Help Me Get to General Conference!

42301730_1569501283728286_rLast week, I received word that I have been chosen to serve as a marshal at the upcoming General Conference of the United Methodist Church in Minneapolis. I counted this as a blessing because I have wanted to serve at General Conference for many years but never had the opportunity. I count this as an honor to be able to serve the larger church with my time, service, and witness.

A lot of people don’t realize this but serving as a marshal or as a page at General Conference is a completely voluntary position. I will receive no funding from my annual conference or elsewhere to subsidize my expenses. I am responsible for paying all of my expenses – travel, lodging, food, all of it. I don’t like the thought of “begging” but I definitely can’t pay for this trip on my own. We’re talking probably around $3,000 or so by the time it’s all said and done. With that in mind, I have set up a couple of fundraisers and would love any help you can give me!

The first is a t-shirt with the theme verse for the 2020 General Conference on it. You will have a choice of colors for your shirt. They make great gifts as well! Every shirt sold helps me meet my goal. This fundraiser has a closing date of October 14th so hurry! Find my page right here!

If t-shirts aren’t your thing, you can give at my GoFundMe page, or send donations via PayPal (if you use this method, include a note that this is for GC 2020, that way I will know why someone is sending my money).

I very much appreciate all of the support I have received so far and thank you for any help you offer from this blog. It would mean a lot for me to be able to serve at General Conference.

Jonathan

Being One is Not Being the Borg

“Being one does not mean that we all think alike.”
Bishop James Swanson on “The Power That Makes Us One.”

Last week, Bishop Swanson – the resident bishop of the Mississippi Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church – was in my district where he met with the pastors followed by preaching at a district-wide laity rally in the evening. The theme of this rally was “The Power that Makes Us One,” referring to the power of the Holy Spirit that unites us as Christians. Bishop gave the above quote during his sermon and it made me think of some of the rhetoric I have witnessed as the United Methodist Church has continued to debate LGBTQ inclusion. My thoughts then turned to Star Trek.

If you’re a Trekkie, you know of The Borg. The Borg are a hive mind collective made up of cybernetic beings that are forcibly “assimilated” by injecting nanoprobes into the host and where their brains surgically altered. The point is to collect the knowledge of all alien species into a common brain with the goal of achieving a perfect linked society where all think as one.  Anyone within the collective who begins to exhibit signs of independent thought is terminated as quickly as possible. The Borg are famous for the phrase “resistance is futile,” as they believe that all lifeforms must and will submit to assimilation.

There seems to be a concerted effort by organizations on all ends of the political and theological spectrum trying to assimilate members of the UMC. The idea is that a church can’t be a church unless all of the members agree completely… or else. I believe such thinking is contrary to the reality of our humanity and denies that we are all independent creatures with our own ways of understanding the nuances of doctrine. One thing I have noticed from all of those involved is that they love Jesus, know that He loves them in spite of their flaws, and want others to know that love as well. And yet, because of disagreement on a piece of doctrine, so many of us are content to throw all of that away. For the life of me, I can’t reconcile that with, well, really much at all.

The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, stated: “If we can not think alike, can we not love alike?” I believe this is a profound statement that acknowledges the scriptures that teach us that we will be known as Christ’s disciples by our love (John 13:35) rather than our agreement on doctrine. While doctrine is important, it’s not the end-all, be-all. The main thing is to keep Christ the main thing as he is the main thing. Some argue that the disagreement is over the authority of scripture. I say the issue is interpretation rather than authority. There is a major difference between the two and we must stop conflating authority with interpretation.

We are a church made up of imperfect people from all walks of life, different places, different races, and different experiences. This is exactly what the church has always been. The first disciples were all people from different backgrounds, did not understand things all the same, and yet Jesus used them in mighty ways and even considered them his closest friends. They were not a hive mind and neither are we. The church was never intended to be The Borg. The only way in which the church can and ought to be one is through the power of the Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ, and to the glory of God the father.

Thanks be to God.

#GC2019: God Don’t Like Ugly

cross-and-flame-color-1058x1818The question that a lot of people have right now is, “How do we move on?” For people who support the traditional interpretation of scriptures related to human sexuality, the mood seems to be like that of a “win.” For our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, the level of sadness and hurt is palpable. Many who are gay or who support including LGBTQ persons in ordained ministry and allowing UM clergy to perform their weddings would consider General Conference 2019 to a “loss.”

I would make this submission: There were no winners, only losers.

With few exceptions, I watched almost every moment on the live stream. I felt that I should witness as much of this pivotal time in the church as possible. I was sorry that I made that decision for a lot of reasons but one of the biggest regrets I have is witnessing the amount of ugly from so many people. Where I come from, we have a saying: “God don’t like ugly.”

I highly doubt he liked the shenanigans that took place in Saint Louis.

