Connecting with General Conference

This weekend, starting on Saturday, February 23, 2019, United Methodist delegates from around the world will gather in St. Louis, for a special General Conference to discern what path their denomination will pursue in regards to human sexuality… in particular, LGBTQIA sexuality.

[LGTBQIA is an abreviation/label designated by those who believe they are themselves (L) Lesbian, (G) Gay, (B) Bisexual, (T) Transgender, (Q) Queer (or Questioning), (I) Intersex, or (A) Asexual (or Allies)]

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For many, this is a no brainer because the Bible literally addresses this topic of sexuality and who may legitimately have sex with whom.

For others, it’s a no brainer because much of the Old Testament is no longer considered binding, and the references in the New Testament can be explained away, and the 21st Century is so different from the times of the Bible thousands of years ago, that we shouldn’t be bound by those passages of ancient Scripture.

Another group finds this whole topic to be a no brainer because Jesus taught us to love one another and God is Love, so as long as you love whomever you choose, there should be no other considerations.

And, of course, nothing is ever as easy as any one of those no brainer arguments, so there will be A LOT of different people with A LOT of different opinions showing up in St. Louis this weekend… and they all have four days to hear each other, and hopefully, hear God… and then create a path to ministry that (hopefully) keeps ALL of those varied opinionated United Methodists together in a church that can get back to the business of representing Jesus Christ to a fallen, hurting, hell-bound world.

No matter where you come from in the world or how you have arrived at your opinion, there’s one thing for sure… It WON’T be a no-brainer kind of weekend!

Part of the frustration is that of the more than 11 or 12 million United Methodists around the world, only 864 delegates get to come to General Conference and make decisions for the entire church denomination. (We are a representative body, not a congregational kind of church where every single member gets to have their say.)

So how CAN you or I (or anybody who has the slightest interest) connect with this General Conference? ESPECIALLY if you, like me, can’t go to St. Louis even to watch?

United Methodist News Service has an excellent article on that exact topic! Check it out!

GC 2019a

 

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A Way Forward

From February 23-26th, in St. Louis, Missouri, over 800 delegates from all over the world will come to represent their United Methodist Annual Conferences in an attempt to a make “A Way Forward” in the unifying of our denomination in regards to human sexuality.

General Conference normally meets once every four years and discusses any areas we want to change in our way of being the church and clarifying specific church “law” about how we will do the business of the church. The results of those “quadrennial” (every 4 years) conferences are published as the Book of Discipline and the Book of Resolutions. Topics include how to organize a local congregation, how to set up two or more churches in ministry together (called a “charge”), how to go into pastoral ministry, how we organize the annual conferences, the bishops, the district superintendents, the pastors, and even how to organize United Methodist Women, United Methodist Men, youth ministries, confirmation, baptism, Holy Communion, and more…

The problem has been (and currently is) the area of how do we agree that we United Methodists will try to live out the “holiness” the Bible talks about in so many places. We’re all in pretty much agreement about most areas of personal life and how we live as Christians EXCEPT in our practice of sexuality.

The United Methodist Church was formed out of the old Methodist Church and the old Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1968. Our very first General Conference was four years later in 1972. In between those two events were the Stonewall riots in New York City that became the beginning of the Gay Liberation movement. Therefore, at the 1972 General Conference, there was church legislation reacting to this new awareness of what was happening in our culture… and it became “church law” that, in the United Methodist Church, we would not ordain “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals.” In later years, as our culture continued to yield to those pressures, the Church would clarify that our pastors were not allowed to officiate, nor could our church buildings be used for, homosexual unions (or later same sex weddings). If you violated one of those rules, you were in “violation of the Discipline” and could lose your status as a pastor (called being “defrocked”) or even be kicked out of the church (as a clergy or as a lay person).

Every four years, at EVERY General Conference (1972, 1976, 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012) these issues were brought up again. And they always were voted down. The United Methodist Church continued to state that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” And lobbyists and protesters began to do more and more to make their voice heard in an effort to get the Church to change its beliefs. The final straw came in 2016 when every single legislative proposal to change church beliefs in this area was voted down before they even got out of committee. And someone suggested they ask the bishops to help us “find a way forward” and simply not address those sexuality questions until some planning had been made that could help us get off this merry-go-round of always having these heated disagreements about what we believe. The delegates at that General Conference in 2016 agreed and charged the bishops to conduct a study and a planning strategy and, if needed, have a special General Conference to respond to any recommendations that might come forward.

