I am a cradle Methodist. Had I been born several years later I would be a cradle United Methodist. I have found memories of going to church. It was a place that seemed perfect to my childhood self. It was safe, inviting, and nurturing of people. My church was as diverse as my school which was in Denver after desegregation. Everyone it seemed was loved and cared for, valued and respected. Maybe I was simply enjoying the benefit of childhood naivety, maybe I still am.
Last week the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church (UMC) met in regular session. For non-Methodists reading this, the Judicial Council is my denominations highest court. The rulings are not punitive but rather indicative of whether an action by a part of the UMC is consistent with our Book of Discipline. The Book of Discipline is our rule book by which we’ve agreed to abide. The Judicial Council heard the case of Bishop Karen Oliveto. She is an openly gay woman in a committed relationship with another woman. A group within the church charged that she should not have been consecrated a bishop.
The Judicial Council ruled that she was a clergy person in good standing at the time of her election but that it was a violation of the Discipline for her to be a “practicing homosexual.” She remains a Bishop because she was in good standing and would need to be charged with an offence to be removed and that is not the scope of the Judicial Council’s role.
I’ve taken a long path to return to the question posed. Dude (or Dudette) where’s my church? Both sides of the issue have failed to give the Commission on a Way Forward time to come up with suggestions for keeping unity within the denomination. Both sides have amped up actions and rhetoric. Where is my church? Where is the church that tries its hardest to follow the teaching of Jesus Christ? Where is my church the United Methodist Church? Why do we keep letting ourselves get sidetracked by smokescreens?
The Methodist Church has faced many issues over the years. Temperance, women’s suffrage, slavery, equal rights, and racism to name just a few. Some of these issued caused division within the church but all of them were smokescreens! Don’t misunderstand me. These are real issues, with real people getting hurt or potentially hurt. These are important issues but in terms of the church they are smokescreens.
You see smokescreens distract us in a couple of different ways. First a smokescreen makes it hard for us to acknowledge our own shortcomings, problems, or sins for we are busied worrying about someone else. Second smokescreens distract us from what is most important. Keep in mind some of these issues and terribly important but not as important as what the church needs to be focused on.
Jesus told us that the greatest commandment was to love God. We are not to just love God, but love God with our whole being. We need to be all in! Our love for God needs to be reflected in everything we do, everything we say, and everything we are. Second we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. We are to love our neighbors without hesitation without holding back. We are to love our neighbors, whether we know them or not, whether they’re like us or not, and even if they don’t like us. We are called to love all the people God loves remembering always that God placed a spark of divinity in each of us.
When we love radically and fully the smoke begins to drift away. You see when we live to love and spread God’s love we no longer have time to hate. We don’t have time to judge someone’s lifestyle, race, or creed because we are busy treating them as a person of value. We won’t have time for racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, etc. We cannot love God with our whole being and disregard, minimalize, or outright hate God’s creation! It cannot be done!
You may think that this is optimistic pie in the sky drivel. You may think that there is absolutely no way in the world everyone will drop their prejudices and start loving each other. You’re right. That probably is too optimistic, at least at first. I’m thinking that we can start by dropping our own prejudices, as best we can, and begin loving as God wants us to love.
For those who are wondering where I stand on the same-sex issues you’ll have to wait. I have many people in my life that I love dearly that are on both sides of the issues. I love them all and I try not to judge the people on either side. I chose to love people as they are, who they are, and how they are. As for determining the right path through life I’m too busy trying to keep myself on the path God is leading me down that I don’t have time to condemn others. What say you? Join me in dropping the prejudices and loving everyone in our paths.
This is this pastor’s opinion.