Tuesday, May 24, 2016

What Voices Have Not Been Heard? - An Open Letter to the Council of Bishops of the UMC

Dear Council of Bishops,

I read your letter to the church this morning. In it you claim that your proposal is a way forward that commits to “having a different kind of global conversation that allows all voices to be heard.” I have to admit that every time I hear this statement I am puzzled. With respect, Dear Bishops, What voices have not been heard?

I ask this question because prior to General Conference I listened to the Connectional Table conversations which were taken over by the ironically named “Love Prevails” group. I followed almost every word of the livestream at General Conference and saw the demonstration by the LGBTQI supporters on the floor of General Conference – within the bar and therefore supported not only by the Marshalls who were supposed to protect the bar, but the bishops who allowed the demonstrators access. I watched the feed from the RMN coalition as they “ordained” Sue Laurie and as they presented various people who told their stories from an LBGTQI perspective. I have listened to the voices of the African delegates on the floor and in previous years I have listened to them in person (having been a recorder and transcriber at the two previous General Conferences). I also followed the videos and blogs put out by the Renew and Reform Coalition. All of these were loud and clear, so I ask again, What voices have not been heard?

We have at least four Annual Conferences in the United States that have vowed to break their vows of ordination and ignore the Discipline. We have 120 clergy and clergy candidates that have “come out” and have acknowledged that they lied to their own Boards of Ordained ministry. We have 2000 and counting clergy who have signed a letter of support for those who have and will in the future come out and/or break the covenant by performing same sex weddings. So I ask again, What voices have not been heard?

I have a Facebook friend who suggests that the chair of the commission should be a Ph.D. level ethicist and that it should contain “at least one scholar trained in the behavioral sciences who has done research on persons with a same gender orientation.” I have my own suggestion: that the commission contain at least one biblical scholar who has worked on developing a theology of sexuality based on the whole bible and not on either the “7 clobber passages” or a vague “God welcomes all” reading of scripture. If there is any voice I have not heard, it is this one.

I haven’t heard a lot of voices like mine, either. I have spent the last twenty-five years or so listening to the voices of those who are LGBTQI. Being scientifically trained, I have been keeping up with the scientific research into gender, reading not just the popular literature, but the scientific journals. As a biblical scholar, I have looked at both sides of the debate from a biblical point of view, reading and listening to scholars with a wide variety of hermeneutical and exegetical approaches. As a pastor, I have welcomed LGBTQI people into my congregations and made it clear to the congregations that all are welcome to come to the table. I have come to my conclusions after a great deal of study, listening, and prayer. I deeply resent being labeled “homophobic and evil” as I have been on numerous occasions, though I have tried to respond graciously. I also resent the attitude that I am just not as far along in my thinking as the “progressives.” I am usually represented in debates by those who are clearly far more conservative than I am and who do, in fact, lean toward a homophobic attitude. All of this to say, that if there are voices that are not being heard, they are voices like mine from people who have agonized over this issue for years and have come to some conclusions that the LGBTQI community doesn’t like. Honestly, I don’t like them either; I would rather be one who just goes along with the culture and lets people do what they like. But I can’t. All of that study, listening, and prayer has led me to the conclusion that I can’t.

So, Dear Bishops, though I really think that the voices which claim to have been silenced have spoken loud and clear and that this commission is an attempt to wait out those of us who are not “progressive,” I beg you to hear voices like mine. I beg you to place on your commission people who have listened with compassion, studied diligently, prayed fervently and yet still believe that 1) while love is from God, not all love must be expressed as sexual intimacy, 2) that one does not have to express oneself sexually to be a whole person, and 3) that sexual intimacy between two human beings is a gift from God to be shared only within a covenantal marriage between a man and a woman.

Along with many in the United Methodist Church, I will be praying for the work of this commission.

Blessings,


Rev. Dr. Martha Myre
Elder on Leave of Absence
North Texas Annual Conference

36 comments:

  1. Well said, Martha. You have, indeed, said what I believe and seek to practice!

    Michael Dominick
    A fellow Elder in the Indiana Conference

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  2. I pray your voice and those of same understanding are HEARD!

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  3. I pray your voice and those of same understanding are HEARD!

