I had a good discussion yesterday with my pastor covenant group about our discernment process as a church in the wake of the Frank Schaefer trial and controversy. I know that I got a little hot-headed in the debate online so I wanted to offer more circumspect reflections. I believe that each disciple of Jesus Christ not only has the right but actually the duty to contribute to the ongoing living interpretive tradition of our faith. Some Christians think that the Bible doesn’t require any interpretation, but I contend that the way we interpret it is by living it and sharing our testimony with each other. Continue reading
This week, the United Methodist Church put a pastor on trial named Frank Schaefer for officiating at the wedding of his gay son. The judge, retired bishop Al Gwinn, ruled out as inadmissible any defense arguments based on scripture or other sections of the Book of Discipline, reasoning that only “the facts” of what Schaefer did were relevant to determining the verdict. While I understand the rationale and practical limitations that necessitate this approach to justice, I do not think it does justice to justice. The promise that we receive in scripture is that God judges according to the heart. Hebrews 4:12-13 says: “Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.” Continue reading
Thomas Frank, the guy who wrote our textbook on United Methodist polity, has made a plea for UMC bishops not to put pastors on trial who conduct same-sex marriages (like the 50 who did so last weekend). I had been trying to lay low on this issue for a while. My position has been to honor what the Discipline says for me to do while being obediently prophetic regarding God’s truth as I have encountered it. I was actually going to write a post stating that if pastors engage in civil disobedience, then the consequences are part of the witness. However, I realized as I read Frank’s plea that the paradigm I was applying to our gay wedding crisis is to presume that United Methodism is appropriately analogous to our broken secular democracy: a two party majoritarian system with lobbyists, caucuses, and hyperventilating pundits.
In the American justice system, all defendants are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable shadow of doubt. Defense attorneys do not have to prove their client’s innocence; they just have to find enough holes in the prosecution’s argument to establish that they have not been proven guilty. But in the debate over Biblical interpretation on homosexuality, the burden of proof falls entirely on the defendants to prove their innocence. What if my fellow Methodists who are anti-gay had to provide not only isolated proof-texts and speculative translations of obscure Greek words but a coherent Biblical ethical explanation of why chaste monogamous homosexual partnerships are “incompatible with Christian teaching”? I think that would be a much more just and legitimate burden of proof. Continue reading
I learned a hard lesson today. Some of you saw my post where I had developed a contemporary version of our United Methodist communion liturgy Word and Table and recorded it on my iPhone. A friend informed me that there was a copyright issue with doing that, so I wrote the United Methodist Publishing House and was promptly ordered to take down the video and the blog post. I’m not meaning to be snarky, but wow, communion liturgy is intellectual property? Continue reading
There were three resolutions for the Virginia annual conference of the United Methodist Church this year. One was never discussed or considered: a proposal for a church-wide living wage campaign. Our youth Bible study took a look at this resolution a couple of weeks ago. Our main critique of it was that it seemed to focus almost exclusively on a legislative approach to the issue, while we felt that a more viable option would be to start with the church and the small businesses of church members as a voluntary witness of economic justice. Continue reading
Several months ago, someone from the United Methodist communications office emailed me to see if I could blog about the Methodist “Imagine No Malaria” campaign. She gave me statistics about how many kids in Africa die from malaria each year and tried to make a case for it being an important enough issue for me to write about. To my discredit, I didn’t take her up on the offer. Why? Because campaigns against malaria and the other quiet, methodical ways that God’s people change the world aren’t sexy enough. They just don’t get blog hits the way that scandals do! But this weekend, Methodist churches around the world will be doing a coordinated missions push called Change the World in which the world will be changed through hundreds of thousands of humble, unglamorous acts of Christian servanthood, even if people like me aren’t paying attention because we’re wrapped up in our favorite scandals. Continue reading