Friday, October 25, 2013

Accept the Mission: Reject the Rule

It's a big weekend for the United Methodist Church! Tomorrow Bishop Melvin Talbert will marry two men, completely violating the rules of the church. There will be another wedding tomorrow also.

I've been watching Facebook postings today as a couple who are members of the church I serve are sharing pictures of events the day before they are married. In Pennsylvania instead of Kansas. On a beach instead of a United Methodist church. By another pastor instead of by me. I can't marry them in their own church in their own state because they are both women. Even though they have been together longer than many heterosexual marriages. Even though they are committed Christians and among the most faithful participants of their local church. Am I missing something here?

Of course I am! "The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching." (2012 Book of Discipline, paragraph 161F)

Setting aside the question of how one would distinguish a "practicing" homosexual from a "non-practicing" homosexual (am I not a practicing heterosexual since I am typing right now and not engaged in coitus?), I'd like to suggest that those opposed to LGBT equality are missing something much more important than a paragraph in our Social Principles.

The mission of the United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I have participated in making more disciples of Jesus Christ at the church I have served for the last  3 1/2 years than my previous 10 years as a pastor. Almost every Sunday we have someone new walk into the church building who was ready to give up on God. Many of these people are ready to reject Jesus because they have been taught that Jesus has already rejected them or somebody they love because they are gay. THIS IS WHAT WE HAVE TAUGHT! To simultaneously say  "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching" and "God loves you"  is like a parent who beats a child while saying "I love you." It is nonsensical. And it drives people away from faith in Jesus. If our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world then we would be far better off casting the nets wide and truly welcoming all people into our congregations.

Imagine an alternative to what is happening this weekend in Pennsylvania. Imagine that instead of getting married in a private ceremony we were able to host a wedding with 150 people in attendance. Imagine half of those people were people without a church home. Imagine that those people without a church home were people, like some I know, who have felt betrayed by God because no matter how hard they try they can't "pray the gay away" (i.e. they can't make God turn them into sense that God did not make them to be!) Imagine that in the moment of marriage the gathered people experience the scriptural truth that we love because God first loved us. Imagine that, say, half of those who had previously rejected God choose to give Jesus and the Church a second chance. Do you know what would happen then? We would have taken another step in fulfilling our mission as a church. But we can't do that because 55% of delegates at the last General Conference say so. And we all know that the majority always gets it right.

It has been said, "If we don't stand for something then we stand for nothing!" I agree. Let's stand unequivocally for God's love as revealed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It has been said, "We can't sell out to culture!" I agree. Let's sell out to our God-given mission.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Government Shutdown: We're All to Blame

The government shutdown is good for one thing. It shows us again how the Bible is relevant to real life.

In Genesis 3 immediately after Adam and Eve have eaten the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge God appears on the scene. You can read the story here or just reading the Livingston Version of the Bible here: 
God: "Adam, do you want to tell me what you've done here?"
Adam: "Um...I don't really know what happened. I was just standing here and this woman gave me this fruit to eat. What was I supposed to do? I was trying to be polite. It's her fault1"
God: "And Eve, what about you?"
Eve: "Well, yeah, I gave Adam the apple but only because this snake made me eat it first."
Snake: "Hissssss"

You see how quickly we resort to blaming each other instead of taking responsibility for our own actions? So maybe we shouldn't expect Congress and President Obama to act any better. Regardless of our expectations, they are playing the blame game and playing it well. I watched helplessly last night while person after person came on TV pointing the finger at someone else. I never heard anyone say "I'm part of the problem." How can an intelligent human being say with a straight face that this problem is all because of one side of the aisle or the other? They are all obstinate!  I put the blame 1/3 on President Obama for not being more assertive in talking with Republicans in Congress, 1/3 on Congressional Republicans for not proposing a serious compromise (they repeatedly say their first compromise was defunding Obamacare. How exactly is that a compromise?), and 1/3 on the Senate for not passing a true budget it I don't  know how many years. Oh, and if we had responsible spending and taxing policies we might never have been in this mess to begin with.

But now, notice what I'm doing. Notice how quickly I began to place the blame. President Obama was elected not even one year ago. So was all of the House of Representatives and 1/3 of the Senate. I'm spreading the blame evenly across the field, but I'm leaving out the group that put these buffoons in office. Don't get me wrong, they are all acting like buffoons. But it was buffoons like you and me who gave them the power to shut down the government by putting them into office.

Reality check: Politicians want to get elected. They get elected by getting votes. They get votes by giving people what the people say they want. These politicians have heard that ideology is more important than governing. Polarizing policy is more important than getting along. Rhetoric is more important than reasoning. They have been told this by 1) the extremes in the population that contact politicians and 2) the silence of the non-extremist majority of Americans who are tired of this nonsense. If you are in the silent majority STOP BEING SILENT. DO SOMETHING!

Here's a place to start.
1. Find out who your representative is here
2. Contact your representative by following the links or go here.
3. Say something like this: "I'm interested in voting for politicians who are interested in making a positive difference in the world. You have a chance to be that kind of politician, but you're not doing it right now. Please get back to work fulfilling your responsibility to govern this country. I, and people like me across the country, are sending this message to Washington so that Democrats and Republicans alike know that we the people are far more interested in governing than one-upmanship. I understand that in elections politicians sometimes feel the need to cater to the extremes. You need to know that if you do so you may get their vote but you will not get mine."

I've just emailed my Senators and Representative. I hope you do the same.