ecclesiastes, most scholars agree the author of these words was most likely depressed, frustrated, he or she was a realist of realists. Perhaps beaten up, oppressed, excluded, and treated unjustly by life. A life, they have determined that is futile; work, eat, drink, be merry and what else is there? For the author it is simply seasons and times of life. The journey of life, in culture and society, In relationship, all the times there are, and for the purposes of this sermon, in particular, times of speaking and times of silence.

I agree with this passage. There are times and seasons to our lives. Time to mourn and dance. Gather together and separate, embrace and refrain from embracing, weeping and laughing, there is a time to keep and throw away, a time to keep silence and a time to speak.

I have been told by some colleagues and others that perhaps now is the time to be silent, to be in prayer, to seek understanding and conversation in silence and solemnness. While there is nothing wrong with these things, I do not believe this is the time for silence. This is the time to speak, especially now as we approach General Conference. Especially now when the conversation is growing more and more prevalent. Now is the Time to speak, silence only serves to promote the injustices our world and fellow pilgrims on the journey are experiencing.

It is time to speak, time for ALL of us to speak and to acknowledge there are times for silent reflection, and inner peace, perhaps even passive practice of peace and meditation, AND there is a time for active peacemaking, justice making, and I believe that time is now! Speak up, let your voices, your faith, your lives be heard, until Justice is made to happen!

This posture and way of living and loving is about participating in the vision of God’s justice for all, and with God’s help, into a just, compassionate, and peaceful place for which we all yearn. Living into this vision of God’s compassionate justice in the world is about justice for all. And in terms of our denomination, in terms of the church, the Body of Christ, to emphasize my friend’s words once again, “We are not more than justice.”

All of this being said, I do believe we can be more than the injustices we promote as a denomination, as local churches, and as members. I was struck this week as I studied in Isaiah and his words for the community in which he was a part, listen –

…that you come before me – Who asked that of you? Trample my courts no more; bringing oblations is futile, incense is offensive to me. New moon and Sabbath, proclaiming of solemnities, assemblies with iniquity, I cannot abide. Your new moons and fixed seasons fill me with loathing; they are become a burden to me, I cannot endure them. And when you lift up your hands, I will turn my eyes away from you; though you pray at length, I will not listen. Your hands are stained with crime-wash yourselves clean; put your evil doings away from my sight. Cease to do evil, learn to do good. Devote yourselves to justice; aid the wronged. Uphold the rights of the orphan; defend the cause of the widow.

These are the prophetic words from Isaiah for his community and ours…

We can be more than excluding good, qualified, faithful, loving LGBT members of our churches and congregations by welcoming and ordaining them into the full life of the church.

We can be more than the injustices we promote when we claim to be nonviolent and then lobby for fewer firearm restrictions when we are outside the walls of the church.

We can be more than the injustices we promote when we claim to love the poor and yet shame them by supporting drug testing and calling them lazy if they need to be on assistance.

We can be more than the injustices we promote when we claim to welcome all and then support banning Syrian refugees from our country.

We can be more than the injustices we promote when we state healthcare is a right and then condemn the only attempt to provide health coverage for all.

We can be more than the injustices we promote when we claim to value life and then lobby for continuation of the death penalty.

Yes, we can be more than stating “all persons are of sacred worth to God,” while claiming “except for these.”

I do believe we can be more than the injustices we promote as a denomination, as local churches, and as members. We can be more when all of God’s children have access to both sides of the table.

We can be more when all have enough. We can be more when we are as concerned with tearing down the walls of injustice as we are with keeping the doors shut.

We can be more when we are as committed to justice for all as we are with maintaining the status quo.

We are not more than the important, compassionate, grace-filled, welcoming, loving, justice of God, all of it and more. I pray daily for our beloved United Methodist Church and our General Conference and delegates, praying one day we become more than a Denomination that fears conflict, difference, diversity, and change.

As shared with me by a friend and colleague, we are a broad tent denomination, with a wide variety of theology, belief, and practice and yes, we are more than a single issue church, but we are not more than justice for all God’s children, all of them.

