"The lines we draw are invitations to cross over and that crossing over, as any nomadic subject knows, constitutes who we are." (Judith Butler)

Some of you know that there have been big things shaking in the United Methodist Church (UMC) recently. For others, this will be new and/or foreign, and so I’ll summarize. (If this is all familiar and repetitive information to you, feel free to skip down to the section beginning ***.)

Rev. Amy DeLong, an ordained elder in the Wisconsin Annual Conference chose to report to her district superintendent (her supervisor) that she had registered her long-time, loving, committed relationship with her partner, Val, as a domestic partnership in Wisconsin, as well as the fact that she had officiated for a service of holy union for two women.

If you are unfamiliar with United Methodist (UM) policies (count yourself lucky!), being a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” and “conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions” are considered “chargeable offenses.” This means that they are prohibited acts which are grounds for a church trial and, if a person is found guilty, can result in any penalty ranging from suspension to the stripping of ministry credentials.

Let’s get a few other details of UM polity out of the way. To be a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” means that you have “self-avowed” — by openly acknowledging to a bishop, district superintendent, district committee of ordained ministry, Board of Ordained Ministry, or clergy session — that you are a “practicing homosexual.” All jokes about “practicing” aside, the UMC, through decisions of its Judicial Council, has determined that to “practice homosexuality” is to have “genital contact” with a person of the same gender.

What happened in Amy’s case is that no one had asked her about her sex life during the investigative process (explanation: after the charges had been brought, an investigative committee was formed to determine if there was enough evidence for a trial, and the committee was then responsible for collecting the evidence). Well, Amy’s defense team successfully argued that, in fact, the church had not proven that Amy is a “self-avowed practicing homosexual.” Not guilty!

I recognize that some might say that this verdict is a matter of mere technicality, but I don’t think so. I’ll probably write more about this later, but first of all, what does the language of “self-avowed practicing homosexual” even mean? It’s rather vacuous. Would a different-gender couple who loves one another identify themselves as “self-avowed practicing heterosexuals”? Amy made clear that those words mean nothing in relation to how she feels about and understands her partnership with Val.

Secondly, this whole “practicing” thing reveals that the real issue is sex between two people of the same gender. The UMC doesn’t like it. It’s a chargeable offense. But what the “trial court,” i.e., jury, in Wisconsin implied with its decision is that loving partnership with a person of the same gender does not deter effective, valued, legitimate ministry; indeed, such partnership may help support, uplift, and sustain the work of clergy and the church. When we don’t get hung up on sex, we can move on to more important questions and realities!

(For a fuller description of the trial and the defense team’s arguments — or really, their prophetic teaching and preaching, I encourage you to read the blog of Will J. Green, a New England pastor who was present for the trial and gave thorough and moving reports; see the entries from June 20-24, 2011.)

On the charge of performing the same-gender union, Amy was found guilty. With that decision, the trial went into the penalty phase, in which both sides made arguments about what an appropriate penalty would be, and then the trial court met once again for its final determination. (If you read no other religious writing all year, I suggest you read Will’s description of the defense witnesses’ accounts, which encompass some very rich theological reflection on what it means to be the church.)

The trial court could have stripped Amy of her ministerial credentials, but they opted for a more creative approach, a path that could lead to reconciliation rather than exacting mere retribution. Amy is suspended from ministerial duties for 20 days for the purposes of reflecting with some annual conference leaders and to begin writing a document outlining procedures to help resolve issues that harm the clergy covenant. This will be reviewed by the Board of Ordained Ministry and eventually voted on by the clergy session of the Wisconsin Annual Conference (i.e., it could actually become a guideline toward reconciliation in the church!).

***Some people don’t appreciate the innovative approach of the trial court. For these folks, things are absolutely clear: Amy broke the rules and should be kicked out. Take, for example, the words of Rev. Rob Renfroe, president and publisher of Good News magazine (a conservative publication committed to maintaining the UMC’s anti-gay policies)(as reported by the UM News Service here):

In no other organization would a person be able to willfully break the organization’s policies and expect to keep working. An organization’s response would be to thank the person for his service, let him pack his things and usher him out the door.

