Archives For United Methodist

On the evening of December 31, 1999, First UMC of Rawlins Wyoming hosted a Y2K gathering at the church.  We prayed, played games, y2kand ate.   We danced like it was 1998, as we waited to see what would happen.  Would computer networks make the big turn to 2000? Or would they falter, forever stuck in 1999, thereby plunging the world into darkness and chaos?

Even in the midst of the Y2K scare, one thing kept me going.  I knew that the sun would rise the next morning even if my computer wouldn’t turn on.  I knew I would continue breathing.  I knew that life would go on.  It’s old news now, but life did indeed go on.  Quite nicely in fact.  It seems anticlimactic to say it now.  But the anxiety was real back then.

In some ways, the special called session of the General Conference reminds me of the eve of Y2K.  No matter what gets decided or what gets postponed, no matter what holds together or what falls apart, life and ministry will go on.  Three things will remain true whether delegates pass the One Church Plan, the Connectional Conference Plan or the Traditionalist Plan.  Or, heaven forbid, whether they pass no plan at all.

Here are the three things that will remain unchanged:

  1. God will still love us—all.  And we will still—all–be called to love our neighbors and our enemies.
  2. We will still have disagreements on human sexuality and on biblical interpretation.
  3. We will still have people who love the church as it is and people who don’t.   We will still have people who leave the church and people who stay.

Don’t get me wrong.  I believe this gathering and its outcomes are important.  They will determine how we will organize ourselves in years to come.

I’m personally in favor of the One Church Plan.  It allows for regional and theological diversity.  It provides a flexible structure that reflects the actual spectrum of commitments of the UMC.  And it allows for people to follow their conscience, without judgment or retribution.

But we don’t have to wait until General Conference is over to decide who and how we are going to be.  If Jesus is our leader, then love is still our foundation.   We would do well to breathe deep, calm our anxieties, and move forward in our practice of love and acceptance.

Are you ready to move forward in your ministry?  Join us for a free webinar:  Does Your Church Dream Like Jesus?  It will be Friday, March 1, 11am-Noon Mountain Time.  Email us at rebekah@rebekahsimonpeter.com to register and reserve your space in the webinar.

Then, stay tuned.  Next week, I’m going to share with you the seven abilities we need to cultivate no matter how General Conference turns out.

Will the United Methodist Church split or not over differing interpretations of human sexuality and biblical hermeneutics? That was the topic my wayof informal conversation at a recent denominational retreat I co-led in New England.

“If The Way Forward doesn’t come back with something everyone can live with, we’ll split,” offered one pastor knowingly. “We’ve already split,” asserted another, “it’s just not official.” A contemplative silence ensued. “What if it’s not schism?” asked one savvy lay person. The group leaned in, curious. “What if it’s self-differentiation?” she continued. It got me thinking. Not all splits are schism.

Schism implies irreparable differences and anxious or angry reaction. Self-differentiation has a whole other feel to it. Yes, it’s a way of distinguishing oneself from the rest of the group. But it implies health, self-knowledge, and courage. Unity is the opposite of schism, but not of self-differentiation. Students of family systems know that anxious enmeshment is its opposite.

Jesus was self-differentiated. He didn’t go along just to go along. He stated his beliefs, his values, and his world-view. Even when it wasn’t popular. He offered his teaching—both when it coincided with current Jewish teaching, and when it veered away from it. He didn’t back down from either.

He was a non-anxious presence who allowed others to claim their own truth and life- experience. He was clear about his purpose, but he didn’t insist that others follow suit. For instance, he never decided for others whether they were “true Jews,” or faithful followers of his. By his estimation, even the Pharisees would enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus didn’t ostracize Judas, or cut him off from the others. Nor did he split his followers from mainline Judaism. That happened way after his death.

Could we learn to do the same?

Could we allow people to pursue truth as they see it? Could we calmly and lovingly self-differentiate, even as we maintain our bonds of connection? In other words, is there room for an intentional big-tent United Methodism?

Yes, I think so. Local churches do it all the time.

When you walk through the doors of First UMC, Anytown US, no one stops you to find out your theology or sociology. There’s no litmus test for biblical interpretation, or understandings of human sexuality. We don’t sort people at the door. We don’t sort people at the Lord’s Table, or at the Baptismal font. When we are baptized, it’s not into a set of doctrines. It’s into the Body of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.

When a person joins the UMC, they covenant to faithfully participate in the ministries of the church by their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service and their witness. That’s it. The rest is open to interpretation.

