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The Importance of Clarity – LGBTQI

This may be nearly my shortest blog post ever. But given the continued fight over the place of LGBTQI persons in the United Methodist Church, I just want to say clearly without ambiguity that I am an ally of the LGBTQI community. 

What I mean is that I believe in full inclusion of LGBTQI people in the life of the Church at all levels. I believe God loves all, welcomes all and calls all into his joyful participation in the life of the Church.

If you are a friend of mine you probably already knew this about me. But now is not a time for wishy washiness, or equivocation from any of us who care. Now is the time for people to say what they believe and hold in their hearts and say it clearly, unwaveringly, and lovingly.

God loves all. And, all means all.

I don’t expect everyone to agree with me nor do I need everyone to agree with me. But I do expect that we each respect each other and each other’s understandings of the faith, the Bible and the work of the gospel. I believe my calling to be obedient to the Holy Scriptures and to Jesus Christ require me to take this stand.

“Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.” – John Wesley, founder of Methodism.

I hope that was abundantly clear.:-)

Timothy D. Bonney, OSL

United Methodist Doctrine Old and Far Too New

In the United Methodist Church we are dealing with issues of differing views on human sexuality. But we are also dealing with other issues in our polity that effect how we make descisions. How have we decided what is doctrine in the UMC? Why are laws on sexuality adopted as recent as the 1970s (A very recent date in Church history) a doctrine?

The United Methodist Church’s standards for doctrine are the Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church, the Confession of Faith of the Evangelical United Brethren, the Standard Sermons of John Wesley and Welsey’s Explanatory Notes on the New Testament. Contrary to popular opinion, the Apostles’ Creed and Nicene Creed are not stated doctrinal standards for the Church, although we can use them in worship. I use the Apostles’ Creed whenever I perform a baptism and it is one of my favorite simple affirmations of faith.

Within our standards we have and allow considerable diversity. The Methodists did not break with the Anglicans over doctrine as much as we broke with them over the need to promote scriptural holiness. It was more about spiritual emphasis and our pursuits of God’s grace than about doctrine. 

 United Methodists include their doctrinal standards in the Book of Discipline. Those doctrinal standards are found in a section of the Discipline that is not intended to be changed or amended without the General Conference and a super majority of all the voting members of Annual Conferences around the world. That is where the Articles of Religion and the Confession of Faith are found. And, course you’d think that the statement that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” would be found in the restricted section as well. Well, you’d be wrong
The statements related to homosexuality are found in parts of the Book of Discipline that are not necessarily doctrinal in nature. In some places it is primarily in a section about rules that related to the actions clergy can and cannot perform or who clergy can or cannot be. 

So here is the $1000 question! Why aren’t the statements about homosexuality in the Book of Discipline’s restricted section? That one is easy. They are views of the General Conference that were added after the creation of the United Methodist Church. AND (in my opinion) rules that couldn’t possibly pass the test of being placed in the restricted section when it comes to enough votes in General Conference and all the Annual Confernces around the world. 

In other words, something that is basically considered doctrine is not in the doctrinal standards because it is an add-on that was placed in the Discipline in a place where it could get past the General Conference without being placed in the restricted section. It is NEW doctrine. It is doctrine written since I was born (and I’m not all that old!). While the rest of our doctrinal standards are largely as old as Methodism itself. Are you bothered by the idea of NEW Christian doctrine? Well you ought to be.

So this brings up a question I’ve yet to get satisfactorily answered. Why is it allowable for the General Conference to circumvent the doctrinal standards of the Church by placing new doctrine outside the restrictive section? Why hasn’t the Judicial Council ruled that the General Conference should not be able to sneak new doctrine into the Discipline and thereby circumventing our Discipline by inserting doctrine outside this section of the Discipline? Does the ability of the GC to pass new doctrine by a simple majority and push it into a “rules” section of the Discipline enganger the ability of United Methodists to maintain our original doctrinal standards? Finally, should someone be mounting a challenge to the constitutionality of novel doctrines found in the Discipline never before found in Methodism before the 1970s because they have been slipped into other parts of the Discipline? (If this has not already been done?)

Here is what the Articles of Religion says about making doctrines not found or provable by scripture.

“The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation; so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man that it should be believed as an article of faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” (Articles of Religion Article V – Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation)

My best interpretation of the scriptures based on years of study of the Bible and everything I can get my hands on about issues of sexuality are that homosexuality is NOT incompatible with Christian teaching. And it can not be proven to me in such a way that I can or will believe it as an article of faith or otherwise. Nor is such an article of faith found in the doctrinal standards we adopted as a Church when we become The United Methodist Church.

I think it is time to put away the parliamentary choices that allowed the UMC to create new doctrine that has pushed the Church into a 40+ year fight. How about we return to the unifying doctrine we held before 1972? It was good enough for the UMC then, it was good enough for the Methodists, the EUB and Wesley before. Why are we fighting to protect Newbie Doctrine?  Let us return to the Doctrinal Standards that we circumvented in order to adopt Church law that descriminates against and hurts other people!