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  4. Thank you for this well reasoned blog. I have also noticed that the term "homophobic" is a slur that is thrown at anyone who holds to a biblical theology of sex, supports the current language in the BoD, and does not affirm the progressive agenda. It's time that we move away from slur words that denigrate others in order to have a reason to dismiss them and their arguments without having to engage the substance of what they say. In terms of biblical scholars, ethicists, and behavioral scientists, most have been socialized into the progressive mindset via their educational processes. Look at the demographics of higher education if you want data on this. For that matter, look at most of our UM seminaries to see the entrenched bias on this issue. Additionally, licensed mental health professionals have to abide by ethical standards that would require them to be biased on this issue. In short, there are no "unbiased" experts who can guide the UMC in this debate. We have the scriptures, 2000 years of tradition, the writings of Wesley, and the ability to apply critical thinking. Let's sit around a table with our avowed sources of authority and talk it out.

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  5. But your understanding is the conservative position. You may feel you have arrived at the understanding having given adequate and unbiased consideration to all points of view, but the viewpoint you settled on has been well represented since the incompatibility language was added to the BoD in the 70s (if memory serves), and continues to be expressed by conservative members such as those from the Central Conferences.

    While I appreciate the diligent inquiry and scholarly consideration you say you have given to the question, at the end of the day, your position is on one of the two sides of the scale. So I think it disingenuous for you to claim that your voice/position is not heard.

    This could be interpreted as an attempt to unfairly tip the scales, by asking that the commission be made of those who favor a more progressive understanding of the Bible, those who favor a more conservative interpretation, and those who claim to have carefully studied the topic, and come down on the conservative side of the issue.

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    1. The very fact of your comment, "While I appreciate the diligent inquiry and scholarly consideration YOU SAY YOU HAVE GIVEN to the question..." shows an air of skepticism. In other words, you find it hard to believe that anyone who has come to a different conclusion than being pro-homosexual over this issue is still wrong. I believe the Author's statements are NOT disingenuous as she represents many who are not "homophobic" (a contrived word to shame and raise alarm), are very accepting of homosexuals in her congregation (as I do) and who have not been heard as "people in the middle" who are trying to be faithful to Scripture (almost taboo in some Christian denominations today). The fact that you even conclude your statement (once again in a bit of an accusatory tone) "...and those who CLAIM to have carefully studied the topic, and come down on the conservative side of the issue." shows your own prejudicial bias. Regardless of your opinions, there are MANY UMC Pastors who hold Pastor Myre's perspective. Would it be possible at all for folks such as yourself to actually tolerate - no, better yet, respect the conclusions we have come to? According to Social Judgment Theory, the deeper one holds a position, any conclusions that are contrary to their own will only force them to dig their heels in deeper. This is the pride of sin - an unwillingness to change a perspective. I would also say since Pastor Myre has a Doctorate, there is some level of education that lets us know she is an educated person who would only be dismissed by the "progressives".

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    2. When we come back to what you call a conservative conclusion, it is not just the conclusions that we have come to from listening, reading and studying; it is the conclusion of the church for thousands of years. Now all of a sudden this is wrong. I only respond as anonymous so I don't have to create an ID. My name is Trish

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    3. I don't completely agree with you BJohnM. I actually think there are three major groups....I beleive that two group as bunched in the conservative voice. I have come to beleive that there is the group that is justifying their homophobia with the scripture, giving them for a license to be hateful to the LBGTQI community...the group I beleive Martha is speaking about is the people who truly want to know what is God's will in this and are looking for the Spirit to teach and lead us in that. Who are struggling to understanding how to act in this situation. I, too, have been and still am, struggling to understand and completely love all involved. I have done the research scientifically using professional journals and other sources, trying to understand human sexuality. I have also done deep theological study in the Word of God as a whole, not just the "prized" verses that are usually thrown out make a point to one side or the other. I also have friends and family that I deeply love who are part of the LBGTQI community and we talk openly, in love, about their sexuality and God. I totally beleive that you can be a Christian and homosexual....our salvation doesn't depend on us living perfect, sinless lives.