The way our current system is set up, a simple majority prevails when it comes to setting up the rules we live by in the Book of Discipline. The whole idea is get people to agree with you so that your “side” can “win.” But we all know that that’s a losing battle.  Winners create losers.

We’re not made to agree on everything. We’re made to be one in Christ—in all of our glorious differences. That’s the miracle and magic of it all. We can be Jew and Greek, male and female, servant and free. And be one in Christ Jesus.

A self-differentiated United Methodist Church would be unlike our current gridlock Methodism. It would require an intentional openness about our differences. And an intentional acceptance of them.

We would need to make space for a wide spectrum of understandings of sound biblical interpretation and healthy human sexuality.  Likewise, we would need to make space for a spacious variety of Christologies, and understandings of the Holy Spirit. And we would have to be okay with them openly co-existing.

It would mean giving up being right. Or making others wrong. And it would mean more Christlikeness than we currently manifest as a body.

It can happen. Confirmation came around a New Mexican table laden with carne adovada and green chile stew a few weeks ago. I sat with a group of beloved colleagues I met through Creating a Culture of Renewal; we were talking theology. In our small group of 3-4, we had at least one tongues-speaking Charismatic, one fervent evangelical, and one liberal-evangelical-passionate-progressive (me).

It took a while for us each to be clear about our theological differences. But as we did, we discovered something very interesting. We had many things in common—beyond our love and respect for each other. We had shared goals in ministry. Shared compassion. Not to mention shared fears of being marginalized in our current system.

God had called each of us to ministry in a unique way. Yet, no one person’s call undid anyone else’s. They were all valid; they all came from God.

What if we treated each other the same way? No insistence of sameness. Just insistence on authenticity. The truth is, the UMC is inherently diverse. We just don’t really ‘fess up to it—in a non-anxious, self-differentiated way.

I wonder what might happen if we could openly own our values and worldviews and theologies?  We might not need to split. Or schism.

Will the United Methodist Church split or not over differing interpretations of human sexuality and biblical hermeneutics? That was the topic my wayof informal conversation at a recent denominational retreat I co-led in New England.
“If The Way Forward doesn’t come back with something everyone can live with, we’ll split,” offered one pastor knowingly. “We’ve already split,” asserted another, “it’s just not official.” A contemplative silence ensued. “What if it’s not schism?” asked one savvy lay person. The group leaned in, curious. “What if it’s self-differentiation?” she continued. It got me thinking. Not all splits are schism.
Schism implies irreparable differences and anxious or angry reaction. Self-differentiation has a whole other feel to it. Yes, it’s a way of distinguishing oneself from the rest of the group. But it implies health, self-knowledge, and courage. Unity is the opposite of schism, but not of self-differentiation. Students of family systems know that anxious enmeshment is its opposite.
Jesus was self-differentiated. He didn’t go along just to go along. He stated his beliefs, his values, and his world-view. Even when it wasn’t popular. He offered his teaching—both when it coincided with current Jewish teaching, and when it veered away from it. He didn’t back down from either.
He was a non-anxious presence who allowed others to claim their own truth and life- experience. He was clear about his purpose, but he didn’t insist that others follow suit. For instance, he never decided for others whether they were “true Jews,” or faithful followers of his. By his estimation, even the Pharisees would enter the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus didn’t ostracize Judas, or cut him off from the others. Nor did he split his followers from mainline Judaism. That happened way after his death.
Could we learn to do the same?
Could we allow people to pursue truth as they see it? Could we calmly and lovingly self-differentiate, even as we maintain our bonds of connection? In other words, is there room for an intentional big-tent United Methodism?
Yes, I think so. Local churches do it all the time.
When you walk through the doors of First UMC, Anytown US, no one stops you to find out your theology or sociology. There’s no litmus test for biblical interpretation, or understandings of human sexuality. We don’t sort people at the door. We don’t sort people at the Lord’s Table, or at the Baptismal font. When we are baptized, it’s not into a set of doctrines. It’s into the Body of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.
When a person joins the UMC, they covenant to faithfully participate in the ministries of the church by their prayers, their presence, their gifts, their service and their witness. That’s it. The rest is open to interpretation.
The way our current system is set up, a simple majority prevails when it comes to setting up the rules we live by in the Book of Discipline. The whole idea is get people to agree with you so that your “side” can “win.” But we all know that that’s a losing battle.  Winners create losers.
We’re not made to agree on everything. We’re made to be one in Christ—in all of our glorious differences. That’s the miracle and magic of it all. We can be Jew and Greek, male and female, servant and free. And be one in Christ Jesus.
A self-differentiated United Methodist Church would be unlike our current gridlock Methodism. It would require an intentional openness about our differences. And an intentional acceptance of them.
We would need to make space for a wide spectrum of understandings of sound biblical interpretation and healthy human sexuality.  Likewise, we would need to make space for a spacious variety of Christologies, and understandings of the Holy Spirit. And we would have to be okay with them openly co-existing.
It would mean giving up being right. Or making others wrong. And it would mean more Christlikeness than we currently manifest as a body.
It can happen. Confirmation came around a New Mexican table laden with carne adovada and green chile stew a few weeks ago. I sat with a group of beloved colleagues I met through Creating a Culture of Renewal; we were talking theology. In our small group of 3-4, we had at least one tongues-speaking Charismatic, one fervent evangelical, and one liberal-evangelical-passionate-progressive (me).
It took a while for us each to be clear about our theological differences. But as we did, we discovered something very interesting. We had many things in common—beyond our love and respect for each other. We had shared goals in ministry. Shared compassion. Not to mention shared fears of being marginalized in our current system.
God had called each of us to ministry in a unique way. Yet, no one person’s call undid anyone else’s. They were all valid; they all came from God.
What if we treated each other the same way? No insistence of sameness. Just insistence on authenticity. The truth is, the UMC is inherently diverse. We just don’t really ‘fess up to it—in a non-anxious, self-differentiated way.
I wonder what might happen if we could openly own our values and worldviews and theologies?  We might not need to split. Or schism.

