Guest Post: Are United Methodists in Violation of Wesley’s “Do-No-Harm” Principle?

By Rev. Franklyn Schaefer, pastor, activist and author of Defrocked: How a Father’s Act of Love Shook the United Methodist Church

Just this past week, the highest United Methodist court, the Judicial Council, chose to defer a ruling on the question on whether the United Methodist (U.M.) Church’s rhetoric on homosexuality is unconstitutional, specifically the phrase: “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” The Council explained that the Annual Conferences who submitted the question “did not have the authority to ask for a ruling.” Therefore, the Council felt no obligation to answer it. [1]

I have felt very strongly about raising this question for years, especially as a pastoral care giver who has been in ministry with LGBTQ persons.  Does the U.M. rhetoric and doctrine on homosexuality harm gay and lesbian persons in its care and therefore violate the “Do-No-Harm” Rule as formulated by John Wesley, founder of Methodism? If they do, these policies can actually be considered unconstitutional, since the Do-No-Harm Rule is part of the U.M. Constitution (Article III). [2]

The following discussion of these questions is from a presentation I gave at Dickinson College, PA on October 26, 2017, entitled An Indictment of the United Methodist Anti-Gay Doctrine. (Watch the video-taped lecture here.)

Harmful Rhetoric: The “Incompatibility” Declaration

The U.M. Church calls the practice of homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.” [3] I am not aware of any other activity being labeled in this way in the Book of Discipline. The practice of homosexuality is obviously not considered equal to other “sins.” This choice of words rather seems to assign it to a special category of “sin.” (I put the word sin in quotation marks because progressive Christians including myself, do not consider the practice of homosexuality to be sinful).

Whenever an item is set apart by such a strong label, it is deemed special, in this case, worse, than others. What doubtlessly magnifies the harmful effect of this rhetoric is the fact that some conservative faith communities call homosexual practice forthrightly the worst sin and often use distinctive language for it including the derogatory term “abomination.”

And this is what I am seeing in my pastoral care practice: gay and lesbian Christians feel the pain of discrimination, they describe feeling labeled as a member of a special group of sinners. Sometimes they even perceive the Church’s message as stating that their sin is beyond grace.  Whether this concept is openly stated or whether it is an unwritten, underlying message, it is often unfortunately part of the conservative church culture within the U.M. Church. And such a condemning message can be exceedingly harmful to gays and lesbians, especially to adolescents in their formative years.

Growing up in the United Methodist faith, particularly after being exposed to the debate over human sexuality at an annual conference, my fourteen-year old son, Tim, came to believe that as a gay person he could not enter the kingdom of heaven. For years, he prayed and pleaded with God to change his sexual orientation. When nothing changed, he thought of ways in which he could take his own life. His faith was very important to him, yet he believed his own church condemned him. He felt like a freak and just wanted to end it all; he didn’t want to bring shame on his family and his local church. Fortunately, he did not follow through with his plan and, in time, found a supportive community even within the U.M. Church. Remarkably and despite his struggles with the church, he is now in seminary studying for the ministry.

The Church’s Gay Marriage Ban Can Be Harmful Too

I have also witnessed the harmful effect of the Church’s gay marriage ban in gay and lesbian couples. Take Bernie and Chely, two female members of my current congregation, for example. I recently performed a ceremony celebrating the renewal of their vows. This ceremony meant so much more to them, though – when they were married nine years ago, they were denied a church ceremony as their pastor at the time refused to marry them on “religious grounds.”

How were they spiritually harmed by the church’s gay marriage prohibition? Bernie and Chely felt rejected and marginalized and eventually left their church. They stopped going to church altogether; they did not try out other churches for fear of more rejection.  Through common gay friends, they finally found a new spiritual home at University U.M. Church, where all people are welcomed, accepted, and supported.

