If We Only Had The Nerve

I’ve been thinking a lot about courage this week. I’ve been thinking about it so much that I changed the lesson plan for my youth group to give a talk about it. Courage isn’t something that I think about in the context of my faith much – after all, we’re called to be humble and meek. Courage doesn’t call those qualities immediately to mind.

I think this is because we have, for too long, equated courage with bravado. When I was in the Army, “personal courage” was one of our core values. In fact, when I was asked at a promotion board which Army value I valued most, I chose personal courage. For me, it symbolized the ability to face consequences in the pursuit of right or honorable action.

When we send young men and women off to the military, we give them the idea that the very act of enlisting is an act of courage. I won’t dishonor their sense of duty, honor, or service by denying that enlisting in a dangerous profession is a form of courage. But, the courage that I am so often inspired by is not the kind that involves picking up a weapon and standing guard against enemies. The kind of courage that I’m inspired by is courage of the moral variety.

Earlier this week, in advance of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, 111 UMC clergy outed themselves as LGBT. Hundreds more have joined in support. Ministers are camping outside their churches, as a symbol of the idea that our doors are not open to everyone.

Now, this might not seem courageous to everyone. But, we’re in a time in the United Methodist Church where non-LGBT clergy are being punished simply for being vocal and practical allies to the LGBT community. Church trials have become a regular occurrence. Clergy have lost their credentials. Defying church law by marrying same-sex couples – a practice that is now legally allowed – results in harsh penalties, because of the exclusionary language of our Book of Discipline.

So, if heterosexual ministers are facing persecution within the church for their willingness to include LGBT persons in the sacrament of marriage, I can only imagine how much worse it might be for those clergy who have declared themselves to be the very people that the Book of Discipline excludes.

That’s courage to me, far more than I ever showed while patrolling the streets of Ramadi. I had a weapon and a platoon of 30 other men to keep me safe; these clergy have no cover, and they’ve given up their concealed positions. While public opinion can protect them to an extent, the denomination has shown no compunctions about ignoring the large segment of our Church that believes in inclusion. At the end of the day, the leaders of our denomination have been content to hide behind the Discipline rather than engage in a substantive debate. This is best evidenced by the current state of General Conference 2016, where they have spent 3 days debating a rule that would govern how they will even talk about inclusion.

The truth – the naked, shrill, dirty truth – is that the United Methodist Church has lost its courage. We’ve become the Cowardly Lion of the mainline Christian Church, willing to engage in “safe” Christian activities (important issues like homelessness and hunger, but still “safe”) but unwilling to even talk frankly about the exclusion of countless members of our Connection from worship, from leadership, from ordination.

The truth, stripped of pleasant Christian language and euphemism, is that our denomination is now more interested in being faithful to the rules of our Discipline, than we are in being faithful to the members of our Connection.

Tomorrow is Pentecost Sunday, in which we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit – the tongues of flame that appeared above the heads of the disciples, the boldness with which they spoke the Gospel to a crowd of thousands.

What we absolutely must remember as we celebrate Pentecost – what I desperately hope the General Conference will remember – is that the Day of Pentecost was a Day of Inclusion. It was a day in which a group of outcasts – a leaderless group of disciples – stood up and spoke in many tongues to a group of people who had no shared language. But, while they spoke in many tongues, they also spoke a shared language – the language of a common faith which they shared (Judaism.)

In our time, so far removed from that day, let us have the courage to speak the languages of all the different, unique members of our great Connection. And, may we have the courage to remember the shared language – whether LGBT or not – of our faith in and commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

4 thoughts on “If We Only Had The Nerve

  1. I always enjoy your perspective, it comes to me with a sense of experience not only theory. What surprises me about Christians is their adherence to the comfortable words they can find to oppose versus ignoring the spirit of Christ and his meaning. We seem to forget tolerance and love for others.

  2. I am amazed at the fever pitch of LBGT in the past year. It’s not really a new thing, but it is ever more present in the debate lately. I think it comes up in almost 2/3 of the conversations I have on line or in person.

    I need to make a couple of caveats here.

    1) I am not Methodist, so I can only speak as a outsider and not specifically to the issues you have specifically raised here. My thoughts here are as an outsider and not directly involved, however I expect they are related well enough.

    2) I think the issue(s) and nearly all discussion(s) surrounding it are ripe for hostility. I find that nearly any statement winds up unfairly blanketing someone somehow and/or is out of step with the times. There is SO MUCH SENSITIVITY and RAW NERVES exposed, that I fear someone will feel hurt and almost certainly misread me even if I state my case accurately.

    Thus I have tended to avoid this discussion. But I will take courage and speak up.

    I have a deep sense that LBGT is following in the steps of Civil Rights. Racial discrimination was wrong, but legal in this culture for generations. Now it is illegal, and, on the surface, mostly gone, but still has footholds here and there – which, when exposed, tend to really shame and cost the perpetrators dearly. Not always, but evermore so as time passes it seems to me.

    I am quite clear that if I, as a white, middle-aged man walked into worked a cash drawer at Target and used racial slurs with my customers as they checked out, I probably would not last as an employee there for more than 10 minutes. I think if I went down to the poor side of town walking my dog and wandered up on a group of black men and women and used the “N-Word” telling them that they should be lynched, AND IF that started a fight that got me beat up, I would be charged with disturbing the peace even IF some of them were charged with assault. And if none of those things happened, the media would be made aware and my name would be mud in this town! It might even make national news.

    I have no desire to behave in such ways, but I sense strongly that the tide has largely turned, and where and when it has not yet, the momentum is there.