Meanwhile, in July of 2016, the Western Jurisdiction (the out west collection of Annual Conferences from Nevada to Hawaii to Alaska to Colorado) elected an openly lesbian pastor out of California as a bishop in defiance of church law. And many of the other bishops turned a blind eye and others began to openly defy the Church. And this follows a long series of rebellious clergy conducting same sex weddings and rebellious Annual Conferences ordaining those who claimed to be homosexual.

The Council of Bishops did appoint a group (called the Commission of a Way Forward) to try to find a plan to “unite” us. Three recommendations came out of those meetings and the Council of Bishops did issue a call for a special General Conference to deal with the recommendations. That’s what’s going on in a few weeks in St. Louis.

The most popular plan (in the eyes of the bishops) is called the One Church Plan. Essentially, we would drop all the language restricting homosexuality, gay ordination, and the prohibitions against same sex weddings and allow each Annual Conference, and each local church congregation, to decide for themselves what they want to believe. Under this plan, each local congregation will decide if it will recommend a gay person for the ministry and if (and when) a gay wedding can happen on their properties or in their buildings. Likewise, pastors will have to decide whether they will or won’t officiate same sex weddings. The idea is that we can stop all the fighting and be a “united” church because there’s nothing left to fight about. What isn’t said is that it moves the fight into every single local church congregation. And it requires those who believe the Scripture has already clarified that homosexual practice is not compatible with Christianity to either shut up or leave.

The second plan is called the Connectional Church Plan and it seems to be an amalgamation of local church and annual conference decisions that would hold the church together as a denomination, but apparently ends up with the same basic final situation, for the pastor and for the local church congregation, as the One Church Plan. Again, the options for those who disagree are rather limited.

The final plan, has been called the Traditional Plan. It’s the plan that holds to the view of the Bible’s teachings as they have been discerned again and again every four years by General Conferences for the past 47 years. But it also addresses the open rebellion of clergy doing their own thing in defiance of what the Church has decided, by implementing more clear cut consequences for those who say they will live in covenant and abide by the United Methodist Book of Discipline, but then don’t.

Before I, as a clergy person, was ordained, the Bishop point blank asked me if I had studied and understood what our doctrine and polity was as United Methodists. (Polity just means how we are organized and the way we have made church law). And then, before he would ordain me, he also asked “Will you follow them (the doctrines and polity)?” I, and every clergy person ever ordained in our United Methodist Church, said “YES.”  It’s what we call our covenant. We agree with each other to follow the United Methodist way of doing Church and living our Christian lives. My choices are: follow the rules and laws I already agreed to or go find a church organization I CAN agree with.

Since the late 1990s, there have been clergy and lay people alike thumbing their noses at the doctrine and polity of the Church. Now we are told that if we drop the Scriptural directions out of our Book of Discipline, then everyone will be able to be in covenant again.

Folks, it breaks my heart because I love this denomination. There is much in the United Methodist Church that is amazing and God has used us for His glory so many times in so many ways. In the past, General Conference has spoken (by taking votes, in good American democracy style)… and there are hundreds and more who openly defy the Church. What will change if the Church changes its official beliefs? I’m afraid… nothing. I’m afraid that the ones who could not be trusted to obey that which they vowed before God to obey, won’t change their stripes if they get their way in this area. What will change is the target of what they want to change next. Those who would not live in covenant before will not live in covenant in any new system.

IF the Church ends up in another impass (which has happened before), then NOTHING will change and EVERYONE will just keep doing their same old thing (obeying or disobeying).

IF the Church reaffirms the Biblical understanding that has consistently passed every four years since 1972 until 2012, then I believe we will see MORE rebellion, by laity, by clergy, and by bishops. Nothing will change.

IF the Church changes our standards on human sexuality, in either the One Church Plan or the Connectional Church Plan, then there will be no room for people like me who can’t affirm something so against the Biblical witness. But, if the standards ARE changed, I’m afraid the fight will simply move into the local churches where each congregation has to fend for themselves as to what will or will not be allowed in that church’s ministry.

