Monday, May 21, 2018

The Way Forward

On Sunday, May 6, 2018, I read to the church my pastoral response to the "Way Forward" recommendation of the Council of Bishops.  I also posted it on Facebook and on the church website, and invited everyone to discuss their thoughts about this with me.  I am adding this post to be a collection point for the written discussions that arise from this conversation.  I will include the comments others make and my responses, without identifying other people here in case anyone might not want to be identified beyond the place where they originally have posted their thoughts. I hope additional discussion will happen here in my blog, too!

My Pastoral Response to the Recommendation:

The Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church has completed their study on “A Way Forward” and made their recommendation. As your pastor, I fully support their recommendation, and will be asking the Church Council to approve a “Resolution of Support for the Recommendation of the Council of Bishops on The Way Forward.”
Please read more about the proposal and prayerfully discuss your thoughts and feelings with family, friends, me, and others. Here is an excerpt from the article, “Bishops propose plan for Way Forward” on the denominational website at…/bishops-propose-plan-for-way-forward:
[Quote] The plan would remove the restrictive language against the practice of homosexuality in the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s policy book. The plan also adds assurances to pastors and conferences who in good conscience cannot perform same-sex weddings or ordain “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy that they don’t have to do so. Central conferences — church regions in Africa, Asia and Europe — could maintain current restrictions.
The plan “encourages a generous unity by giving United Methodists the ability to address different missional contexts in ways that reflect their theological convictions,” said the bishops’ press release. [End Quote]
Prayerfully yours,
Rev. Bill Lawson, Pastor

Comments in Support

Received Blog comment:

I’m so proud of you for taking a stand on this issue! 

Your friend always!

My pastoral response:

Thank you, Name! Your encouragement has always meant a lot to me.

Everyone at Briensburg church supports this position, to my knowledge.

We want everyone to know, clearly and unequivocally, that LGBTQ people are welcome, wanted, needed, and loved in our church along with their spiritual gifts and graces. 

Thank you for your constant leadership, friendship and support! 

Caring and open arms of Briensburg church

Received Facebook comment:

Brother Bill you are such a blessing! We love you and your family and church you all have a such caring open arms for everyone!

My pastoral response:
Thank you, name, for your kind words.

You and everyone at Briensburg church genuinely do have open arms for everyone else in the church and community, to my knowledge.

Our stated mission is "Helping Each Other Serve to Our Full Potential." Fulfilling such a mission is only possible to the extent we accept and respect and love each other just as we are. We serve Christ together, and are expected to support and encourage one another.

The caring you mention is at the heart of our identity as the people of God. The more we truly care for each other as God cares for us, the less able we are to allow our differences to come between us.

Challenging way of presenting the UMC slogan

Received Facebook comment:

Open hearts! Open doors! But open minds????

My pastoral response:

Thank you names for the challenging way you put those question marks in the slogan of The United Methodist Church .

Everyone at Briensburg church extends open arms in addition to open hearts, open minds and open doors, to my knowledge.

The goal Jesus set for us to love each other as he loves us challenges us to open our hearts and minds and doors to everyone for whom Christ opened his arms on the Cross.

No one is excluded and everyone is included in God's love. While many of God's promises in the Bible include various conditions, God's love is unconditional. Until our love perfectly reflects the love of God as demonstrated in Jesus, then we fall short of the joy Christ invites us to experience.

Loving others and leaving the judgment to God

Received Facebook comment:

I only know that God loves all of his children, no matter what and we are admonished to do that also. But, we are also to hold our leaders to a higher standard because of the position they are in. I'm just going to try to hold love in my heart and leave it to God for judgement.

My pastoral response:

Thank you, name, for sharing your thoughts on this.

Everyone at Briensburg shares a similar view on loving and not judging, to my knowledge.

God does love everyone and expects us to grow into the same love for each other. Even though we all have varying understandings about what is right and wrong concerning issues such as these, Jesus did teach us not to judge and he did admonish us that whatever standard we use if we do decide to judge anyone else is the same standard that will be used to measure us.

I agree with what you are trying to do by letting God be the judge while we do our part of extending heart-felt love to everyone. If everyone would do that, then we could all remain in love and unity with one another while we work out whatever differences we may have on this or anything else.

Loving and welcoming all, with questions about leadership positions

Received Facebook comment:

Bro.Bill ! I believe with all my heart that God loves us all ! I would - and have - loved and welcomed ALL! The position of leadership is one I'm not convinced about yet!!