    I think LBGT has hitched the wagon to that kind of change. And the change is reaching a high water mark now. When I was young, it was cool to tell jokes and make fun of gay or effeminate boys. I can’t remember the last time I even heard of such a thing.

    And where are those white people now who lynched blacks in the 50’s, unleashed dogs on or beat up protesters in the 60’s? Where are they now? Do you see them on TV preaching hate? I figure they are hoping you don’t know who they are and don’t notice them anymore. I bet they don’t want their name associated with that stuff any more.

    How about gay bashers? Do you know any? Where are they? Westboro Baptist? Who else is doing that? And in about 25 years, anyone from that church is going to be ashamed of their past and heritage – at least I feel sure they will if the Civil Rights movement has anything to teach us.

    My point up to this point is: the tide has turned and where it hasn’t yet, the momentum is there. What you are seeing is stubborn pockets of resistance. The war is basically over… only a handful of Japs in the deep woods of some remote islands have not got the message yet.

    This is my view of it. By the way, I love the Methodist church. If I wasn’t what I am, I would want to be Methodist. And one of the things I love about Methodists, well two really, is that they are soooooo peace oriented – the only protestant bunch I know that resisted the war(s) after 9-11 – AND they are so brotherly and open towards ecumenical persuasion. Methodists tend to lead the curve in all things Christian-Avant Guarde. I am not there at ground zero by any stretch, but I have joined Methodists in a lot of work(s) over my life and they have a long history of this – dating back to abolition at least!

    I am certain that Methodists are not the last of the hold outs where LBGT is concerned. Even if they are not the tip of the spear, I do not believe for a moment that they are the last of the hold outs by any stretch. I can easily imagine that not all Methodists come to the same conclusions all together, but the history has them out front most of the time, and I can’t believe they are not near the front on this too.

    (And the fact that I could use language like “last of the hold outs” – if it makes sense to you here – lends weight to my previous point. The tide has largely turned already.)

    Now ….

    As for me and my personal reaction.

    I have come to embrace a certain phraseology regarding “Welcoming and Affirming”. I don’t really hear people use this phrase a whole lot in the last 5 years, but it was in common usage for the decade previous. Most churches were in fact neither welcoming nor affirming of LBGT. But some were both welcoming and affirming. But a handful of us were welcoming but not affirming. We loved the LBGT people, but viewed the sexual practices they endorse as sinful AND SO did not affirm them.

    That is the place I fit on the map. I am welcoming but not affirming.

    Here is why…

    I believe God wants me to love people of all kinds in all situations. I believe he loves like that and wants to express that love through me. I also believe God loves sinners of all kinds in all kinds of situations and wants me to do so too, but does not endorse the sin(s) of those people – me included. BTW, I sin, and he loves me without endorsing or affirming my sin too.

    I have biblical reasons for believing this stuff and practicing it. I actually go to the Bible for it. I don’t sit around thinking how logical it is or is not, or how right it feels to me or wrong it feels to me, I actually form my views based on the word of God. It is a standard I hold to and I expect my church to hold to as well.

    I think it is cool to welcome LBGT in the church. In fact, I have been worshiping with several folk from this persuasion for years now. However, I do not affirm what they do. Marriage is an affirmation of what they do, thus I don’t support it.

    Now, having said that, let me be clear, I do not persecute LBGT. I don’t tell ugly jokes. I eat and worship with LBGT all the times. Even carry on personal friendships. Some have my deep admiration. But I view their LBGTness as sinful, and I do not endorse it. I will not affirm it such a marriage.

    I think it is a shame that all us straight people have made such a mockery of marriage over the last 3 generations. We have no leg to stand on to criticize. But then that begs the question, whey do LBGT want so badly to be married if it is an institution in such tatters? What is the prize? I remember when Bon Jovi sang a love song about how he didn’t need no piece of paper to say he was in love! Funny how that seemed to make sense at the time…

    All that said, and still, the real issue is what God thinks. It’s his world. He has spoken. If you can change his mind, then I have no problem with it. But until then, I am pretty much where Pope Francis seems to be with it all. Very sensitive and loving toward people who struggle with this stuff, but not endorsing the sin.

    AND YET, as I opened saying… the tide has turned. I am in an ever shrinking minority on this. Look around. There aint many of my kind left. Why act as if this is still an up hill battle? It’s not! Very few people actually offer any biblical analysis in support of LBGT praxis. Of those few who do/have, I disagree with their analysis, but I gotta say, still, very few bother to even attempt it.

    Even this post speaks of Pentecost and languages, but there is nothing about LBGT in that text. Don’t be confused by that. But, still, despite my speaking out against the grain in an overwhelming tidal wave of LBGT approval in the overall culture (something I consider courageous btw), I sense I am like a Jap on a remote Island. I might be holding this small bit of turf, but the war was lost months ago, and the empire has bent the knee. I am so insignificant now as to be almost laughable. What threat do I really pose?


  3. Off subject here, I know, but I have no other communication(s) with you. So…

    Check out these links. I think they resonate with both of us (together) in powerful ways.



    Richard Hughes is a friend of my dad’s. So, just to be transparent, yes, I have a biased opinion of him. I have read a few of his books. Myths America Lives By is one of my favorites. And the school where Hughes is working now days (in Tennessee) hosts (or at least used to) Lee Camp who wrote a handy book called Mere Discipleship. Both of these guys promote peace and care for the poor in powerful books, lectures, instructions. They are notable. And you are one of the people I should share them with, I think.



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