Meanwhile, I’m also a pragmatic and practical person, so I understand going into this, that whatever happens, it could take a few years to implement the changes that are enacted (whatever plan passes). So I’m not packing boxes quite yet.

 

SO WHAT DO WE DO NEXT?

FIRST… PRAY FOR GOD’S WISDOM FOR US IN OUR LOCAL CHURCH SETTING AND FOR THE GENERAL CONFERENCE MEETING FEB. 23rd-26th.

“Anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask.” — James 1:5

SECOND… PRAY FOR OUR CONFERENCE DELEGATES (7 clergy and 7 lay people from Western Pennsylvania).

 “Pray for … everyone who is in authority so that we can live a quiet and peaceful life in complete godliness and dignity.” — 1 Timothy 2:2

THIRD… STUDY THE SCRIPTURES TO SEE WHAT IT REALLY DOES TEACH.

“Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character, so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good.”  — 2 Timothy 3:16-17

FOURTH… JOIN US ON SUNDAY, MARCH 3rd, IN MORNING WORSHIP AS WE SHARE THE RESULTS OF GENERAL CONFERENCE 2019.

By the way, IF YOU WANT TO FOLLOW ALONG WITH General Conference, you can go to this link for more information and directions.

http://www.umc.org/topics/general-conference-2019-special-session

    (This originally appeared in The Circuit Rider, the bimonthly newsletter of the First United Methodist Church of Carmichaels, PA, along with a side-bar story highlighting the Scriptural background that has led me to my understanding in this area. The contents of that sidebar appear as a separate post here.)

 

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What The Bible Really Says About Homosexual Behavior

    The words “homosexual” and “homosexuality” are English words introduced within the last two centuries, however, the behaviors those words refer to are addressed in the Bible. So what DOES it say that deals with those behaviors?

    The first reference is in the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. Two angels have come to warn Lot and his family they need to leave Sodom because God’s judgment is about to happen because of the sins of Sodom. (And, by the way, “to know” someone is the Genesis way of saying two people became intimate and had sexual relations with each other.)

  • GENESIS 19:4-5 “But before they lay down, the men of the city, the men of Sodom, both young and old, all the people to the last man, surrounded the house. And they called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us, that we may know them.”

    Many now-a-days argue that the sin of Sodom was being inhospitable. But Jesus’ brother, Jude, writes of their sin as “sexual immorality” and “unnatural lust.”

  • JUDE 7 [speaking of the Lord destroying those Israelites in the wilderness who did not believe…] “Likewise, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which, in the same manner as they, indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural lust, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.”

    Likewise, in Second Peter, chapter 2, the apostle Peter writes about the way God judged various ones in the days of Genesis, including Sodom and Gomorrah, then the Lord knows how…

  • 2 PETER 2:9b-10 “… to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment — especially those who indulge their flesh in depraved lust, and who despise authority.”

    In giving the Israelites the laws concerning proper sexual behavior, sex with relatives and with animals are prohibited along with…

  • LEVITICUS 18:22 “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.”
  • LEVITICUS 20:13 “If  man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination; they shall be put to death; their blood is upon them.”

    The apostle Paul shares the same standard in the First Century…

  • ROMANS 1:26-27 “For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature; and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.”
  • 1 CORINTHIANS 6:9-10 “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
  • 1 TIMOTHY 1:8-9 “…the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their father or mother, for murderers, fornicators, sodomites, slave traders, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching.”

    Many now-a-days argue that the rules back then also say we are not to wear clothing of two different materials, or eat pork, and even include a requirement to stone to death a disrespectful child, along with a whole host of other “laws” that we don’t feel it necessary to follow today.

    And that’s true. Here’s the difference… In Acts 15, in the very first ecumenical council, Christians from all over gathered together and sought God and asked if someone becoming a Christian had to follow all of the Old Testament laws. After discussion and prayer, they unanimously agreed there were four things from the Old Testament Jewish laws that would still be required of Christians:

  • ACTS 15:28-29 “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.”

    Notice, the requirement includes ALL of the laws about sexual immorality from the Old Testament. One of the frustrating parts of our conflict in this day and age is that the Christian standard is to be: “NO sexual immorality,” but many just want to focus on the homosexual sins. It was never supposed to be about homosexuality, but rather about faithfulness in marriage between one man and one woman.