My pastoral response:

Thank you, Name, for that affirmation of God's love and of yours for everyone. I do know you are welcoming and loving to all, and you both are wonderful witnesses to the faith.

Everyone at Briensburg is like that, too, welcoming and loving toward all. We are also supportive of everyone in their responses to God' calling into any forms of church leadership.

Our local church mission statement, in the context of the denominational mission of making disciples of Jesus to transform the world, is "helping each other serve to our full potential." Through other leadership positions in the church, within the current restrictive framework of the Discipline, and in other less restrictive denominations, LGBTQ people have demonstrated exemplary Christian service to God and the church under the anointing of the Holy Spirit. I strongly feel that if God calls someone and the Holy Spirit empowers them, we should prayerfully support them as they endeavor to fulfill that calling.

The bishops' recommendation does make allowance for those who feel otherwise, providing "more freedom at the conference and local church levels... The plan also adds assurances to pastors and conferences who in good conscience cannot perform same-sex weddings or ordain “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy that they don’t have to do so." Instead of the Discipline restricting people from accepting God's call and empowerment, it would be up to each individual, local church, and conference to decide whether or not to be prayerfully supportive of them in accepting their call.

Comments in Opposition

Leaving the church over this issue
Received Facebook comment:
The day that Methodist churches condone and preform gay marriages is the day that I will leave the church.
My pastoral response:
Thank you, name, for being the first to comment on this. You and your wife mean a lot to me, and I value our friendship very much.

No one at Briensburg church feels that way, to my knowledge.

I have had a number of friends over the years who have joined or left The United Methodist Church over deeply held convictions on specific issues such as this. My thought, though, is that the unity of love overrides any differences we may have in any other convictions or beliefs or practices. 

I also think that those who will be making the decision, and the rest of us who will be praying for them and voicing our own opinions, should do so based on what we believe is right rather than on who will join The United Methodist Church or who will leave because of what is decided on this or any other issue.

I intend to remain a United Methodist regardless of what is decided on this, because of so many countless reasons for loving the people and the support and the mission and the freedom and the ministry and the love of the church. I hope you will stay, too, regardless of what is decided on this issue.

Individual freedom to decide whether to officiate same gender marriages
Received Facebook comment: 
Bill, it's one I'm not in agreement with. It's mealy-mouthed: "If you don't like it you don't have to do it". What kind of a Constitution aka Discipline is that??? It's guaranteed to get a cold reception at the Special General Conference in February 2019.
My pastoral response:
Thank you, name, for sharing your opinion on this.
No one at Briensburg church feels that way, to my knowledge.

We already have that same position on marriage. Each clergy person already has the freedom to decide whether or not to officiate any marriage, according to their own personal convictions, except for same gender marriages. My thought is that we should also have that same freedom applied to same gender marriages as we already have for any others. 

The kind of Discipline that would be, to me, is the kind that would firmly support clergy and churches and members in the freedom of their personal convictions on this issue, as we do on so many other other issues. Rather than the church dictating to us whether we must or must not officiate for same gender marriages, we would each be free to make that decision for ourselves in each case. The Discipline would then back us up either way, just as it does now when we decide whether or not to officiate a marriage for any number of other reasons.

I will be praying that the General Conference delegates accept this recommendation the Council of Bishops has made, and I hope you will, too. I also hope we will continue to be friends either way,and continue to discuss this and other issues of our faith.

Walking together in disagreement

Received Facebook comment: 

Amos 3:3 "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" Can you homogenize right and wrong, dark and light?

My pastoral response:

Thank you for asking me those thought-provoking questions, Durwood.

Yes, we can walk together if we agree that to love one another as Christ loves us is more important than anything else.

We can agree to walk together regardless of our differences on this, just as we already have agreed to do on innumerable other issues. If we were all required to agree on everything, we would all be walking alone. 

Christian unity invites us to harmony as in music, not homogenization as in milk. Each note remains different, unique and distinct, yet all are brought together in beautiful arrangements. The greater the variety of notes and instruments, the more beautiful the music, each component retaining its separate identity. 

I hope that our long-standing friendship, Durwood, is stronger than any differences of opinion we may discover on this or any other issue. We could be a great example of Psalm 133:

"Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! ... for there the Lord commanded the blessing, even life for evermore."