I’m quite bothered by this response and not simply because I believe that Amy DeLong is and should always be a valued member of the United Methodist clergy. I’m disturbed because I don’t think the church should be like any “other organization.” Rather, I think the church is called to be different, to be set apart.

If the church looks like every other organization, it isn’t the church.

The Gospel I know offers good news about one who came to show humankind a different path. The leader of this movement pushed the boundaries and broke what were perceived to be the rules of religious order.

If you haven’t read what the gospel of Mark records that Jesus taught about the sabbath recently (or ever), I suggest taking a look at Mark 2:23-3:6. The Pharisees, who are presented in the New Testament as defending pious adherence to laws which Jesus was seen to challenge, questioned Jesus when they saw disciples plucking the heads of grain. This was not supposed to be done on the sabbath!

But Jesus answered (after drawing from religious tradition in defense of their actions), “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath.”

Then Jesus ruffled the Pharisees’ feathers again when he healed a person’s withered hand. On the sabbath! What activities were permitted and prohibited on the sabbath was debated, but what likely would have been acceptable in this case was healing only to save a life (the withered hand presumably not being a good enough reason). Jesus poignantly asked, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” After noting his critics’ silence and “hardness of heart,” Jesus simply went ahead and healed the withered hand.

The rule keepers of the day were none too happy with Jesus. You know the rest of the story: eventually, as the gospels tell us, they took Jesus out.

Now let’s think for a moment about the parable of the lesbian pastor. I know you know this one!

She was one of those liberated folks, one of those people who knows and trusts the love and grace God brings into her life, even in ways that others don’t expect. But this one went too far. She was nourished by love for, from, and with another woman, and this was against the rules. You know how those United Methodists are about their rules! The rule keepers asked how she could do what was not lawful and still remain in the church.

She answered, “The church was made for humankind and not humankind for the church.”

Then, as she stood within that church, two women approached her. They had been harmed by the church before, but through the grace and mercy shared by this spirit-filled pastor, healing began. Because they believed in God, they sought the blessing of the minister for their holy union.

The pastor asked those who would stifle her, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm in the church, to save life or to kill?” Though she was grieved at the hardness of hearts in the United Methodist Church, she extended a hand of blessing.

Can we pause for a moment?

Can we set aside what we think we know about scripture for long enough to recognize that I am not trying to say uncritically that Amy DeLong (and other queer persons in the church, both clergy and lay) are exactly like Jesus?

But can we acknowledge that what is going on in Mark’s text is a debate about rules?

And can we realize where Jesus stands in that debate? Are we able to affirm that he is the rule breaker?

I know, I know, it seems like Amy and company are blatantly breaking rules. She/they/I/we ostensibly violate what the church has long taught are definitive precepts of scripture.

But what’s going on today, in the United Methodist Church and elsewhere, is not just rule-breaking for rule-breaking’s sake. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons are teaching the church that God is at work through their lives, both individually and in loving partnerships.

We say, “The sabbath was made for humankind and not humankind for the sabbath.” That is, the church isn’t supposed to be a box into which everyone forces themselves to fit nicely. The church exists to be a space that affirms God’s grace as experienced and known in human lives. And what we learn from Jesus and friends is that sabbath, the church, religious rules cannot be rigid because humanity is not rigid. God takes the church unexpected places.

We can affirm Jesus, but can we affirm him when he breaks the rules? Likewise, we say we will love all people, but can we walk with them when they take us uncomfortable places?

I still hear the rule keepers: “We can’t just let every person do what she or he wants. There must be some standards!”

Yes, yes, there must be some standards.

“Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath and in the church, to save life or to kill?”

What if we were able to set aside our pre-judgments for a moment? What if we could wait to see whether or not acts done in good faith would bring love and goodness into the world? What if we sought out what will save life and not kill?

What if the church gave Amy and others a chance to bless the unions of those same-gender couples who know God in their lives and in their relationships and want to make the church a central part of their partnerships?

And what, then, if the result is that the church overflows with love? What if the church both nourishes and is nourished by the commitment, compassion, and love of same-gender couples? Can we follow a new path?

