Monday, December 12, 2016

Civility in a New Day

It was, I think, 2011. I had been at least at a portion of every annual session of the Kansas East Annual Conference of the UMC except for the year my second daughter was born all the way back to 1988. More than 20 years altogether. We had argued about a handful of issues over the course of those years, agreed on many more, and through it all we always (publicly) stayed civil. Then we talked about...civility.

Two pastors brought the issue up. The idea was that we should have a simple set of guidelines to encourage us to engage in debate and discussion with a loving and respectful attitude. I was opposed to it. My opposition was not to civility. My opposition was to the idea that we needed to legislate civility. We're a church! An older (to me) gentleman spoke my thoughts in opposition in a way that helped me hear them from an entirely different perspective. Paraphrased, he said

"I don't understand why we need this. I don't understand why we would have trouble talking to each other civilly today. When I was younger people just knew how to talk with each other respectfully. Why can't we just do that today without having to pass a petition about it?"

I thought about when he was younger. What would Annual Conference have been like? Who would have been there? Who would be speaking? For starters, as white as we are today our demographics were even whiter when he was young. People of color did not have a voice. While we certainly have at least vestiges of patriarchy left, when he was young women's participation was seriously minimized. Clergy still have a powerful voice at Annual Conference today. It was much stronger years ago. A variety of sexual orientations and gender identities have always been a reality, but when this gentleman was younger certainly nobody would admit to it in a Kansas church conference. 

That's when I realized that we actually did need a civility covenant of some kind. Because people like the speaker, people like me, had always been heard. When he was younger people knew how to talk to each other because they were talking to other people just like them. That's easy. But in the 2000s our culture, our church, was changing. White, male pastors like me were realizing that we didn't always get to set the terms of the debate. In the past, even though there were "always" "other people" the "others" had to speak "our" language. The way that we thought, spoke, and wrote was the norm that everybody had to live by. Now "we" had to learn "their" language. We had to learn that complimenting a female colleague on her looks was more likely to be heard as an invalidation of her ministry than a compliment (no matter what the speaker meant!). We had to learn that asking about a woman's husband or a man's wife made assumptions about a person's sexual orientation that we shouldn't make no matter how awkward the word "spouse" was (at least for me. Is the plural spice?) We had to learn that asking an African-American to share what the "Black Experience" was like was as ridiculous as asking a white American to describe the white experience. There's only one way of experiencing life? In short, we had to learn that the words we speak are not always heard the way that we intend for them to be heard. And, both so that we can be heard more clearly and so that we can hear others more clearly, we need to be conscious of the words we use and the way we speak.

Today, in our churches and in our broader culture, we need to think about civility again. We need to be aware that when a white man talks about the importance of law and order in our inner cities a parent of African-American children may well hear an endorsement of police brutality - no matter what the speaker intended to communicate. AND we need to understand that when the word "racism" is used to describe a person a segment of society will discount the argument because they perceive the word is overused - regardless of whether or not it really is overused. We need to understand that there are some people who voted for Donald Trump because they genuinely believe that he will be a good president for ALL people. AND we need to understand that there are some who did not vote for Trump because they genuinely believe that he is a threat to ALL people. We need to understand that when some people hear the word "Christian" they don't hear "lover of God and humanity," they hear "anti-gay bigot." AND we need to understand that some who have been called "anti-gay bigots" are acting in ways that they truly believe are loving.

The words we use may sound the same, but we are not all speaking the same language.

It's not right or wrong, it just is. But it makes it so easy to misunderstand each other. Really, that's what I discovered in 2011. I heard this man's hurt at hearing that what had always seemed to work before wasn't going to work anymore. I shared his hurt. I am that man. If I'm honest, there's a part of me that still wants to believe that. I want communication to be that simple. I want our work to be more straightforward. But I realized that if I really want to be part of a church where there is no male or female I must listen carefully to those who are female. If I want to be part of a church where there is no slave or free I must listen carefully to those who have been or still are enslaved. If I want to be part of a church that is not defined by nationality I must listen carefully to all nationalities. And I can't do that unless I'm willing to hear some things I may not want to hear. I'm still working on it. Some of the relationships that I value most are those that help me continue to work on it.

Civility in this new day starts with reminding ourselves of an old idea - self responsibility. You are responsible for your own words. Let me say it differently - I am responsible for MY own words. I, WE, must speak them carefully, particularly when communicating with someone who may hear them differently. We are also responsible for working on understanding those we communicate with. Be prepared to say "That's not what I meant. Let me try saying it a different way" when someone doesn't seem to understand. Deescalate arguments by being the person to say "let's try again" when someone else says "you don't get it." If both parties engage in conversation taking responsibility for what is said and heard then at the end of the conversation even if they don't agree they can at least know in confidence what they disagree about. I must be that kind of person. You must be that kind of person. We must be part of the solution. Because we're not going back to when we were younger. We're all older now. We need to act like it.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

An Open Letter to the Bishops' Commission: You Don't Represent Me

Dear Commissioners,

Thank you for agreeing to the task in front of you. I don't think anybody who is not among your number will ever be able to fully appreciate what you will experience over the next several months. You will all be in my prayers throughout this process. It sounds like there will be opportunities for ordinary pastors and lay people like myself to share opinions on possible ways forward. I'm really glad for that. But I have one thought that I want to share with you separately from other opinions.

You do not represent me. Nor do you represent anybody else. Please do not forget this. If you don't remember this then there really isn't much point in even meeting. If, for example, you have joined the Wesleyan Covenant Association you may feel compelled to stand by their declaration that a so-called local option should not be on the table. But if you're open to the movement of the Spirit then your mind may be changed. If you represent the WCA then you have to vote with their wishes as their representative instead of voting where the Spirit moves you. If, on the other hand, you are a member or Reconciling Ministries you may be compelled to reject a so-called jurisdictional solution outright because it leaves many LGBT pastors and laity unprotected. But if you're open to the movement of the Spirit then you might find that as part of a wholistic solution. If you represent RMN then you won't be able to be open to a solution such as that even if it is God's will.

You don't represent RMN, or WCA, or IRD, or Good News, or Love Prevails, or the conference you are a member of, or the local church you serve, or the country that you live in. You can't approach this as a representative of any person or group and be faithful to your work. You represent only Christ and Christ's Church. And so for the sake of Christ's Church please do not take sides. Do not decide now what the outcome must be or cannot be. Do not base your decisions on what others tell you. Instead seek diligently Christ's truth, that we might all be set free.

Blessings to you in your work,

Rev. David Livingston

Monday, September 26, 2016

Self-avowed, Practicing Nonsense

No attempts at a clever introduction today. Just straight to the point. The United Methodist Church's notion of a "self-avowed, practicing homosexual" is nonsense. I use the word nonsense in its philosophical definition. The phrase that is in our Book of Discipline which many seek to enforce ultimately has no meaning. It is a phrase that cannot be adequately defined. Specifically, it is not possible to label one person a "practicing homosexual" and another person a "nonpracticing homosexual."

