According to the Wichita Eagle, a terrorist attack in Garden City has been thwarted by the FBI. Please pray for Kansas and all it’s people, I fear occurrences like this will become more common. You can read more at http://www.kansas.com/news/state/article108279072.html.
Looking at Colin Kaepernick’s actions from a historical perspective, putting myself in his place I can see his point. I would have a hard time standing for the National Anthem if it included an anti-Irish-American verse and was written by a member of the (anti-Irish-American) Know Nothing Party. Our God is a God of justice who sees only our common humanity and the Imago Dei within each and every one of us.
Note: the article is titled “Slavery and the National Anthem: The Surprising History Behind Colin Kaepernick’s Protest.” My guess is that it’s not surprising to our African-American brothers and sisters.
I don’t have much to say about the Orlando Shooting. We grieve over such events on a regular basis, but we lack the political will to do anything about the violence. Such shootings are not inevitable, and the vast majority could be prevented. On some level I feel that we as a nation are hypocritical in the way we grieve, grieve, and grieve again, but take no other action. It’s like mourning the preventable death of a child that we have long denied vital medical treatment to. What is there to say after we have failed to act for such a long time?
One of the things I most admire about Bishop Scott Jones is his ability to be eminently reasonable and level-headed when faced with an emotional issue. The bishop has written an open letter to Kansas Legislators urging them to find some way to accept the ACA expansion of
Medicare Medicaid. I’m urging you to read it.
Correction: A tip of the hat to Dr. Brian Holmes for catching the fact that I wrote Medicare when I meant Medicaid.
Relevant Magazine has an article listing twelve scripture passages relevant to our current discussion of Syrian refugees. It’s a reminder not only of what we are called to do, but who we are called to be. As such, it’s not necessarily something we want to hear, but definitely something we need to hear. (Isn’t that often the way scripture functions in our lives?) We must not allow our fear to overcome our Christian faith and love.
I’ve been doing some reading on the response of the family members of the victims of the church shooting in Charleston to the shooter when he was brought into court for his bond hearing. The response of the family members was forgiveness, a response nearly unfathomable to me. I don’t know how they did so quickly what would have taken me decades. One of the articles I read was “Does White America Really Believe in Forgiveness?” by Adam Ericksen. I wanted to share the following two paragraphs:
White America needs to have our Saul moment. And I pray, in the wake of the terrorism in Charleston, that we are having it. The scales need to fall from our eyes so that we can clearly see the harm we have caused through the racist structures that permeate the United States. Like Paul, we need to hear those words from Jesus — “Why are you persecuting me?” Because when we continue to uphold racist structures in America, we are persecuting black people — and we continue to persecute Jesus who identifies with them.
The blessed forgiveness that was on display in Charleston is the same blessed forgiveness that was on display on the cross. If white America doesn’t allow that forgiveness to hold us accountable to the transformation of our lives and the racist structures of the United States, then we are mere hypocrites who don’t truly believe in the Gospel.
I intend to focus more on the personal mechanics of forgiveness in my sermon, but I encourage you to read the full article. White America is indeed in need of transformation, we must face not only the fact that racism is a problem, but that it is our problem.
Warning: what follows is a post in the vein of the Old Testament prophets. You may want to skip it and for that I do not blame you, but I feel compelled to write it.
I have heard our love of country compared to our love of our parents. When we are children, we love our parents as only children can. We love them without being aware of their flaws and shortcomings.* As adults, we recognize that our parents are fallen human beings, and yet we love them still. (This is Christ-like in that it is also the nature of God’s love for us.) I believe that the love we have for our country should be like the love of an adult child for his or her parents. This means that we have to acknowledge that our country, however much we love it, is not perfect.
To that end, I want to share two links. The first is a historic address by Frederick Douglas titled The Meaning of July Fourth for the Negro. The following passage is considered one of Douglas’ most moving:
“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.”