    And while we’re at it… that ruling in Acts releases us from all the killing and stoning of sinners, too.

    One other thing that’s important in this context is the objection some raise that ‘Jesus never spoke about homosexuality, so why should we care?’

    In Matthew 19 (and also Mark 10), Jesus is given the chance to clarify and describe what marriage is supposed to be like, when he’s asked by the Pharisees about divorce. He does not talk about any two individuals (or one man and many wives or two same gender people), but rather speaks of God’s plan for marriage being one man and one woman.

  • MATTHEW 19:4-5 “ ‘Haven’t you read.’ he replied, ‘that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’?’ ”

    The final consideration, in my understanding thus far, is this: Since the Bible clearly identifies homosexual behavior as sin, what should we do about it? After all, there are other sins and people with those sins can be ordained and get married and more. Why do we pick on this one sin?

    The difference is that in all of those other examples, as well as with homosexual sin, the difference is whether or not the sinner repents of their sin.

  • 1 JOHN 1:8-10 “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness, If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives.”

    (This originally appeared in The Circuit Rider, the bimonthly newsletter of the First United Methodist Church of Carmichaels, PA, as a sidebar story to an article about General Conference 2019 describing a bit of the history and background of that historic meeting. The contents of that article appear as a separate post here.)

 

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Saddest Obituary Ever!

I’m not a big one for New Year’s Resolutions, but I stumbled upon a Scripture passage this morning that caught my attention. It’s the entry in Second Chronicles, chapter 21, where we learn the basics of one of Judah’s kings, King Jehoram. And in the last three verses, we read how Jehoram has so distanced himself from God and the ways of God, that God Himself sets Jehoram up for a fall. Jehoram ends up with a painful disease and it takes some two years before his painful, tragic end.

And, in 2 Chronicles 21:20, the Bible, as it does for so many Biblical women and men of faith, simply shares his death and how he died, along with his age when he ascended the throne, how long he reigned on that throne, and the people’s way of honoring the now dead king.

This passage has to be one of the saddest obituaries I’ve ever read. Particularly the last sentence… Check it out from some of the various English translations:

KJV: Jehoram “departed without being desired.” [v. 20b]

NKJV: Jehoram, “to no one’s sorrow, departed.” [v. 20b]

NIV: “He passed away, to no one’s regret…” [v. 20b]

NRSV: “He departed with no one’s regret.” [v. 20b]

NLT: “No one was sorry when he died.” [v.20b]

CEB: “No one was sorry he died.” [v. 20b]

Reading through the various passages where Jehorum is mentioned, we learn that he had married the daughter of the evil King Ahab & his wife Jezebel from the northern kingdom of Israel, as well as murdering all of his brothers upon becoming king, setting up and leading the people of Judah in worshipping pagan gods in “the high places.”

Jehoram’s father was one of the good kings of Judah, the godly King Jehoshaphat. However, Jehoram deliberately turned away from his father’s ways and followed the pattern that his wife had learned from her parents, Ahab and Jezebel: Pagan gods, jealousy, spiritual compromise, paranoia, and a controlling spirit to boot.

His people in Judah so despised him, that, in verse 19, we read how they wouldn’t even do the honor of an elaborate “funeral fire” like they had done for Jehoram’s ancestors. (Check out 2 Chronicles 16:14 to read what that tradition was like when Jehoram’s grandfather, King Asa, died.

In fact, while they did bury Jehoram in the captial city of Jerusalem, they wouldn’t bury him in the royal cemetery.

Now, I believe that Scripture is inspired by God and, while it was written in a particular circumstance to readers (or most often hearers) of that day and age, I believe that there is still value in all of Scripture in instructing us, thousands of years later, in our life of faith as well.

Which leads me to consider, in the big picture, how much little compromises and decisions based on doing things “my way” really do make a big difference… even though it might be years or a lifetime later before all the impact might be felt.

Jehoram yielded his upbringing to the influence of his wife and in-laws. He made decisions personally, and as a national leader, that revealed what his heart truly loved… and it was divisive and evil and self-centered. And it turned him into a hated leader who turned his back on God.

SO… Even though I’m not making resolutions and such, I am convinced that as we start 2019, we need to reconsider and evaluate our lives and discover what the little compromises are that we’ve allowed in our own hearts and minds and families? It’s a good time to confess those sins to God and ask for his help in starting over.