Especially on the final day, much of what I witnessed made my skin crawl. One scene, in particular, was a lay delegate quoting scripture very much out of context. Ok, proof-texting is common so I was not too shocked that this was happening. But when she quoted Matthew 18:5-6, it was revealed that many took this as implying that LGBTQ persons should be drowned. Whether this was her intent or not – and I pray it wasn’t – this was ugly and poor use of scripture.

God don’t like ugly.

I’m afraid things only got worse from there. I saw traditionalists implying the worst about progressives and vice-versa. I saw accusations of unethical behavior happening on the floor. I saw tempers getting the best of people, Need I go on? It was all ugly.

God don’t like ugly.

I hope that, regardless of how we feel about the outcome, we can all agree that a lot of harm was done. One of the most significant bits of harm was done to our witness for Christ. Some will argue that God was honored with the adoption of the Traditional Plan. Some will argue that God was not honored. One thing I can tell you for certain is that God was not honored in how everyone treated one another.

As God’s people, we have to do better.

On Sunday, I preached out of Luke 6; the title of the sermon was “Love Your Enemies, Even the Ones You Don’t Agree With.” The title might be a bit of a misnomer, however, in that part of my argument was “is someone you disagree with really your enemy or do we just like to think they are?” I would say such a person is not.

Regardless of how you feel, you are entitled to grieve, lament, or celebrate as you are led. But, please, remember that every single person you ever lay eyes on, talk to, or encounter on Twitter is of infinite sacred worth, even if you disagree with that person about anything or lots of things. We are commanded by scripture to treat one another the way we want to be treated.

Let’s start doing it. That’s how we move forward, because “God don’t like ugly.”

General Conference is Here

cross-and-flame-color-1058x1818The lead up to the specially called session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church has been fierce. I have recorded my thoughts here several times on the various plans, Judicial Council decisions, and the actions of organizations like the Wesleyan Covenant Association (and even gotten more than one “talking to” about it). But now, the time of speculation, commentary, and wish making has come and gone.

General Conference is here.

While I have been outspoken about a lot of this, I’m afraid that my ultimate hope has been misunderstood somewhat. Here’s what I want for the United Methodist Church: A fresh movement of the Holy Spirit to overpower all of us – the delegates, clergy, laity, and everyone – and cause us to once again bring about the kingdom here. Yes, I would love for us to find a way to continue in ministry together but I also realize that God’s kingdom is much bigger than the UMC. That’s the thing: We are supposed to be about kingdom work. We need to get back to the work of evangelism.

While some disagree, the biggest problem in the UMC is a lack of evangelistic zeal. We have been so distracted by debating about LGBTQ inclusion that I fear we have forgotten our first love. Regardless of what happens in Saint Louis, we have got to get back to our mission: To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We – and I definitely include myself – have been distracted for far too long.

When the delegates have all gone home and we are calculating the fallout from Saint Louis, the “last, the least, and the lost” will still be there in the world. They are thirsty for redemption and for new life. No resolution, plan, or debate is going to save them; only Jesus Christ can do that. It’s up to us to reach out and show that love to them.

I have my convictions and I am prepared to stand by them. Support your chosen plan, make your voice heard (with the knowledge that it’s the delegates who will ultimately decide). But no matter what does or doesn’t happen, can we all agree that we have got to get back to work for Jesus? If nothing else, I hope we can agree on that.

I am praying for our delegates, the bishops who will preside, and for the church as a whole as General Conference begins. I hope you will too. Below are some ways to follow along in real time if you would like. Above all, pray… And then act.

Streaming link
Social Media Hashtags: #UMC, #GC2019, #UMCGC

WCA Leaving Regardless? It Seems Possible

StillUMI have not been very quiet about my issues with the Wesleyan Covenant Association ever since I realized their tactics. Recently, I met with someone who is high in the WCA leadership at the conference leadership and we had a nice long chat over coffee. I do appreciate his willingness to meet with me and I do believe he earnestly listened to my concerns. He was very sincere in his answers as well. I still felt uneasy about WCA after our meeting so I have maintained my distance.

Ever since Rev. Brian Collier was allowed to remain part of WCA’s leadership council in spite of WCA’s insistence that it existed to strengthen orthodox ministry within the United Methodist Church and in spite of the fact that Collier led his congregation (The Orchard) out of the United Methodist Church, I felt like some of my suspicions were correct. At the time, I felt that WCA was likely planning to form a new denomination and to leave the UMC at some point.

I hate to use the term “I told you so” but, well, I told you so.

Last night, Mainstream UMC released a letter, purported to have been sent out by the North Alabama chapter of WCA, detailing plans for WCA after the specially-called session of General Conference in a couple of weeks. It would seem that unless WCA gets their way – or even if they do get their way – they are planning to take their ball and go play in a yard that they will make. Also, as of this moment, no one from WCA or WCA itself has refuted the contents of this letter (if this happens, I will edit this post to indicate such).

