Saturday, April 29, 2017

When the bubble bursts...pondering global community

"This" conversation cannot be accomplished in soundbytes. Or Facebook posts.  The world is too complicated - the world of church, and the United Methodists, and human sexuality.  You can't talk about these things without talking about empire, and colonialism, and reformation, and scriptural authority, and the rule of law, and evolution, and science, and globalization, and fear, and politics, and...

I think you get the picture.

Last Friday, the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church issued a series of decisions that reinforce language in the Book of Discipline (the law book of the church) which declares homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching and establishes that clergy are not to be "self-avowed practicing homosexuals."  The ruling actually expands the definition of "self-avowed practicing homosexual," and leans heavily on the definition of marriage being between one man and one woman. Essentially it says that if two people of the same gender are married, they are admittedly self-avowed practicing homosexuals.  (And, I see the logic in that conclusion.)

Which is NOT where the United States is legislatively.


Although it can hardly be argued that we have achieved wide "consensus" as a society on what marriage is, how it is codified, and how civil marriage and "church" marriage relate.  I think that in the current presidential administration, we will see this issue resurface again and again.

Did I mention that it was complicated?

And really, that's before we address ethics.  Or love.  Or community. Or God's authority and call.

Let's be clear that the responsibility of a judicial council is to rule on matters of church law.  There are ways for church laws to be changed, through the General Conference, the global legislative body of the church that meets every four years.

As a woman who met Jesus at a well at midday, received living water and is charged to go tell others where to find that water, let me go on record saying that I believe that love wins. So does grace. Always.  I believe that God's grace is bigger than all our petty expectations about our own salvation or who else is in or out.  I believe people should have the right to find a soul mate who completes them, even if that soulmate is of the same gender. And I believe that people of all sexual orientations and gender identities are called by God into various roles including calls to be Elders and Deacons within the United Methodist Church.  Fundamentally, I believe we are all created in the image of a creative God who does not make mistakes.  Nor does that same God call people into places to be stopped by other human beings.

And rationally, I also understand why the judicial council ruled the way the did.  And I can see the complicated situation we face as a denomination moving forward.

The United Methodist Church is a global denomination.  Its greatest growth is occurring in the southern hemisphere.  Most of my dialogue partners on this matter are here in the US.

The reality is that there are parts of the world that simply don't share the emerging US acceptance of gender identity and sexual orientation.

I feel like my ability to see the diversity of God's creation and to accept has an element of privilege. Confession: I don't know what to do with that.  I don't know how to be part of a movement that encourages a wider view of grace globally. (And as I type that, I'm pretty sure that a counter voice in another part of the world says that they don't know how to be part of a movement that encourages a wider view of piety and holiness...) Words and their definition and the context in which we use them matter so much.

We gather as a denomination once every four years.  In my experience, the average member in the pews of a UM church is barely cognizant of how the global connection works.  I've heard so much sputtering about leaving the church, leaving religion.  Here's the thing...progressives, liberals, whatever you want to call them, are getting a reputation for throwing up their hands in disgust and walking away.  If we want to have a real conversation about the God we share, we have to stay in the conversation and explore scripture.  And we have to be willing to hear one another's lived experience.

Several someones have mentioned to me recently the way that homosexual activity happens and is buried as taboo in several African cultures.  I haven't heard that firsthand, but if my brothers and sisters in Africa fear for their very lives, of course they are not willing to advocate for sexual orientation that is not understood as "normative" in their culture.

That's not the same as my lived experience.

And as a global church do we find common ground?

Disagreements standing in the way of unity are not new.  Paul's epistles are mostly advice about how to get along, how to distill what matters most, how to be one in Christ.

John Wesley is quoted saying, "As to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think."  The denomination's own web pages about doctrinal history continue on:  
But, even as they were fully committed to the principles of religious toleration and theological diversity, they were equally confident that there is a "marrow" of Christian truth that can be identified and that must be conserved. This living core, as they believed, stands revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal and corporate experience, and confirmed by reason. They were very much aware, of course, that God's eternal Word never has been, nor can be, exhaustively expressed in any single form of words.

How is it that we engage to understand personal and corporate experience across so many cultural differences?  Especially with a mounting backdrop of scientific evidence about the complexity of sexual orientation and gender identity? And in the case of Bishop Oliveto, there is a moving account of how her election was a movement of the Spirit among delegates in the Western Jurisdiction. Who judges the Spirit's movement?  (I assure you, there are many on all sides judging the Spirit's movement on this one...)

Both a gift and curse of my call is that I am located in the context of theological a place that is United Methodist but also has a wide range of denominations represented.  For nearly all of my 10 years there, I have described one major strength of the seminary by describing the surface tension of a bubble.  The magic of the Wesley community is that often we are widely-divergent thinkers and believers staying in conversation, stretched out like the surface of a soap bubble. Our faculty and students value varying insights and the result is the bubble seldom "pops."

But it is a lot harder to maintain that surface tension throughout the whole of a single denomination. How is it that we communicate, share, witness so that we are one holy community.  I suspect it is nearly impossible to agree on most things across our beautiful, God - created diversity.

But I hope we can agree to do no harm, to do all the good we can, and to stay in love with God.

I hope we can agree to love one another.

I hope we can agree that God calls people. That grace is abundant.  That mystery still exists, miracles happen and only God sees it all.

I don't have an answer.  I understand the complication.  I love the beautiful diversity of people.  And I love the church that is enlivened by and attuned to the Holy Spirit.

Come, Holy Spirit.