Thursday, March 24, 2011

Self-Avowed Practicing

Yesterday, I attended a panel discussion on "Homosexuality and the Church" at Duke Divinity School. The panelists included Bishop Ken Carder, Dr. Willie Jennings, and several pastors from the area who are either LGBT or allies/reconciling pastors. It was a very interesting discussion and drew quite a crowd, most of whom were students trying to figure out how to balance their upcoming vows to uphold church law with beliefs that might not align with it.

I was perhaps most interested in what Bishop Carder had to say. Carder is widely adored in the Divinity School--he preached today in Goodson Chapel and packed the place out; we ran out of bulletins for the first time in my tenure as a chapel intern. Anyway, Carder is a retired United Methodist bishop and recently was one of 33 retired bishops to sign a statement calling the church to remove this language from The Book of Discipline (2008):

"…The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church." ¶304.3

You can read the document yourself if you want to hear some of the bishops' rationale behind issuing the statement, but in the panel discussion Carder made a good point that made it even clearer to me: the very fact that such a statement exists in the Discipline makes real conversation impossible and bars from the table the very people about whom it is written. I've been taking Methodism with Carder and Dr. Laceye Warner, and we've learned that although certain areas of doctrine are protected and cannot be changed, polity is the part of church law that is intended to be ever-changing and ever-expanding--and this paragraph falls under that category.

The question of how to be in ministry when one disagrees with (to whatever degree) the church law to which one promises to be obedient upon ordination was, as I mentioned, at the forefront of many students' minds. Mine not the least--many of you know that my grandfather is a retired bishop, and you will not find his name on that document. His main reason had little to do with the "issue" (I hate calling it an "issue." We are talking about beloved children of God here.) itself--my grandfather believes that a bishop's role is to uphold church law and that they shouldn't break ranks. Issuing that statement definitely caused a headache for the acting bishops.

One of the pastors on the panel, a woman who has been committed to being a reconciling pastor for a long time now, took up the issue of obedience to church law by telling us that when she was ordained, she promised to uphold the Discipline while also working to change it. She has lived into that tension. Is that what we're called to do? I have friends who are pursuing ordination and are gay. I know what the Discipline says, but I also know that my friends have gifts and callings from God, and if I ever have the opportunity to weigh in on any of their situations, I'm pretty sure I know which one of those is more important.

Who gets to be a prophet? I just read this article about Chad Holtz, a Duke Div grad who was recently fired from his church after a string of Facebook posts (not unlike this one, I suspect) dealing with Rob Bell's new book Love Wins, homosexuality, religion and politics, and more. And just this morning, I heard about the 2011 Jack Crum Conference on Prophetic Ministry, which was named after a pastor who pushed a then-radical racial agenda in the 50s and paid dearly for it with his ministerial career. One potential criticism of Crum is that his radicalism made it such that he failed to reach a broader audience. Does that matter?

In recent years, I've become very concerned with how to grapple with "issues" (ugh, see note above) like this in a way that is faithful and loving without demeaning or demonizing people who aren't on board with what often gets pegged as a liberal agenda (quadruple UGH). A while back, I wrote a post called "Why I wouldn't want to attend an open and affirming church." Part of my task there was to express something that one of the gay pastors at this discussion said in no uncertain terms: "I had no desire to be part of a gay ghetto." What I tried to do in my blog post (I still don't have it right) was to say that sometimes a reconciling church can be as exclusionary as your run-of-the-mill Methodist Church. I also wanted to say that people who identify as LGBTA are children of God AND people who are not accepting of the LGBT community are children of God. There are all sorts of criticisms out there that say that people who aren't on board with gay rights are experiencing a failure of the intellect, and if we're patient, they'll catch up someday. That is incredible patronizing. Don't get me wrong, there are bigots and willfully ignorant people everywhere, but that is not representative of everyone who is uncomfortable with the topic. There is meanness on both (or all, because there aren't just two) sides of the debate.

