A United Methodist divide

It’s not about you. It’s not about me.

All of life comes down to that.

And we just don’t get it.

The latest example: “Church delegates reject recognizing gay marriage,” according to a headline in today’s local newspaper.

The Associated Press reports:

 

The United Methodist Church, America’s second largest Protestant denomination, faces a likely surge in defections and acts of defiance after delegates at a crucial conference voted Tuesday to strengthen the faith’s divisive bans on same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT clergy.

 

I have United Methodist friends – including ordained pastors – on both sides of this debate. It’s tough.

But it shouldn’t be.

The question is this:

Whom do you serve: the God of the Bible, or yourself?

We can’t change God’s law

“Neither do I condemn you,” Jesus told a woman caught in adultery (John 8:11). But Jesus didn’t stop there. He looked the woman directly in the eyes and gave her this admonition: “Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.”

This is the definition of “love the sinner, hate the sin.”

The LGBT community and its supporters do not understand this. When Jesus told the adulterous woman “do not sin again,” he was not spewing hate. He was telling her: You are better than this. There’s a wonderful life out there for you. Go live it.

It’s not about you. It’s about Me, Jesus said.

Everything Jesus says in the Gospels – everything – points to himself. It’s not about the church. It’s not even about the law, since the church leaders had added so much to the Old Testament laws that no one could possibly keep them all. It’s not about feelings. It’s not about justifying sinful behavior.

God made us. He knows what’s best for us. We can’t change the rules, much as we try.

What is love?

Some United Methodists are circulating A Love Letter to LGBTQ United Methodists.

The letter concludes this way:

 

We will:

give you the space and support you need.
listen to you.
share your stories.
work to end the harm caused in the name of religion.
break the silence around gender and sexuality in religious communities.
center your experiences as LGBTQ United Methodists.
fight for justice.
work toward a justice that is deeply intersectional.
not leave anyone behind.
strive to be better allies.
apologize when we miss the mark.
build this future together.
be by your side.

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSf88b_G-Efi2xsqA3nvVJkLxIIjj0lvzIw50mf8kQb2BMl44A/viewform?fbclid=IwAR2SjsJ_G9tKaNFm9GpdLfc4f6xjchyEl6ykhQmtmFb0yyy-ACldu7Y3s1k

 

 

The letter doesn’t quote Jesus Christ. It doesn’t even mention the Bible.

It does refer to God, like this:

 

You are …

a child of God.
beloved by God.
beautifully and wonderfully made by God.
the image of God.

 

Yes. Each person is all that, and more.

That section also includes these lines:

 

allowed to be imperfect.
allowed to ask for more than crumbs.
allowed to have a vision for the future.
allowed to speak that vision aloud.
allowed to fight to make that vision a reality.
allowed to take a breather.
allowed to prioritize self-care.

 

Where in the Bible are any of us, straight or LGBT, allowed those things?

Jesus said: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). We are not “allowed” to be imperfect. God has so much more of life than that for us.

“Allowed to take a breather?” From what? From God? From serving him? From pursuing righteousness?

Sexual sins are no worse than any other sin, yet every sin affects other people. The #MeToo movement bears this out.

Unconditional love

“…since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus …” (Romans 3:23-24)

But it’s not a gift until we accept it. I can offer you a dollar, but if you reject it, I’m left holding the dollar, and no gift is given.

What’s the point of “redemption in Christ Jesus” if we keep on sinning willfully?

“What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?” (Romans 6:1-2)

Sin is doing what God hates. Love is God forgiving us when we sin against him. We love each other by following God’s example.

It’s not about me. It’s not about you.

It’s entirely about God.

That’s why the United Methodist “Traditional Plan” was upheld. United Methodists have been debating the homosexual agenda for half a century, at least. Delegates repeatedly vote to uphold the language of the church’s statement of values and beliefs, by calling homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Supporters of the homosexual agenda haven’t taken “no” for an answer, and continually re-submit the issue. For half-a-century, the church has stood firm.

It’s not about the church. It’s about God.

The church sets policy, but can’t determine grace

If the United Methodist Church ever strikes that language from its doctrine, that wouldn’t make it “right.”

Our opinions don’t count. When we stand before the living God on our Judgment Day, God won’t use a sliding scale. He won’t change the rules for some.

“Be perfect,” he said.

Since none of us can do that, Jesus came to Earth to pay that sin penalty for us. That’s how we are justified – not by approving laws that defend our lifestyles.

It’s not about me. It’s not about you.

It’s about God.

Criticize me all you like because I don’t support the LGBT agenda. My views and opinions don’t matter. I’m not your judge.

United Methodist delegates set policy, but they don’t deliver grace. They don’t decide what’s sin and what isn’t sin.

Only the living God does that.

He didn’t ask our opinion, either.