As people of deep faith and spirituality, they had always felt as though their marriage wasn’t quite legitimate without the blessing from the church. Following their vow renewal ceremony, Bernie described the marriage blessing they finally received in terms of a redemption:

Just having that blessing put on our family, I felt like God was redeeming our marriage in a sense, and new life is being breathed back into our marriage by having that blessing. To walk without the blessing of God is a tough road. [4]

[Watch interviews and part of the ceremony: Bernie & Chely Forever]

Harmful Coersion: Abstinence as a Requirement for Equality

Traditionalists argue that the U.M. Church’s prohibitions regarding homosexuality cannot be considered discriminatory or harmful because they do not condemn homosexuals as persons. Neither do they condemn same-sex attractions. Only the practice of homosexuality is considered a departure from the norm for sexual behavior. [5]  And, as the argument is developed, even if you are an out and proud gay person you you can be a church pastor and leader – as long as you remain abstinent. [6] Therefore, traditionalists claim, one cannot say there is harm done to gay and lesbian persons since no specific group or person is singled out. We are all equally sinful and need God’s grace. What some gay and lesbian Christians go through in terms of remaining abstinent is admittedly difficult, but will ultimately prove redemptive and rewarding to them.

I strongly disagree with this traditionalists viewpoint. Gays and lesbians are singled out and expected to fully deny their sexual tendencies. Nobody else is expected to remain abstinent; rather, everybody else is free to express their romantic love and find a partner in life.  But if gays and lesbians want to be fully included in the life and ministry of the U.M. Church, they are expected to abstain from expressions of romantic love and the natural desire for intimacy and to share life with a partner. According to Dr. Dorothy Benz, a lay leader of M.I.N.D. (Methodists in New Directions), “You are who you are, you are who God created you to be, so to say that it’s ok that I’m gay that I want to have sex with another woman, but its not ok that I actually have sex with her, that makes no sense, and even if it did, it would be cruel to say that this portion of the population should be deprived of the basic human need for love and intimacy.” [7]

For gays and lesbians it is not just about about whether they are allowed to become ordained clergy, it’s about their very salvation. The church’s position is clear in that practicing homosexuals are considered living in an “incompatible,” sinful state. Traditional theology maintains that God’s grace and forgiveness is available for repentant sinners – sinners who turn away from their sin. God’s grace is not expected to extend to sinners who remain in a state of sinfulness.

According to the U.M. Church, then, if you want assurance of salvation as a gay or lesbian Christian, you must live a life of abstinence. In my understanding, this is spiritual coercion. We must not underestimate the psychological power contained in the threat of losing one’s salvation. Homosexual Christians are spiritually coerced to comply with rules that ask them not only to deny their basic human desire for intimacy and companionship, but also part of their identity.

Our sexual orientation is an integral part of who we are as humans. When a homosexual person is asked to deny their natural attractions by living a life of abstinence, he or she is forced to deny part of who they are. Anybody who does not fully embrace their identity, experiences an isolation of self which often leads to a severe identity crisis. This has been adequately described by the report of the American Psychology Association on patients of religious conversion therapy. [8]

Conclusion:  

The spiritual coercion of gays and lesbians as well as the “incompatibility” rhetoric expose the U.M. Church policies concerning homosexuality as discriminatory. They systemically harm gay and lesbian persons under the Church’s care and are, therefore, in direct violation of John Wesley’s “Do-No-Harm” Rule.  The anti-gay policies and rhetoric in the Book of Discipline must be indicted and corrected. They are unconstitutional according to U.M. Church’s own Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith.

Frank Schaefer is the author of Defrocked: How  a Father’s Act of Love Shook the United Methodist Church

Sources:

[1] United Methodist News Service, Court maintains stand on ministerial candidates

http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/court-maintains-stand-on-ministerial-candidates, Oct. 28, 2017

[2] United Methodist Foundational Documents: http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/foundational-documents  (John Wesley’s “Do-No-Harm” Rule)

[3] Book of Discipline statements on Homosexuality by the United Methodist Church, UMC Official Website (umc.org): http://www.umc.org/what-we-believe/homosexuality-full-book-of-discipline-statements, 2016

[4] Rubio-Rodriguez, Bernadette in Bernie & Chely Forever – The Spiritual Quest of a Same-Sex Couple, Schaefer, Frank, ed., 2017