Granted, these are not the questions of Jesus recorded in Mark. But should we really be surprised to hear followers of Jesus asking these questions today?!

If we have something to learn from Jesus, then we have something to learn from those who press beyond the rigidity of institutionalized religion toward a church that truly, fully heals and gives life.

(For those who still want to respond, “But scripture says that people of the same gender shouldn’t be having sex! It’s that simple,” I will address issues of scriptural interpretation in future posts. For now, though, I simply want to leave us with the discomfort of facing those who seem to break the rules, of facing a Jesus who pushes the boundaries of acceptable religious practice. In the end, this might be a more worthwhile practice than any exegesis could provide.)

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Comments on: "Parable of the Lesbian Pastor" (13)

  1. The Methodist Church is unlike other Churches because they affirm the authority of scripture. Honest people can debate “scriptural interpretation” on some issues, but Methodists believe that the Bible makes itself very clear about homosexuality in both the Old and New Testament. It’s fine if you disagree; it just means that you are not a Methodist.

    There are other denominations that would love to have Amy join them. She could be an Episcopal pastor, or a Presbyterian pastor, or a United Church of Christ pastor, or a Lutheran pastor, etc. The Methodists, on the other hand, believe that we should love all people – homosexuals included – but that the Bible tells us something different about marriage and ordination. Isn’t that their prerogative?

    Must EVERY denomination agree with your position? Why not just join a denomination that you agree with, and not antagonize the millions of Methodists who disagree with you? Yes, we disagree, but can’t we live in peace together on the planet? Why can’t Amy get chocolate ice cream at the Episcopal ice cream shop and let me get vanilla at the Methodist ice cream shop?

    • Rick, here’s the thing. The Bible IS NOT clear about homosexuality. Yes, there is the prohibition in Leviticus, but that must be taken into context of when it was written. It was about keeping the gender boundaries clear, not condemning same-sex attraction. The Old Testament does not prohibit lesbian relationships. Try and find something. It’s not there. The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is not about homosexuality. The cities were destroyed due to inhospitality.

      As to the New Testament, isn’t it interesting that Christ never mentions homosexuality when he talks about sin? He did say to love your neighbor as yourself. Denying someone ordination or even marriage is not loving your neighbor.

      Ordination isn’t even a biblically-based concept. It was developed during the early years of the Christian Church.

      I don’t know where you’re getting your belief that the UMC states that the Bible is very clear about homosexuality and other issues. I’ve never seen a statement made to that fact. Yes, the Book of Discipline does say homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” What exactly is meant by “Christian teaching”? That could mean just the Bible or the Bible and the writings of numerous theologians.

      If you’re going to speak for the Untied Methodist Church, getting your facts straight firrst would be helpful.

      • In the United Methodist Church, the primary source and norm for Christian teaching is Scripture (http://archives.umc.org/interior.asp?mid=1644). To United Methodists, Scripture is the primary source for doctrine (http://archives.umc.org/interior.asp?mid=1665).

        I don’t agree that the Bible is unclear about homosexuality. To me, “abomination” is a strong word. We disagree on that, but my point was that *the Methodists believe* that the Bible is clear about homosexuality. That is why the laws are as they are.

        At the end of the day, the United Methodist Church has the right to make its own rules. Maybe some people think those rules are not Biblical or wrong in some way, and that’s why not everybody isn’t a Methodist.

        It’s fine to disagree, but why pee in the pool about it? If you don’t agree with the denomination’s doctrine, why not simply go to a denomination that jibes with your beliefs?

        To Carolyn, do you think that because there was injustice in the past, that makes ALL THINGS unjust? Again, doesn’t a religious denomination have the right to make laws that you disagree with?

      • Tyler Schwaller said:

        I want to start with your last series of questions (in your original comment). Why not just join a denomination with which I agree? Simply, I am already part of a heritage that resonates deeply with me. I am Wesleyan (about which I’ll say more below). But first, my question for you is whether the UMC’s anti-gay policies are the only thing keeping you in the church. Is this one issue what characterizes all of Methodism for you?