I've mentioned this in passing, but I have to address it head-on: Bishop Carder pointed out during the discussion that when heterosexuals get together and talk about the "issue" of homosexuality, they tend to abstract it, and our polity reflects this flawed thinking--which includes the very act of seeing this conversation as an "issue." We're talking about people here, in an incarnational faith in which we are all members of the body of Christ! On that note and the note of the previous paragraph, I have noticed over time that heterosexuals often want to boil down the "issue" to a specific sexual behavior that they deem as inappropriate. But let's get real here--a homosexual is no more defined by that than a heterosexual is by coitus. I've had friends tell me that they do not want to be defined by their sexuality, and a lot of that I think is in response to the negative ways in which we ignorant heterosexuals collapse the entire issue of sexual identity into a behavior. Bishop Carder made a great point--the Discipline basically says that there's not a problem unless you're "practicing"--but if you're homosexual and you're alive, how can you not be practicing? [UPDATE: I am NOT saying that if you're gay you are compelled to be sexually active all the time, which unfortunately seems to be what some people think. A friend's response to my blog made me realize I could have come off that way, and that's not what I meant, ha! I'm just trying to connect Carder's comment with my observation that straight people often forget we're talking about a whole person with a whole identity of which their sexuality is a part--not the only part or even the most important part necessarily, but we can't isolate them out. I am an advocate of celibacy outside of marriage (um as is the Discipline, heh), and the fact that gays can't marry in most states only complicates that particular issue in a way I think is unhelpful.] This is about way more than a sexual act; heterosexuals need to understand that, and the LGBT community needs to help us understand that.

This post is getting longer than I expected (go figure). I'll close with one more quip from the panel and my thoughts on it. Someone asked about how to deal with this "issue" (one last UGH) faithfully, especially in a rural context where you're likely to leave people behind. One of the panelists reminded us that many people have already been left behind. This really hit home with me. I've been trying lately to think about how to invite change and openness without running off people who disagree--how to learn to be in community with one another even when we don't understand or agree with each other. My focus in these musings has been largely not leaving behind the many Christians who just aren't OK with all of this. But I need to remember all the people who have already been left out, who have been denied their call to ministry, who have been refused membership to a church, whose baptism has been vetoed by a pastor or congregation who thinks they know better than God the meaning of love and grace. [UPDATE: Also allies who aren't allowed a voice or people who may not be allies but are just sick of the bigotry...a friend reminded me that a lot of young people of all orientations are leaving in part over this "issue."] Whatever you think or feel, THAT is unacceptable and a downright sham of a witness. Pastors and laity alike need to ask not only who might be left behind, but who already has been left behind. We are the body of Christ. Are we being faithful to that?

5 comments:

Jamie said...

"But I need to remember all the people who have already been left out, who have been denied their call to ministry, who have been refused membership to a church, whose baptism has been vetoed by a pastor or congregation who thinks they know better than God the meaning of love and grace."

yep. Sarah, thanks for your ally-ship :) And for your honest grappling with the Discipline.

Ryan said...

Thank you Sarah for shining light on this issue!

The Reconciling Movement is just that--a vision to stay in covenant with one another and undo the dangerous precedent set by adding language to the discipline (starting in 1972) that excludes an entire community of God's children because of some (narrowly) lost votes on a theological debate. The longer view of course is to come to agreement that no God-given sexual or gender identity is a sin.

Dispelling the myth that becoming a Reconciling United Methodist (yes you do not have to wait for your church for you to take on that identity as an individual) or a Reconciling Church means that you will create a "gay ghetto" is important (thank you) because this points to a larger myth--this is not a "special issue" about a specific community but a fundamental breach in the core values of our faith (and our discipline)--one that poisons the souls of all who participate in it.

Info on Chad Holtz seems to be coming out slowly, but regardless of whether he was fired or he quit or something in between, this still brings up the perception that pastors who speak their conscience in public forums might be "disciplined," threatened and or driven out by a church that thinks it owns that pastor's witness.

This is exactly what Rev Crum's ministry (link to conference website: http://conta.cc/JackCrum2011) was about and what I understand prophetic ministry to be--acting on God's time whether society, or some in your church, are ready for the transformation of the world that that requires. If we aren't preparing our future pastors (and supporting our current ones) to have this kind of courage and voice, I'm not sure what the point of all this is.

Whether it's questioning the discipline or anyone on the exclusion of LGBT people or hell or whether Mary was really a virgin (uh oh!) the church (i.e. all of us) participating in the exclusion and or coercion/dismissal of anyone from the church for their identity or personal discernment is a violation of those core and essential values you learned about in class...and we all learned about in Sunday school.

Thank you for your witness. Peace to you and blessings in your ministry.