1) The current definition of the phrase

We actually have a definition of what "practicing" means. It comes from the Judicial Council fifteen years ago in Decision 920. In that decision "living in a a partnered, covenanted homosexual relationship with another woman" was deemed sufficient evidence for a review, but only if that person "affirms that she is engaged in genital sexual activity with a person of the same gender" would the person actually be "self avowed, practicing." In other words, the relationship itself is smoke but "genital sexual activity" is the fire.

Warning - the next section will necessarily be somewhat crass and explicit.

2) The definition applied

Case #1: Decision 920 referred to a real woman who had admitted to a relationship with another woman but had not spoken about their sexual activity. She was ultimately allowed to continue as a pastor because a covenanted relationship is not, by our definition, the same thing as "practicing" homosexuality.

Case #2: This is a hypothetical but possible situation designed to show the absurdity of our current definition. A heterosexual boy is repeatedly sexually abused by his brother. As an adult, the boy becomes a pastor but the sexual abuse continues even after sharing it with his District Superintendent. That clergyman is - please understand that what I am about to say is completely absurd - by our definition a self-avowed practicing homosexual. I know it sounds disgusting. It should. But it meets the criteria. He is self avowed - the clergyman shared the abuse with his District Superintendent. He is practicing - the definition of practicing only requires that the person "is engaged in genital sexual activity with a person of the same gender."

Clearly in case #1 we are talking about somebody who is gay and in case #2 we are not. We know this already because we know what homosexuality is. But that's not what our definition says. This doesn't necessarily mean that our Book of Discipline is wrong; it does mean our definition is wrong. It does not say what we intend.

3) Another definition

One solution to the problem is to further refine the definition. We could add "consensual" to the genital contact. But, of course there are "consensual" abusive relationships. And adding that word does nothing about case #1. Clearly, what we really intend is to say something about the relationship itself - thus efforts from some like John Lomperis of the Institute for Religion and Democracy to deprive due process to those in such a relationship (I cannot locate the resolution at this moment and will edit with a link when I do locate it.) What would such a definition look like? Here's a stab at it - "Practicing homosexual - a person in a consensual, committed relationship with a person of the same gender." That could do it. It would certainly apply to Case #1 and not Case #2. But what about Case #3?

Case #3: Two women are in seminary together and become incredibly close. They fully live life together. Both identify as heterosexual. For the sake of committing themselves fully to their work as pastors they choose not to marry. Instead, they list each other as beneficiaries, they socialize with each other regularly, and whenever possible to save money they live in the same house. When their appointments are a greater distance apart they maintain a long distance relationship not unlike some married clergy couples. Two heterosexuals who fit our new definition of practicing homosexual.

Or Case #4: Two men who identify as homosexual are married in a civil ceremony. After being married for some time, one hears the call to ministry in the United Methodist Church. But he does not intend to leave his marriage. Not wanting to hold anything back, he openly acknowledges his marriage. He also shares that like an estimated 15-20% of marriages, he and his spouse are completely celibate. By our current definition this would not count but with the new definition I think it would qualify as practicing. But then so would Case #4a.

Case #4a: The same two men as in case #4 choose not to marry but are sexual active. The same person hears the call to ordained ministry and at the same time is convicted that being sexual active with another man is sinful. At the same time, after spending years as an unmarried couple, he remains committed to his longtime partner - in a celibate, unmarried, but committed relationship. This would also qualify as practicing, even though many evangelicals would affirm the man for choosing to remain celibate. Then there's the very awkward case #4b:

Case #4b: The same scenario as #4a except that the new pastor wants to push the boundaries some and so asks his District Superintendent "how far is too far?" Does kissing count as genital contact? You can imagine a whole series of additional questions to make the full point.

4) What It All Means

The point of this exercise in cases and definitions is to show that there is no definition of "self avowed practicing homosexual" that adequately allows ordination for some and not for others. Perhaps this is why we have been changing our language every four years since 1972. We will never find the right language. It doesn't exist. Because there is only one sufficient way to define a "practicing homosexual."

Practicing homosexual - a person who is currently [i.e. practicing] sexually attracted to people of the same sex[i.e. homosexual]

The fact is the only gay person that we want as a pastor is the gay person who doesn't act gay. Whatever that means...

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Oops. He Did it Again

John Lomperis of the Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD) just wrote a piece on legislation passed in July by the South Central Jurisdiction of the UMC. The first several paragraphs are largely an accurate and fair representation of what happened. Then Lomperis inexplicably went on to attack me and an alternative resolution that I proposed along with Andrew Ponder Williams. Since Lomperis recently called me out for asserting that IRD and other right wing leaders intentionally distort the truth without my citing of specific examples of the practice, I am pleased that I've been given the perfect opportunity to demonstrate exactly how they do it.

Let's go line by line in his attack.

"I have never met the Rev. Livingston, but know of him primarily through his expressing his commitment to “unity in diversity” and “improving relationships” in such ways as defending a clergywoman recklessly breaking the covenant that serves as our basis of unity..."  When I was asked by Rev. Meyer to serve in the role of advocate as defined by the Book of Discipline I did so. She has that right, as guaranteed by our Constitution. As someone who seeks to uphold the Book of Discipline, I'm not sure why this would bother Lomperis.

"...(even to the point of snark-tweeting his own bishop)..." He may be right. I'm not on twitter enough to know what qualifies as snark-tweeting. But what I can tell you is that I have had many conversations with Bishop Jones and I'm confident that he would not be surprised at the content of any of my tweets or other social media. I follow the protocol of assuming anyone could see anything I put out there.

"...and for offering such pastoral love and grace as broadly accusing folk in the evangelical renewal movement of “constant lies and intentional deception.”  and this is where he really does it. Please follow the link he gives. Lomperis apparently intends to make this my own "bucket of deplorables" kind of comment by going back to this twitter conversation from three years ago. Please note that I am specifically making reference to Lomperis himself. In fact, in all my writing about the right wing of the UMC, my concern is not with the "rank and file," it's with the leadership of the renewal groups like IRD. I have many relationships and ongoing conversations with those who are theologically much more conservative than I am. In private conversations some of them have expressed the same frustration. In fact, my first experience with this was in 1999 when I serve on GBCS and first proposed a resolution to General Conference seeking a middle ground on homosexuality. Mark Tooley, who at that time held the position Lomperis holds today, promptly found the one line in everything I said that could be construed as controversial and published that comment alone. Here's what Tooley doesn't know: I was with him at the time - I only wanted space for others in the denomination who disagreed with us. As a seminary student I was even branded by some as "ultra-conservative." While that was never a label I would claim for myself, I don't think any of my seminary classmates would dispute that I was among the most conservative in our class. It was Tooley's casual relationship with the truth that started my movement towards the middle. Lomperis is simply continuing that tradition. It is a demonstration of the worst of church politics. It is wrong. And, to be clear, it has nothing to do with 99% of theological conservatives. It has to do with some of the mouthpieces for that view.

