Bering United Methodist Church

An Alternative Voice from the Texas Annual Conference – A STATEMENT ADVOCATING FOR FULL INCLUSION

A STATEMENT ADVOCATING FOR FULL INCLUSION

An Alternative Voice from the Texas Annual Conference

 The God of Jesus is the God of possibility. This God spoke order out of chaos, created all that is out of nothing, and brought life and light out of the abyss of darkness.  Impossible! And yet, God . . . This God formed a nation, a mighty people, from the dead loins and womb of a couple, Abraham and Sarah, who were well beyond childbearing age.  Impossible! And yet, God . . . This God delivered 2.4 million slaves out of Egypt, taking from the most powerful nation on earth the basis of its whole economy and did it under the leadership of an ineloquent murderer named Moses who had deserted his people to save his own neck. And then God welcomed Moses into God’s very presence as the “friend of God” by God’s own choice. Impossible!  And yet, God . . . This God incarnated among us, took on human flesh, and was born to a virgin peasant woman to show us the path to life. Impossible! And yet,

God . . . This God raised a forsaken, beaten, tortured, crucified, dead Galilean prophet (Remember, nothing good had ever come out of Nazareth of Galilee – it was unimaginable!) from a sealed grave guarded by elite, highly trained Roman soldiers. Impossible!  And yet, God . . . On the day of Pentecost, this God poured out God’s Spirit on all flesh so that Jews from every nation in the known world who were gathered in Jerusalem heard the gospel of Jesus in their own language – something that the disciples who had walked beside Jesus for three years, seen his miracles, and witnessed the risen Christ in their midst, could not even begin to imagine, but instead were huddled in an upper room for fear of the authorities. Impossible! And yet God . . . This God took a bunch of frightened, bickering, unfaithful (They ran away and denied Jesus when he needed them most.), inept disciples and turned them into one of the most powerful forces in all of history – the Body of Christ. Impossible! And yet

God . . .The “Good News” is that God is not finished doing what we cannot imagine.  God continues to tear down the boundaries that we have set around the Body of Christ, reminding us that we are all members one of another. Impossible!  And yet, God . . .

Today, I listen with great sadness as some of the leaders in the Texas Annual Conference (TAC)

announce defeat before the Special Called Session of the General Conference in February 2019 even happens. They tell us that: there is no “Way Forward” for the United Methodist Church; the members of the Commission on the Way Forward have wasted their time and ours; we are wasting our time in gathering in February, because they can’t imagine a path forward together that is possible. They say, “Impossible!”  And yet, God . . .

Because of our lack of imagination, those who are announcing defeat and impossibility point us backward into the darkness, inviting us to return to slavery in Egypt because the way forward looks too hard.  They hold up the Traditional Plan as the best option possible because they can’t imagine anything better. I and a majority of the lay and clergy membership of the TAC can imagine a lot of things better than that.[i]The Traditional Plan is not the work of the Commission on the Way Forward – a group that did imagine a better way than splitting over or punishing difference.

The Traditional Plan not only continues to exclude 10 – 15% of the general population who are created in God’s image as LGBTQ, many of whom are active faithful members of our churches and are followers of Jesus, by labeling them “incompatible,” but also requires loyalty oaths, guarantees punishment for any who dare to dissent (even if that dissent is rooted in a faithful interpretation of the scriptures and the movement of the Spirit), and requires investigation, without limitation, into the lives of any candidate for ministry who a Board of Ordained Ministry “suspects” of being a homosexual.  Never mind that this invites litigation, we are better than this.  This is not who God called us to be.  This is not the witness God calls us to bear in the world.   There is room at God’s table for all of us because of God’s choice. And God’s choice is the only choice that matters, whether “we” can imagine how in the world God could choose “those people.” Impossible! And yet, God . . .

The One Church Plan is not perfect.  In fact, it is far from perfect. It leaves in place continued discrimination against LGBTQ persons on questionable theological grounds that support ongoing oppression.  It is a plan difficult to swallow for those of us who biblically believe that LGBTQ persons are gifted by God with their gender identity and sexual orientation and that they are a gift to the church.  It is also difficult to swallow for those who are in annual conferences where, as a matter of conscience and without reprisal, LGBTQ persons are being ordained and same gender weddings are being performed by United Methodist clergy in United Methodist churches. However, for those of us who live and serve in the TAC and some of the other more conservative conferences within the Connection, things are different. In our context, gifted, Spirit-anointed LGBTQ persons, called by God’s choice to serve in ordained ministry in the UMC, are being denied even consideration for ordination, much less

ordination itself.  In addition, clergy have been told repeatedly and unequivocally that they will be tried if they perform legal same gender marriages and that credentials will be surrendered.  The One Church Plan would remove those restrictions for all of us and is therefore a step forward toward justice, even though it is an imperfect one.  It is also a plan that can pass.