The United Methodist Church might fracture over this decision. It wouldn’t be the first time a Christian denomination has split over doctrinal issues.

It hurts, because we should know better.

God loves us enough to not let us remain in our sin. He offers us a better way.

That’s what true love is.

We are loved as is, yes. But faith demands change.

“For whoever has died is freed from sin. … So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:7, 11).

Either the book of Romans is true, or it is not true.

We don’t get to decide that.

This is true love. It’s about overcoming sin, not justifying it.

It’s not about you. It’s not about me.

It’s about the living God.

For our own survival, we must re-learn history

“Go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.” The people of Nineveh believed God. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he had a proclamation made in Nineveh: “Human beings and animals shall be covered with sackcloth, and they shall cry mightily to God. All shall turn from their evil ways and from the violence that is in their hands.”

When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them.

Jonah 3:2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10

 

The people of Nineveh knew they were doing bad things. Their lives were evil and violent, in the words of their own king.

When a prophet of God called them out on it, they – including the king – repented immediately.

I wish such a scenario could be repeated today in the United States.

It won’t.

For starters, if a prophet of God were to proclaim such a message today, he (or she) would be either ridiculed or ignored. We’d find ways to dilute such a prophet’s message, or refute it, or pretend we didn’t hear it.

Flaunting our evil

The lines between good and evil are often blurred today.

Even when the lines are straight and we know right from wrong, we often flaunt our sins.

  • Just yesterday I saw the driver of a pickup truck on the highway weaving in and out of traffic, going 10 to 15 mph faster than everyone else was driving. He cared nothing for traffic laws on the books or the welfare of anyone around him, including me. This is nearly an everyday occurrence in my world.
  • When was the last time a popular movie or TV show celebrated marriage and the marriage bed?
  • Violence makes the news every day in this country. In Chicago, for example, 409 people have been killed so far this year. That is 126 fewer than 2017, according to the Chicago Tribune. I saw a blurb the other day that said Chicago went 22 hours without a single shooting being reported. That’s what we’ve become: almost a whole day with no shootings is a moral victory.
  • Police officers, teachers and parents do not have the respect that they should. Some of that is their own fault. Some of it is not.
  • Politicians can’t decide right from wrong in any situation these days. No matter how they rule in the Judge Brett Kavanaugh case regarding his U.S. Supreme Court nomination, many of us will get angry. People on both sides are convinced they have the moral high ground. Politicians can’t get it right because we the people won’t let them. Because we the people no longer know what the moral high ground is.
  • Addictions have become an epidemic: opioids, illegal drugs, alcohol, pornography, social media, our jobs … many things. Choice or disease? We’d rather debate that than actually solve any addiction problems.

Experience vs. reason

Was life simpler back in Old Testament times?

The people of Nineveh dealt with the same temptations and evil things that we do. We have far more technology, of course, so we can disseminate evil much faster and more efficiently.

The people of Nineveh didn’t always follow the king’s lead; they responded to Jonah’s message first, then reported it to the king. To the king’s credit, he was paying attention to the pulse of his city.

I wish we had the listening skills that the Ninevites – the people and the king – did, and even more, the discernment to determine good and evil, as they did.

Instead, we justify ourselves.

Experience comes before reason.

In a previous chapter of my life, I was deeply involved in the United Methodist Church. A basic tenet of that denomination is the Wesley Quadrilateral, named for the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. The quadrilateral is: Scripture, tradition, reason and experience.

In that order.

Except that some United Methodists prefer to flip the order, starting with experience, and using reason, tradition and Scripture to justify their experiences.

That debate now permeates our common culture.

If we can’t agree on the basic tenets of what our society should be, how can we possibly solve our moral dilemmas?

That’s what Nineveh had that we do not.

I did it my way

Unfortunately, there’s just enough truth in every modern viewpoint to muddy the waters. Women and immigrants are real people. Abortion is the death of a human being.

Laws should align with those tenets.

They frequently don’t.

Or if they do, we have to fight for them.

And because of our propensity to flaunt laws we don’t agree with, we are becoming an anarchy – refusing to accept authority. Rule by the individual. I have my rights and I’ll do what I want.

If it hurts you, I don’t care.

If I kill you on the road or abort my son or daughter, it doesn’t matter to me. If you don’t satisfy me as a lover, I’ll find one who does.

Never mind the collateral damage.

I did it my way, in the words popularized in 1969 – almost a half-century ago – by Frank Sinatra.

Many of us today have taken those lyrics to heart. We try to justify our actions. And we frequently get away with them.

Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me

Sackcloth and ashes. How archaic.

That attitude is too, isn’t it?

The people of Nineveh asked God to forgive them for their evil and violent ways. God listened, and forgave them.

As a secular – very secular – city.