WCA has set April 25-26  as the dates for the convening conference of the “Next Methodism.” Further, they have apparently had a team of leaders working together on how the denomination will be set up, core beliefs, etc. Many of these were adopted at WCA’s last gathering. So, what are the chances of WCA actually leaving? Per the letter:

If the One Church Plan is passed, there is a 100% probability of calling the convening conference. Our current evaluation is that the proponents of the One Church Plan do not have the necessary votes to enact that plan.

If the special General Conference adopts neither the One Church Plan nor the Modified Traditional Plan, or adopts a Traditional Plan with no enhanced accountability provisions, there is a 70% probability of calling the convening conference. Our current evaluation is that this is the most likely outcome for the special General Conference.

If the special General Conference adopts the Modified Traditional Plan with the enhanced accountability provisions, there still may be churches which are intent on departing from the United Methodist Church. The WCA will work with those churches to transition into a new Methodist movement. Those churches which indicate a desire to be part of something new will be invited to a convening conference. Other churches would be given the opportunity to move to what is new at a later time, if they decided that became advisable. Our current evaluation is that there is a higher probability of the Modified Traditional Plan being adopted than the One Church Plan being adopted.

So, basically, WCA – or at least a significant portion of their organization – will likely leave no matter what happens in Saint Louis. In other words, they have already broken covenant.

Now is not the time to be making plans for departure. WCA has maintained that they were only making “contingency plans” but this is far from a contingency. This is a certainty at this point. I further believe that once the rubber meets the road, WCA is not going to have as much support as they believe they will. I personally know several conservatives who will not be joining them. I know many congregations that hold orthodox beliefs that will not be joining them either. Of course, I could be wrong but I truly believe that that limb they’re going out on is going to be a little lonely. None the less, I do believe that a lot of clergy and laity are going to depart with them. May God be with them and with us. I will not, however, be joining them in WCA or whatever WCA becomes.

I, for one, believe in actually keeping covenant.

The Judicial Council (Mostly) Got It Right

cross-and-flame-color-1058x1818Today, the #UMC hashtag on social media has been abuzz with conversation about the Judicial Council’s ruling on the plans put forth for consideration at our special session of General Conference in February. The Council of Bishops had asked for a ruling on the constitutionality of the three main proposals in order to avoid any confusion and in hopes of as little conflict as possible in the voting process. Today, the ruling came down and I believe they got a lot of it right while I wish they had ruled differently on other things. But, this is why they are appointed to interpret our church law and why I am not. You may read the full ruling here.

I have been outspoken on my objection to the so-called One Church Plan because I feel that the proposal would seriously alter the polity of the United Methodist Church. Currently, we are a connectional/episcopal church, which means that we are bound by common doctrine, church law, and standards (at least we are supposed to be). Certain powers are given to the Annual Conference and to the bishops to administer rules but ultimately it’s the General Conference who makes decisions on matters that impact the entire church. One Church, as it has been presented, would open the door to a “local option” whereby Annual Conferences and congregations would be able to decide for themselves on matters that are normally left up to the General Conference to decide. The Council found that One Church is mostly constitutional except for a few minor provisions that are mostly inconsequential to the larger body of the plan. Regarding One Church, the ruling states,

As a primary principle in any organizational structure of The United Methodist Church, connectionalism denotes a vital web of interactive relationships—multi-leveled, global in scope, and local in thrust—that permits contextualization and differentiation on account of geographical, social, and cultural variations and makes room for diversity of beliefs and theological perspectives but does not require uniformity of moral-ethical standards regarding ordination, marriage, and human sexuality.

In other words, the ruling is that the constitution of the church allows for “contextualization” as is the practice for many of our African and European central conferences. I understand what they’re saying and they are correct. But I still wish that we would not potentially be allowing annual conferences and congregations to decide on their own what they will and will not do on decisions relating to human sexuality. This impacts the entire church and serves to only further fragment the body. Ultimately, this defeats the purpose of and undercuts our current polity. I hope that the delegates to General Conference will take this matter into consideration.

Regarding the Connectional Conference proposal, Judicial Council essentially said that they have no grounds to rule on this proposal as it contains the necessary amendments to the Constitution to make it legal.