Even though the One Church Plan falls short of full justice and inclusion, passing it would make a place at the table for all of us and confirm our commitment as a denomination to stop penalizing and punishing LGBTQ persons and the clergy, laity, and congregations who celebrate their identity as a gift from God.  It would also affirm our commitment to live together in love, even in the places where we deeply disagree, so that we can continue to move toward a fuller understanding of the unfathomable height, width and depth of the love of God in Christ Jesus for all people and creation, no exceptions.  I know that we can live and work together as one body, if we decide that love, not difference, will define us.  I know that because I have seen us do it.  For 7 years, I sat as a member of the Extended Cabinet of the TAC, as the Director of the Center for Missional Excellence. Around that Cabinet table sat faithful disciples of Jesus Christ who have given their lives for the sake of the gospel, who recognized in our work together the call of God on each of our lives, and who loved one another as joint heirs with Christ and members of one another in the family of God.  We also vehemently disagreed about whether LGBTQ persons can faithfully live out that identity in same gender marriage and as ordained persons anointed by the Spirit and called by God to serve God’s church as elders, deacons and local pastors. I and a large percentage of the membership of the TAC believe that a faithful interpretation of scripture says that they can.  We believe that their ordinations and marriages should be celebrated in the United Methodist Church as God’s gift to them as equally as God’s gift of ordination and marriage is to be celebrated by and for me and any of the rest of us. Some of my colleagues around the Cabinet table deeply disagreed with me.  Our disagreement did not divide us.  We didn’t force the minority opinion holders out.  While disagreeing, we respected, honored and made room at God’s table for all. Impossible! And yet, God . . .

I am now the Senior Pastor of Bering Memorial United Methodist Church, the only Reconciling Congregation in the Texas Annual Conference.  I am also the Chair of RUMTX (Reconciling United Methodists Texas Conference) and represent many Open Hearts groups from numerous other churches within the TAC who are working for full inclusions of the LGBTQ community within the United Methodist Church. I have firsthand knowledge that the Spirit of God is alive and working at Bering Memorial UMC, as well as in these Open Hearts groups, just as it was in the Extended Cabinet of the TAC. I am deeply grateful to Bishop Jones and the current cabinet for appointing me to serve the amazing, Spirit-filled community of faith that is Bering Memorial UMC. In this community, new families are being created by both straight and LGBTQ couples through birth, adoption and fostering.  These families are as filled with the love of God and as nurturing and Christ-centered as any I have ever experienced.  The community of faith that is Bering Memorial United Methodist Church is bringing life and hope to homeless young adults and their children in the city of Houston.  We are reaching out to foster children who need a forever home and the foster and adoptive families who are seeking to provide that home.  We are providing spiritual and other support to those suffering from HIV/AIDS (which includes persons of all gender identities and sexual orientations and all strata of life); those fighting cancer; those caring for elderly parents, spouses, siblings and others who are ill; those who are grieving all kinds of losses; those still seeking to recover from Hurricane Harvey; immigrants whose families are being torn apart and who live at risk daily in our communities; Latinx youth, young adults, and their families – the growing demographic in, and the future of, the TAC. We are also reaching out to the LGBTQ community with the message that God loves, welcomes, and celebrates them in Christ Jesus as made in the image of God as LGBTQ and that there is a place at God’s table and ours for them. As a result, those who were once far off are coming home to Christ and are healing and finding life in the midst of death.  They are meeting the God who, in Christ, celebrates and welcomes them as beloved sons and daughters.  In the United States, suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth and young adults ages 13-30. LGBTQ youth and young adults in that age bracket are dying by suicide at 5 times the rate of their contemporaries because they have been told that their identity is incompatible with Christian teaching. Transgender youth commit suicide at a rate of 58% unless they have a parent who is willing to counter the message that their identity is incompatible with Christian teaching.  Forty percent of unhoused Americans are LGBTQ teenagers whose parents have cited faith-based reasons for kicking them out of the house when these teenagers come out to their parents as LGBTQ.  As a result, LGBTQ teenagers are also the victims of human trafficking at 3 times the rate of other teenagers in the U.S. Through the welcome of Christ, we, at Bering Memorial United Methodist Church, are literally saving lives in body, mind and spirit.  As an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church, I have served and continue to serve the whole church, even those with whom I deeply disagree. Impossible! And yet, God . . .

The “incompatibility clause” and the related provisions in the United Methodist Book of Discipline are doing tremendous harm.  Lives are literally at stake.  Adopting the One Church Plan would remove that clause from the Book of Discipline without requiring those who interpret Scripture differently to

agree. It merely and profoundly makes a place at the table of God’s grace for all of us. It allows those of us who can, to be all things to all people that we might win some, including providing for the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons and families whose gender identity and sexual orientation is given to them by God as sacred gift.

I know we can do this if we will remember who and whose we are and stop long enough to see that we are already doing this in those moments when God calls us to respond to those in need. When Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston and Beaumont/Port Arthur, the unimaginable happened. A United Methodist church in Orange, Texas with a Confessing Movement pastor and a congregation that in large part believes that  “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and the  pastors and congregation of the only Reconciling congregation in the Texas Annual Conference, Bering Memorial United Methodist Church, joined forces for the sake of the gospel, supplying water, food, diapers, cleaning supplies, shelter, welcome and care, and gutting houses for those whose homes had been destroyed.  We worked side by side as ambassadors of the love of Jesus Christ. It was God’s love poured into our hearts through the Holy Spiritthat defined us, not whether we were straight or LGBTQ.  That, my beloved ones, IS what One Church looks like.  That, my beloved ones, IS who we are.  That, my beloved ones, IS the way forward.  “Thanks be to the God of Jesus who isable to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to that God be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[i]The vote of delegates to each TAC Annual Conference to remove the “incompatibility clause” and all related provisions has consistently been at least one third. However, delegates to the TAC Annual Conference are elected in such a way that they do not represent the viewpoint of the entire or even a majority of the TAC.  Additionally, while I was Director of the Center for Missional Excellence of the TAC, I had numerous meetings, conversations and negotiations with clergy and lay members of the TAC on all sides of this issue. Those conversations support the conclusion that a majority of the membership of the TAC would vote for change if they knew that it would not split the church and that they would not be penalized for that vote.  Recent conversations with conservative laity also support that they do not want the kind of draconian enforcement measures that are contained in the Traditional Plan and have no idea that those provisions are being discussed.

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