News flash!   The orthodox wing of the United Methodist Church is not going away.  In fact, it’ll likely get stronger.  Likewise, the progressiveConfusing directions road signs (Vector) wing of the United Methodist Church is not going away.  It too will get stronger.

That leaves us with a dilemma: How to go forward when we have two very strong, and somewhat opposing points of view?  Especially when it comes to human sexuality and biblical hermeneutics.

Here’s what else is not going away:  a fair number of United Methodist people who identify as LGBTQ, and their supporters.

What’s a denomination to do?  If we want schism we’re set up perfectly for it.  After all, we seem to have irreconcilable differences.  If we want unity, not so much.  Neither side is going away and neither side is backing down.  All of us want to be heard and respected.  Now what?

May I suggest a really good fight?  Before you hit “delete”, allow me a moment to elaborate.

Patrick Lencioni in his bestseller, 5 Dysfunctions of a Team, lays out the pitfalls of not engaging in constructive conflict:  meetings are unproductive, a team doesn’t commit to the decisions it makes, no one holds each other accountable, and desired results do not materialize.

For 45 years, United Methodist General Conferences have been unproductive in resolving our differences of opinion on human sexuality.  About 40% have favored full LGBT inclusion in the life and leadership of the church; 60% have been against.  Even though we make doctrinal decisions on human sexuality via the Book of Discipline, we lack commitment to carry them out.  Once back home, people perceive the movement of the Holy Spirit in very different ways.  And act accordingly. Many conferences ordain gay people. The Western Jurisdiction was swayed by the Holy Spirit in the election of Bishop Karen Oliveto.  The truth is we have varying commitments.  We can’t hold one another accountable to a vision we don’t share.

Even so, we’ve tried to enforce accountability through the Book of Discipline.  We’ve tried it through church trials.  These have only increased the rift, and the resolve.

In the midst of if all is this persistent fact: we don’t have the real results we desire – an overall increase in the number of disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Even with all the resources at our disposal, our numbers show that we’re not gaining ground.   US churches have been shrinking for decades.  If it wasn’t for our expansion into Asia and Africa, our denomination would be significantly smaller.

The history of how we got here is long and arduous.  But here’s where we’re at: the Judicial Council both ruled that the consecration of the first openly gay, partnered bishop stands, and that in the future, more attention must be paid to the sexual orientation and practice of would-be clergy. At the same time, the Bishops of the UMC have commissioned a Way Forward for the entire denomination.

After 45 years, a lot of folks would be okay with schism. But here’s the thing. It would be like most other church splits: two very different stories of what happened, lingering hurt, blame and resentment.  Yes, there would be freedom; there would also be regret.