        Now, onto the matter of scripture’s authority. To begin, I actually think members of many other churches would be quite surprised by your notion that Methodists are unique in affirming the authority of scripture. I went to a Lutheran college, and I know Lutherans take the bible very seriously (to reference just one denomination)! As one doing doctoral studies in New Testament and Early Christianity, I actually appreciate that the Wesleyan Methodist tradition gives the space to think about scripture in relation to our experience of God in conversation with history and tradition.

        Let’s address the ways in which John Wesley himself read the bible. You’re right, an integral part of Methodism from its beginning has been the centrality of scripture in formulating Christian teaching. But even Wesley understood that everyone would not agree on scripture’s interpretation and that not every word could or should be taken literally.

        Here’s what Wesley had to say in his 1741 sermon on “Christian Perfection.” Wesley asked the rhetorical question whether all people are “perfect” with regard to every last letter of scripture and answered:

        Nay, with regard to the Holy Scriptures themselves, as careful as they are to avoid it, the best of men are liable to mistake, and do mistake day by day; especially with respect to those parts thereof which less immediately relate to practice. Hence even the children of God are not agreed as to the interpretation of many places in Holy Writ; nor is their difference of opinion any proof that they are not the children of God on either side. But it is a proof that we are no more to expect any living man to be infallible than to be omniscient.

        So if we’re not going to agree on all parts of the bible, and we don’t HAVE to agree on all parts of scripture to be Methodists, what does it mean for us to value scripture as central to our teaching?

        Well, Wesley wrote quite poignantly on that point as well. In his 1744 sermon on “Scriptural Christianity,” Wesley described what it looks like for people to live biblically:

        Who one and all have the love of God filling their hearts, and constraining them to love their neighbour as themselves? Who have all put on bowels of mercies, humbleness of mind, gentleness, long-suffering‘? Who offend not in any kind, either by word or deed, against justice, mercy, or truth, but in every point do unto all men as they would these should do unto them?

        I’ve actually written a whole master’s thesis on this (i.e., what it means to take scripture “seriously” in the tradition of John Wesley), so it’s something I want to blog more about in the future. But to put it simply, the above quote evinces Wesley’s notion of biblical Christianity. What it means to live a biblical life is to trust the promises of scripture that God’s grace will work through those who have faith and love for God. That grace will be known in those who “offend not in any kind, either by word or deed, against justice, mercy, or truth, but in every point do unto all men as they would these should do unto them.”

        My point in my original post is that the bible actually teaches us that God works in ways we might not expect, sometimes against the rules we thought were essential for religious order. And for Methodists, that should actually make sense because scripture’s centrality means not that every word will be agreed upon but that those things that bring forth love and mercy and truth and grace in the world are at the heart of scriptural Christianity.

        So we can repeat the prohibitions against same-sex sexual activity all we want (and that’s really all that the bible addresses — it’s only about sex, not about capacity for ministry), but Methodists in the tradition of Wesleyan scriptural interpretation should not be surprised when we see God working through lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons. And we should not hesitate to value their ministry and full participation in the church.

        Wesley’s response to women’s ministry is quite telling. Wesley knew exactly what the bible says about women remaining silent in the church (and that actually is about “ministry” and not just about sex). But he also recognized that God was doing amazing things through women when they were’t keeping quiet. He saw that the fruits of biblical Christianity were being born out through women’s ministry. So when Mary Bosanquet wrote to Wesley expressing her sense of an extraordinary calling to preach, he wrote back in affirmation:

        I think the strength of the cause rests there; on your having an extraordinary call. So I am persuaded has every one of our lay preachers; otherwise I could not countenance his preaching at all. It is plain to me that the whole work of God termed Methodism is an extraordinary dispensation of his providence. Therefore I do not wonder if several things occur therein which do not fall under ordinary rules of discipline. St. Paul’s ordinary rule was, ‘I permit not a woman to speak in the congregation.’ Yet in extraordinary cases he made a few exceptions; at Corinth, in particular.

