Friday, December 20, 2013

The Duel

Unity in the midst of theological diversity is by far the most difficult task of the church. It is also the most deeply converting witness to the world when people DO get along with one another.  Why else did Jesus pray in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 17) for unity for his followers on the night before his death?  He well knew the power of unity among believers and how humans struggle with it. This is very true at this moment in the United Methodist Church. 

A look at the early church, as recorded in the Book of Acts, shows it does not take long for the church to be embroiled in interpersonal angst. It began with the issue of who gets served at the daily distribution of food (Acts 6).  Then Stephen is stoned to death for theological disagreements with the religious leaders of his time (Acts 7). Peter gets into a hot debate with his fellow Christians over Gentile conversions (Acts 11). Similarly, Paul and Barnabas are questioned about the acceptance of Gentiles in something resembling a session of General Conference in Acts 15.  It boils down to “who is IN and who is OUT.” 

The history of humanity is a continuous, unhappy saga of self-centeredness.  None of us are exempt from the sin of believing our people, our beliefs, our way, our spin on things is the right and only way.  Along with this attitude comes criticism of those on the “other” side. 

Now at this time in our denomination's history the practice of homosexuality, the ordination of lesbian and gay pastors and the performing of same-gender weddings are the issues that divide us most.  American society is turning increasingly toward open acceptance as more states issue same-gender marriage licenses, the armed forces have ended their don't ask, don't tell policy, and popular media depicts positive examples of LGTBQ people on a daily basis.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Response to the open letter addressed to me and read during a news conference at Arch Street UMC on December 16

I bid you grace and peace from the Lord Jesus Christ. I appreciate your passion for social justice for all people and your letter of concern specifically on behalf of all LGBT members in the church. I agree that we are in a time of turmoil over differences in opinion and theology with regard to human sexuality.

I ask you to:

  • Intentionally work to build relationships with those, who are Christians like yourself, who believe differently than you do theologically.
  • Acknowledge that there is pain and hurt on both sides of this house. 
  • Pray for God’s grace that we might build bridges of unity and conversation through the power ofthe Holy Spirit. 
  • Acknowledge that a good many statements in our Book of Discipline are positive and nondiscriminatory:  Paragraph 162J – Certain basic human rights and civil liberties are due all persons. We are committed to supporting those rights and liberties for all persons, regardless of sexual orientation.  Paragraph 162-III – We support the basic rights of all people to equal access to housing, education, communication, employment, medical care, legal redress for grievances, and physical protection. We deplore acts of hate or violence against groups or persons based on race, color, national origin, ethnicity, age, gender, disability, status, economic condition, sexual orientation, gender identity or religious affiliation. Paragraph 161 F - All persons, regardless of age, gender, marital status, or sexual orientation, are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured and to be protected against violence. Paragraph 161 F (further states) We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth created in the image of God. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will seek to live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving and loving one another, as Christ as loved and accepted us. We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.
  • Acknowledge that the church trial created a great deal of public outcry against the UM position around this social issue. Much positive attention has been given to progressive position as a result of the trial and that some would like to continue to see more trials for that reason.
  • Acknowledge that I am bishop to all and am called to the unconditional love extended to the spectrum of theological perspectives.

Per your request I acknowledge that: 

  • Our LGBT sisters and brothers are of sacred worth regardless of their sexual orientation(Paragraph 161F) or gender identity.  
  • Several statements in our Book of Discipline are discriminatory (forbidding ordination of homosexual persons, forbidding the performing of same-gender marriages and considering the practice of homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching).   There appear to be contradictions between the many affirming statements (mentioned earlier) and these statements. This has led to confusion by many from the outside of the church wondering how we can talk out of two sides of our mouth. 
  • Church trials around the chargeable offenses that relate to the LGTB community are not helpful.
  • They use time, resources, and energy that could be better used for the ministry of the church. I will continue to try in every way, as far as it depends on me, to not have church trials.
  • I will commit to continuing to call the church to its main mission: preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world, making disciples and transforming the world through the power of the spirit.
Peggy A. Johnson, Bishop

Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela: Leading the Way to Forgiveness

Former South African President Nelson Mandela is remembered in death, as he was revered in life, for many good  reasons.  He was a bold, courageous leader who made a firm stand against injustice, calling not only his nation toward change and repentance but also the world.  Yet, he was also a wise, loving leader who taught us to forgive. 

“Resentment is like drinking poison," Mandela warned, "and then hoping it will kill our enemies.”  Rather than hold onto self-destructive resentment, he taught us, “If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy.  Then he becomes your partner.” 

President Mandela knew from experience that he had to forgive for his own sake.  “As I walked out the door towards the gate that would lead to my freedom," he realized, "I knew that if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”  He observed in his own life, “You will achieve more in this world through acts of mercy than you will through acts of retribution.” 

This man of uncommon vision saw how those who sought to harm him and others, instead of listening and showing mercy, failed in all they did.  He knew that to ultimately reach the beautiful future that we all dream of there is a way to get there. 

“Two roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness.”  Few of us travel those roads, even in the church.  We fail to do good for those who are crying out for justice and mercy; and we do not listen or respond to the cries of the needy. Then too often, we repeat the cycle of ugliness in the world, rather than forgive and show mercy and treat others with justice. 

Nelson Mandela was one of those rare persons who tried to walk on the roads of Goodness and Forgiveness.  He led his people through a time of healing with truth and reconciliation.  Healing is a long process, It was a lifelong struggle for Nelson Mandela, and it will be for us.  But it is a good struggle.

"I am not a saint," admitted the man affectionately known to his people as Madiba, "unless you consider a saint to be someone who fails but keeps on trying." Let us all strive to be saints by that definition, as we wage the good struggle and walk the two good roads where we find his footsteps leading the way.