      I came to realize that I was part of a third voice when I sat in a room with fellow clergy (being outnumbered 11-2). The "conservatives" were being all grouped together as a group of people who are "all about the power" and were being put down because of our belief in the Bible being God's Word and the the source of our faith. I tried to share in the conversation but was about jumped on by most everyone in the room saying that my point was unfounded. I just sat through the rest of the meeting, not saying anything, and let them speak of their feeling of what happened at General Conference from their point of view. I felt that if I spoke anymore I would be placed in the "unloving" group that wasn't living in the love of Christ. I need to get along with the clergy in my area, and do not want to be put in the homophobic group.

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  6. This is fantastic and sums up how SO MANY of us who have participated in such "dialogue" feel at the bullying tactics of RMN and Love Prevails being rewarded (at the cost of MILLIONS of church dollars) by the Bishops' lack of leadership. I hope it is shared by Pastors in every Annual Conference with their Bishops.

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  7. Excellent reflection. You do speak for many who are at best bemused by our leadership and at worst deeply discouraged.

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  8. Just as an aside matter after listeneing to the tone of this. Not a ctiticism, but an observation.
    Have you noticed how different the theological tone is across the US and across the world. I have attended worship all over the US in different UMC churches. Every single one was unique in theological tone. I am from Rio Texas and retiring, but have attended UMC worship in all of these US cities and towns: Atlanta, Chapel Hill, Durham, Washington DC, Seattle, Portland, Coos Bay, Eureka, San Francisco, Monterey CAL, LA, San Diego, Phoenix, Tuscon, Albuquerque, El Paso, Ft Davis, Sonora TX, McCamey TX, Marfa, Alpine, Del Rio, San Antonio, Bandera Kerrville, Mason TX, Brady TX, Austin, San Antonio, Corpus Christi, Falfurrias, Premont TX, Kingsville, Brownsville, the Rio Grande Valley, Dallas-Fort Worth, OKC, Tulsa, Little Rock, Rolla MO, St. Louis, Iowa City, Des Moines, the Twin Cities, St. Cloud MN, Indianapolis, Louisville, Nashville, Memphis, Atlanta, Baltimore, Philadelphia, NYC and others I cant remember. No two worship experiances were alike. They are all part of the UMC and range theologically from extreme right to extreme left.

    That said, Annual Conferences also vary in theology and tone and have a bit more of a regional similarity. The Texas Conferences tend to be extremely conservative except for Rio Texas which has been moderate or left leaning for decades. Up to now, I would say that the Latino population in South Texas has been a moderating influence in that area. If you attend worship in Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley, the variation in tone, theology and politics is massive.
    Worship at First UMC in Atlanta has much more in common with First Baptist Church in Dallas than with FUMC Dallas. Worship in Seattle, San Francisco and San Diego do not sound like they even belong in the same denomination as those in Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana and Texas. The UMCs in Georgia, Louisiana and Kentucky sound like they have more in common with Fundamentalist Methodists in the USA and Africa than they do with any other UMCs in the USA.

    continued

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    1. Referring to the OP, is it your assumption that these people who self-identify are having sex, or do you know this personally?

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    2. Referring to the OP, is it your assumption that these people who self-identify are having sex, or do you know this personally?

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    3. Referring to the OP, is it your assumption that these people who self-identify are having sex, or do you know this personally?

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    4. Referring to the OP, is it your assumption that these people who self-identify are having sex, or do you know this personally?

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    5. I have no idea what you are referring to when you say OP.

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  9. continued

    I really wonder why they are even in the same denomination sometimes because they are totally tuned to different frequencies. Many would state that the "United" part of the UMC moniker has been a misnomer from the very beginning. Yet, others, in their own wisdom see great strength in such plurality. There is no question that many of our missional successes could not have been achieved without the strength behind that plurality through money and sheer numbers alone.

    There is both good and bad that comes with such plurality. I has a price. It means you work with people who you don't always agree with. You dont sing the same hymns. Sometimes you feel a little uncomfortable when you would rather relax and feel like you are at home. There has to be a willingness to allow others to think and practice a little differently than what you are used to. That is not giving in. That is not capitulation. That is allowing others to bring themselves before God the way they are, not the way you want them to be. They have their own things they have to work out with God and you have different things to work out with God. All, regardless of their theological belief system, have to work out their own salvation with God with fear and trembling.