Ministry and Diversity – Equality in Leadership

Cnf9ZEqWYAAj7naIt was just announced this past week that Iowa’s new Bishop will be our first woman Bishop, the newly consecrated Bishop Laurie Haller. (She is one of the four new pictures pictured on the far right.)

One of the blessings I’ve experience in becoming a United Methodist is the greater role of women in the ranks of the clergy. American Baptists, my former faith, supports women in ministry at a regional and national level. But the local churches, who choose their own pastors, have historically kept the ratio of female to male clergy far too low!

While United Methodists have a way to go in full parity of male and female clergy, I have been pleased that when I attend clergy meetings in Sioux City and other UMC venues the presence of the leadership of women is strong and growing! Having Bishop Haller leading us is yet another way of telling the world that we value the gifts of women as Elders, Deacons, Pastors, preachers and Bishops!

Making sure that a diverse group of people are placed in the leadership of the Church is important for what we can learn from people with many gifts and graces. It is also important to model the diversity we hope for the Church in that leadership.

We are not yet fully where we should be in recognizing the gifts of women. But I’m glad we are on the journey!

Not again! Now What?

Just a month ago I wrote a blog article about my fear that we prize our guns too highly in this country.

This week we had a two horrible shooting of young black men by a police officer. And then the another horrible shooting in Dallas in which a number of police officers were killed. Frankly I’m stunned by the violence, racism and bigotry I’m seeing in all of the events above.

We have so many issue right now to deal with as a nation:

Guns, guns and more guns!

It has become apparent to me that anyone, I mean anyone, can get a gun in this country. People on terrorist watch lists can get a gun. Mentally deranged individuals can get a gun. People who have been watched by the FBI can get a gun. Bigots and haters can get lots of guns. And you can get a gun faster than you can get a driver’s license, faster than you can get a marriage license in many places, and faster than it makes any sense at all. Isn’t it time to start asking why we are letting everyone in this country be armed to the teeth? Isn’t it time for a sane discussion on guns? How many mass shootings do we have to have for this conversation to lead to a change?

Racism

Racism is alive and well in the USA. The statistics are clear that if you are a racial minority than you are more likely to be harassed by law enforcement. (I’m not trying to attack the police here. There are thousands of fine police.) We have to face up to the problem that some racists have managed to become police and that the #blacklivesmatter leaders are crying out for change. As a nation we have not yet solved the problem of racism. We are not even close.

A Culture of Violence

Last night we had another mass shooting in which a number of police officers were killed in a ambush kind of attack during a peaceful protest. I woke up to the nightmare stories of fine law enforcement officers who were there to protect people, getting shot by an armed gunman. The story is still being told. But it is clear to me that we now have a culture were people have come to believe that the way to fix violence is more violence.  We have people who tell us that we’d have less people killed if even more people had a gun. But that seems more like a way to turn every public venue into shooting gallery.

Religious Bigotry too!

And finally, we are also dealing with religious bigotry as well. Some people are spreading hate for people just because they are different or believe differently. Christians are going to have to come to grips with the fact that much of what many Christians say about LGBT people contributes to hate and violence. When you devalue people then you make them a target. This is true for race, this is true for sexual minorities too. LGBT kids are much more likely to be bullied in school. LGBTQ people are much more likely to be assaulted. And while we are worrying about bathroom politics our sons and daughters are getting gunned down. Then we miss the point and blame all Muslims for the actions of a few.

As Amos says in this weeks lectionary reading, God is holding up a plumb line to see if we measure up to God’s standards. Right now we have a culture to change. We need to convince the world that violence only begets violence. We need to share the grace of God with all people and share the love of Christ and remind people that that love is for all people. If we preach anything less than God’s love for everyone we are preaching a false gospel.

Have Guns Become a Religion?

I’ve been discovering again in the wake of another horrifying mass shooting how hard it is to discuss the topic of gun safety. But let me get to that further down this post.

The latest mass shooting involves a confluence of a number of issues Americans are facing. One issue is certainly terrorism. The gunman claimed an allegiance to ISIS. This is sure to bring about another round of blaming all Muslims for the horrible actions of a few. 

The second issue is the hatred being shown by many towards LGBTQ people. No matter what your view on sexuality issues, there is no grounds in the Christian faith under any circumstance to hate or to discriminate against anyone. If you think so you have seriously misread the Bible and misunderstood Jesus. But it looks like for all the world like the shooter attacked this particular bar because it caters to the LGBTQI community. That is simply evil and we have to call it that. All hate is evil. The Epistle of John tells us that if we hate our brother (or sister) and yet say we love God we are lying and the truth isn’t in us. Yes, strong words from the Bible about hate.