Ryan Rowe,
Director, Reconciling United Methodist of NC www.rmnetwork.org
Vice President, Methodist Federation for Social Action-NC
www.mfsaweb.org

YellArose said...

Sarah,

I am impressed with the thoroughness of your examination of this topic. It shows great integrity to grapple so generously with the many aspects of "the issue!"

When applying for ordination as an Elder in NC, I told a rather conservative Board of Ordained Ministry that I would uphold The Discipline's teachings while at the same time working ardently to remove the discriminatory language as a call to justice. They accepted this, given that we are a conferring denomination that democratically discerns the ways of the Spirit quadrennially.

When called to help a GLBTQ candidate understand a call to ordained ministry, the questions are much more challenging: Be true to self? to call? to church? This dilemma is the very reason I think the UMC is not in line with God's will and way in the world.

Thank you for making homosexuality and the church look as large as it really is. I hope to see you at the Jack Crum Conference next week.

Rev. Laurie Hays Coffman <><
reconciling pastor of Calvary UMC

Sarah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Timothy said...

I find this entire discussion sane and helpful. But I want to engage the question of whether Rev. Jack Crum's alleged radicalism denied him an effective witness. Two quick points.

First, Rev. Crum--a close friend of my father's--was a capitalist and believed in parliamentary democracy, civil liberties, and the other professed tenets of the major political parties of all the Western countries. His politics were controversial ONLY in the context of a rabidly racist white church. Refusing to kneel at the the altar of overt white supremacy was his sole crime against Christendom. While there may be no easy answer to our dilemmas, we should remember this when we tally the costs and benefits of so-called "radicalism" versus conformity. Frequently, we try to placate the little tinhorn dictators and then realize too late that they want our souls and nothing less.

Second, though he has been dead for some years, his witness still echoes today. How many of the big and little men who pushed him from pulpits are remembered for anything at all? I think a case can be made that his witness was anything but quixotic and impractical. It just cost him his job a couple of times, that's all. The highest price paid and the only disgrace was by the United Methodist Church itself. Jack Crum, always an economical man, made a good bargain when he kept his soul.

In faith and hope,
Tim Tyson

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Self-Avowed Practicing

Yesterday, I attended a panel discussion on "Homosexuality and the Church" at Duke Divinity School. The panelists included Bishop Ken Carder, Dr. Willie Jennings, and several pastors from the area who are either LGBT or allies/reconciling pastors. It was a very interesting discussion and drew quite a crowd, most of whom were students trying to figure out how to balance their upcoming vows to uphold church law with beliefs that might not align with it.

I was perhaps most interested in what Bishop Carder had to say. Carder is widely adored in the Divinity School--he preached today in Goodson Chapel and packed the place out; we ran out of bulletins for the first time in my tenure as a chapel intern. Anyway, Carder is a retired United Methodist bishop and recently was one of 33 retired bishops to sign a statement calling the church to remove this language from The Book of Discipline (2008):

"…The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church." ¶304.3

You can read the document yourself if you want to hear some of the bishops' rationale behind issuing the statement, but in the panel discussion Carder made a good point that made it even clearer to me: the very fact that such a statement exists in the Discipline makes real conversation impossible and bars from the table the very people about whom it is written. I've been taking Methodism with Carder and Dr. Laceye Warner, and we've learned that although certain areas of doctrine are protected and cannot be changed, polity is the part of church law that is intended to be ever-changing and ever-expanding--and this paragraph falls under that category.

The question of how to be in ministry when one disagrees with (to whatever degree) the church law to which one promises to be obedient upon ordination was, as I mentioned, at the forefront of many students' minds. Mine not the least--many of you know that my grandfather is a retired bishop, and you will not find his name on that document. His main reason had little to do with the "issue" (I hate calling it an "issue." We are talking about beloved children of God here.) itself--my grandfather believes that a bishop's role is to uphold church law and that they shouldn't break ranks. Issuing that statement definitely caused a headache for the acting bishops.

One of the pastors on the panel, a woman who has been committed to being a reconciling pastor for a long time now, took up the issue of obedience to church law by telling us that when she was ordained, she promised to uphold the Discipline while also working to change it. She has lived into that tension. Is that what we're called to do? I have friends who are pursuing ordination and are gay. I know what the Discipline says, but I also know that my friends have gifts and callings from God, and if I ever have the opportunity to weigh in on any of their situations, I'm pretty sure I know which one of those is more important.

