St. Anthony Speaking to the UMC LGBT Conversation?

A hunter in the desert saw Antony enjoying himself with the brothers, and he was shocked. Wanting to show him that it was necessary sometimes to meet the needs of the brothers, the old man said to him, “Put an arrow in your bow and shoot it.” So he did. The old man then said, “Shoot another,” and the hunter said, “If I bend my bow so much I will break it.” Then the old man said to him, “It is the same with God’s work. If we stretch the brothers beyond measure they will soon break. Sometimes it is necessary to come down to meet their needs.” When he heard these words, the hunter regretted he had said anything, and he went away greatly edified by the old man. The brothers went home stronger. ---The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers and Mothers (Paraclete Essentials) 

Different type of bow breaking.

This saying of Father Anthony may not come to mind when considering the current state of the United Methodist Church, but I believe it speaks deeply. 

It is not appropriate to assign different characters to different sides of the UMC, that is far too limiting. Rather, what I want to submit is how some of us in the Church want change that stretches the Church in one way or another. This work to stretch the Church is good but if we stretch too much we will break. This is my concern. Not that we are not stretching as a denomination but that we are stretching with such intensity that we are stretched beyond measure and we are breaking.

Echoing Anthony, I submit that sometimes it is necessary to come down to meet the needs of others in the Church out of compassion and concern for their needs. If we refuse to do so we will surely see the great bow of the UMC break. 

Part of the beauty of this saying is the repentance of the hunter. He was sorry that he was in a place of non-compassion prior to hearing the Abba. The other beautiful part is Abba Anthony. He has a clear sense of what Christian community (church) ought to look like, but out of compassion for the brothers, he let go of his sense of justice and purity in order to make the brothers stronger.

Can we admit that we have been like the hunter and said things out of non-compassion?

Can we see the great witness of Anthony was so free in Christ that he let go of his own ego of what the church should be for the sake to build up others?

Moral Foundations : Why the Other Side is Crazy

Have you ever been in a conversation with someone and wonder how the heck they could say the things they are saying? Recently, I was introduced to what is called "Moral Foundations Theory" which has given me some language to better understand myself and perhaps even some of the motivations of my sisters and brothers. 

The theory argues there are values that lay the foundation for what we count as right or moral. There are at least six major foundations humans use in order to determine what is moral and what is not. The following definitions are taken from Wikipedia: 

  1. Care: cherishing and protecting others; opposite of harm.
  2. Fairness or proportionality: rendering justice according to shared rules; opposite of cheating.
  3. Liberty: the loathing of tyranny; opposite of oppression.
  4. Loyalty or in-group: standing with your group, family, nation; opposite of betrayal.
  5. Authority or respect: obeying tradition and legitimate authority; opposite of subversion.
  6. Sanctity or purity: abhorrence for disgusting things, foods, actions; opposite of degradation.

Perhaps you see these and they make sense to you. Perhaps some of these foundations make more sense to you than others. Moral Foundations Theorists make the case that while most people are sensitive to the fairness foundation, conservatives are also equally sensitive to the other five foundations. However liberals are more sensitive to fairness and care than any other foundation, while libertarians are sensitive to fairness and liberty. 

Why this is important to consider is that conservatives will have more things that they deem as wrong and liberals will have fewer things they will deem as wrong. You can see this divide in the conversation around the ordination of members of the LGBT community. For conservatives the ordination of LGBT individuals may support their sense of fairness but it might also violate their sense of authority and/or sanctity. Liberals cannot understand why conservatives are not supportive of LGBT ordination since to not ordain them would violate their sense of fairness and care. 

Conservatives put more equal weight on each of the foundations while liberals put more weight on two foundations. This may be why the other side is crazy, we each have different and yet, overlapping, moral foundations. 

What is was like in the #SCJ16 room when it happens (extended post)

A few posts ago I shared about how I desire to be a person helping move the UMC forward with a sense of God's vision rather than just someone in the room when it happens. While I was only an alternate delegate, I was given the opportunity to participate in the election of bishops for about 25 ballots. Here are a few observations of what it was like in the room when it happened. 

First of all, when a bishop is elected there is a Spirit and an energy in the room that is very unique. This sense of anticipation and possibility seasoned with our culture's fascination with personalities means that when a bishop was elected the room erupts in applause, cheers and singing. Even without a song leader, the body sings the doxology. Many church leaders cannot carry a tune (I count myself in that), but in a corporate body the common voice is sweet as it comes. It is a beautiful Spirit that feels as close to unity that we come as a Church body. The new Bishop is 'pinned' with the Episcopal seal and then taken away to sign papers and have a press conference. After thirty minutes or so, the new Bishop joins the council of Bishops on the stage and the glow on the Bishop is like that of a newlywed. I hope that everyone has the chance to be in the room when this happens.

At the South Central Jurisdiction (SCJ) there was great gridlock for the next two elections. Here is what I observed in the room when that happened. 

Below is a graph showing the first 18 ballots (excluding Bishop Saenz who was elected on ballot #3). As you can see there is a bit of a horse race and that (now Bishop) Nunn lead the pack for most of it. You may be asking, "if he leads the ballot total for so long, why not just elect him?" There are a few things I heard.