To Continue, "On his blog, Livingston explicitly described this second motion as “an alternative resolution” that he and others submitted in intentional response to Gilt’s, since “upholding the Book of Discipline has become code language for what those on the left see as prosecuting (persecuting?) LGBT pastors...” Lomperis says all of this as if it's not really true. Of course it was an alternative resolution, and of course "upholding the Book of Discipline" is code language. Look no further than...Lomperis for that. It is, in fact, the language of upholding the Book of Discipline that Lomperis appreciates about the resolution that passed. He says this multiple times in the very same post, just three paragraphs before taking me on. Lomperis criticizes me for saying precisely the same thing as him.

"...and according to Livingston, the simple fact that the first resolution’s author was from Texas, which has a “well known conservative bent,” is “[p]articularly” sufficient basis to judge the resolution as “seem[ing] divisive rather than uniting.”  This is a significant mischaracterization. What I said is that the first resolution came from the Texas Conference. If you're not familiar with UMC polity, that is one of five conferences in Texas. It is widely known that the Texas Conference delegation is almost entirely traditionalist. Saying that is no more controversial than Lomperis saying the Western Jurisdiction is liberal - which he does and I do not dispute. It is almost indisputable that multiple resolutions have come out of the Texas Conference that seem divisive. I can't speak to their intent, but I can speak to the perception.  And this is not a perception that Lomperis is unfamiliar with.

The final irony

Lomperis' post finishes by affirming the compromise resolution that we reached and which I celebrated as a victory for the centrists in the denomination. But he claims it was a win for the traditionalists. Here's what really happened. The author of the Texas petition, Rev. Kip Gilts, met with Andrew Ponders Williams (I was unavailable to meet with them due to a committee responsibility). They shared their concerns with each other. They came to a mutual agreement about a good path forward that alleviated our concerns without compromising the integrity of Rev. Gilts original petition. I spoke with Rev. Gilts later (but before the vote) and we both expressed gratitude that we could actually agree on a petition even though we have very different views on human sexuality. Andrew and I got what we wanted. Rev. Gilts got what he wanted. That's called a win-win. That actually is a kind of unity in diversity, that many of us on the left and right hope for. Lomperis can't make it otherwise no matter how he tries to re-frame the truth.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Watch Out for the WCA Pt.3

As I start this final post on the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA), I want to remind the reader that there should be no animosity towards a group like this simply because they are preparing for the possibility of schism in the United Methodist Church. That is a smart and reasonable thing to do. The problem with the WCA is the apparent theology including, as we've seen so far, a disregard for LGBT individuals and a poor treatment of the Bible. Today we're going to do a little conjecture about what a WCA church may look like. As a way of introducing that topic...

Where Are the Women!?!?

If you've seen the recent articles and videos advertising the WCA's upcoming gathering in Chicago you may have noticed the prominence of women  in the movement. Don't believe it. Instead, go back to the founding document. The original June 30 "Open Letter to the People of The United Methodist Church" has 55 signatories. Of those, only seven are women. Two of those women are married to men who also signed the document. You should know I have a bias in this area. I don't like quotas. Quotas too often result in somebody being labeled the "token ________" instead of being acknowledged as the right person for the right job. So even though the majority of United Methodists are women I could tolerate having fewer than 27 of the signers as women. As the signers are probably leaders in the denomination, a better reflection could be the demographics of General Conference (36% female). So it would be OK if only one third, 19 of the signers were women. Since most of the signers are clergy and only 27% of our clergy are women, maybe it would even be OK if 15 signers were women. But it wasn't 27, or 19, or even 15. It was 7. Less than 13%. This will become even more significant in a moment.

The Sky Is Falling!

One of the most prominent predictions that I hear for our church is that we will become like the Episcopal Church. The story goes like this: The Episcopal Church's acceptance of homosexuality progressed until finally the conservatives couldn't take it any more. The election of Gene Robinson as bishop (see Karen Oliveto) was the final straw. The Church could not take the strain any longer and broke apart. Since then, the liberal Episcopal Church has continued to slide into irrelevancy and reduced participation while the breakaway conservative churches have begun to prosper. If the UMC accepts homosexuality we will follow the same pattern, with a conservative group breaking away and prospering while the denomination itself declines into nothingness.

For the sake of argument, let's say the comparison holds. Let's say that the Episocopal and United Methodist churches are similar enough that this comparison is accurate. Let's say that the Bishops' Commission reports back to a special General Conference in 2018 with a plan that would largely hold the denomination together through a plan that a large majority can agree to but that a remnant on the right cannot agree to. The group on the right splits off and forms a new church. We already know who that group would be in the UMC - it's the group we're talking about in these posts. Who is that group in the Episcopal Church?

I'm glad you asked! In 2009, after several Episcopal churches had already left the denomination, the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) formed. It now consists of nearly 1,000 churches. At least a handful of disgruntled United Methodists have already found their way to the ACNA. To their credit, the WCA has jumped ahead of the ACNA in their planning. Why wait for churches to leave the denomination in mass before forming a group that they can join instead? If the Episcopal Church and the UMC are similar enough that the comparison used by the conservatives holds then the WCA must be the UMC equivalence of the ACNA. So let's look briefly at some of that denomination's beliefs.

Who Is the ACNA?*

1. Some of us have asked why conservatives are not consistent with banning divorced pastors as well as LGBT pastors since the Bible seems clear about that. The ACNA would agree. A pastor who divorces and then wants to remarry must receive approval from the archbishop. For comparison, if we had a president of the Council of Bishops in the UMC, that would be similar to the ACNA's archbishop. Please note that the Liberia Annual Conference of the UMC has decided that a divorced pastor is not eligible to be elected bishop. The social norms and standards are different in the US and much of Africa. It may also be significant to note that the WCA's statements of belief are silent on divorce.

2. It's not just about pastors, though. If an ACNA member who is divorced wants to remarry, the pastor must get permission from the bishop (not archbishop) to perform that wedding. Some of us would like the discretion to marry a same sex couple. in the ACNA a pastor doesn't even have sole discretion to marry a divorced couple.