        From that, I have two questions for the UMC today. 1) Specifically, can we, like Wesley was able to do, see the good work that God is doing through people like Amy DeLong, and, even though we think it conflicts with a few words of scripture, trust that the Spirit is at work? 2) And generally — more importantly, even — can we ultimately trust God enough to say, “It is plain to us that the whole work of God termed Methodism is an extraordinary dispensation of God’s providence”?

        This is why I am a Methodist. And this is why I affirm the ministry and presence of blessed and empowered LGBT persons in the UMC!

      • Violet, I’ve never quite understood the Sodom hospitality issue. If I have my stories straight (and I’m no Bible scholar), angels were sent to the city to stay with Lot. Men came to the door and demanded to “be” with the angels. Lot offered his daughter instead. This story seems like it’s about sex. Why would Lot offer his daughter for hospitality? If I’ve not gone far enough into the story to see the hospitality issue, please show me the way.

        When did love come to mean agreement or do what you want? My parents loved me and I never got to do all that I wanted. I’m grateful for that. I believe it’s also mentioned in the Bible that if you’re brother has sinned, go to him with another and talk about it. (I don’t think it said sister so women may be exempt.)

        No one can speak for The UMC (not even bishops) except for General Conference. The GC has spoken since 1972 on the topic of homosexuality. I’m sure there will be legislation to tighten/ explain the language so we know that a “self-avowed homosexual” is having “genital contact”, etc. Just as there will be legislation submitted to allow “self-avowed homosexuals” to be leaders.

        I’ve talked to people with differing opinions on this issues and everyone pretty much says the same thing. One opinion can point to the Bible and prove their point, but so can the other. It truly is like a cycle that just keeps going. Will it end? I don’t know.

        My question is if The UMC ceases to exist, where will the moderates go? Where will the people who agree with the language as it is now going to go? Episcopal and Presby have allowed homosexuals as leaders. Baptists don’t believe women should be in leadership. Is The UMC not the only moderate mainline Protestant denomination left?

    • My mother is a UMC Deacon. She tells me that when the Civil Rights movement (championed by the newly formed and forming UMC) changed how churches understood Scripture and slavery, people who were racist suddenly found themselves without credibility. They retreated to churches that continued to maintain white supremacy so that they would have a leg to stand on when confronted with their now-unpopular beliefs.

      I believe that LGBTQ equality is the the same way. Why can you not send Amy to another ice cream stand to eat brown ice cream and have your own ice cream stand to serve you white ice cream? Because the Church will soon realize that a discriminatory stance is morally wrong. Those who try to use the Bible to hurt our Queer sisters and brothers will lose their credibility, and no church will want to be on the wrong side of justice.

      It took the LDS until 1978 to finally acknowledge that all skin colors are equal in God’s eyes. How long will it take us? We used to be ahead of the curve on social issues and now we are falling behind.

  2. marlamarcum said:

    Hi, Rick! Thanks for the links. I found this excerpt from your second link in your second comment to be helpful:

    “We properly read Scripture within the believing community, informed by the tradition of that community. We interpret individual texts in light of their place in the Bible as a whole.
    We are aided by scholarly inquiry and personal insight, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. As we work with each text, we take into account what we have been able to learn about the original context and intention of that text. In this understanding we draw upon the careful historical, literary, and textual studies of recent years, which have enriched our understanding of the Bible.”

    There are other useful subtleties about the United Methodist position concerning scripture on the second page of text at that link.

    One thing I love about the United Methodist Church is our democratic process. Every four years, we get to vote in a representative fashion on what we believe, how we will be governed, what are the hard and fast rules, and what are the guidelines. This is profoundly non-biblical, and your irritation at reading the views of other faithful United Methodists indicates that you might be profoundly uncomfortable with this democratic governance structure within the UMC.

    I completely agree that the United Methodist Church has the right to make it’s own rules… and the discussion happening here is part of the process of prayerful, deliberate, and serious work to discern God’s will for the UMC in a way that engages and informs all those who participate in the life of the church (including those who vote at General, Jurisdictional, and Annual Conferences).