The second is a contemporary blog post by a Native American titled The Dilemma of the Fourth of July. It’s author, Mark Charles, highlights the reference to Native Americans as savages in The Declaration of Independence and then writes:
“This is the dilemma that Native ‘Americans’ face every day. The foundations of the United States of America are blatantly unjust. This land was stolen. Native peoples, Africans and many other minority communities have long been recipients of systemic racism. And the roots of it are right there for the entire world to see, printed in many of our founding documents; like the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and United States Supreme Court case rulings.”
My hope is that by confessing the sins of our nation’s past, we might move forward to a better, holier future.** Like the hymn America the Beautiful, I want to extol our nation’s virtues and ask God to “mend [our] every flaw.” Mark Charles feels the same way, writing:
“You can still light your fireworks and eat your BBQ, but please remember God’s incredible mercy upon our violent and unjust nation. And at the end of the day, I humbly ask you to conclude your celebrations with the following prayer.
‘May God have mercy on the United States of America and give us the courage necessary to create a common memory.'”
I understand “common memory” to mean an accurate understanding of our past that is shared by enough people that it helps to shape a more just future. I will pray that prayer.
*My apologies to my own parents for the use of this comparison. I should note that my mother has very few shortcomings, and I share all my father’s flaws.
**Credit where credit is due: In 2009 Sam Brownback helped lead a successful effort to get a formal apology to Native Americans approved by Congress and signed by the President. Sadly, he could not get it passed as a stand-alone bill and it had to be slipped into an appropriations measure.
In a previous post, I stated that “I want to be a pastor to everyone who is part of First UMC, not just those who agree with me.” To that end I thought I might share a post from someone who disagrees with me. It’s a well-crafted post of the kind I would hope that I would write if I were on the other side of the issue on homosexuality and gay marriage. I would recommend it to everyone, regardless of where they stand. There is a great deal of insight into the place of marriage in the church and the place of the church in the world. I’ve long thought that we needed to more clearly distinguish between civil marriage and holy matrimony (regardless of the gender of those involved).
Jenny, Liz, and I are still on vacation, and I don’t yet want to wade too deeply into the issue of same-sex marriage in general or the supreme court’s decision in particular. However, I saw an article that I very much want to respond to. The article in question appeared in The Week and was written by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry. The title was: “Why Christians are so upset about same-sex marriage” and the title was an accurate summary of the article. Both the title and the article are wrong in that they fail to acknowledge that not all Christians are upset about same-sex marriage. Some Christians are upset, but other Christians are rejoicing. Abilene First UMC contains people in both groups. While I fall squarely in the subset of Christians who are rejoicing, it would never occur to me to imply that all Christians are responding in one way or another (and by logical extension that those who are not responding in that manner are not Christians). I simply know too many faithful and devout Christians who disagree with me.
Some of the petitions going to General Conference in 2016 acknowledge the readily verifiable fact that United Methodists are not of one mind on the subject of homosexuality. Such an acknowledgment is an honest place to start and a necessary first step to keeping United Methodists united as we work our way through this issue. It is out of line with the Christian virtues of humility and modesty to suggest that “our side” (whichever side that may be) speaks for the whole church.
On a personal and professional note: As the pastor of a church where my parishioners are not of one mind, it (the frank acknowledgment that Christians are not of one mind on this issue) is a necessary first step that I might serve as a shepherd to the entire congregation. I want to be a pastor to everyone who is part of First UMC, not just those who agree with me. Today I rejoice with those who rejoice, but those faithful and devout Christians who weep have my sympathy.
I try to remain non-political on this blog (while still addressing the full scope of religious issues), so I hesitate to link to Talking Points Memo. However, they have a succinct, insightful, and non-political summary of the history of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The article, written by Benjamin E. Park, an American history professor at the University of Missouri, relates the sad news that racist violence is nothing new to Emanuel AME.
Here’s an excerpt:
“There is no greater coward,” Cornell William Brooks, president of the N.A.A.C.P, declared in a statement [in response to the recent attack], “than a criminal who enters a house of God and slaughters innocent people engaged in the study of scripture.”
This experience is unfortunately far from new: While black churches have long been seen as a powerful symbol of African-American community, they have also served as a flashpoint for hatred from those who fear black solidarity, and as a result these edifices have been the location for many of our nation’s most egregious racial terrorist acts.