Finally there is the issue of guns and gun safety. Right now in social media if you bring up the idea of any kind of gun restrictions for anyone for any reason you will have someone verbally attack you. Even if you only suggest criminals and terrorists shouldn’t have guns. Or if you even suggest a simple background check before buying a gun. Even if you suggest that certain weapons that we normally think of the military carrying shouldn’t be possessed by anyone or everyone on the street you may get verbally attacked.

This reminds me of people I’ve known over the years who could not discuss differences in religious faith.

When I was in seminary the popular thing to do was to sit around the cafeteria and discuss our latest theology class. But when one particular student would come to the table we would all clam up. Why? Because we learned that this student could not handle anyone disagreeing with his theology. Any disagreement about his theology was seen as an attack on his religious faith.

I am starting to wonder if some people have put such a high value on their right to possess a gun that it has not become almost their religion. In other words protecting their right to have a gun is approaching worship, maybe even idolatry for a few. I know, very strong words.

Let me say clearly that I’m not against law abiding citizens owning a gun and using it in appropriate circumstances. I’m not against anyone going hunting. I’m not even saying not to have a hand gun for self-protection in your home (though statistic show it will make you less safe and not more safe.)

But I do wonder why we cannot come together as an American people and figure out a way to make it harder for criminals and terrorists to get guns? And I wonder why we cannot discuss it without people acting as if their religion is under attack?

 

This Holy Week

Tomorrow morning officially beings Holy Week. In this week we will walk with Jesus as he journeys through the last week of his earthly life. We will remember Jesus Last Supper with his Disciples on Maundy Thursday. We will contemplate the importance of Christ’s death on the cross on Good Friday and finally after journeying with Christ through this week we will celebrate his resurrection at Easter.

I say all that to say that we have no right to jump from the triumphal entry straight to Easter. We cannot really celebration the resurrection of Christ with full understanding and the most joyful of hearts without really contemplating Christ’s sacrifice for us.

We do not like to think about the cross and Christ’s suffering. His suffering was ugly and horrible. It reminds us all of the deepest darkness that is potentially in the soul of every human being allowing humans to commit acts of horror, brutality, genocide and hate.

But if we are to be a better people, a growing people and a redeemed people we need to look straight into the heart of that darkness and realize that sometimes that darkness can be found within us.

Jesus came not just to be a nice guy with a comforting philosophy of life. He can to conquer sin, death evil and hell. He came to give God victory over evil. He can to transform the world beginning with each of us, beginning with me.

No Forced Celebration

The two seasons of Advent and Christmas are my favorite seasons. I love the music, the Advent wreath, the changes in colors, decorations and all. For many people this is a very joyful time of year with special church and family events and remembering and celebrating the birth of Jesus.

But it is also a stressful time for many people, a sorrowful time for many, and a disappointing time for others. 

Because we build Christmas to be such a special season, both in church and in our secular culture, it is bound to be a season where many are disappointed that it cannot live up to the fairy tail of joyous celebration that every Christmas card and Hallmark movie promotes.

My thoughts go out, particularly today, to people I know who have lost loved ones near this season, either this year or in previous years. For them this time can be a time of increased grief and a reminder of past and ongoing pain. It can be very bittersweet to try to celebrate when those who want to be celebrating with cannot be there.

My other concern about the meaning of the season this year is that, for some Christians, there seems to be a need to insist that non-Christians recognize our celebration. Or that non-Christians have to some how join in because for Christians “Jesus is the reason for the season.”

This has led to some pretty rude behavior where people get jumped on for saying “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas.” Or someone gets the nose out of joint because they don’t like the design of Starbuck’s seasonal cup. (I kid you not!)

When someone says “Happy Holidays” to me I’m pleased. I do not know their religious faith and they may not know mine. In our community, as in many, we have people of all different faiths. They may not be celebrating Christmas, and they do not have to.

Many years ago the Church picked December 25th because of its proximity to the Winter Solstice. Biblical scholars do not know the birthday of Jesus. But it is doubtful that it was December 25th. We picked the day because it was already a day that many other celebrations where going on and it was a positive evangelism tool to say, “Hey, while you are celebrating would you like to help us celebrate Jesus?”

No one stole December 25th from us. No one usurped Jesus birthday. We put the celebration in the midst of many other celebration. That was the way many Christians emphasized Jesus. But the choice of the date should turn the celebration of the birth of the  Christ child into some kind of arrogant, “you have to celebrate the season MY way.”

Christmas is not a competition between Christians and the secular world to see who gets to control the day. And Christians need to stop acting like it is. It betrays the very reason for Christmas, that is a celebration where everyone is invited and everyone is welcome around the manger.

You want to put the “Christ back in Christmas?” Than put the Christian love, charity and grace back into Christmas. Share the love of God presented to us in the birth of Christ with joy, openness and welcome for all.