    If you don't want to split the Church, despite all of the plurality, they it is required to go over and above what might be normally required to be sure all feel like they are being heard. If everyone feels they are being heard and respected yet schism is required, the process will not be any easier. If everyone believes that everything possible has been done to let people have their say, then people can move on with the belief that they did all that they could

    There are some, however, who will never believe that they have been heard or that God has been respected unless everyone comes into agreement with their position. The UMC is caught between two such groups now. Both made the mistake of drawing a line in the sand instead of allowing God to erase the line.

    It is clear to me that this is a last ditch effort to keep things together. Neither side is willing to give an inch because of the lines they drew. So the Bishops are doing all they can do. God has to do the rest.

    If you are going to sit there and complain about others' feeling that they haven't been heard, then you really aren't interested in anything but getting your way...and you really aren't interested in anyone else than yourself and your own positiion. So stop complaining and let God do what God can do...if you really give a crap about unity or the UMC. Chill.

    I am an unashamed liberal. I don't want a split. But if this group says there no real alternative i'll accept it. At least someone is going the extra mile to try to BE SURE it is the right thing to do ands that it is really, truly the last resort.

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  10. continued

    I really wonder why they are even in the same denomination sometimes because they are totally tuned to different frequencies. Many would state that the "United" part of the UMC moniker has been a misnomer from the very beginning. Yet, others, in their own wisdom see great strength in such plurality. There is no question that many of our missional successes could not have been achieved without the strength behind that plurality through money and sheer numbers alone.

    There is both good and bad that comes with such plurality. I has a price. It means you work with people who you don't always agree with. You dont sing the same hymns. Sometimes you feel a little uncomfortable when you would rather relax and feel like you are at home. There has to be a willingness to allow others to think and practice a little differently than what you are used to. That is not giving in. That is not capitulation. That is allowing others to bring themselves before God the way they are, not the way you want them to be. They have their own things they have to work out with God and you have different things to work out with God. All, regardless of their theological belief system, have to work out their own salvation with God with fear and trembling.

    If you don't want to split the Church, despite all of the plurality, they it is required to go over and above what might be normally required to be sure all feel like they are being heard. If everyone feels they are being heard and respected yet schism is required, the process will not be any easier. If everyone believes that everything possible has been done to let people have their say, then people can move on with the belief that they did all that they could

    There are some, however, who will never believe that they have been heard or that God has been respected unless everyone comes into agreement with their position. The UMC is caught between two such groups now. Both made the mistake of drawing a line in the sand instead of allowing God to erase the line.

    It is clear to me that this is a last ditch effort to keep things together. Neither side is willing to give an inch because of the lines they drew. So the Bishops are doing all they can do. God has to do the rest.

    If you are going to sit there and complain about others' feeling that they haven't been heard, then you really aren't interested in anything but getting your way...and you really aren't interested in anyone else than yourself and your own positiion. So stop complaining and let God do what God can do...if you really give a crap about unity or the UMC. Chill.

    I am an unashamed liberal. I don't want a split. But if this group says there no real alternative i'll accept it. At least someone is going the extra mile to try to BE SURE it is the right thing to do ands that it is really, truly the last resort.

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    1. REJ,
      I do not particularly "give a crap" as you say about what I think you are calling "unity." You are correct about that. And, yes, you are right to say that I think the position I have come to is the correct one. If I thought it was incorrect I would change it.

      I actually think this split is about far more than sexuality, though that is how it is presenting.

      I love the diversity of worship experiences in the United Methodist Church. I have planned a wide range of services myself and participated in many different expressions of Christian worship. What I do not love is the diversity of theological opinions. We have seminary professors that teach "God raped Mary," and who deny the resurrection. We currently have a pastor teaching in the Course of Study extension school who denies the incarnation, atonement, and resurrection. I hesitate to call these people "Christian." I don't believe that we can stay together as a denomination without some common core of beliefs - something more specific than "God is love."

      I have never wanted a split, but we have a de facto split already with the Annual Conferences who have pledged to disobey the Discipline. For me the only remaining question is how and when.

      Having said all that, I continue to belief that God could shower us with the Holy Spirit and turn all of our hearts back to God. That would be the best plan; but it hasn't happened yet. I will continue to wait and pray.