Here I stand. Here I remain. In love and service with the United Methodist Church. May grace abound and love immerse us all. May it be so. May it be so in 2016. Speak Up! IT’S TIME!

Rev. Kent H. Little

 

An Open Letter to an Old Friend

February 2, 2016

Dear United Methodist Church,
It has been some time since we have had a sit down talk, I suspect it has been about four years. Four years, because it seems like every time General Conference rolls around I feel the need to talk with you about our friendship and try to go about the difficult work of dialogue and conferencing in a way that we often end up agreeing to disagree.

You know, we have been lifelong friends, quite literally. I was born into the arms of your understanding of grace almost fifty-seven years ago. I grew up in your presence with my dad being one of your ordained, back when you were simply known as the Methodist Church. I was baptized in the waters of your presence in a little church in western Kansas. The same church my father would serve some thirteen years later where I would be confirmed in the faith and become a full member of the United Methodist Church.

I confess, through many of those years and many years following that confirmation, I took our friendship for granted. It was not something I thought a lot about, it just was. I went to church every Sunday, mostly because I was the preacher’s kid. After I graduated from high school and moved away from home I did not pay a lot of attention to you. I would show up now and then, but really not with any regularity.

Of course in hindsight, I know you loved me even if from a distance. You laughed with me and my friends, you mourned the loss of family members with me, you comforted me, and you fed me body, mind, and spirit. You celebrated the marriage to my best friend with me, you embraced both of my children with open arms and without condition.

And then you called me, you and God, you called me to be a part of the prophetic, compassionate, embracing, and serving clergy of the church. I carried with me into that experience all that I had known, all that I knew, and all I had learned and experienced from you. I was, am, deeply grateful and humbled by this calling you have placed upon my life and journey.

You have done, you do so much good in the world. You educate us, provide healthcare for us, teach us about the faith, care for us when we mourn and when we celebrate, you nurture our faith in Christ, and deepen our commitment to one another.

With that, I really do not know when I became aware of it, this troubling in my soul. I know it has been some forty years since the language was placed in our discipline. I only know that for at least the last twenty-four years, you and I have struggled with being together. We have worked together, changed lives, fed the hungry, transformed communities, served the poor, welcomed the marginalized, and introduced many to the Way of Jesus.

All of that being said though, we have not been able to come to agreement on how and if you will welcome persons of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender orientations. We have spent the last twenty-four years debating, dialoguing, and conferencing until we agree to disagree and try to continue to live in civility and grace.

I was sitting in a seminary classroom just a few weeks ago and the topic was debate, dialogue, and having difficult conversations. The discussion moved to that moment where individuals or a group have to agree to disagree and move on. And then the professor lifted this question, “How do we know when it goes beyond that? When do we know the moment we can no longer agree to disagree, take a stand, and state simply, ‘No, you are wrong’?” The question has haunted me ever since. And thus, I am writing you this letter dear lifelong friend. Sometimes, friends have to sit down and talk, and sometimes they have to say difficult things when agreement does not seem possible. While I recognize there are differing views about sexual orientation, different interpretations, and understandings, I have to say, dear friend, you are wrong.

To continue to hold a blanket belief that homosexuality is a sin is wrong. To claim a child of God is somehow sinful simply because of who they are and what their sexual orientation is, is wrong. To continue to claim that “we are all sinners,” and yet identify “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” as if this is somehow “different” denies the very grace of God, and is wrong. To continue to refuse ordination to gifted, faithful, and called individuals, does harm to the Body of Christ, and is wrong. To continue to turn away deeply committed Christians, who are in committed, loving, monogamous relationships who long to be married by their pastor and in the church they have embraced and who has embraced them, is to ignore the love and relationship with Jesus Christ in which the church was founded, and it is wrong. To disallow pastors who are called and long to participate fully in some of the most sacred and meaningful celebrations of the members of the church is to disavow that call of God upon their lives, and it is wrong.

Friend, all this being said, I want you to know I am not going anywhere. True friendship does not walk away, but stays engaged, even in the midst of conflict and anxiety until transformation happens. It is my prayer that at the 2019 special General Conference you manage to embrace and name your error and remove these unjust and discriminatory rules that do harm to children of God and the Body of Christ of which you are a part. To date I have promised to stay with you, hold you, fight for you, and I will not let you go. I love you too much.