“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”    — Second Corinthians 5:17 (KJV)

 

SCRIPTURE SOURCE NOTES:

While the primary record of Jehoram is found in 2 Chronicles 21 and 2 Kings 8, here are all of the Scriptural sources I studied to learn about him.

  • 1 Kings 22:50
  • 2 Kings 8:1-2
  • 2 Kings 8:16-25
  • 2 Kings 11:1-16
  • 2 Chronicles 21:1-20
  • 2 Chronicles 22:1
  • Matthew 1:8

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Memorial Day 2018

I had the honor of offering two prayers during the Memorial Day Observance here in Carmichaels at Laurel Point Cemetery today.

In 23 years of pastoral ministry, this was a first for me. I looked to Scripture and other Christian clergy through the years for inspiration. What follows are two of those prayers that connected with me the most.

Hear Our Prayer This Day

In the quiet sanctuaries of our own hearts,

let each of us name and call on the One whose power over us

is great and gentle, firm and forgiving, holy and healing …

You who created us,

who sustain us,

who call us to live in peace,

hear our prayer this day.

Hear our prayer for all who have died,

whose hearts and hopes are known to you alone …

Hear our prayer for those who put the welfare of others

ahead of their own

and give us hearts as generous as theirs …

Hear our prayer for those who gave their lives

in the service of others,

and accept the gift of their sacrifice …

Help us to shape and make a world

where we will lay down the arms of war

and turn our swords into ploughshares

for a harvest of justice and peace …

Comfort those who grieve the loss of their loved ones

and let your healing be the hope in our hearts…

Hear our prayer this day

and in your mercy answer us

in the name of all that is holy.

The peace of God be with you.

– Austin Fleming

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

With Gratitude and Honor

Gracious God, on this Memorial Day weekend,

we remember and give thanks

for those who have given their lives

in the service of our country.

When the need was greatest,

they stepped forward and did their duty

to defend the freedoms that we enjoy,

and to win the same for others.

O God, you yourself have taught us

that no love is greater than that

which gives itself for another.

These honored dead gave the most precious gift they had,

life itself,

for loved ones and neighbors,

for comrades and country – and for us.

Help us to honor their memory

by caring for the family members

they have left behind,

by ensuring that their wounded comrades

are properly cared for,

by being watchful caretakers of the freedoms

for which they gave their lives,

and by demanding that no other young men and women

follow them to a soldier’s grave

unless the reason is worthy and the cause is just.

Holy One, help us to remember that freedom is not free.

There are times when its cost is, indeed, dear.

Never let us forget those who paid so terrible a price

to ensure that freedom would be our legacy.

Though their names may fade with the passing of generations,

may we never forget what they have done.

Help us to be worthy of their sacrifice,

O God, help us to be worthy.

– J. Veltri, S.J.

https://www.xavier.edu/jesuitresource/online-resources/Memorial-Day1.cfm

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Another Year Is Dawning

I saw a Twitter post yesterday highlighting the first verse of this 1874 hymn by Frances Ridley Havergal, called Another Year Is Dawning. I’ve never sung it before, but I’ve been captivated! Check it out:

1 Another year is dawning:
Dear Father, let it be,
In working or in waiting,
Another year with Thee;
Another year of progress,
Another year of praise,
Another year of proving
Thy presence all the days.

2 Another year of mercies,
Of faithfulness and grace;
Another year of gladness
In the shining of Thy face;
Another year of leaning
Upon Thy loving breast;
Another year of trusting,
Of quiet, happy rest.

3 Another year of service,
Of witness for Thy love;
Another year of training
For holier work above.
Another year is dawning;
Dear Father, let it be,
On earth or else in heaven,
Another year for Thee.

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Flintstone’s Ten Commandments

Here is my first attempt at using the iPhone to make a “movie” out of the pictures and the audio recording we made during children’s time a few Sundays ago. Down the road, I’ll learn the technology better and you’ll be able to actually read all the words… but until then… ENJOY!

Please follow this link and watch (& give a thumbs up) on the actual YouTube site. This allows us to post the video where everyone can access it, not just the people who use Facebook. Thanks!

https://youtu.be/cqeUREo6SEQ

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