    I can assure you, Rick, that I am a United Methodist. We recently discovered that one of my ancestors gave the land for the building of the first Methodist church in a particular county in North Carolina more than 200 years ago. I was born in late October of 1974. In early December of 1974, I was baptized by a United Methodist pastor (who was also my great-great uncle), and since then, I have never gone more than 10 weeks without stepping foot inside a United Methodist Church (I lived in Japan in 1992 for 10 weeks, and I never saw a United Methodist Church). Other than that stretch of time, I’ve never gone more than 4 weeks without setting foot inside a United Methodist Church. I have been an active member of United Methodist communities for my entire life. I helped to plant a new church and have helped to keep it going. I have a degree from one of our United Methodist seminaries (and I’m working on the Th.D. in Ethics there now). I am the Director of Christian Education at another United Methodist Church.

    I have no right (or desire) to suggest that I am more United Methodist than you are. I can assure you, however, that I am no less. I cannot speak for Amy DeLong or Tyler or Violet or Carolyn, but I can speak for myself: I’m not going anywhere. This is my church, too. I have spent my life learning from the UMC, growing in it, and serving as a leader within it. The Methodist Movement is a holiness movement… and that means that we believe in the power of the Holy Spirit. We are a Wesleyan Movement, and that means that we take very seriously the authority of reason and experience (in addition to scripture and tradition).

    I’m not leaving because I am a United Methodist. I’m not going somewhere else where it’s easier for people to be who they are but harder for me to find community or to get a true worship experience that speaks to my own spirit. I’m staying right here and working to make the UMC a place where people are celebrated as children of God. I don’t care who you love… I’m more concerned about whether we all can learn more fully to love.

    • I would never accuse you of taking that excerpt out of context, but I think you know that the main point was that “Scripture is the primary source”.

      I don’t understand the perspective that *I* am “profoundly uncomfortable with the democratic governance structure within the UMC” when *I* am the one who wants to adhere to the rules that the democratic governance structure created.

      I also don’t understand the desire to belong to a church that you fundamentally disagree with because it has a heritage that resonates with you. The Methodist Church’s heritage has NEVER included homosexual marriage and ordination. If we could travel back 200 years to North Carolina in a time machine, I’d love to hear your Methodist ancestor’s reaction to your notion that men should marry men in the Church, but you stay there for the sake of heritage.

      Tyler, I don’t agree that the UMC *has* “anti-gay policies”. In fact, they acknowledge that all persons are of sacred worth right in the Discipline.

      And I didn’t mean to suggest that “Methodists are unique in affirming the authority of scripture”. When I said “The Methodist Church is unlike other Churches because they affirm the authority of scripture” I didn’t mean they are unlike *all* other Churches in that respect. But in the Methodist Church, Scripture is the primary source in reaching theological conclusions. That is not so in the Episcopal Church, for example.

      We are at an impasse. It is clear that I will not persuade you of my position nor will you persuade me of yours. May God bless you just the same.

      • marlamarcum said:

        You’ve got it, Rick! The key strength of our Wesleyan heritage in a fabulously diverse world: if we cannot agree, then give me your hand… or in John Wesley’s words from his sermon “A Catholic Spirit” (a very long quote, you’ll find the whole sermon at http://www.crivoice.org/cathspirit.html):

        … I believe infants ought to be baptized; and that this may be done either by dipping or sprinkling. If you are otherwise persuaded, be so still, and follow your own persuasion. It appears to me that written prayers are especially useful, particularly in the larger congregation. If you judge extemporaneous prayer to be of more use, act suitable to your own judgement. My sentiment is that I ought not to forbid water, so that persons may be baptized, and that I ought to eat bread and drink wine as a memorial of my dying Master. However, if you are not convinced of this, act according to the light you have. I have no desire to dispute with you one moment upon any of the preceding topics. Let all these smaller points stand aside. Let them never come into sight. “If your heart is as my heart,” if you love God and all mankind, I ask no more: “give me your hand.”

        3. I mean, first, love me. And that is not only as you love all mankind, not only as you love your enemies or the enemies of God, those that hate you, that “despitefully use you and persecute you,” not only as a stranger, as one of whom you know neither good nor evil. I am not satisfied with this. No, “if your heart is right, as mine with your heart,” then love me with a very tender affection, as a friend that is closer than a brother, as a brother in Christ, a fellow citizen of the New Jerusalem, a fellow soldier engaged in the same warfare, under the same Captain of our salvation. Love me as a companion in the kingdom and patience of Jesus, and a joint heir of his glory.

