Monday, June 13, 2016

No more targets of hate and rejection. Make love our aim!

People of color, people with disabilities, women, people who are poor, people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender all know this: Who you are can be dangerous!  Recent tragedies born of hate—like the historic carnage that assailed victims in Orlando, Florida, yesterday—are proof of that ever-present danger.

You have to watch your back. Your very safety is potentially at risk every single day. There is a “pecking order” in this world, and if you happen to be in one of society’s “target” groups you get the message in a million subtle and sometimes life-threatening ways. That message is that you are “less than,” and not worthy of the same respect, opportunities and dignity available to those who possess power.

I grew up in a middle-class, all-white” bubble” of suburban society in the mid-sixties, and I never felt the slightest pinch over who I was as a female in my racially segregated, male-dominated community.  I chose a gender-appropriate career of teaching vocal music in an elementary school; and I led choirs and played the organ for church. I was rewarded by my society for this humble place of service.  

It was not until I went to a predominantly male seminary to study for the ordained ministry that I encountered the “less than” blow to my face. I was not prepared for it. I was challenged on many levels for daring to seek ordination in the man’s world of ministry.

One professor routinely would address the class (in which I was the only woman) “Greetings, future pastors and pastor’s wives.”  I was only acceptable to him if I took the role of a pastor’s wife.  The hardest thing was that classmates would pick up their black leather Bibles and quote Paul against me, saying I was “unscriptural” for seeking authority that was designated for men only and for refusing to be silent in the church. 
We need to be careful of how we use the Bible. It should never be a weapon against someone; nor should we take a few Bible verses, to the exclusion of the whole of scripture, as a tool for maintaining supremacy over others. This is not an unheard of practice in the 2000 years of the Christian church. There are verses in the Bible that are used to keep “targeted” people in their inferior place, both in the past and still today.
Fast forward to our country’s most deadly and heinous mass shooting that wreaked havoc in Orlando early Sunday morning, just hours before many of us went to church.  President Obama called this an “act of terror” and an “act of hate,” targeting a place of “solidarity and empowerment” for gays and lesbians.  (

The alleged gunman’s father shared with the news media that his son may have chosen this nightclub for the massacre because of his strong views against gay people.  Mateen’s political alignment with the Islamic State (ISIS), along with his anti-gay sentiments, made for a doubly lethal motivation for murder and mayhem. 
As United Methodists we believe in the sanctity of life and the “sacred worth” of all individuals (2012 Book of Discipline, paragraph 161F). In Christ no one is “less than.” God created all of us as equals and as equally precious. No one should be targeted for bias, discrimination, hatred or violence of any kind.  
During this time of grief and healing we need to:
  1. Pray: Pray for the victims, for their families and friends, and for the city of Orlando. We need to pray for our church as it continues to struggle with the debate over human sexuality and ministry that is on the hearts and minds of United Methodists during this era in the life of the church. We need to pray that our study of Scripture allows God to speak to all of us about these issues as we move forward and to teach us to love more deeply and more broadly. We need to pray for a solution to terrorism and the continual stream of violent outbreaks of gun violence in our country.
  2. Talk: Talk to people who are different from us, around whom we may feel uncomfortable because they have different personalities and perspectives than our own.  Listen to their words and hear their hearts. Seek to understand their interpretations of faith, life and Scripture. Ask innocent questions with grace, and try to understand their unique journeys in life.
  3. Act: Act in ways that model, for those who watch us, a civil way of walking and talking on this earth, a way that respects all, that rejects violence and hate-filled rhetoric, and that seeks to build bridges of understanding and acceptance. Act with genuine humility, and be willing to have less in this world so that others can have more—more respect, position, power and opportunity. 

At the end of the day, all of this is really about who is “in” and who is “out.” There is a sinful, human tendency in all of us to believe there is not enough to go around and that “our people,” “our beliefs,” “our way of thinking” represent the only true way. In that tendency of errant thought and behavior we create idols of ourselves and thus, find ourselves in opposition to God, who alone is worthy of worship and allegiance. God alone determines who is in and who is out.  