That’s why I’m suggesting a really good fight.  The Commission on the Way Forward could accomplish this.  I’m talking robust conflict, vigorous debate.  Mind you, not the kind of fight we have at General Conference every four years.  Keep the legislators away.  No secretive filings with the Judicial Council allowed.   Instead, let’s have an old fashioned, no holds barred sharing of ideas, concerns, fears and worries of all sides.  This needs to include orthodox and progressive, gay and straight, perhaps even Christian and non-Christian folks.   Include biblical scholars who deeply understand the text and context of our sacred texts, and the times we live in.  Let’s get all the consequences and implications laid out on the table. People won’t buy in if they don’t get to weigh in. But if they do feel heard, they’ll be much more likely to commit to future decisions even if their ideas didn’t win out.

Here’s what constructive conflict could do for us:

  • Air the real fears people have.
  • Surface all the consequences and implications of our potential decisions.
  • Cause us to feel and think outside the box.
  • Co-create something no one has thought of yet.

But before we have a fight like this, here are the ground rules I suggest:

  • Establish trust by sharing stories.
  • No personal attacks.
  • No assuming the worst about each other.
  • Be vulnerable with one another.

Patrick Lencioni says “vulnerability based trust” (not predictive trust) is the foundation for cohesiveness. It’s the willingness to say I’m sorry, I don’t know, I was wrong, I’m in over my head or I’m not sure.  It comes from knowing each other at a deep level.  From sharing and listening deeply, without fear of censure or retribution.  It requires real courage.

One ground rule for the rest of us: give them latitude and freedom to come up with solutions that are very different than what we might have imagined.

Is there a future for a united Methodist Church?  Only if we remember that we’re not stuck. Jesus gave us permission to decide how things will be:  whatever we bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.  In other words, we get to decide how to interpret and apply scripture.  As long as we’re aligned with each other, Heaven will align with us.

Trust is essential to conflict.  Good constructive conflict is essential to commitment.  Commitment is essential to holding one another accountable to shared decisions.  And accountability is the only way that people will strive together for the results they profess.  You want results?  It all starts with conflict grounded in trust.

 

 

oliveto-consecration

Photo by Patrick Scriven, PNW Conference

Last week, Karen Oliveto, the first openly gay bishop of the United Methodist Church was elected. Much like at her baptism, she was consecrated with the laying on of hands and sacred words of declaration.   She has even been appointed to her place of service for the next four years. This is a historic moment indeed.  Some will say historically tragic. Others, historically grand.

How did we go from decades of “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and the inability of “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” to being ordained with Karen Oliveto being elected Bishop?

How did we go from all matters of sexuality being referred to the Council of Bishops at General Conference to this historic election just a few short weeks later?

While this decision is dramatic, it is certainly not without precedent.

Consider the number of annual conferences that have voted in favor of non-conformity with the Book of Discipline, and now refuse to take on church trials related to LGBTQ folks.  (The acronym stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer or questioning.)  Eight annual conferences voted in favor of full inclusion of gay clergy.

It’s no secret that the church is often slow to change. Measured and cautious, we approach change with a deliberate pace. We’ve taken some flak for it. Missed some opportunities. Not acted while the iron is hot.

The pace has suddenly picked up when it comes to LGBTQ inclusion.  At least it may seem fast to many of us. But consider the gay people, who were baptized at birth in the church, and later called by God to be in ministry. They’ve responded.  But we have not thrown our arms wide open.  Even so, gay people have been answering the call to ministry and serving UM churches for decades.  What’s happened is that we’ve finally hit church at the speed of life, to borrow a phrase from a colleague.

The world is changing and it’s not waiting for committee votes or episcopal commissions or legislative changes.   Same thing in the church.

Over the years, various conferences have voted for greater inclusion of gays and lesbians from the Great Plains to Arkansas, and New Jersey to Germany.   Resolutions have been passed, legislation has been voted on. But the Book of Discipline has remained unchanged on these matters of human sexuality.

That is, until the Western Jurisdiction and the North Central Jurisdiction nominated three openly gay candidates for bishop between them, and one was elected.

Certainly, there will be upset and judicial rulings.  Some people will decide to leave the church.  Others will decide to come back to church.  There may be a split, a schism, an exodus.  People on all sides will have opinions.

One thing will not change:  the need to love each other in the midst of fear and anxiety.

In the United Methodist Church, this election has been a long time coming.  Especially if you are gay, called to ministry, and anxious to live out that faithful calling. Although I’m straight I am anxious to receive the giftings of these clergy, and welcome Bishop Karen Oliveto to the Rocky Mountain Conference. Turns out she’ll be my Bishop.