Wednesday, February 20, 2019


DISCLAIMER: This post will be about my denomination's upcoming "special session" of the General Conference, being held in St. Louis, MO, beginning this Saturday. The issue at hand is what we will do with our practices concerning LGBTQIA+ individuals. If you don't want to read yet more thoughts on this topic, go to Facebook and click on a cat video.

With electric cars and luxury vehicles today, the old fashioned "gearshift" is disappearing, but most of us over 25 remember the letters PRNDL on the dash or steering stalk which stood for Park, Reverse, Neutral, Drive, and Low. Since the United Methodist Council of Bishops initiated a commission in 2016 to study and make recommendations about how our denomination would relate to LGBTQIA+ persons, and how we would "define" our understanding of human sexuality, naming the commission the "Way Forward Commission," I thought these transmission labels might be a good way to examine what could happen at the upcoming special General Conference.

The central issue is that some in the church want to hold to a mode of biblical interpretation and "doctrine" that believes only heterosexuality is acceptable to God, and that marriage must only be between a man and a woman. Others believe this question has been removed as one of biblical authority by virtue of an understanding that "normal" human sexuality is--like we are finding out about so many other things--on a "spectrum" that is more broad than binary. This understanding comes to us via the scientific, medical, and psychological fields, as well as by numerous studies of persons who identify somewhere along the LGBTQIA+ continuum, and who clearly testify that they never "chose" their sexual orientation, but as they grew and developed, it just emerged, like their molars or their pubic hair. So, the $64,000 question is, how will the church resolve this, theologically? Here are my skewed thoughts, with no apologies:

PARK: This is where we have been in Methodism since 1972, when a late night "compromise" statement got voted into the "Book of Discipline" that said: "homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teachings." (An earlier version of the statement said "Christian doctrine," but that was considered too harsh, as this "place-holding" statement was meant merely to placate that Conference so it could adjourn and go home, fully expecting the issue would be better dealt with four years later.) We've basically been in PARK, ever since, with efforts made every four years to either remove or soften that statement, or to harden and codify it. This simple phrase has denied "homosexuals" (we haven't even had the balls to fix this to read LGBTQ) candidacy, licensing for ministry, or ordination in the United Methodist Church, and has, depending on the whims of a given pastor, even denied membership or leadership roles in local churches to them.

REVERSE: If the special session of the General Conference passes either the Traditional Plan or the "new and improved" Modified Traditional Plan, our church will be put into REVERSE. As civil rights are being enacted and recognized for LGBTQIA+ persons, these plans would send us in the opposite direction, denying them legitimacy, spiritual community and affirmation in a denomination that has historically been "big tent," and one of the first to welcome other marginalized groups into the fold. Not only is adopting one of these retrograde plans bad for our denomination, it is dangerous, as proponents of them are backing up without a decent rearview mirror. Excluding children of God for any reason is not biblical, nor is it anything Jesus endorsed. The few "anti-gay" Bible passages are locked into ancient contexts and history, and like some of the near superstitious Hebrew law codes of Leviticus, have been superseded by knowledge gained through human social evolution and a deeper theological and informed view of biblical interpretation.

NEUTRAL: If the General Conference does NOTHING, we will basically be in NEUTRAL, and powerless to move forward. How sad this would be for a denomination that has invested so much time and resources into an endeavor labeled the "Way Forward."

DRIVE: If the General Conference really gets caught up in the Spirit and adopts the Simple Plan, we would be shifted into DRIVE, and truly could move forward as an inclusive and diverse church. The Simple Plan would simply remove all prohibitions to LGBTQIA+ individuals being fully recognized by the church. They could answer calls to ministry, serve as pastors, leaders, and bishops, and could even be married to their partners in the churches where they are nurtured in the Christian faith. This truly WOULD be "a way forward."

LOW: Passing the One Church Plan would turn the wheels, but slow the forward progress of the journey toward full inclusion, in effect putting us in LOW gear. Churches, Conferences, and Pastors could still choose to reject LGBTQIA+ persons just for who they are. It would remove the "incompatible with Christian teachings" parking pall, but the resulting slow speed ahead would require LGBTQIA+ persons to painstakingly and cautiously "shop" for a church that was inclusive, and even if they were successful in finding one in their geography, God help them if they sense a call to ministry, as that particular Annual Conference may be one that chooses NOT to offer them candidacy, licensing, or ordination as  options. Still, the One Church Plan is being advanced as a possibly acceptable "compromise" the church could accept, and which could move us "forward." I've been promoting it as such, but I have to say that doing so makes it a bit harder to make full eye contact with my LGBTQIA+ friends.

Why, as we approach the special General Conference, do I feel like we do so with the EMERGENCY BRAKE stuck on? Maybe it's the short three days the Conference has to weigh the plan options and supportive legislation, or maybe its that the Wesleyan Covenant Association has done such an effective job of aligning the conservative minds--and votes--something we liberals have never been able to do well (get three liberals in a room and you'll get six opinions--maybe that comes from understanding that things are on a continuum or a spectrum, and not just binary?).