3. Now back to the women. The ACNA has the same issue with women as pastors that I WISH we had with people who are LGBT. Namely, every diocese (read Annual Conference) can choose whether or not to ordain women. Some will say that the WCA/ACNA comparison breaks down right here. After all, the WCA has a statement on equality that includes women. I would say actions speak louder. Having only seven women sign the original document speaks loudly. The failure of the South Central Jurisdiciton to elect a woman not only in 2016 but in three of the last four quadrenia (yes, that's one female bishop elected in the 21st century) speaks loudly. In the Central Conferences, only 15% of clergy elected to the 2016 General Conference were women and only 10% of active bishops are women (one in African and one in Europe.) Representation speaks loudly. Finally, there's a conversation I had with a prominent lay person in one of our South Central Jurisdiction Conferences at General Conference. Almost in passing, this lay person told me "90% of our church won't take a woman as a pastor." Are you serious? I assume that this was an exaggeration, but even if it was the fact that a statement like this could be made at all in 2016 is absolutely absurd. One does not need to be much of a skeptic to doubt the words of an equality statement when the evidence is so clear that there will not be equal treatment.

4. Finally, and perhaps most disturbing, in the ACNA the bishop has the authority to determine which versions of the Bible can be used in a local church. I usually read from the CEB in worship. Over the course of any given year one will probably also hear the NRSV, NIV, and Message used. In the ACNA you may have a bishop who just doesn't like one or more of those versions and won't let you use it. It seems unlikely that even the WCA would go this far, but I will note that their original statement on the Bible (which you can find in my second post) is more conservative than the ACNA's statement. I will also remind you that the real argument about Scripture that we are having in the UMC is not whether Scripture is authoritative but how Scripture is authoritative. There is no better way to win that debate than to control which Bible is used on Sunday mornings.

*all statements about ANCA practice and belief come from their website, mostly from documents in their governance section

Putting It All Together

I believe that as United Methodists we are better together. I believe we serve God more faithfully be staying together. I will be one of those who works towards a solution that holds us together. But if we cannot stay together, I will not be with the WCA. And it really has very little to do with whether or not my LGBT colleagues can be pastors or my LGBT parishioners can be married. Yes, those are concerns. But there are deeper issues. The original statement from the WCA on the Bible undoubtedly points closer to their beliefs than the almost meaningless statement that has been written since then. The refusal to note the equality even of celibate LGBT members, reflected both in the WCA statement and in my experience at General Conference, is repugnant. Finally, using the same analogy that so often is used to cast doubt on the "liberal" side of the UMC, the "conservative" WCA becomes a potentially dangerous group that could directly hinder any pastor who is divorced or who is female.

This is not the United Methodist Church, and it must be rejected.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Watch Out for the WCA Pt. 2

This is Part 2 of a short series on the new Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA). In the first part we examined what the WCA's Statement of Moral Principles says and doesn't say about equality for LGBT individuals regardless of their "practice." This time we look closer at what they say about Scripture.

The Original Statement on Biblical Authority

Before I mention the current WCA statement on Scripture, it's important to note that it is not their first statement. On August 2 the WCA revised and expanded their Purpose, Goals, and Beliefs page. The fact that this needed to be done less than one month after going public calls into question how firm their beliefs really are. But what did they say initially? The statement on Scripture was very succinct.

The Bible itself is the sole and final source of all that we believe. It is the inspired and infallible Word of God that speaks with final authority concerning truth, morality, and the proper conduct of humanity.” 

As a bumper sticker, this is a great statement. As a theological position it is seriously lacking. Most importantly,
- Stating that the Bible is the sole and final source for all that we believe completely discounts every other source of human knowledge. It means that science, archaeology, etc. can shed no new additional light on our beliefs. It goes leaps and bounds further than the Bible itself does in the often misused 2 Timothy 3:16.
- The United Methodist, and Biblical, view is not that the Bible is the Word of God. Jesus is the Word of God (John 1:1). This is not a superficial difference. Scripture points to the Word of God, which is our true final authority.

The Revised Statement

To the authors' credit, the revised statement that now appears is far superior to the original statement. It now reads:

"Given the current challenges directed to the unique place of the Bible in the church, we affirm that the core of the Christian faith is revealed in Scripture as "the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude 3; NRSV). We look to the Bible therefore as our authority and trustworthy guide, which "is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16; NRSV). Illuminated by tradition, reason, and experience, the revelation of Scripture is the church's primary and final authority on all matters of faith and practice."

We can affirm much that is contained here.
- I do not know a United Methodist who would question the Bible as "our authority and trustworthy guide" or that it reveals "the core of the Christian faith." Indeed, the Love Your Neighbor Coalition, the group of thirteen organizations working towards inclusiveness, finds their identity in Scripture and the often maligned MFSA states that their effort toward inclusion "is grounded in Scripture."
- As a centrist, I appreciate the phrasing of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Scripture is illuminated by tradition, reason, and experience. They are not four equal but different kinds of authority. This is what I teach at the church I serve.

What is most interesting about the revised Statement on Biblical Authority is that it exists at all. Why is there a need to improve upon the statements on the Bible that are already part of our doctrinal standards? In particular, Article V of the Confession of Faith (page 71, 2012 Book of Discipline) is a beautiful statement:

"We believe the Holy Bible, Old and New Testaments, reveals the Word of God so far as it is necessary for our salvation, It is to be received through the Holy Spirit as the true rule and guide for faith and practice. Whatever is not revealed in or established by the Holy Scriptures is not to be made an article of faith nor is it to be taught as essential to salvation."

This statement recognizes both the unique place and the limitation of Scripture. It recognizes that Scripture is God's word because it points to the Word of God. It reminds us that we rely on the Holy Spirit for discernment. It reminds us that we must remain humble in our views, stating that we are not to hold a belief as essential to salvation that is not articulated in Scripture. It reserves Scripture as speaking to faith and practice and not to history or science.

So why a new statement at all?

Reason for Concern

The stated reason for a paragraph on Scripture comes in the first clause of the first sentence: "Given the current challenges directed to the unique place of the Bible in the church..." In other words, the WCA asserts that the place of the Bible in our faith is being challenged by folks like Love Prevails and MFSA. But, as shown above, there is no serious challenge to "the unique place of the Bible in the church!" Across the theological spectrum what we are finding today is not a question of whether Scripture is authoritative, but how Scripture is authoritative. One way it could be  authoritative is that we submit to every word precisely as written in today's translations. Another way it could be authoritative is that we interpret all of Scripture and our very lives through the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. The often cited 2 Timothy 3:16 which is used to state that all Scripture is "God-breathed" can be understood to refer to what we know today as the Bible or, as undoubtedly it originally was intended, restricted to the Old Testament.