I don’t think it incidental that a racist shooter targeted a historical African-American house of worship. I encourage you to take the time to read the full article, and I think you’ll come to the same conclusion.
I feel like I’ve done a lot of posts on the subject of the church and homosexuality. Regardless of where you stand on the issue, you may be tired of reading about it. However, the Great Plains Annual Conference took action on Saturday, June 13, 2015, and I feel that I need to comment.
Great Plains Connect, the conference’s official newsletter summarized that action, as follows:
“The annual conference voted 496-363 to approve a petition offered by the Rev. David Livingston, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, Lenexa, Kansas, that would strike references of homosexuality as being incompatible with Christian teachings and would eliminate restrictions against practicing homosexuals being certified as candidates, ordained as ministers or appointed to serve in the church. It also would lift restrictions on United Methodist pastors conducting same-sex marriages and would lift restrictions on annual conferences and United Methodist agencies from providing funding to homosexual-related caucus groups and similar agencies. The petition would eliminate the performance of same-sex marriages from the list of offenses that would initiate a church trial.”
The petition would also amend the book of disciple to acknowledge that United Methodists are not of one mind on this issue.
To be honest, I didn’t realize the full significance of the vote at the time. The former Kansas East Annual Conference regularly approved such petitions to General Conference (I’m told the Nebraska Annual Conference did the same), however, I’ve since learned that the former Kansas West Conference never passed such a petition. The first-time nature of this petition for churches and clergy of the former Kansas West Conference helps explain what happened next: Rev. Rob Schmutz (who grew up here in Abilene) publically surrendered his credentials. Surrendering credentials is the official United Methodist verbiage for a clergy member resigning from the local church and the annual conference.
Over at Kansas.com, The Wichita Eagle has a solid article summarizing what happened. I’m not going to go into all the details; I just want to offer four points of interpretation about what the approval of the petition does and does not mean.
- Nothing has changed yet. This will be one of many petitions sent to General Conference on this subject. In the past, the General Conference has rejected all such petitions. No one can say what will happen at the next General Conference.
- This petition does not mean that every annual conference will start ordaining gay men and women, it simply means that conferences will have that option if they so choose.
- Likewise, this petition does not mean that every pastor has to perform same-sex marriages. It simply means that they may do so if they choose. This authority is given to the pastors and not the local church because currently that is the way it is for heterosexual marriages. However, all the clergy I know would take their congregation’s feelings into account when making that decision.
- As the petition acknowledges, the opinion of individual United Methodists around this issue will continue to be divided. The petition would amend the church’s position as a whole, but not the beliefs of individual members.
Hopefully, Jenny and I have made it clear that we’re willing to answer your questions and discuss your concerns no matter where you stand on this issue. While we agree with the Annual Conference’s decision, we believe that both the issue and the conversation itself are important and we want to be the pastors of the entire congregation.
Today (March 7, 2015) is the 50th Anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” when civil rights protesters
marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama. Congressman John Lewis was one of the leaders of that march. Today he gave a speech in commemoration of the march’s anniversary. I wanted to share part of that speech with you:
“My beloved brothers and sisters, members of the American family on this day. We as a nation have a great deal to be thankful for. Jimmy Lee Jackson, … who’s death inspired the Selma march along with so many others, did not make it to see this day. But you and I are here, we can bear witness to the distance we have come and the progress we have made in 50 years and we must use this moment to recommit ourselves to do all we can to finish the work. There is still work left to be done. Get out there and push and pull until we redeem the soul of America.”
We tend to think of the redemption of souls as the Lord’s work, but as a Methodist, I also believe that we have a part to play in our salvation. As Augustine of Hippo said, “God who made us without ourselves will not save us without ourselves.” Or if you prefer, as the Apostle Paul said in one of John Wesley’s favorite scriptures: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.”
As Christians, we are not called to love America uncritically, the way a young child loves their parents, but rather we are to love our country despite it’s flaws, the way an adult child loves their parents. We are called to appreciate it’s good points; to delight in what is good, and right, and true, but also to recognize that improvement is still possible and seek to make things better. Loving America as a grown-up, loving America as a Christian, means working to redeem her soul.