Who gets to be a prophet? I just read this article about Chad Holtz, a Duke Div grad who was recently fired from his church after a string of Facebook posts (not unlike this one, I suspect) dealing with Rob Bell's new book Love Wins, homosexuality, religion and politics, and more. And just this morning, I heard about the 2011 Jack Crum Conference on Prophetic Ministry, which was named after a pastor who pushed a then-radical racial agenda in the 50s and paid dearly for it with his ministerial career. One potential criticism of Crum is that his radicalism made it such that he failed to reach a broader audience. Does that matter?

In recent years, I've become very concerned with how to grapple with "issues" (ugh, see note above) like this in a way that is faithful and loving without demeaning or demonizing people who aren't on board with what often gets pegged as a liberal agenda (quadruple UGH). A while back, I wrote a post called "Why I wouldn't want to attend an open and affirming church." Part of my task there was to express something that one of the gay pastors at this discussion said in no uncertain terms: "I had no desire to be part of a gay ghetto." What I tried to do in my blog post (I still don't have it right) was to say that sometimes a reconciling church can be as exclusionary as your run-of-the-mill Methodist Church. I also wanted to say that people who identify as LGBTA are children of God AND people who are not accepting of the LGBT community are children of God. There are all sorts of criticisms out there that say that people who aren't on board with gay rights are experiencing a failure of the intellect, and if we're patient, they'll catch up someday. That is incredible patronizing. Don't get me wrong, there are bigots and willfully ignorant people everywhere, but that is not representative of everyone who is uncomfortable with the topic. There is meanness on both (or all, because there aren't just two) sides of the debate.

I've mentioned this in passing, but I have to address it head-on: Bishop Carder pointed out during the discussion that when heterosexuals get together and talk about the "issue" of homosexuality, they tend to abstract it, and our polity reflects this flawed thinking--which includes the very act of seeing this conversation as an "issue." We're talking about people here, in an incarnational faith in which we are all members of the body of Christ! On that note and the note of the previous paragraph, I have noticed over time that heterosexuals often want to boil down the "issue" to a specific sexual behavior that they deem as inappropriate. But let's get real here--a homosexual is no more defined by that than a heterosexual is by coitus. I've had friends tell me that they do not want to be defined by their sexuality, and a lot of that I think is in response to the negative ways in which we ignorant heterosexuals collapse the entire issue of sexual identity into a behavior. Bishop Carder made a great point--the Discipline basically says that there's not a problem unless you're "practicing"--but if you're homosexual and you're alive, how can you not be practicing? [UPDATE: I am NOT saying that if you're gay you are compelled to be sexually active all the time, which unfortunately seems to be what some people think. A friend's response to my blog made me realize I could have come off that way, and that's not what I meant, ha! I'm just trying to connect Carder's comment with my observation that straight people often forget we're talking about a whole person with a whole identity of which their sexuality is a part--not the only part or even the most important part necessarily, but we can't isolate them out. I am an advocate of celibacy outside of marriage (um as is the Discipline, heh), and the fact that gays can't marry in most states only complicates that particular issue in a way I think is unhelpful.] This is about way more than a sexual act; heterosexuals need to understand that, and the LGBT community needs to help us understand that.

This post is getting longer than I expected (go figure). I'll close with one more quip from the panel and my thoughts on it. Someone asked about how to deal with this "issue" (one last UGH) faithfully, especially in a rural context where you're likely to leave people behind. One of the panelists reminded us that many people have already been left behind. This really hit home with me. I've been trying lately to think about how to invite change and openness without running off people who disagree--how to learn to be in community with one another even when we don't understand or agree with each other. My focus in these musings has been largely not leaving behind the many Christians who just aren't OK with all of this. But I need to remember all the people who have already been left out, who have been denied their call to ministry, who have been refused membership to a church, whose baptism has been vetoed by a pastor or congregation who thinks they know better than God the meaning of love and grace. [UPDATE: Also allies who aren't allowed a voice or people who may not be allies but are just sick of the bigotry...a friend reminded me that a lot of young people of all orientations are leaving in part over this "issue."] Whatever you think or feel, THAT is unacceptable and a downright sham of a witness. Pastors and laity alike need to ask not only who might be left behind, but who already has been left behind. We are the body of Christ. Are we being faithful to that?