So let me say this another way. If the WCA believes the issue is simply that we need to believe that Scripture is authoritative they will not solve anything. First, we could all sign off on that statement. Second, a growing number of otherwise traditional evangelicals are changing their mind about this particular understanding of how Scripture is authoritative. N.T. Wright (who is a traditionalist on human sexuality) says in his fantastic book The Last Word,

"When we take the phrase 'the authority of scripture' out of its suitcase, then, we recognize that it can have Christian meaning only if we are referring to scripture's authority in a delegated or mediated sense from that which God himself possesses...The question then becomes: What might we mean by the authority of God, or of Jesus? What role does scripture have within that? Where does the Spirit come into the picture? And, not least, how does this 'authority' actually work? How does it relate, if at all, to the 'authority' of leaders or office-bearers within the church?"

Wright's questions are good ones. They are different questions than the simplistic "do you believe Scripture is authoritative?" Those on the theological left will not be of one mind on the answers to Wright's questions. Neither will those on the theological right. But they are the kinds of questions that we really ought to be asking.

The issue is clearly not whether Scripture is authoritative. The question is, perhaps, how Scripture is authoritative. The only reason for the WCA to give a new statement on the Bible is if, instead of wanting us to view Scripture as the our final authority, they want a particular interpretation of Scripture to be our final authority. In the next and final part you will see an example of how this may be lived out.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Watch Out for the WCA Pt. 1

Roughly two months ago a group of 55 United Methodists released a statement announcing the formation of the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA), a group that "will give orthodox United Methodists hope for the future and serve as a source of encouragement as the church works through a critical period of discernment." It would be naive to think that this group is not also designed to prepare for a future after the United Methodist Church. I do not say that to be critical. Our future is uncertain. It makes sense for like-minded United Methodists to prepare contingencies for what comes next. The purpose of this series of posts is not to critique whether the WCA should work on contingencies, but rather IF there is a split in the UMC to think through what a WCA dominated faction would be like. I would contend that it is likely to be not as generous an orthodoxy as is implied. I anticipate doing this in four posts, though it could be 3-5 when completed.


If you have any history with the UMC (and if you're reading this you probably do!) you know that the 44 year debate over LGBT rights is the presenting issue that has brought us to this point. It goes without saying that a self-proclaimed orthodox group will continue to be opposed to same sex marriage and the ordination of "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" (which is absurd language that I'll tackle at another time.  In the section of WCA beliefs on Moral Principles there is statement on equality that reads as follows:

"We believe that all persons are of sacred worth. Therefore, we gladly welcome all who seek to grow in their relationship with God to attend worship services and participate in the church's ministries. No person shall be disqualified from becoming a member of a local congregation, holding a leadership position in the church, or becoming an ordained or licensed clergy based on race, color, nationality, national origin, marital status, or economic condition. The WCA specifically renounces all racial and ethnic discrimination and commits itself to work toward full racial and ethnic equality in the church and in society."

On the surface this seems perfectly in line with what we might expect and with the current official position of the UMC. But there's a critically important difference - it's missing any mention of sexual orientation. Our stance as a denomination has been clear - our language on LGBT individuals always includes "self avowed, practicing." The WCA chose to write a statement on equality that ignores LGBT people regardless of whether or not they are celibate.

This is very significant. In a landmark case in 2005 Rev. Ed Johnson of Virginia did not allow a gay man to join the church he served because the man was practicing and unrepentant. Rev. Johnson was suspended but the Judicial Council overturned the suspension. Please note - Rev. Johnson was very clearly that the issue was not the man's sexual orientation, but "...homosexual practice, which we think is an important distinction." The party line since 2005 has been consistent - the issue is not whether someone is gay. The issue is whether a person "practices."

This was most clearly stated by Rev. Rob Renfroe, the President of Good News and a co-founder of the WCA in 2013:

"A very effective pastor in our Annual Conference whom I respect immensely and consider a close friend is attracted to persons of the same sex. That pastor has chosen a celibate life. No evangelical United Methodist I know would think such a person should be denied ordination. But if you listen to progressives, you would think that people like you and me are so homophobic that we reject people because of who they are. I’m afraid it seems too much to ask that even if they disagree with us, they at least present our views fairly."

It is striking that at at a time when our denomination needs clarity above all else, the WCA has excluded from their statement on equality even the people that they say are most in need of recognition - LGBT individuals who have chosen to remain celibate. This is consistent with my experience at General Conference in May on the subcommittee that dealt with Paragraph 4 of the Book of Discipline. A resolution calling for inclusion of sexual orientation as a protected status failed even though it said nothing about practice. (To be fair, the resolution initially passed by one vote but the following day two more delegates somehow changed subcommittees and when we were finalizing our work on the resolution it failed by 1 vote. I'm still not sure how this was allowed.)

I trust that the writers of the WCA, which include some of the brightest minds in Methodism, said what they meant. If they did I suggest that you be very cautious before joining the cause.

Next: Many traditionalists say that all the issues around human sexuality are really questions of Biblical authority. We'll take a look at what the WCA has to say about that.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The Big News out of SCJ

Last week I had the privilege of serving as a delegate for the Great Plains Conference at the South Central Jurisdictional Conference. You may have already heard some of what happened, particularly bishop elections and asking Judicial Council for a declaratory decision on newly elected bishop Karen Oliveto. I want to share a different perspective on these and other matters that I think gives us some hope for the future of the denomination.

Bishop Elections

There were eight endorsed candidates for bishop (and a late ninth entry). We were to elect three. It took a record 35 ballots to complete our elections. In conversation with some other delegates. The way the politics work (and please remember that politics is truly a neutral term), since a bishop must receive 60% of the votes to be elected a very strong minority can block an election without being able to elect their candidate. After Bishop Ruben Saenz was elected on the third ballot this is exactly what happened. David Wilson and Lynn Dyke were both strong candidates that eventually gave way to Jimmy Nunn. Then after being way behind for most of the process, Bob Farr surpassed David Wilson for the final spot. Rev. Wilson in particular had very committed support. I believe he is a strong leader, but coming from a Native American background leadership looks different. It is more collaborative and less top-down - precisely the kind of leadership we need in tense times. Unquestionably we need more diversity than we have in the ranks of our South Central bishops. Personally, Because they were both also perceived as theologically left of center there was strong progressive and centrist support for David and Lynn. And the progressives just. didn't. give. up.

In past conferences, each Annual Conference (like the Great Plains) would vote mostly together. That didn't happen here. People throughout the conferences were voting their conscience even if that didn't line up with their own best interest. That's a good thing! And it's OK that it took us a long time to get to our final results.

The Centrist win
The bad news of the elections, and it is bad news, is that we were not able to increase our diversity as much as we could have. Here's the good news.  If you line up all eight candidates from left to right (theologically speaking), the three bishops elected were largely perceived as numbers 3-5. In other words, the two most liberal and three most conservative candidates were not elected. The centrists won. In the second most conservative jurisdiction in the United States, the centrists won!