        4. If I am ignorant or out of the way, love me (but in a higher degree than you do the bulk of mankind) with the love that is long-suffering and kind; that is patient, bearing and not increasing my burden; that is tender, soft, and compassionate still; that does not envy if at any time it pleases God to prosper me in his work even more than you. Love me with the love that is not provoked, either at my follies or infirmities, or even at my acting (if it should sometimes so appear to you) not according to the will of God.

        Love me so as to think no evil of me, to put away all jealousy and evil-surmising. Love me with the love that covers all things, that never reveals either my faults or infirmities. Love me with the love that believes all things, is always willing to think the best, to put the fairest construction on all my words and actions. Love me with the love that hopes all things, either that the thing related was never done, or not done with such circumstances as are related, or, at least, that it was done with a good-intention, or in a sudden stress of temptation. And hope to the end, that whatever is amiss will, by the grace of God, be corrected, and whatever is lacking will be supplied through the riches of his mercy in Christ Jesus.

        5. I mean, Secondly, commend me to God in all your prayers. Wrestle with him in my behalf, that he would speedily correct what he sees amiss, and supply what is lacking in me. In your nearest access to the throne of grace, beg of him who is then very present with you that my heart may be more as your heart, more right both toward God and toward man. Beg of him that I may have a fuller conviction of things not seen, and a stronger view of the love of God in Christ Jesus, may more steadily walk by faith, not by sight, and more earnestly grasp eternal life. Pray that the love of God and of all mankind may be more generously poured into my heart; that I may be more fervent and active in doing the will of my Father which is in heaven, more zealous of good works, and more careful to abstain from all appearance of evil.

        6. I mean, Thirdly, provoke me to love and to good works. Follow up your prayer, as you have opportunity, by speaking to me in love whatever you believe to be for my soul’s health. Encourage me in the work that God has given me to do, and instruct me how to do it more perfectly. Yea, “smite me friendly, and reprove me,” in whatever way I appear to you to be doing my own will rather than the will of him that sent me. O speak and spare not, whatever you believe may assist, either to the amending my faults, the strengthening my weakness, the building me up in love, or the making me more fit, in any kind, for the Master’s use.

        7. I mean, Lastly, love me not in word only, but in deed and in truth. So far as in conscience you can (retaining still your own opinions, and your own manner of worshipping God), join with me in the work of God, and let us go on hand in hand. And you may certainly go at least this far, that you speak honorably wherever you are of the work of God by whomever he works, and kindly of his messengers. And, if it be in your power, not only sympathize with them when they are in any difficulty or distress, but give them a cheerful and effectual assistance, that they may glorify God on your behalf.

        8. Two things should be observed with regard to what has been spoken under this last topic. First, that whatever love, whatever offices of love, whatever spiritual or temporal assistance, I claim from him whose heart is right, as my heart is with his, the same I am ready, by the grace of God, according to my measure, to give him. Second, that I have not made this claim in behalf of myself only, but of all whose heart is right toward God and man, that we may all love one another as Christ has loved us…

  3. marlamarcum said:

    Rick, I’m comfortable with the democratic process… I’m participating in it. That was my point. Democracy doesn’t work unless its constituents are actively engaged in the ongoing process of change and reform. Without widespread participation, democracies become a mask for oligarchy or some other kind of powerful minority rule.

    so the brief point (for those not interested in reading the above lengthy quote from a John Wesley sermon) is:

    “However, if you are not convinced of this, act according to the light you have. I have no desire to dispute with you one moment upon any of the preceding topics. Let all these smaller points stand aside. Let them never come into sight. “If your heart is as my heart,” if you love God and all mankind, I ask no more: “give me your hand.””

    That’s what it means to be a United Methodist. We enter into the work of Jesus in this world with the humility to recognize that we don’t have all the answers, but the courage to follow where the Spirit leads us, always ready to re-evaluate “according the light [we] have.” Wesley clearly (from the history of his life and work, as well as his preaching and writing) cared much less for rules and absolutes than he did for striving to become perfect in love.