5 comments:

Jamie said...

"But I need to remember all the people who have already been left out, who have been denied their call to ministry, who have been refused membership to a church, whose baptism has been vetoed by a pastor or congregation who thinks they know better than God the meaning of love and grace."

yep. Sarah, thanks for your ally-ship :) And for your honest grappling with the Discipline.

Ryan said...

Thank you Sarah for shining light on this issue!

The Reconciling Movement is just that--a vision to stay in covenant with one another and undo the dangerous precedent set by adding language to the discipline (starting in 1972) that excludes an entire community of God's children because of some (narrowly) lost votes on a theological debate. The longer view of course is to come to agreement that no God-given sexual or gender identity is a sin.

Dispelling the myth that becoming a Reconciling United Methodist (yes you do not have to wait for your church for you to take on that identity as an individual) or a Reconciling Church means that you will create a "gay ghetto" is important (thank you) because this points to a larger myth--this is not a "special issue" about a specific community but a fundamental breach in the core values of our faith (and our discipline)--one that poisons the souls of all who participate in it.

Info on Chad Holtz seems to be coming out slowly, but regardless of whether he was fired or he quit or something in between, this still brings up the perception that pastors who speak their conscience in public forums might be "disciplined," threatened and or driven out by a church that thinks it owns that pastor's witness.

This is exactly what Rev Crum's ministry (link to conference website: http://conta.cc/JackCrum2011) was about and what I understand prophetic ministry to be--acting on God's time whether society, or some in your church, are ready for the transformation of the world that that requires. If we aren't preparing our future pastors (and supporting our current ones) to have this kind of courage and voice, I'm not sure what the point of all this is.

Whether it's questioning the discipline or anyone on the exclusion of LGBT people or hell or whether Mary was really a virgin (uh oh!) the church (i.e. all of us) participating in the exclusion and or coercion/dismissal of anyone from the church for their identity or personal discernment is a violation of those core and essential values you learned about in class...and we all learned about in Sunday school.

Thank you for your witness. Peace to you and blessings in your ministry.

Ryan Rowe,
Director, Reconciling United Methodist of NC www.rmnetwork.org
Vice President, Methodist Federation for Social Action-NC
www.mfsaweb.org

YellArose said...

Sarah,

I am impressed with the thoroughness of your examination of this topic. It shows great integrity to grapple so generously with the many aspects of "the issue!"

When applying for ordination as an Elder in NC, I told a rather conservative Board of Ordained Ministry that I would uphold The Discipline's teachings while at the same time working ardently to remove the discriminatory language as a call to justice. They accepted this, given that we are a conferring denomination that democratically discerns the ways of the Spirit quadrennially.

When called to help a GLBTQ candidate understand a call to ordained ministry, the questions are much more challenging: Be true to self? to call? to church? This dilemma is the very reason I think the UMC is not in line with God's will and way in the world.

Thank you for making homosexuality and the church look as large as it really is. I hope to see you at the Jack Crum Conference next week.

Rev. Laurie Hays Coffman <><
reconciling pastor of Calvary UMC

Sarah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Timothy said...

I find this entire discussion sane and helpful. But I want to engage the question of whether Rev. Jack Crum's alleged radicalism denied him an effective witness. Two quick points.

First, Rev. Crum--a close friend of my father's--was a capitalist and believed in parliamentary democracy, civil liberties, and the other professed tenets of the major political parties of all the Western countries. His politics were controversial ONLY in the context of a rabidly racist white church. Refusing to kneel at the the altar of overt white supremacy was his sole crime against Christendom. While there may be no easy answer to our dilemmas, we should remember this when we tally the costs and benefits of so-called "radicalism" versus conformity. Frequently, we try to placate the little tinhorn dictators and then realize too late that they want our souls and nothing less.

Second, though he has been dead for some years, his witness still echoes today. How many of the big and little men who pushed him from pulpits are remembered for anything at all? I think a case can be made that his witness was anything but quixotic and impractical. It just cost him his job a couple of times, that's all. The highest price paid and the only disgrace was by the United Methodist Church itself. Jack Crum, always an economical man, made a good bargain when he kept his soul.

In faith and hope,
Tim Tyson

 

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