Tuesday, November 08, 2005

WHOSE CHURCH IS IT ANYWAY??

Friends, and readers... I realize that this is ostensibly an art blog--and that to go directly from a post about the limitations of Flash to a post about religion might cause some people a momentary loss of orientation... Still there are several things that have really put a burr under my bum, so to speak, about the way that my faith is being dragged farther and farther away from what I believe are the true teachings of Jesus.

First, The United Methodist Church, in what can only be seen as a quantum leap backward from their slogan, "Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors." has reinstated a pastor in Virginia who had been placed on involuntary leave by the judicial council for denying membership to an openly gay man. From the church's own website:

"In Decision 1031, the council dealt with the due process problems in how Johnson was disciplined. Decision 1032 was the more sweeping ruling, saying that the church’s Book of Discipline “invests discretion in the pastor-in-charge to make determination of a person’s readiness to affirm the vows of membership.”

I am not interested in quibbling over technicalities regarding what the ruling said, or what the Book of Discipline says. To me the central issues are these: (one) that an openly gay man--every bit a beloved child of god, was denied membership into the United Methodist Church and (two) that a local pastor, acting on his own authority was the one who denied that membership and that (three) that pastor now has the blessings of the governing body of the UMC to CONTINUE to deny membership to ANYONE he feels goes against the Discipline.

Friends, this is wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. Not only is it ethically wrong, it is a 180 degree turn from the UMC's own stated policy of "Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors." AND it is in complete opposition to everything we are taught as Christians. For the UMC's governing and judicial bodies to cave to the rigid right wing of the church in this way is shocking. It makes me scared for my church, my United Methodist Church, of which I have been a member all my life.

Jesus was a champion of the outcast and marginalized. He was someone who, without fear, would challenge those who would hope to limit the kingdom of God to a chosen few. He sought out the otcasts and misfits and those on the "sketchy" side and he said to them, (I'm paraphrasing) "Hey y'all! Y'all who have been locked out of the temple! Come and follow me." After they have been turned away everywhere else, where can they go BUT to the church?

I am a member of a United Methodist Church here in Atlanta. We are a stewpot congregation of broken mutants--gays, lesbians, blacks, whites, Baptists, Catholics, Bhuddists, Dancers, actors, artsists, police officers, Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians. We are all there every sunday to soak in the fellowship and to hear the Gospel. One sunday, as I was waiting to recieve Holy Communion, I looked around and saw the wonderful, bizarre, diverse family that had taken me in two years ago. I thought to myself, "This is indeed the body of Christ."

I don't know what will happen with the UMC and their policy on homosexuals within (and without) the church. I do know that every time we here on earth attempt to close our church doors to one group or another, to quote my crazy cousin Ed, "...the power of the Gospel just breaks those doors down again."

The second burr under my bum deals with the Kansas Board of Education's decision to delete the teaching of science from its science curriculum. This article illustrates part of the reason why I am so beloved by my liberal friends for being a devout Christian. This group is one of several behind the push to rid our nation's schools of the scourge of evolution instruction. Apparently, if dinosaurs actually existed, then the bedrock of scripture which our Christian faith is built upon would crumble before our eyes.

For me, whether or not we decended from Australopithecus africanus is immaterial to my life as a Christian. It doesn't affect how I worship or how I pray to my God. It doesn't affect how I read the Gospels. It doesn't in the least change how I relate to the poor or the sick. It doesn't at all deter me from working and seeking to be in ministry with my fellow Christians. While we shout and beat our chests over issues like homosexuality and evolution, poverty is killing thousands upon thousands of people every day--in every corner of the globe. The irony is enough to make one sick.

I could go on, but I seem to have burned myself out... My bed is calling...

6 comments:

Aunt Marg said...

