An interview with Adventures in Evangelism author, Nathan Branim. Along with his book, we discuss how a conservative charismatic and a progressive liberal could develop a friendship!
Below is a letter I wrote to my congregation regarding GC2019, the Judicial Council declaration and where we go from here.
A LOT has happened in the global United Methodist Church since our last newsletter. Specifically, the Special Session of General Conference met in February to determine the official UMC position on the issue of human sexuality, particularly homosexuality and its place in our church.
At the end of GC2019, we were left with what is called the Traditional Plan. The Traditional Plan keeps the current language surrounding homosexuality – that it is not compatible with Christian teaching – and includes language that increases penalties for clergy and laity that go against the Book of Discipline on these matters. It also further prevents candidacy and ordination for openly gay individuals. Finally, there is a provision making it easier for churches that cannot live in accordance with this decision to leave the denomination with their church buildings. Here at the end of April, the Judiciary Council met to determine the legality of the Traditional plan. Some parts were found to be against the UMC constitution while the parts I mentioned previously were found to be constitutional. As of January 1, 2020, the Traditional Plan will become United Methodist church law.
So, what does this mean for our local church?
It means that we have lost the ability to reach an entire group of people. Our churches can no longer be seen as safe places for the LGBTQ community…if they ever could. We have lost the talents of some brilliant people. We have lost the credibility to bring those people into a deeper relationship with God.
It means that we can no longer authentically proclaim that all are welcome here. Welcome for what? Their money? Their energy? Should we say, “Yes, your wallet and warm body are welcome here!” Or should we institute a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy so that we don’t have to be bothered with it? Remember, African Americans were welcomed on buses too so long as they sat in the back and shut their mouths.
This decision means these things….unless we stand up and say “NO MORE!” As your pastor, I am putting my neck on the chopping block with our denomination by determining to fight against the decision to exclude. If you’ve been at church in the past two months, then you have heard me doing this. I will continue to do this. I strongly encourage you to join me. Even if you believe homosexuality to be a sin, you can still stand up against this decision because WE ARE ALL SINNERS. Do not kid yourself into thinking that you are less of a sinner than a gay person merely because your sin isn’t the target right now. The same people who seek to single out the LGBTQ community today will be the ones who single you out for your sin in the future.
Our Church welcomes everybody. Period. We will include everybody. Period. We will provide every type of pastoral care to everybody. Period. We will do these things regardless of whether or not you agree with a person’s particular brand of sin. We will do these things because it is the loving and compassionate way of Christ.
God protects the paths of those who pursue justice, watching over the lives of those who keep faith with Him. – Proverbs 2:8
It’s easy to read this passage as “God won’t let anything bad happen to you if you pursue justice.” But that isn’t how I understand God’s protection especially in light of the rest of that verse. God watches “over the lives of those who keep faith with him.”
Rather than a hovering guardian swatting away would be trouble, I view this depiction of God and a fellow companion walking along the pothole riddled road of justice. Yes, God protects but more like my wife protects me from the difficulties of my pastoral role. She doesn’t stop the hard things from coming but she is there to make sure they do not consume my heart and mind. She gives me a focal point to concentrate on.
Likewise, God protects us from the hardships of justice seeking by making sure that the attacks that come from the powers and institutions that wish to keep people subjugated do not destroy the fire of love burning deep in our souls. God protects not our bodies but our hearts. I believe that nothing is more precious to God that a creative heart that seeks wholeness.
It is important not to overlook the phrase “those who keep faith with Him.” This brought to my mind again the reality that biblical faith is SO far from an evangelical mindset. Just believe and it’s enough. Faith is active and alive. It isn’t dead intellectual ascent.
God doesn’t need to believe in anything…but God does believe in something.So what is God’s faith? God’s faith is the active hope for unity with his creation. God’s faith is in the divine creation. God’s faith is in our ability to look beyond safety and seek something less secure: freedom for captives, sight for those who cannot see the truth and the healing of wounds that one cannot bear alone. God has faith in you, sons.
I just finished reading this book by Peter Enns and it is fantastic. I highly recommend For the Bible Tells Me So to every Christian who thinks they know what the Bible “plainly says.” Enns directly tackles the purpose of the Bible. He even has some very interesting things to say about how the apostle Paul and even Jesus use the Hebrew Bible. You can currently purchase the book through my affiliate link on kindle for $1.99. If you prefer physical books, you can get it that way too.
I had my wisdom teeth pulled earlier this week. Now that I’m a little better, it’s time to get back to another activity that can feel like oral surgery: studying the United Methodist Social Principles. Today we are talking about Space. The whole UMC stance on space is short enough to include here:
The universe, known and unknown, is the creation of God and is due the respect we are called to give the earth. We therefore reject any nation’s efforts to weaponize space and urge that all nations pursue the peaceful and collaborative development of space technologies and of outer space itself.http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/the-natural-world
Oh boy. Where do I begin?