But the inviting, welcoming, loving Spirit of God is alive and moving among us in this world, urging us to foster peace, understanding and reconciliation, to overcome our differences and divisions, to heal the hatred and rejection in our world. Be a part—in fact, be a leader—of that movement in all the places, times and ways you can, wherever you are and especially in your church and community.

Be the disciple and the transformation we need in our world for such challenging times as these.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016


Kay Woo holds up a peace cross during a report from the Committee on Peace by the Korean Association of the United Methodist Church, May 19 at the 2016 General Conference. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

...So that they may all be one. (from John 17:11b)

One of the most moving events that I attended at General Conference was the Korean evening of celebration and prayer for unity. For nearly 70 years the Korean Peninsula has been divided between North and South Korea, separated by the Cold War between Communist countries in the East and Capitalist nations in the West. Even after the Korean War cease fire in 1953, the two nations never signed a peace treaty and remain technically at war.

The Rev. James Chongho Kim holds a cross, assembled 
from two pieces of wood,  symbolizing the two Koreas,
during a report from the Committee on Peace by
the Korean Association of the United Methodist Church, 
May 19, at the 2016 General Conference.
Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS
This truly sad division of one people into two opposing nations has left families separated for generations. Many have never seen their loved ones again or even know their fate.

At this General Conference gathering there was a gracious dinner and several presentations about this tragedy and about the hope that someday there will be a united Korea once again. We were further encouraged by a presentation from Bishop Rosemarie Wenner, of the former West Germany, and a pastor from the former East Germany, who both spoke of the reunification that miraculously occurred there in 1990. They said they did not believe that unification would ever happen, but God made a way. Koreans of goodwill on both sides of the peninsula are fervently praying for a similar miracle.

Division a grievous thing

Division of people, especially people of the same ethnicity and culture, is a grievous thing. The concerns that divide people are never as big or important as the essential values that should unite them. But we humans are obsessed with position, power and pride. And while some may cling to long-revered principles, too often they forget Jesus’ priority that, “The greatest of these is love.”

When people focus on what unites us, so much more can be accomplished. The human family can prosper. And swords and spears--instruments of death and destruction--can be beaten into plowshares and pruning hooks--farm implements used to nurture life. This is certainly true for the family of God in The United Methodist Church.

The division in our denomination around issues of human sexuality and ministry is deep and hard. Inflexible lines have been drawn by people who are passionate on both sides. Yet, at every General Conference I always feel something else.

I feel these “middle” people, the ones who want peace and moderation. They are there, quietly choosing through their votes to soften the hard lines, voting for “may” instead of “must,” for grace over the law. We witness them promoting a generous goodness, instead of planning strategies in closed-door meetings to defeat the “other.”

The gracious “everyone is welcome” spirit that this middle group promotes is the unifying Spirit of God. It affirms my belief in God’s amazing Pentecost Spirit. And it gives me hope: hope for Korea, hope for our human sexuality and ministry debate, and hope for every place on this earth where humans are in deep conflict and division. Our very survival and prosperity depends on it.

I need you to survive

Hezekiah Walker’s famous song: “I Need You to Survive” speaks well this sentiment:

I need you. You need me. We’re all a part of God’s body.
Stand with me; agree with me. We’re all a part of God’s body. 
It is his will that every need be supplied. 
You are important to me, I need you to survive.”

When we think like that, we can’t be drawing swords against each other, using weapons of division and discord against one another. Instead we need to be like the Apostle Paul, who encouraged us to use the “weapons of righteousness” (II Corinthians 6: 7), in which we overcome our divisions with “purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech and the power of God.”

Over the next few years the Council of Bishops has been charged with crafting a way forward so that the UMC can remain unified despite the divisions between our different beliefs about human sexuality, ministry and marriage. Pray for this process. Pray for the church, our church, as it continues to pursue its mission and ministry in the world.

Pray for unity and for peace, especially in the body of Christ. That, in his name, we may all be one.