Remember from where you have come. Remember the grace of God for all. Remember to make justice happen. Remember to love as God loves. Remember to be the very reflection of God in the world around you. I will continue to pray for you, for our General Conference, I will continue to be a prophetic voice, and with this call of the Divine, know sometimes I have to be the thorn.

May it be soon, my friend, may it be soon.
Love and Light for Our Journey –
Your Friend, Kent

I Am Weary Yet Persistent

May 1, 2012

Understanding context and presence is a crucial part of critical thought and comment, it is important for me to say I am not now, nor have I ever had the opportunity to visit either as delegate or observer our General Conference of The United Methodist Church. That being said, perception from one on the outside looking in from afar is also important, for there are far more in this position than actually in place in Tampa, Florida as I write.

It is hard to describe my feelings tonight as I sit in my living room wide awake at 1:56am, awakened by what I am not sure, other than this ache down deep in my heart and soul that will not let me go. I am weary, angry, heartsick, disappointed, frustrated, or sad I really cannot put my finger on it exactly, but it is there and has welled up within me until I can no longer be silent.

I have watched live streaming video on my computer via the internet, read news feeds from various organizations present at General Conference, read tweets, tweeted myself, watched Facebook posts, and have posted a few comments as well. I have prayed each day for our delegates¸ the General Conference, and our church as a whole. And as I peer through the window of technology and word, here is what I have seen.

I have seen a church that seems more intent on establishing rules than hearing the voices of the people it serves. I have seen a church more willing to discuss, re-discuss, and once again to establish a new structure than to embrace one another in love and understanding. I have seen a church more interested in limiting time to discuss legislation than taking the time to hear all of the legislation submitted especially from the least of these. I have seen a church take steps backward in its support of women, not only in standing in solidarity with an organization that promotes women’s health but structuring a General Conference in terms of presiding bishops and preachers for worship where our women leaders seem to have been more of an afterthought than considered a leading force in our church. I have seen a church more interested in the status quo than stepping out of its comfort zone with faith and trust. I have seen a church that has agreed that it cannot even agree it disagrees on the issue of homosexuality, which is no longer just frustrating but should be highly offensive and a continued slap in the face to ALL persons of Sacred Worth! I have seen a church in denial of the idea we can continue to turn people away from our churches, from ordination, from full participation and expect it to grow. I have seen a church more interested in numbers than in the lives of those who are hurting and searching for a place where they can simply be who God created them to be. I have seen a church that expects me, an ordained clergy, to serve the church and the people fully, faithfully, and lovingly, and then tell me I cannot serve them fully if they happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered. I have seen a church that does incredibly sacred work for the cause of the Christ all over the world, and yet seems so caught up in a fear of change it has forgotten how to love fully, justly, kindly, and humbly.

Exactly how accurate these perceptions are will be borne out after the last word at General Conference, but they are honest perceptions from one who has tried to follow along from some 1300 miles away. These are my perceptions from the yard trying to see in through the stained glass windows of the church, my church, the church I have been a part of for the last fifty three years, the church I love. And I must admit I am having trouble seeing the church I dream of, a church of grace, compassion, mercy, and love. A dear friend of mine wrote a verse for me on the occasion of my ordination, “Kent, on this your joyous day never forget to check outside the church doors to see who may have been left in the yard.” As this General Conference moves toward its close the end of this week, I fear the doors will be shut once again for four more years with too many standing in the yard trying to see through the windows, trying to get in the door, left in the yard by a church too afraid.

As weary as I am I want to thank the delegates and participants for their time and hard work they put in at General Conference. It is an enormous task to take on and to be gone for so long. I acknowledge that many of the issues I have cited are systemic issues and the wheels of change grind slowly and often inefficiently. Thank you for your faithfulness and work on our behalf.

As weary as I am I have not, nor will I give up until all God’s children are fully welcome in our, in God’s United Methodist Church. And one day, justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-stream. One day…may it hasten on to this day.