The Judicial Council was most critical of the Traditionalist Plan. I have not said as much about this plan but I have had many concerns about this proposal. Basically, I am not comfortable with the idea that boards of Ordained Ministry and district Committees on Ministry would essentially be asked to engage in witch hunts and that anyone who is even potentially a homosexual could be tossed out without recourse. I have had some grave concerns about these aspects of the plan and, apparently, I wasn’t alone. Out of the 17 petitions that make up Traditionalist Plan, the Judicial Council found issues with nine of them. Seven of them were found to be unconstitutional in their entirety. It’s safe to say that the Traditionalist Plan is effectually been gutted. From the ruling:

Under the principle of legality, the General Conference can prescribe or prescribe a particular conduct but cannot contradict itself by prescribing prohibited conduct or prohibiting prescribed conduct. It can require bishops, annual conferences, nominees, and members of boards of ordained ministry to certify or declare that they will uphold The Discipline in its entirety and impose sanctions in case of non-compliance. But it may not choose standards related to ordination, marriage, and human sexuality over other provisions of The Discipline for enhanced application and certification. The General Conference has the authority to require that the board of ordained ministry conduct a careful and thorough examination to ascertain if an individual meets all disciplinary requirements and certify that such an examination has occurred. But it cannot reduce the scope of the board examination to one aspect only and unfairly single out one particular group of candidates (self-avowed practicing homosexuals) for disqualification. Marriage and sexuality are but two among numerous standards candidates must meet to be commissioned or ordained; other criteria include, for example, being committed to social justice, racial and gender equality, and personal and financial integrity, that all should be part of a careful and thorough examination.

TL, DR: We are not allowed to pick and choose which parts of the breaking of covenant can be scrutinized and which can continue to be ignored and swept under the rug.

Many have said that the Traditionalist Plan is now dead but I do not see it that way. Anything and everything can be amended when General Conference convenes at St. Louis in February. General Conference can adopt any plan that has been proposed, make their own plan, or adopt no plan at all (which I feel is unlikely). I am glad that the Judicial Council addressed many of the concerns I have had about the Traditionalist Plan.

I have no interest in witch hunts and will not take part in them.

Regardless of how you may feel about the proposals, I urge you to be in prayer for the United Methodist Church as the future of the church is very much at stake. Dialogue with your conference’s delegates and express (kindly and civilly) your views.

Above all, let’s remember that we are the church and act like it.

 

Anxiety is Sin? Tell That to My Brain

EDIT: Rev. Moore has reached out to me to apologize for her tweet and she has removed it. I have accepted her apology and held/hold no ill will toward her. To be clear: My problem was never with her but with what she tweeted. There is a major difference. – Jonathan

Yesterday a prominent evangelical pastor within the United Methodist Church made a tweet that I and several others took exception to.

Yes, she has said that chronic anxiety stifles the work of the Holy Spirit and is sin.

So I responded, pointing out that by her logic I am deep in sin and I encouraged her to rethink her position. This is her response:

Sigh…

This conversation points out a few vital points for us – both as Christians in general as well as clergy – to remember when dealing with matters of mental health.

First, scripture does not address matters of mental health. There was no understanding that mental disorders are medical conditions beyond one’s control when the scripture writers were putting pen to parchment. Let me be clear: This is not me doubting that the scriptures are divinely inspired but we also must acknowledge that the writers were human and wrote based on their context. Because there was no knowledge of the chemical imbalances that often occur in the brain, mental health problems were thought of as a spiritual condition as opposed to a chemical one. That was then, this is now. We have the medical knowledge to confirm that mental health issues are most often caused by conditions beyond one’s control. We need to get away from this notion that one displaying anxiety is in sin or that depression is a sign of being deep in sin. To employ such a notion means that I and lots of other pastors are not fit for ministry and that many in our congregations are not truly faithful just because they struggle.

Second, we as pastors need to remember that our words have power and carry a lot of weight. The people in our congregations see what we post, share, and like and they form their opinions of us based on those posts. Is that fair? Probably not. No tweet or post tells one’s whole story but does give a glimpse into our hearts and in what we value. If a parishioner whose faith is strong in spite of struggling with mental health issues for their entire lives follows their pastor on social media, how are they going to feel when their pastor puts up a tweet saying that anxiety is a sin and quenches the Holy Spirit? As I said above, scripture was never intended to address mental health conditions and we should not use scripture as a way to explain conditions like anxiety and depression.

People once believed that people who we now realize were displaying symptoms of manic depression were possessed by demons. There was also a belief that people who we now realize were displaying symptoms of anxiety disorders had weak faith.  People who we now realize were displaying symptoms of depression were said to be in sin. With the knowledge that we now have about mental health, can we please get away from having such toxic and damaging viewpoints about mental health?

I would like to think that Rev. Moore meant no harm in what she tweeted. But, this needs to be called out and rebuked because these are the notions that add to the stigma of mental health and why more people – especially Christians – don’t seek help or hide their conditions until they finally break. These statements are what cause people to harm themselves or even to commit suicide. These statements are why people are looking at Christians as cold-hearted and irrelevant.

We should do better. We must do better.