James--I have had the same problem with the judgemental actions of many individuals that are Christians and the one that really stands out was the one where the person had opened the dialogue himself on homosexuals in the church and therefore i made the mistake of thinking it was an "open" discussion. My mistake--the feelings I have are just as yours and I realized we have to endure the poor judgement of others at times but never stop believing the good,James. The good comes everyday in your love for your fellow man and in your feelings of pain for the suffering of those that have been labeled and therefore are not welcome--especially in our churches. As rediculous as it sounds we can't just shut up---we can make our loving feelings known as Jesus would have us do. Of course when Iattempted to do this with my friend he turned it somehow before I knew it into a political thing--he told me i was just a liberal and just didn't understand. I couldn't help but be a bit takenaback by that remark. I am a little more prepared now and try to hear them out in hopes that they may hear me---about open hearts love acceptance etc. The main thing I have to guard against is judging those who are judging others. In the end we can't be desciples unless we listen and then try to get our love for all across to them. I don't know if any of this makes sense but I am trying to say we all run into this as did Jesus---Do your best James and pray for the injustices within our church--and everywhere. This is a problem in all churches, businesses, and in peoples everyday lives. Your church sounds like a great one and a great place to plop that big ol heart of yours down pray for all who are shunned --whether it is within the Methodist Church--or the movies--or in schools---it is going on everywhere.

Marty McGee said...

James, You have spoken a hundred truths, the scariest of which is that it is this screeching wing of the "Big C" Church that is defining Christianity for the unchurched. A dear friend once suggested that going to church doesn't make you a Christian, just like going to a parking garage doesn't make you a car. I responded that you were at least more likely to be among cars at a garage. The scary thought is that maybe you aren't more likely to be among Christians at church. One belief I truly hold, however, is that the United Methodist Church, as it is personified in the lives of Christians all over the world, is the most likely of the Protestant denominations to make a place for the delightfully diverse congreants you describe. We United Methodists have a charge to keep--to ensure that our "Big C" Church and "Little C" churches honor our openness pledge.
Marty

Uncle James said...

James - I understand your frustration and ask only that you understand that the great strength of the UMC is its diversity. However, that very diversity provides space for the rigid fundamentalist with whom I vehemently disagree. The element led by a very conservative group proposes doctrine test which are simply outside who we are.

Now to the specific issue addressed, I am not aware of the ruling or of the circumstances. The only official position of the UMC is taken every four years at the General Conference. The Disciple is fairly specific on the issue of homosexuality and I think provides most certainly a place in our churchs.

There have been rulings by the same judicial council which have upheld the issues of membership in church not being determined by preferrence.

An old preacher friend of mine says of the UMC, "She may be a whore, but she is my mama." There are things I wish were different, but overall, we seem to be the one of most accepting major denominations. I agree with Ed The Gospel breaks through our frail humanity and prejudices. I am happy that you are part of a church there in Atlanta which cast an instructional light on life in the Kingdom of God. Stick with it and let your voice be heard within our system. God Bless to you, Mandy, the pooch and the pouch(baby). James

Anonymous said...

One of the reasonas that Christianity (and Islam, for that matter) grew so well was that they preached a message of threat and condemnation along with the stuff of which I'd approve more.

Their marketing/conversion strategies, much like those of the Marines and some other cults, consists of, "You are lost without us, you are absolutely unworthy of existing and deserve nothing but eternal pain...unless you listen to us," (or, for some Christian denominations, "...even if you do listen to us, but if you're right with Jesus his blood will cover your sins,").

I think many Christians viscerally understand the problem an attitude of acceptance and inclusion will do to their marketing strategy---look how well the firm took off once all that Jesus-like stuff was dropped.

Anonymous said...

Duh, wrong button:

For
"problem...will do"
please read
"damage...would do",
with mine apologies.

aboulic said...

Hi, I just discovered this post through a link on Making Light, I hope I'm not butting in.

I just noticed your comment about Jesus:
"He was someone who, without fear, would challenge those who would hope to limit the kingdom of God to a chosen few. "

My first reading of that was that you thought Jesus didn't feel fear.

My own very strong feeling is that just like any of us, Jesus would have felt fear at challenging social norms. (After all, my reading of the bible suggests that he had a pretty good idea what the consequences for him would be.)

I feel it is a stronger message that Jesus didn't let any fear stop him from showing us that God's love is for everyone. (and therefore we as Christians should also not let fear stop us from expressing that inclusivity, and fighting by example against those would exclude anyone)