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    2. Martha, me too....the praying for the Spirit to turn our hearts back to God...I totally agree with everything you have said so far.....My spirit has been in such turmoil over wanting to be in God's will in how I deal with this. I beleive that God has given pastors and clergy a HUGE responsibility to be preaching and teaching the truth of God so as not to be responsible to drawing people away from God. I have come to the same conclusion as you and this voice needs to be part of the Committee the Bishops are suppose to be putting together. Praying about all of this brings me to tears as I know that God's heart is breaking, and does mine, as God has put his love in my heart for all the lost people that need to truly know the Love of God.

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  11. Thank you, Martha. I have supported the UMC in numerous ways for many years. With much thought and prayer, I pledged my loyalty to the UMC as it has been. This fundamental change the LGBT community demands is completely against what I've studied in God's word. I feel I will be held accountable by God for condoning behaviors that will condemn people to being lost eternally. I will not financially or in any other way condone a path away from God. I will love those folk who choose that path but will not be held responsible for supporting their choices. I am leaving my beloved church for one that will love all people without condoning all secular ideals.

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  12. I don't think God spends a lot of time in other people's bedrooms. The thing is, America is obsessed with sex. There's a label for every permutation of sexual proclivity. But u r right about one thing... We are too diverse to be called "United"...

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  13. I don't think God spends a lot of time in other people's bedrooms. The thing is, America is obsessed with sex. There's a label for every permutation of sexual proclivity. But u r right about one thing... We are too diverse to be called "United"...

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    1. Actually, Dana, I think God cares very much about what happens in people's bedrooms. I say this because I take the incarnation, ascension, and resurrection seriously. Our bodies and what we do with them matter.

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    2. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit? Sexual sins are sins committed against our own bodies. I am pretty certain God is concerned about what people do in their bedrooms especially since he gave the gift of sexuality that is now being distorted in so many directions. I am glad you started out by saying, "I don't think..." because you have obviously not done the exegetical and theological study on the subject since your comment relates to how you think God thinks.

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  14. Amen, amen and amen. Thank you, thank you for speaking the exact words that have filled my heart and mind. I too feel like the UMC has been permitted to veer off course because leaders don't want to make the hard decisions and stand for truth. Truth isn't hard to find. Many of us just don't want to see it. We have allowed ourselves to be swept away by muddied waters because we don't want take a stand and say, 'No.' Members of the LGBT community should be welcomed in our congregations just as divorcees, addicts, alcoholics, etc, etc. We are all broken and need Jesus. But we don't allow heroine addiction, adulterous affairs, money laundering etc etc in those that lead our churches. Sin is sin. Genesis states God created a man and a woman. Jesus was very clear that marriage is between a man and a woman. Any sex outside of this union is sin. It is not our job to judge, that is God's. But we are to love others as Jesus loved us, to not be conformed to the behavior and customs of this world, to hate what is wrong and hold tightly to what is good. I do not believe the LGBT lifestyle is good any more than the other sinful lifestyles I have listed. Please, let's stop putting a veil over sin and just call it what it is.

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  15. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  16. We must remember that we don't have to answer to any human being. But there will be a time when we will have to answer and that will be to the Father. The word is simple and has not changed for thousands of years. One-man one women that's a marriage. The right hand of the right Father will come soon. But thank you for your words. God bless you.

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  17. May your voice be heard along with all who agree with you and that includes me. Well presented. Thank you.

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  18. The board of Ordained Ministry and Bishops should get rid of these pastors that lied to God and the Board and have the laity fill their pulpits. My question is how can they conduct communion and not repent of their sin?

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  19. In all due respect and humbleness, I must agree with the respondent who said that it’s disingenuous for you to claim that your voice and your position isn’t represented, and isn’t heard in the UM church. Your voice and your position and your conclusion comprise the current official position of The United Methodist Church. As such, your voice is already resounding loud and clear, and is heard around the world. You stand in a long tradition of scholars, pastors, and laypersons who have, in your own words, “listened with compassion, studied diligently, prayed fervently and yet still believe that 1) while love is from God, not all love must be expressed as sexual intimacy, 2) that one does not have to express oneself sexually to be a whole person, and 3) that sexual intimacy between two human beings is a gift from God to be shared only within a covenantal marriage between a man and a woman.”