AND, in a final effort to stretch this contrived metaphor just a bit farther: We are living in the days of Tesla cars and plug-in hybrids where you just hit a little button that says "go," and yet our church is still shifting gears and depressing clutches. Maybe this is one reason so many "Millennials" view us as irrelevant? All of us are praying for the special General Conference, but we're not all praying for the same thing. My colleague in ministry suggests we should just be praying for "God's will," and while I know she is right, I fear that strong human forces (from either pole) could just win a late-night vote and CALL it "God's will." I, for one, cannot endorse any decision that tells a group of God's children, "Sorry, until you change to be like us, you are not welcome." So I'll pray the way I will pray, and I'm sure you will do the same. I just wish we could find a resolution that might create genuine unity, but since we haven't had that--ever--in Christendom, why should I believe it might happen now? If we were honest at this special General Conference, the first thing we would do is remove the "United" from our name, for we are not. Maybe we should go by the acronym, COM--"Confederation of Methodists."

Oh, I haven't even mentioned the Connectional Conference Plan, have I? Why? Because (to keep the driving metaphor alive) we can't build an engine powerful enough to tow the fuel tank necessary to keep it running. And, if ANYONE on the outside of a denomination organized in the manner of that plan actually CHOSE to join it, would we want to have someone like that as a member? (With apologies to Groucho Marx...)

By the time I write my next blog entry, the special General Conference will be over. I'm praying I will still be a Methodist. Stay thirsty, my friends...

Friday, February 8, 2019

State of the Union...

The annual State of the Union, a speech given by the President of the United States to a joint session of the Congress, was this past Tuesday night, two nights after the Super Bowl. Depending on whom you ask, the Super Bowl was either a great defensive battle between two scrappy, well-coached teams, or a total bust, overshadowed by the commercials. Pretty much the same goes for the State of the Union, although there were no commercials. The live audiences of both events, as captured by the roving eye of the TV cameras, were similarly either bored to tears or enthusiastically cheering, depending on whom you were rooting for. Some of the audience was all dressed out in their team colors. The same was true of the Super Bowl crowd. Aging heroes were featured in the vignettes and tributes given by the president during the speech, and that was true at the Super Bowl, too, as 42-year-old Tom Brady, New England's quarterback, was older than the Los Angeles Rams' coach.

Both "quarterbacks" (Trump and Brady) are either loved or despised. There seems to be little middle-ground. Brady is good at calling plays; Trump is singled out for his "tweeting" and use of social media. Trump was flanked by Vice President Pence, while Brady had Julian Edelman. I think Edelman had the better game than Pence, who seemed to be more the benchwarmer during Trump's playmaking. The president held the stage for almost an hour and a half, which seemed like a long time, even if you liked what he had to say. The Super Bowl's first half was an hour and a half, and that seemed like an eternity, with the score at 3-0, Patriots. Even Trump racked up more points than that, especially when he highlighted the number of new women in the House of Representatives. Of course, some say he's the reason most of them are there.

One big difference between the two games was the announcers. Super Bowl fans were limited to one network and Jim Nance and Tony Romo. They did a good job, but Romo is becoming the shining star "color" announcer, as his playing experience often allows him to know what the team with the ball is going to do next, and people seem to like this. State of the Union viewers had their choice of channels and media upon which to watch the speech, and one could choose between the "home" announcers (Fox) or the "Away" team (MSNBC). Since my TV overheats if I tune it to Fox, I watched MSNBC, as I find Chris Matthews entertaining. Like Romo, he seems to know what's coming next, and is capable of comparing every political play to his days with Tip O'Neil. I like Chris and his candidness, but he reminds me a bit of football announcer John Madden, who was around so long that most of the people in his flashbacks are dead. Kind of like Tip O'Neil and Ronald Reagan, 'ey, Chris? Oh, and while the pundits used a few instant replays of the speech, these are no where near as stirring as the slo-mo's employed by the sports people, excluding the entire first half of the Super Bowl, which itself seemed to be in slow motion.

There will be talk among the football owners about how to punch up the Super Bowl, as its viewership slipped "bigly" this year. I wonder how we could punch up the State of the Union? How about this: every fifteen minutes, ring a bell, and everybody has to change seats, and it can't be with someone sitting on either side of you. That might be good. It was a little more fun this year seeing all of the female representatives sitting together and wearing white, while the more conservative males all sat together and were...were just white. That wasn't so much fun. During the Super Bowl, a crazy fan ran onto the field, and the game was delayed while they rounded him up. This might be a good caper during the State of the Union--a streaker, maybe? Talk about punching things up...

My favorite commercial during the Super Bowl was the 100th year of the NFL one with 55 different current and former great football stars featured, including our own Franco Harris snagging a deflected Terry Bradshaw pass from atop his wingtips. "Stillers fans" went wild from Westview to "Sliberty." That's what the State of the Union needs next year--a highlight reel of some of the great speech-makers in the presidency and from the floors of the Congress! That could be the lead-up to the Sergeant at Arms of the House of Representatives' yelling, "Mr. Speaker, the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES!"

Finally, some eschewed the Super Bowl for the Puppy Bowl, while others blew off the State of the Union for the Democratic Response, given by Stacey Abrams, citizen. I was jazzed up by her opening line wherein she said her parents were both United Methodist ministers. Talk about full disclosure! She kept her speech short, with no fumbles and no trick plays. And she is only a couple of years older than Tom Brady. I'll bet she'll play longer, though.

So, I can't wait for next year's dynamic pairing of the State of the Union and the Super Bowl, can you? Join us here for coverage. And now a word from our sponsor...

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