Typically, election of bishops is the only significant action that happens at Jurisdictional Conference. But this year there were three other potentially significant issues. In the order that they came up,

1) Resolution related to the action of General Conference. A week or so prior to the conference we became aware that a delegate from the Texas Conference had submitted a petition that called on United Methodists to uphold the Book of Discipline while the Council of Bishops and their soon to be named Commission work on a plan for the denomination to move forward. If you don't know all the background this seems like a completely reasonable proposition. But upholding the Book of Discipline has become code language for what those on the left see as prosecuting (persecuting?) LGBT pastors. Particularly given the well known conservative bent of the Texas Conference, this resolution seemed divisive rather than uniting. So a couple of us proposed an alternative resolution that used the language of the Council of Bishops - uphold the Book of Discipline while also working to reduce trials and minimize harm. In a moment of intercession by the Spirit, the author of the Texas petition and the cosigner of our alternative petition met outside of the Committee on Petitions and Resolutions and reached a compromise - the Texas petition moved forward but with language incorporated from our petition. Was it perfect? No. But it was done together, across the theological divide. On Friday the Jursidictional Conference passed the petition almost unanimously. That's a centrist win!

2) A second proposal came from a task force called Mission 21. Long story short, anticipating that we will need to reduce the number of bishops by one in four years, the group was assigned the task of proposing the best path forward. They gave us two options. The preferred option would redivided counties in Texas to create four instead of five conferences. The alternative would pair conferences to reduce the number of bishops without changing the boundaries of annual conferences. Every Texas conference is affected by the preferred option, but all the conferences stay mostly intact...except for the Texas Conference. In the new alignment about 15% of the Texas Conference moves into the other three conferences. It is clear the task force did not have political motives. I voted for the proposal without political motives. It is the right thing to do. But one conference, the Texas Conference, was clearly opposed and also happens to be the largest conference and arguably most conservative conference in the jurisdiction. The Texas Conference didn't get what they wanted and one could make a strong case that a theoretical 2024 Jurisdictional Conference would be more centrist as as result.

3) Finally, at the last minute we had the request for a declaratory decision by the Judicial Council regarding the election of Karen Oliveto, who is an openly gay pastor, as a bishop in the Western Jurisdiction. You will all have an opinion on this. But I just want you to hear what the decision we made actually means: In the second most conservative jurisdiction in the United States only 56% of the delegates were willing to ask the Judicial Council to rule on Bishop Oliveto's election. I am convinced that when it comes to LGBT rights a motion similar to the "third way" proposal of the Connectional Table would stand a good chance of passing in our jurisdiction. I would have preferred it if the motion had been defeated, but the most important outcome is that it demonstrates again that while we are divided the extremes are, well, extreme.

What I want you to hear is that the South Central Jurisdiction should give hope to the Methodist Middle. You are a large group. Perhaps even a majority group in the United States. Don't give up on the UMC holding together, or at least mostly holding together. If the centrists are willing to stand up and be heard our united future is still bright!

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Conversation Matters

In moments of tension and high conflict every opportunity for helpful discourse is crucial. It is most unfortunate that Bishop Scott Jones has missed one of these rare opportunities in the case of Rev. Cynthia Meyer.
                On the last day of the Great Plains Annual Conference, Rev. Russell Brown proposed a well-crafted motion asking Bishop Jones and both the Counsel for the Church and the Counsel for Rev. Meyer to follow a provision currently in the Book of Discipline (¶2706.c3) that would move Rev. Meyer’s case away from the courtroom and back into conversation between Rev. Meyer, Bishop Jones, and potentially a third party mediator. This provision helps the Church closely follow the guidelines for handling discipline that Jesus gives us in Matthew 18. The only catch is that The Committee on Investigation can only implement ¶2706.c3 at the request of both the Counsel for the Respondent (Rev. Meyer) and the Counsel for the Church.
                Please hear me clearly: Rev. Brown’s motion was not to find Rev. Meyer innocent. Indeed, ¶2706.c3 explicitly says “Such referral will not constitute a dismissal…”. In making the motion, Rev. Brown articulated clearly that he was not siding with Rev. Meyer or Bishop Jones.
Unlike some other conferences in our connection, the Great Plains is a body that is not of one mind on matters of human sexuality. One year ago we adopted a motion asking for a third way by roughly a 60-40 margin. We are civil, we are respectful, but we are divided. And yet this year Rev. Brown's motion passed by an overwhelming margin, estimated at 75-25. The will of the body was abundantly clear. This was not a progressive vs. traditionalist vote. This was a vote that was mindful of how destructive church trials can be. The pain of Jimmy Creech’s 1999 trial in the former Nebraska Conference came up repeatedly during the debate.
                Thus many of us were encouraged by Bishop Jones’ statement in the days following Annual Conference that he would engage again in conversation working towards just resolution. Acting in good faith, Rev. Meyer has engaged in those conversations. Yet Bishop Jones has still missed an opportunity. Bishop Jones and Council for the Church declined the clear request of three-fourths of the Annual Conference by refusing to hit the pause button on Rev. Meyer’s trial. It is important to say this again – the request of the Annual Conference was not to dismiss the charges. This was a movement of the middle in the spirit of the statement from The Council of Bishops at General Conference that we avoid trials while upholding the Book of Discipline. There was one and only one option available to do precisely that. It was recommended by an overwhelming majority, and it was turned down. I’m confident Rev. Meyer will still work earnestly at just resolution. But working towards just resolution with a trial looming seems much more like negotiating a plea bargain than engaging in Christian conferencing.

Bishop Jones has consistently claimed that his hands are tied by the Book of Discipline, but even within our Book of Discipline we have provisions for common sense and conversation to win the day. It is unfortunate that one week before Bishop Jones' tenure in the Great Plains comes to an end, a time during which so much good was done including the very creation of this new conference, his time will be remembered primarily for a trial that didn’t need to happen.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Last post for now

I'm trying - I really am - but there is so much happening right now that I am having a hard time doing what I need to do for General Conference and for myself. So please check back but don't anticipate a post each day. Instead, consider following Wil Cantrell's posts. I don't know Wil so I can't promise they will continue to be good, but I've appreciated his writing so far. (It's a lot easier to find a moment to read than to write.

I will say one more word because I know that most of you are concerned specifically about LGBT legislation. If you've been following along in other venues like twitter you're probably discouraged. I understand that, but I also hope that you'll wait until next week to get too discouraged. At the moment we are divided not only into 12 committees, but then into at least 25 subcommittees. The makeup of those subcommittees is somewhat fluid and is often not representative of the full committee or the body as a whole. For example, in my subcommittee I've been working to include "sexual orientation" as a protected status (like race, economic condition, etc.) On Thursday we lost a vote to add it by one, then passed it by two, then yesterday and today lost again by two or three votes. In a subcommittee of 17 that is part of a committee of 75 it will be interesting to see what happens this afternoon in front of the whole committee. And then it will need to come before the whole General Conference. So there are still many possibilities of any of the many discriminatory passages to come out. Do not be optimistic,but do not lose hope.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

General Conference Day 2

Actually it's morning of day 3. General Conference is always slow to gt moving, but particuarly this year. We have completed two of ten days of work - 20% - and have still not finished passing our rules. We are now hearing nominations for a variety of offices. The process is painfully slow.