    This is precisely the voice and position currently institutionalized in the UM Book of Discipline. You’re not being silenced or sidelined whatsoever. Yours is the prevailing, controlling voice and position in the UM church today. You don’t need to beg anyone to hear voices like yours. Your voice is already in charge, via the Book of Discipline.

    You say that you cannot “be one who just goes along with the culture and lets people do what they like” because all of your study, listening, and prayer have led to you re-affirm and uphold the current position of the UMC and the BOD. Whether you intended it or not, this statement is loaded with the implication that proponents of changing the UM position on homosexuality are all just going along with culture, and are willing to allow people to do whatever they like, and haven’t done -- in contrast to you -- diligent and earnest study, listening, prayer, and scholarly Bible study. That’s not true. By circumstance, deeply devout gay Christians have been forced to their knees in fervent prayer and meditation, waiting and listening for the voice of God to speak to them; they’ve diligently studied and searched scripture again and again and again on this matter -– in far more gut-wrenching, soul-searching, intellect-stretching ways than you face as a straight person. Some of the church's best biblical and theological scholars were forced to their knees in prayer, and into rethinking their position when they turned out to have a gay child, or gay sibling; there’s no reason to insinuate that their scholarship is thin, sloppy, or narrowly focused on 7 clobber passages, just because they arrived at a conclusion different from yours.

    You further load the dice when you call attention to seminary professors who teach that “God raped Mary” and who deny the resurrection. Whether or not you intend it as such, this is rhetoric that causes readers to assume, consciously or unconsciously, that proponents of changing the UM church’s stance are grounded in nothing but thinned-out liberal theology. That’s not true. Some of the strongest voices for change in the UM church today are those of young evangelicals who are deeply grounded in scholarly study of scripture, and in their commitment to and trust in Jesus Christ, the Incarnate, Crucified, and Resurrected One; these evangelical voices include scholars, pastors, and laypersons alike.

    (continued below)

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  20. One respondent to your blog criticizes what he pejoratively labels as “bullying tactics” of the RMN. Any serious student of social justice movements knows that status quo upholders routinely employ this kind of pejorative rhetoric in their determination to discredit persons and groups who seek to challenge and change status quo arrangements and exclusionary rules. Such rhetoric was used during the black civil rights, farmworkers, and women's suffrage movements. When women were being denied ordination by the church, and started pressing for it, they were called “bullies” and “bitches.” Throughout history, justice for excluded, subjugated, marginalized people would never have come about had not courageous persons and groups been willing to be called bad names, and had they not made loud and disruptive noises, and transgressed unjust ordinances, rules, laws, and norms – and had they not, for example, illegally sat at Woolworth counters, illegally drank from “white only” fountains, illegally entered “white only” bathrooms. Pre- civil rights era, when bigoted store proprietors denied service to black people, they always proclaimed that they “had” to do so “because it’s the law” and as moral people they were obligated to “obey the law.” It wasn’t until justice-minded white people, and justice-seeking black people, started disobeying and breaking laws that momentum toward justice was created. According to scripture, Jesus was loud and disruptive when he threw money-changers out of the Temple; was he “bullying” them? While disciples of Jesus Christ need to know how to overturn tables of injustice and effect transformation of the world, many pastors are chronically naïve about how systemic change actually happens, and therefore frequently end up mocking theologically and ethically legitimate tools of social justice movements.

    Despite procedures for “due process” in changing institutionalized rules, throughout history, justice actually has been obtained by disrupting injustice, and by preemptively practicing justice and equality, as when blacks went ahead and drank from white-only fountains, rather than waiting and waiting and waiting on the law to change. It was only by breaking the law that they forced the law to change, and no credible case can be made that that’s anti-Gospel, or anti- the Way of Jesus. We Christians don’t get to vote for God’s reign of inclusive love and justice. In and through Jesus Christ, the Incarnate, Crucified, Resurrected One, actively present in the world, God’s reign is breaking into our midst, whether we welcome and join it or not. We don’t build it, we don’t usher it in. We receive and participate in it, and when we do so, our enactment of God’s reign not only heals and hallows, it also disrupts unjust, status quo arrangements of the Empire and even of institutionalized religion -- which is precisely why Jesus was crucified.

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  21. matt@mail.postmanllc.net

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