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The two women who got me to carry the rainbow flag

Despite the fact that I’ve been pretty vocal on my blog about LGBT issues, I haven’t been fully “out” as an ally in my face-to-face interactions with my congregation and other clergy, though it’s probably been very silly to think I can somehow separate the two worlds. Today represented somewhat of a milestone in that regard. Two years ago, when the rainbow people held communion outside of the annual conference, I had a very brief and nervous conversation with one of them whom I knew but didn’t stick around. This year, I decided to go to the annual rainbow people communion service. I left the conference a little early to get there, and immediately a woman volunteered me to take a giant rainbow fish flag back into the convention center and hold it up prominently as everybody was exiting so those who wanted to come would know where to go. I’m sorry to admit that I was a little nervous terrified about the facial expressions I would encounter in my fellow clergy who hadn’t yet identified me as one of “those” people. I’ve still got a lot further to walk in my journey. But one thing that was really cool about the communion service was that two women were there with whom I had a very significant conversation three and a half years ago that began my journey of un-closeting myself as an LGBT supporter. So I got a photo with them.

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#VAUMC14: We voted for real conversation about sexuality; that means the onus is on us to have it!

Yesterday, my colleague Tom Berlin put forward a motion to postpone the resolution that had been put forward to change the United Methodist Discipline‘s language on homosexuality so that we could have a year of dialogue as a conference about sexuality as proposed by our bishop. I imagine that there were some people in the room who felt quite betrayed by this motion (which I not only supported but encouraged Tom beforehand to propose). A woman stood up to say that justice delayed is justice denied. That perspective makes sense to me. When Tom’s motion passed and there was a loud applause, it made me wince. Because I thought how many LGBT people in the room hear that applause as a negation of them. I wasn’t sure how many people were applauding what they thought was a decision not to talk about that ugly, divisive topic for another year, which is the opposite of what Tom and I are hoping will happen. So the onus is now on those of us who have been concerned about the real possibility of schism to make sure that these conversations really do happen and are well-attended.

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#VAUMC14: Connection — institution vs reality

Part of our annual conference program each year involves a teaching study led by a seminary professor. This year we have Dr. Elmer Colyer of Dubuque Theological Seminary in Iowa. Colyer gave a provocative presentation this morning on what the Methodist buzzword “connection” should mean for us. He said that the real underlying problem the United Methodist church faces in all of our conflicts is not a lack of discipline, but a lack of connection, because discipline is only effective within the organic context of authentic connection. I absolutely agree. Continue Reading

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The Virginia Conference talks about sexuality

Like many annual conferences of the United Methodist Church, the Virginia Conference is considering a resolution to change the language in the Book of Discipline about homosexuality. In an effort to have a better conversation than convention hall speeches, about 300 of us gathered last night to listen to representatives from each side give speeches and then split up into groups of 8 to share our convictions and stories with each other. Our conversation gave me a lot of hope in a time when we need more hope as United Methodists, so I wanted to share my observations from it.

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What does a safe and fruitful church conversation about sexuality look like?

The Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church will be meeting next weekend in Hampton, Virginia. Among our business is a resolution to recommend omitting the Book of Discipline language around homosexuality. I’ve been dreading the series of angry speeches that will take place in an environment in which it’s impossible for authentic prayerful dialogue to occur. My colleague Tom Berlin has proposed that in lieu of the annual predictable polarizing legislative battle, we try to have some real conversations in our congregations about sexuality with a fair representation of all perspectives. Though I have been open about my desire for the Book of Discipline to change, what I most want is for United Methodists to actually listen to God together and follow the Holy Spirit’s lead instead of organizing into factions and lobbing accusations back and forth. So I wanted to start a conversation about how to have a safe and fruitful conversation, hoping that my loving gracious readers will provide the correction and refinement that my ignorance and privilege require. Continue Reading

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Should the #UMC ask King Solomon how to cut a baby in half?

Two women stood before King Solomon in 1 Kings 3:16-28 with one baby, both claiming it was theirs. So Solomon offered to cut it in two. The woman who actually loved the baby was willing to give it up rather than see it die. The other woman had become so embittered by their argument that she didn’t care if the baby lived or died; what mattered to her was to see the other woman get punished so that they would both suffer the same grief. It’s an excellent metaphor for today’s conversation about schism in the United Methodist Church. Thinking that we can “amicably separate” and create two denominations out of one given the theological diversity within each of our thousands of congregations is about as wise as cutting a living baby in half. It’s a question of whether our ideological commitments, whichever side we’re on, trump the value of the lives and communities that will be torn apart. The question each of us in our respective vantage points face is what control we are willing to renounce unilaterally so that the baby can live. Continue Reading

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What if conservatives and progressives need each other?

Nobody gets on my nerves like sanctimonious moderates. You know, the kind who are religiously committed to maintaining an absolutely mathematical balance on their facebook wall between criticisms of Republicans and Democrats. One of my seminary friends has a blog where she describes herself as “the opposite of moderate.” I just think it’s intellectually lazy to assume that the average of opinion must be right. I believe there are times to be measured and times to be radical and no set formula for determining which time is right for which. So I don’t want what I’m about to say to come across as a sanctimonious moderate statement. But I’ve been pondering the schismatic talk within the United Methodist Church of late and feeling convicted about my own glib, unhelpful contribution to it. I don’t want us to break up. I’m not a moderate. I’m a progressive who needs to be in covenant with conservatives. Continue Reading

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Is there any #UMC accountability for resisting injustice and oppression?

It seems like in United Methodism as with many things, there are unspoken rules about which things we say for nicety sake and which things actually have teeth. One of the things that sounds pretty to say but doesn’t actually have any covenantal teeth to it is the second question of our baptismal vows, “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever form they present themselves?” If this question had any danger of being enforced with accountability, then I imagine the Good News voting bloc would be strategizing right now to get it struck from the United Methodist Hymnal at General Conference 2016. But what would it look to be held accountable for resisting injustice and oppression in whatever form they present themselves? Continue Reading

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Let them go in peace and start over from scratch like Wesley did

The United Methodist blogosphere has been fired up after a recent announcement that 80 prominent pastors and theologians have called for planning a split in the United Methodist Church on account of our differences over the homosexuality issue. Differing perspectives on this announcement have included David Watson, Joel Watts, Kenneth Pruitt, Steve Manskar, Chad Holtz, Drew McIntyre, Tom Lambrecht, and Jeremy Smith. I think that the United Methodist Church should help facilitate the departure of those who do not feel they can continue in ministry with United Methodism because of their frustration with the bishops’ unwillingness to come down hard on pastors who marry gay people. When John Wesley had problems with the Church of England, he didn’t try to orchestrate its breakup; he built his own evangelical parachurch movement from scratch which was of course a wild success because the Holy Spirit was with him (it’s an imperfect analogy, but Wesley didn’t expect the Church of England to bankroll his holiness movement). So that’s what those who want a breakup should do if their concern is genuinely a matter of conscience and not of control. Continue Reading

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In defense of Boy Scout campouts (a reader responds)

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the way that the middle-class church is being undermined by social pressures that cause parents to overprogram their kids and check out of church. I flippantly mentioned soccer games and Boy Scout campouts as the competition we face for Sunday morning worship. In doing this, I hadn’t really stopped to consider how God could work in an environment like a Boy Scout campout. One of my readers Greg Nelson, the Scoutmaster of Troop 754 in St. Charles, Missouri, wrote a very beautiful and compelling letter about how he seen Scouting used to the glory of God’s kingdom. It was too good for me to keep to myself, so I got his permission to reprint it here. Continue Reading