    Wesley’s way requires deep courage, committed faith, and a willingness to change “according to the light [we] have.” If your light is not as mine, give me your hand. I am a United Methodist. I love the church just as John Wesley did.

  4. I look forward to reading your posts about scripture and maybe including another parable that would look favorably to the “other side”. It can always be done.

    Since we’re only talking about rule breakers, etc, I’d like to point out one that has bothered me. As far as I know, the ordination vows have not changed for 16 (or more years). Rev. DeLong, IF asked if she would uphold the Book of Discipline, lied when she took her vows. Or her heart and mind were changed later.

  5. I posted this answer in another place, but it holds sway here too, I think. Take note of the underlying theology I believe is at work. If this is wrong, feel free to correct me. If I am right, there would seem to be an inherent problem.

    There can be no doubt that Jesus loved all. He hung out with the sinners on a regular basis. But, never did he say they weren’t sinning. The issue wasn’t that the Jewish leaders had the idea of sin wrong, they had the idea of LOVE wrong. For Jesus, love was a willingness to go and be among those who were acting outside the bounds of the law – ones that were pushed aside by the leaders (who were also committing their own sins, as Jesus pointed out). He never spoke to those who were violating God’s law and said – “it doesn’t matter”.

    We easily confuse the issue of love with acceptance of actions. Conversely, we can call hate that which does not accept the action. The UMC stance calls for love of all, but not acceptance of actions. There is no hate in our current stance except by those who want to define it as such.

    I watched a mother and father love their son even on death row. His actions were unacceptable but their love was unbounded. That same set of parents had to forcibly put this son into a program for troubled teens. They had to insist he not come into their home. His actions were not in line with their family or its health. But they loved him. They ate with him. They helped meet his needs. He didn’t accept their actions as loving.

    Yes, I know there will be people who quickly dismiss the example because stealing and murder are not in line with homosexual behavior. How could I possibly equate the loving act of physical sexual activity with murder? Well, because Scripture is clear to me on this. Is there scholarship that says otherwise? Yes. But those conclusions were arrived at by taking experience and human wisdom and applying it to Scripture. The truth of Christ is being formed by human understanding when it should be the other way around.

    The distinction I am making is important. Many bring up the issue of how many same-gender relationships are loving and committed and should be honored. Such “friendships” built on deep love are good. And, there is nothing in Scripture that prevents two people from such a relationship – there is nothing that says two people can’t be roommates. The issue comes down to God’s call for physical, sexual intimacy to be celebrated in the male-female relationship. And the UMC affirms that. It may not be easy to abide by for some, but neither is the monogamy we all seem to affirm. It does require us to submit our desires to the will of God. The stance held by many here is a stance that says something quite different. It comes out of a theology of desire that says God’s will for us, God’s preference for our life, is determined by our desire. This, by definition, accurately portrays the theological perspective, for nothing else but one’s desire determines or signifies their orientation. The danger of such a theology is surely evident. (It is also this theology that separates the issue from one like women preachers or racism.)

    Going back to the issue of the physical relationship, this is exactly how the DeLong trial was able to play out the way it did. UM BoD requires acknowledgement of the physical act. It sounds unseemly, but considering our stance the act must be acknowledged for there to be a violation. DeLong avoided the question because she said they were trying to do her harm. The last time I looked, being asked to step away from leading an organization with whom you have substantial difference was not harmful. There are other places she could be in ministry. There was no red letter “L” she had to wear.

    It was well played because she and her team found a way to exploit what is a loving stance on the issue of homosexuality. A stance that acknowledges our human tendencies but calls us to live beyond the desires that God, by design, deems improper. Some say the “loopholes” will be closed, but I don’t see how.

  6. John Meunier said:

    Can someone give us a first-hand account of the fruitfulness of Rev. DeLong’s ministry? I know she has been out of the pulpit for a couple of years.

    What happened at the churches she led?

    What fruits has her ministry evidenced since she left the pulpit?

    If folks here don’t know, I’d love to be pointed somewhere else to learn this.

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