What’s in a name?

What is distinctive about the United Methodist Church? What is United Methodist identity?

In other words, what makes United Methodists United Methodists?

WUMC building
A look at our building

This is the question our Confirmation class pondered the last couple weeks. How would you respond?

(Or, for my non-UMC readers, how would you answer the question for your denomination or religion or organization with which you are affiliated?)

The first time we asked the Confirmands this, their answers ranged, it seems to me, from surprising to impressive to, frankly, a little scary. They wrote:

  • Anti-gambling.
  • Broke off from the Anglican church.
  • Anyone can take communion.
  • Only grape juice used for communion, no wine.
  • Started by John & Charles Wesley at Oxford in England.
  • The Wesley Quadrilateral of how to think about faith: through scripture, tradition, experience, and reason.

As you can see, they mentioned some history, some worship practices, some social commentary, and some theology (which I’d also argue is in large part anthropology, but that’s probably a post for another day). Each item elicited more conversation.

Talking about gambling means talking about how state-run lottos prey on the poor as well as being good stewards of our money.

Talking about open communion means admitting none of us fully understands the sacrament but are all in need of God’s amazing grace.

Talking about using grape juice means talking about Methodist’s history of supporting Alcoholics Anonymous and – going back to open communion – wanting all present to be able to partake.

Talking about the Wesley brothers and how the Methodist movement got started means talking about reappropriating a slur into a badge of honor. It also means tracing our faith heritage back through the ages: UMC => Methodist Church & Evangelical United Brethren => Church of England => Roman Catholic Church => early followers of the Way => Jesus => Hebrews. Can you accurately place each of those pieces of church history on a timeline? Our Confirmands can.

Talking about how we come to believe what it is that we believe – using the Quadrilateral – means admitting to the human condition. We all read and think through those lenses, but the UMC is nearly unique in naming that reality.

As you might have surmised by now, it was a robust, wide-ranging conversation. But there was one other item a youth put on the board; one other way that they see United Methodist Church’s identity. Can you guess what it was?

  • Against gay rights.

It’s like having a mirror held up to your face and being forced to see what others see, regardless of how you view yourself. Like I said, a little scary. And certainly uncomfortable. Think about it: this is what our 7th and 8th graders think it means to be United Methodist. Is this what we want 7th and 8th graders to think? Is this the legacy we want to leave them?

Of course we talked about the complex nature of the United Methodist Church and gay rights. Doing so requires talking about the confusingly bifurcated Social Principles statements on human sexuality. It means talking about General Conference and how there is a decades-old movement to change the language to be fully welcoming and affirming of our gay sisters and brothers. It means talking about the most recent General Conference in 2012 when a proposal to just change the language to (paraphrasing here) “We United Methodists disagree about human sexuality and about how the church should and should not respond to LGBT sisters and brothers.” While that is so clearly the actual truth of our current reality, even that simple, honest change couldn’t pass.

All of that led to a terrific chat about ways to respond to this situation:

  1. Get fed up with super slow progress on accepting the LGBT community and leave to another church that is welcoming and affirming. Or leave church altogether.
  2. Stay in the UMC and ignore the issue, hoping it will go away or get resolved without me.
  3. Stay in the UMC and work for change.

We said all three of those responses are happening right now. The last of which leads to others staying in the church working to keep the language the same. For which of those four response will Woodridge UMC be known?

While it is quite disconcerting to look into the mirror that is our youth’s perceptions of our denomination, it is also a gift. It is an opportunity, an invitation even, for self-reflection. What is the state of the church we are handing over to the next generation? Are we living God’s call on our lives – as individuals, as families, and as a denomination – to transform the world with the Holy Spirit? If not, how will we improve it?

I welcome your thoughts in the comments section below.

I must not remain silent

Our lives begin to end on the day we remain silent about things that matter. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

If you’ve been on the interwebs at all this week, you’ve probably heard of Charles Worley, Pastor at Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, NC. There are at least two words in that clause that I take exception to, but more on that in a moment. Worley delivered quite the sermon, not long after President Obama announced his support of marriage equality.

Worley’s words are hard to listen to, and because I value you and your sanity I don’t really want you to hear this. But when one has the opportunity to view source material rather than second-hand discourse about that material, it is better to go to the source. So, here it is:

Yes, you heard that correctly. Worley advocates for concentration camps for gay and lesbian people. (H/t to Slacktivist for calling this what it is: concentration camps.) He openly calls for the systematic, state-sponsored death of millions of people. And he does so from the pulpit during a sermon. Read that again.

He. calls. for. the death. of millions. from. the. pulpit. during. a. sermon.

My mouth keeps open and then closing again, but no words emerge. Yet I know that I cannot and must not remain silent about this. And neither can you.

Fortunately, many others have already reacted with much more eloquence than I can muster. My favorite, no surprise, comes from Fred Clark at Slacktivisit:

I’m sure Worley will try to say he was only “joking” — that he wasn’t seriously suggesting rounding up millions of Americans and locking them away until they die. But he isn’t joking in that video. The only playfulness in his comments is the smirking “I couldn’t get it past the Congress,” and that, for Worley, is the joke here — that concentration camps are what we ought to do, if only, alas, we could. Read the rest.

Kimberly Knight has two excellent posts here and here.

Am I wary of thrusting this tiny, hateful man and congregation further into the spotlight? Do they deserve the attention? Yeah, very worried that every character I type is pointing to the festering evil mind of an otherwise small, small man. But (yeah, you knew there was one more) if Christians who follow Compassionate One don’t speak up – over and over again – then voices like his, so easily tossing around the heresy of a hateful God, are allowed to speak without counter. We must raise our voices and join a chorus of love that crescendos over the cacophony of fear and hate. Silence is consent. Read the rest.

Bruce Reyes-Chow on slippery slopes:

Likewise, those of you who continue to give life and validation to anti-homosexuality thinking must know that you have been given the privilege of being thought of as reasonable and faithful. This protection has given you a false security that your words, no matter how diametrically different they may sound from Worley’s, do not lead to violence.

They do. Read the rest.

Eugene Cho says, Repent!:

Wow, this takes the prize for the most idiotic, insane, stupid, asinine, cruel, ungodly, foul, inexcusable, heinous, and disgusting comments by any person – let alone someone that calls himself a pastor and shepherd. Read the rest.

Finally, Clark has a fuller roundup here.

Again, Dr. King reminds us why it is so important not to remain silent in response to such evil:

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.

Because I know, love and strive to follow Jesus, I believe LGBT folks should have full civil rights, including marriage. I believe in full-inclusion of LGBT folks in the church – both as members and as clergy. Obviously, church and society have a long way to go before such full inclusion is reality. People like Worley and places like Providence Road make it that much harder.

I hate that “pastor” and “Baptist” are words that connect Worley and me. It is attitudes like his – and the apparent support of his congregation – that give pastors and Baptists a bad name. It’s speech like his that forces me to very clearly say that my heritage is with the American Baptist Churches, USA, one of the historic mainline denominations. ABC/USA hasn’t found its way to full inclusion yet either, but we will get there. Finding our way onto the side of justice is part of who we are.

Worley and his words are so hateful that I need the whole Thesaurus.com entry on despicable to even begin to describe him and them: hateful, beyond contempt, abject, awful, base, beastly, cheap, contemptible, degrading, detestable, dirty, disgraceful, disreputable, down, ignominious, infamous, insignificant, loathsome, low, low-life, mean, no-good, pitiful, reprehensible, shameful, slimy, sordid, vile, worthless, wretched.

Yeah, I’d say that about covers it.