Then, for a time at least, the people of Nineveh actually changed their ways. Until temptations lured them into evil and violence again.

Is this even possible in 2018 in our country?

It is possible, yes, but I don’t see it happening any time soon. That would require a willingness to admit that we are on the wrong track as a nation, as Nineveh did. We can’t point fingers at others and say, “You need to repent.”

No. The people of Nineveh got down on their own knees.

Discovering what’s real

Back in the day, I wrote an occasional column for The Saginaw (Mich.) News. I received far more feedback from one column in particular than I did for any other. The headline on that column, published Oct. 24, 2006, was:

Fake news pundit doesn’t help, could hurt Spirit

I was writing about “fake news” almost 11 years ago. Many readers didn’t appreciate it, either.

Who was the “fake news pundit?” None other than Stephen Colbert.

What is the “Spirit” that I was referring to? The minor league hockey team that called – and still calls – Saginaw home. The team name is the Saginaw Spirit.

spiritmascot

The Spirit had held a contest to name a mascot. Colbert found out about it, entered a name and won the contest. Steagle Colbeagle the Eagle.

In the column, I said I didn’t think Colbert and the cumbersome mascot name he entered would help the Spirit much. (So much for my prognostication. Steagle Colbeagle the Eagle lives on today.)

I went further, though: I wrote that Colbert’s persona opposed the family values that the team stood for. Colbert, on his show The Colbert Report, which aired from 2005 to 2014, bounced back and forth between his real self and his alter ego, which centered around his essential rightness about the issues of the day, according to one reviewer.

Several readers told me to lighten up, to take a joke, that in his personal life Colbert is a strong family man. Good points, all.

But life then, and even more so now, is a combination of real and fake, with fake too often taking center stage in our lives. Was I wrong to point that out in 2006?

Real vs. fake

What’s worse, today we often don’t know the difference between real and fake. It’s not as simple as moving between a real self and an alter ego. For many, I fear the alter ego has become real.

When my alter ego clashes with yours, we have a disagreement we can’t resolve. Because the clash isn’t about what’s real. It’s about our perceptions of reality.

book-of-discipline

I first saw this a long time ago in the United Methodist Church. I worshiped in that denomination for many years. One of its core foundations, according to The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, is this “theological guideline:” Scripture, tradition, experience and reason.

The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, “believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal experience and confirmed by reason.”

In other words, we need to understand those four concepts in that order: Scripture first, then tradition, then personal experience and finally reason.

But many in the United Methodist Church change the order. They start with reason or experience, and use Scripture and possibly tradition to justify their experiences.

An immovable clash ensues.

Case in point: homosexuality.

Elsewhere in the Book of Discipline is the statement that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Some people within the church have been trying for a half-century, since the 1960s, to remove that language from the Book of Discipline. They say experience and reason come before Scripture, and find various Bible verses to justify their position.

Because they read the Bible differently than the “Scripture first” folks do, they come up with a different conclusion.

Reality exists

So, which side is right? Which is “real” and which is “fake?”

Depends who you ask.

I can give all the arguments I want for my position, and those of you on the other side won’t change your mind. And vice versa.

Does that mean reality doesn’t exist, or that reality is in the eye of the beholder?

No. Reality does exist.

velveteen rabbit

As a child I read The Velveteen Rabbit, a children’s book first published in 1922 that chronicles the story of a stuffed rabbit and his desire to become real, through the love of his owner.

The owner, a small boy, at first preferred more modern and mechanical toys. Eventually the boy’s nanna gave the rabbit to the boy to sleep with to replace a lost toy, and the stuffed rabbit became his favorite toy.

The Velveteen Rabbit helped the boy through a serious illness; when the doctor ordered his room disinfected and everything in the room – including the rabbit – destroyed, the rabbit learns what it means to be real.

In real life, as with the Velveteen Rabbit, it often takes tragedy or a crisis to discover what reality really is. When something meaningful is lost, what remains?

One of my Facebook friends posted this recently:

The truth of the matter is that, in many ways, we’re all fakes. Facebook is “fakebook” where we put only our best face forward because we all long to be loved. We present portraits of ourselves we hope will get us love. But the good news is that God loves us REALy. He sees the REAL us and says, “I love you. You were made by Me. And my arms are open to you.” True, deep joy is found in the grace of the cross. He really is the answer.

Truth

When trying to discover “truth,” a good friend offers this litmus test: If it’s true for me, for my 100-year-old grandmother in Oklahoma and for a starving child in Africa, then it must be true.

I can’t determine truth on my own. Truth must be true for you as well as for me, or it isn’t truth.

Even more than that, it must be true for all people in all cultures in all nations in all time periods, past, present and future. That’s how we determine truth.

When I took on Stephen Colbert in 2006, I picked the wrong fight. “Fake news” and “real news” are much bigger than that.

For real.