First there is great reservation to elect another Bishop, regardless of qualifications, from the state of Texas. Texas is over-represented in the SCJ council of Bishops. Nunn plateaued in part because he was from Texas. Additionally, there was a concern from others that the SCJ needs greater diversity of people on the council, which might explain why Wilson (Native American) held second and (now Bishop) Farr began to fall off while both Harker and Merrill (women) were introduced late in the voting.

So there are a few things going on, but all in the name of diversity - regional diversity, racial diversity, theological diversity, gender diversity, etc. 

A few ballots later, Bishop Nunn was elected, and it was a good thing, but clearly not as exciting as the room was growing tired. As there was still one more Bishop to call, voting continued. There were a few formal exits from individuals and this was the picture after ballot 24:

As you can see, Wilson was slightly ahead of Farr while Dyke was pulling into the high teens. This would be about as close the SCJ would get to break the long tradition of not electing anyone from the Oklahoma Missionary Conference and Native American - Rev. David Wilson. You may be thinking, "if diversity was the issue and all candidates left were non-Texans then why did the SCJ select Bishop Farr over Wilson or Dyke?" I asked this question to other delegates and quickly realized that was a newbie question.

I thought these elections were about selecting those being called into the office of the Bishop. Put another way, I assumed that these ballots were an attempt to answer the question, "Who do we feel is called to the office of Bishop?" What I discovered is that while this question is asked, there is also another unspoken question being asked when casting ballots for Bishops: "where do we put them?" 

It makes sense. If you elect a Bishop they have to have a place to serve. However logical this question is, I feel it is out of order when it comes to electing Bishops for at least two reasons.

First, those voting are asked to vote on Bishops, not on placement. Placement is the work of the Episcopacy Committee. Loading unstated questions into a vote contributed the gridlock that we encountered. Those in the know, are asking this question and those who don't know are not asking this question. So there is another layer to why those following on Twitter may not see - you may be like me and assume the vote is about Bishops when in reality is it about Bishops AND placements in one vote. 

The second reason this dual question in one vote is out of order is that it undercuts the itinerant nature of our denomination. It is the reason that we have a Board of Ordained Ministry (BOOM) who identifies those who are called and then there is the Bishop and cabinet who puts those pastors into positions. BOOMs do not reject a candidate for ministry because there is not a church "clamoring for that candidate." The BOOM qualifies and then Bishop appoints. Trust me, if the BOOM had to find a church that would have wanted me as their pastor prior to my ordination, I would not have been ordained! 

At long last, Bishop Farr was elected (on ballot #35) and the SCJ's work of election came to a close. Those who desired greater ethnic or gender diversity were disappointed that the SCJ council of Bishops are 80% white males, while those who wanted a non-Texan were excited. It was late into the night, and I left the conference at 2:00pm the last day and did not experience the Spirit of the room when Bishop Farr was elected.

The work of the Episcopacy Committee began their assignments and with these announcements it was clear that I am perhaps too naive for this work because I thought the SCJ was a discerning body when in fact it is a deciding body. Here is what I mean by the difference in discernment and decision. 

This was the map that was adopted as a starting point for future boundary discussions to happen in the coming years. 

This was the map that was adopted as a starting point for future boundary discussions to happen in the coming years. 

These two actions are not opposed to each other. There is often a decision that comes from discernment to be sure and that is a good thing. This is what I expected at the SCJ Conference. The body comes together with a sense of things, but things are not predetermined prior to arrival. The SCJ at times felt less like a discerning body and more like a deciding body, meaning it felt like we came to the SCJ Conference with our minds made up on who we wanted as a Bishop and even who we wanted to send where. When we enter a process with our minds already made up, we are no longer in the process of discernment - we are in the process of deciding. Again, not a bad thing, I just expected less emphasis on deciding. 

There was much more that happened at the SCJ Conference including where conference lines might be redrawn, a report from a volunteer Korean Ministry director who through broken English was so proud to share that one of their own was accepted into the North Texas Conference (he said, "This is BIG news") and even a reaction/response to the election of Bishop Oliveto in the Western Jurisdiction. 

There is a sense that one person can do so little even when the voting happens. If the infrastructure of relationship are not there prior to voting then one can feel helpless and unable to help the body. I am proud to serve my conference in the SCJ Conference and now that I have been in the room, I have a better feel for what it takes to make things happen.

Reciting Creeds: Act of Humility and Justice

Creeds are interesting in that they serve several functions in the Christian tradition. For many they are seen as a litmus test for who is Christian and who is not. I would submit that this is a misuse of the creeds of our tradition and to distill their role as just a test we all sign off on cheapens the richness of the creeds. 

So what else are creeds? 

I would submit that reciting the creed in corporate worship is more an act of humility and justice rather than a way to decide who is in and who is out. The creeds stated in worship, for the most part, are older than the people speaking them today. And this highlights why recited creeds are an act of humility and justice. Because these words are not "our" words means that we must stop talking and speak the words of others. When we speak these words we are humbled with the reality that others might have something to teach us. 

Even more than that, when we give voice to the voiceless we participate in a act of justice. While the creeds are often written by those in power in their time, those people are no longer in power. Said another way, when we give voice to the powerless we recall all those who are powerless and voiceless. 

So when you say a creed, perhaps you do not believe all (or any) of the lines, that is okay. Say them anyway. Say them as a practice of humility and as an act of justice. Then go out into the world and continue works of humility so that justice may be made real for all. 

And perhaps, that is the greater goal of our creeds.