Worship is very inspiring at the start of the day, and then we immediately shift gears and get bogged down. I'm reminded that the first general conferences were for clergy only, but much more for the purpose of worship and renewal than for the setting of rules. I wouldn't suggest we go back to clergy only, but it would be nice if our emphasis could shift back.

The final rule that we still need to address is rule 44, a proposed rule to help us address contentious issues. Because it is not currently in our rules, we would have to both approve adding it to the rules and then vote to make use of it. Probably won't add it to the rules and we will almost certainly not actually use it.

Nominations have closed and we're about to argue about rules again - gotta go!

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

General Conference Day 1.5

Lunch break at GC on day 2. It's a little embarrasing to be at this point in the conference and still be debating the rules that will be governing the conference. I'm concerned that the more time we spend on minor details the less time we will have to deal with major issues. For the most part, though, everyone has been civil and trying to work together.

One of the unique aspects to General Conference is the need for translation. When I first put on headphones to hear a French speaker I felt like I was at the UN. It's not a bad analogy, really. The Great Comission to to go into all the world has been (partially) fulfilled and the UMC is representative of that. Those of us in the U.S. forget that we are in part of the world that needed to hear the Gospl the longest. Those in Northern Africa were among the first. But the translation issue really points out the tension of living in a global denomiation. It is not just translation of language that is hard, it's translation of  culture. Not everybody uses Roberts' Rules for conducting business. Our differet cultures have different rules of etiquette. It truly is a deep challenge for us to face.

I'll try to post again tonight, but it may not happen until tomorrow. We all appreciate prayers while we go about this work.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Pax Methodos

Pax Methodos. It means something like "Methodical Peace" but it's the closest I could come to a Latin phrase for "Methodist Peace." It's supposed to remind you of Pax Romana, the roughly 200 year period of relative peace in the Roman Empire from roughly 27 BC to 180 AD. The peace came with a catch. The Roman Peace only existed because in the rare case when there was an uprising, all offending parties were wiped out. Like Jesus, for example. 

This is the kind of peace in the United Methodist Church that Good News and their allies are advocating for. In the latest issue of the magazine Thomas Lambrecht writes, "Our only hope to stay united as a church is to restore the integrity and accountability of our covenant. That is why our coalition will be advocating for proposals like the following:..." Nine proposals follow that make Good News' plan very clear. There will be peace. There will be unity. Because if you won't fall in line you will be removed.

Good News is advocating for such a centralization of power that for the first time ever, and only in the case of performing same sex weddings, there would be a Church-wide mandatory sentencing policy including defrocking after a second offense. We don't even have language like that for child abuse.

Good News is advocating for a litmus test for any counsel for the church in a trial. 

They are advocating for even stricter language on what it means to be a "self-avowed practicing homosexual" (because 40 years of tightening their grip isn't enough?)

They are encouraging pastors who disagree to leave the church by proposing language that simply reiterates what is already true - that a pastor can leave the denomination with their pension intact.

Just listen to the litany of the first word used to describe each of the nine proposals "Requiring...Requiring...Revise...Impose...Requiring...Allowing...Broadening...Adding...Requiring..." Don't we have enough requirements and impositions in our Book of Discipline already?

A Movement, as Good News often reminds us that our church is supposed to be, does not require enforcement of precise rules from a centralized authority who know better than us. Isn't that the same thing that in the secular world we have discovered about Washington D.C.? Good News is attempting to replace the institutionalism of our General Boards and Agencies with a theological institutionalism that dictates to Annual Conferences and pastors rights that have always belonged to them.

As General Conference approaches I encourage my fellow delegates to reject this new institutionalism. Reject the idea that a 60-40 vote of 846 people can speak God's definitive word for the entire connection. Instead, accept the long-standing principle that the annual conference is the best place to make decisions on matters of ordination and property and that pastors have the authority to choose who to marry and not marry.

The first Christians rejected Pax Romana because the cost of that kind of peace was too high. So it is today for Pax Methodo. There cannot be true peace or true unity when it is forced from one group onto another.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Further Conversation on the Interpretation of Scripture - Pt.2

Finishing the post begun two days ago, I'm looking at the response of Thomas Lambrecht to Donald Haynes. In the first post, Lambrecht gave two rebuttals. In this post we'll look at three more.

Lambrecht accuses Haynes of:

  1. Using the results of scientific inquiry to overturn the teachings of Scripture.
Haynes states that homosexuality is "a genetic sexual orientation." Lambrecht cites the American Psychological Association as disagreeing, saying that there is no consensus about the cause of homosexuality. Lambrecht is correct in saying, "Scientists have identified no 'gay gene.'" Of course there are countless traits that have not been identified by a specific gene that nevertheless are likely genetic. Although the research is disputed, this article gives a quick primer on the possible link between homosexuality and epigenetics (changes to our DNA after conception.)

Lambrecht's science vs. scripture setup is unfair. There are hints even as far back as Augustine that our understanding of Scripture can be altered based on what we glean from science and the world. In the Methodist tradition, One of our foremost Wesleyan scholars, Randy Maddox, says, "And when Wesley confronted an apparent conflict between current science and Scripture, he sought an understanding that did justice to both." In this case, if there is science that suggests that homosexuality is not a choice the door is open to the possibility is reconciling it with Scripture. I would add to Lambrecht's conclusion, "We ground our understanding about morality, right and wrong, in the timeless truths of Scripture" the words, "that have continued to be clarified and refined over the last 2,000 years." We have greater understanding now, and we can embrace that along with Scripture.

  1. Arguing from silence.
Haynes rightfully points out, "Holy Scripture never refers to homosexuality in the context of a loving relationship between two consenting adults whose sexual orientation might be naturally homosexual, and who have a committed, monogamous relationship or marriage." Lambrecht's reply is wholly unsatisfactory.

First, he claims that "historical research has demonstrated that such relationships did exist in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds" and cites Plato and Philo as examples. But Philo merely quotes Plato and Plato wrote roughly 400 years before Paul. Is the best evidence for same-sex relationships really the writings of a person who lived 400 years earlier than the period we are focusing on? Actually, yes. That is the best evidence. And it's lousy evidence. Plato appears to be writing not about real relationships but idealized relationships, so it's unlikely that even he knew about actual loving relationships. Further, in her masterful work Paul Among the People, Sarah Ruden demonstrates that there is absolutely no evidence contemporaneous to Paul of loving same-sex relationships. 