“and is due the respect we are called to give the earth.” Yeah because we have done such a great job respecting the earth. Base upon how we treat the last great unknown part of earth, the ocean, it it likely we will turn space into a great bit garbage dump.
The UMC rejects attempts to weaponize space? I guess that means no Star Trek then. But seriously, the sitting president of the United States has proposed Space Force, effectively a branch of the military set to control extraterrestrial military operations. I’m so glad the United States military is known for its level-headed peace creating abilities.</endsarcasmfont>
The call to seek peaceful and collaborative development brings to mind something that is rampant in these Social Principles. The Social Principles are mostly, but not completely as we will see later, high on idealism and low on practicality. I agree that we should urge nations to toward peace and collaboration. But, in what practical ways are we living out that ideal? What steps are we offering to help them along that path?
This might be one of my biggest problems with so much church. We offer a lot in the way of ideas and very little in the way of practical usefulness. We give a lot of “why” and “what” and very little “how.” Sunday mornings should be way more than an exposition on texts. Sunday morning should be a tutorial for living life. The best tutorials give you step by step actions to complete the task at hand.
Yeah, I got off topic but that is what good reflection does. It takes you down a path of exploration to where you find that everything we do and say is connected. Join me next time as I ponder our Principle on Science and Technology in a new format! Time to brush up on my Isaac Asimov.
Check out this not-so-amazing and fairly ungracious review of the Broadway musical Amazing Grace. Hear how the retelling of John Newton’s story actually diminishes this classic hymn.
Pondering Principles are the reflections of a United Methodist pastor on the Social Principles of the UMC. Check out the audio below to hear my thoughts on what United Methodists believe about science and technology. Leave a comment down below if you want more like this!
Use Words That Grow, Not Decay
“Don’t let even one rotten word seep out of your mouths. Instead, offer only fresh words that build others up when they need it most. That way your good words will communicate grace to those who hear them.” (Ephesians 4:29)
As a team of pastors and I were going through these passages in preparation for the sermon series these idea ended up in, it became immediately clear that some people might object to me discussing this particular passage. I swear and I’m not afraid to admit it.
“But Pastor Shane, Paul says not to swear!” Sorry, but no that’s not what he’s saying. Not exactly. Let me try to explain the subtly of what’s going on in this passage.
Paul’s concern is that, just like lying and taking advantage of people, Christians in Ephesus are using things like slander, gossip, backbiting, and maybe even swear words to hurt people. They are tearing apart the body by doing damage with their words. Those words are being directed at people. Here, we see proof that Christians have weaponized words since the beginning. Paul is telling them not to do that.
Honestly, its less about the words than it is about the intent of the words used. I don’t ever have to utter one socially unacceptable swear word to tear a person down. I would much rather hear my 5-year old say the queen mother of dirty words – the F— word – than to ever hear him call a person ugly. Saying the F word isn’t a weapon unless it is directed at someone but saying someone is ugly whether to their face or behind their back only has one purpose…to tear that person down.
“Instead, only offer fresh words that build others up when they need it most.”
Whatever the actual words we use, Paul’s point here that the heart behind them should be to build others up. Make them feel better, help them grow, reveal truth to them, express love to them, console in times of weariness, put their needs first, and speak softly and kindly to them.
We cannot possibly trust each other if we are afraid that the words of our closest allies will be used as weapons to destroy us.
Paul’s admonition against thievery is actually a position against taking advantage of each other. He says thieves should work honestly not because it’s morally good. He tells them to work so that they can share what they have with others who are in need.
This position carries with it three assumptions:
- Some people are taking things they do not need,
- Some people need things they cannot obtain on their own
- Those who have should share with those who do not.
The heart of taking advantage of people is one of arrogance. When we take advantage of others we assume a couple of other things:
- We are better than them.
- We deserve what we have and they do not.
- Dishonesty is a valid means of getting what we want.
Now, you might be sitting there thinking, “I don’t steal. I’m a basically honest person. I don’t take advantage of others.” When was the last time you browsed Facebook during work when you weren’t on a break? Or stood around talking when we were obligated to do something else?
Let me put it in a different way that might irritate both sides of the political spectrum. The people who do not share are just as bad as the people who take what they do not need and have not earned honestly. That is why the Rich Vs Poor debate is not the one we should be having. It’s not Bernie Sanders vs Ron Paul (two very rich men by the way). The real debate is between the rich who have earned it honestly and justly VS those who have earned it through exploitation and fraud.
Paul assumes that Christians who have earned justly will give to those in need while Christians who do not are the thieves taking what they have not honestly earned and keeping what they do not need.
Paul’s criticism isn’t against having money. His criticism is against what we do with it when we have it and how we choose to obtain it. Paul is saying that Christians are not to get what they want by taking advantage of others nor are we to take what we do not need.
At its heart, Paul’s admonition against stealing is about trust. We cannot possibly trust each other if we know that others only see us only as means to their own ends and getting what they want.