Second, he points out that "Given that every reference in Scripture to homosexual behavior is negative, one would think that the authors would mention the exception that merited acceptance, in order to clarify what the Bible really teaches." But this misses the most basic point - the Biblical authors didn't write about an exception because they did not know there was an exception! They had not witnessed an exception! It would sound as foreign to the culture at the time as a conversation about condoms and birth control pills. How would they even talk about it?

Finally, Lambrecht says, "Arguments from silence are always fraught with uncertainty and not something one can build one's theology on." This is true in and of itself, but it is not reflective of the theology of those of us in favor of LGBT people. We build our theology on the most basic of Christian beliefs, the Love of God. For one example of a positive theology you're welcome to watch a recent sermon I gave on the topic of same-sex marriage.

  1. Ignoring Scriptures that don’t support your viewpoint.
In summary, Lambrecht states, 'Haynes does not explain how the constant thread of heterosexual marriage from Genesis to Revelation supports the affirmation of same-sex relationships." My simple reply is that the Biblical passages Lambrecht supplies support marriage, period. None of them argue against same-sex marriage. They are silent. 

Lambrecht posted part 3 of his blog yesterday. I'll tackle it next week.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Further Conversation on the Interpretation of Scripture - Pt.1

Last month Rev. Dr. Donald Haynes wrote an article suggesting that Scripture does not categorically classify homosexuality as sinful. Rev. Thomas Lambrecht of Good News wrote a two part rebuttal. I encourage you to read both as they are good primers on some of the basic arguments for and against full inclusion for LGBTQ individuals, particularly in the United Methodist Church. I don't think either necessarily advances the case for or against beyond more basic understandings. Dr. Haynes suggestions are standard and Rev. Lambrecht's replies are predictable. In hope to stimulate further conversation, I'd like to reply specifically to Rev. Lambrecht's critique point by point. Lambrecht says Haynes is guilty of:

  1. Misclassifying certain verses and/or lumping unlike verses together into a category that can be disregarded.
Lambrecht reminds us that Haynes classifies the Levitical prohibitions against homosexuality as cultural instead of universal (comparing them to laws against eating pork instead of laws like loving others as we love ourselves.) He correctly points out that our United Methodist tradition, and indeed most of Western Christianity, categorizes those ancient laws as ritual, civil, and moral. Ritual and civil laws are intended for a time but moral laws are intended to be universal. He then says, "It is plain that laws related to sexuality are not ceremonial or governmental in nature, but moral." 

It is important to note that the distinction that we (and John Wesley before us) make regarding which laws fall into which categories is not entirely clear. One would be wise to proceed with caution at the "It is obvious that..." argument. What is "obvious" to one group or person may not be so obvious to another. For example, Levirate marriage is proscribed in Deuteronomy 25. Today we understand it as a civil law that ensured continuity of the family line and mechanisms for inheritance. But at the time, Levirate marriage would have been seen as a moral imperative. A brother must accept responsibility for his deceased brother's family! Similarly, at the time Leviticus was written one could argue that common sense said that it is a man's moral duty to marry a woman and reproduce so that we can fill the country with people for defense and prosperity. Today the land is pretty well filled with people and common sense (or at least a majority of people in the U.S.) would say that what happens in a person's bedroom stays in the bedroom.

Could the Levitical texts against homosexuality be moral laws that apply still today? Yes, they could. But there is nothing in Leviticus or elsewhere that demands that the answer is yes. 

  1. Misinterpreting and misapplying the biblical and cultural context to nullify the teaching in question.
Here Lambrecht is specifically concerned with how Haynes treats Romans 1. Haynes argues that Romans 1 is likely referring to temple prostitution and Lambrecht disagrees. I disagree with Haynes, too. Lambrecht correctly points out that the entire list of sins in Romans 1 is "a result of idolatry, rather than an expression of idolatry." Homosexuality is listed alongside "envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, [gossips], slanderers, etc." I know a number of "practicing homosexuals." They are not perfect people. But they are also not people to whom I would attribute these characteristics. Matthew Vines and others argue that the entire list of sins depends on our understanding of the word translated as "lust" in v. 24 and 26. Because there was no concept of sexual orientation, a person who desired same-sex relations had excessive (lustful) desire. Thus Paul's teaching is not about homosexuality as a sin; it is about idolatry as a sin - desiring anything (or lusting for anything) above God.

I'll end this post here as Lambrecht did with his and continue with additional points later. But first, one more important note on Romans. Too often we end our reading with Romans 1 instead of continuing as Paul does with Romans 2:1. "Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgement on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things." If we look carefully, we can all find ourselves in the list of sins that Paul lays out in Romans 1. At the very least may we speak and judge carefully, knowing that we are all doing our best and falling short at the same time.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Donald Trump: The Leader We Deserve

There is a leadership maxim, "You don't get the leader you need, you get the leader you deserve." We deserve Donald Trump.

Trump's basic political strategy is to out-insult his opposition. As soon as someone disagrees with him they go from being a "nice guy" or a "good person" to being an idiot. Has any other poltical candidate in history promised to ban one-third of the world's population (Muslims), promised a sovergin nation will pay for a wall to be built (Mexico), called for a national ban of a company (Apple), used profanity on national TV (multiple times), made fun of a person with a disability (a news reporter), been a no show for a debate (Fox), or said he wanted to hit someone at his rally (last week)? I don't know of a candidate who has done one of those things, much less all of them. Trump has been so over the top that we have all seemingly forgotten that he first made his named in politics as a birther!

But that's what we deserve. Because we live in a country where Barak Obama is still sometimes called a Muslim, where some Christians are called proponents of hate-speech while others are told they aren't real Christians because they're pro-gay, liberals socialists or communists and conservatives are called fascists, Facebook arguments are intense enough that if they were in person people may come to blows, and otherwise reasonable people can't even agree on basic facts (are gun deaths higher or lower in states with strong gun control? I don't know, but it can't be both!) The Church has been called the most segregated place on a Sunday morning - and it probably is - but we have become even more ideologically segregated. Those who agree with me must be right and those who disagree with me must be wrong. Fox has nothing but conservatives and CNN has nothing but liberals. I"m not even sure how I'm supposed to label the personalities on MSNBC now, but I do know there is a label. There's a label for everyone.

We deserve Donald Trump. We created Donald Trump. Whether you believe he would be a great president or a lousy president (and I know you believe he would be one or the other becasue nobody can just be average or ok or mediocre any more), we have all allowed a culture of division and discord to dominate.

Donald Trump has mastered the art of divide and conquer politics. And that's why we deserve him. He has mastered in a short time what the rest of us have been practicing for years.