[5] Pannenberg, Wolfhart, Revelation and Homosexual Experience: What Wolfhart Pannenberg Says About this Debate in the Church, Christianity Today, November 11, 1996, http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/1996/november11/6td035.html

[6]  An Understanding of the Biblical View on Homosexual Practice and Pastoral Care, Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary Position Paper, 2015  page 17

[7] Sheppard, Scott, dir. An Act of Love A Father. A Church. A Movement (documentary) Virgil Films, 201

[8] Glassgold, Judith M. PsyD, Chair, Report of the American Psychological Association Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation, 2009: http://www.apa.org/pi/gay and lesbiant/resources/therapeutic-response.pdf

Deep Solidarity: Beyond Charity and Advocacy

By Joerg Rieger, Distinguished Professor of Theology and Cal Turner Chancellor’s Chair in Wesleyan Studies, Vanderbilt University

In a recent book, Rosemarie Henkel-Rieger and I are proposing that the time is right to move beyond charity and advocacy (Unified We Are A Force: How Faith and Labor Can Overcome America’s Inequalities, 2016). Our work on labor and religion is the basis for the argument.

Joerg Rieger

While charitable giving is widely appreciated, it is neither the only nor the most helpful response to the problems of the world. To put it bluntly in the language of Christianity, which is one of the religious traditions we discuss in the book (in addition to Judaism and Islam): Jesus preached good news to the poor and freedom to the oppressed rather than charity (Matt. 11:5, Luke 4:18). What is good news to the poor and the oppressed? Is it receiving handouts? Or is it that they will no longer be poor and oppressed?

Charity is at its best when it does not remain a one-way street. When the eyes of those who engage in charity are opened to the causes of the problems, we are one step closer to good news to the poor. That this step is a move in the right direction is evidenced by pushback. As Dom Hélder Câmara, a former Roman Catholic Brazilian bishop, put it: “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.”

Unified We Are a ForceCharity tied to a deeper understanding of the problems of the world often leads to advocacy, which means speaking out against injustices that cause these problems. Such advocacy is solidly grounded in many religious traditions and may constitute a more faithful approach than charity. Many of the Jewish prophets speak out against injustice, challenging those who “trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain” (Amos 5:11).

Mary, the mother of Jesus, speaks of God’s advocacy when she proclaims that the God who lifts up the lowly pushes the powerful from their thrones and fills the hungry with good things while sending the rich away empty (Luke 1:52-53). Her inspiration is Hannah, the mother of the prophet Samuel (1 Samuel 2:1-10), recognized by Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

Advocacy brings us one step closer to good news to the poor, although there are still limits. Advocates sometimes overestimate their own power, acting as if they could solve the problems alone, and they can stifle the agency of those for whom they advocate.

Good news to the poor is not complete without what Rosemarie Henkel-Rieger and I are calling “deep solidarity.” The message of Amos and Mary can also be interpreted in this way. Deep solidarity includes both charity and advocacy, but it reaches further.

Deep solidarity is not a matter of the relatively privileged trying to help the underprivileged and to solve their problems; rather, it is a matter of understanding that nothing will change unless we are addressing the problems of the world together. And deep solidarity is the recognition that we might be in the same boat.

Mary provides a first example. She realizes that she is one of the lowly ones and she sides with them. Jesus, likewise, is aware of his lowly beginnings as a construction worker born in a barn and he never renounces them. His ministry takes place in solidarity with the people. Amos, too, is not afraid to side with those who are getting a raw deal in his time. That an injury to one is an injury to all is also a time-honored insight of the labor movement.

Perhaps the most telling embodiment of deep solidarity is Moses, whom the Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, hold in high esteem. Raised as an Egyptian prince, Moses wakes up when he sees Hebrew slaves being abused by their taskmasters. Later, when he hears God’s voice from the burning bush, Moses accepts the charge to join the solidarity movement of God and slaves, working for liberation (Exodus 3:1-12). As a result, good news is brought to the poor and the exploited.

Where does that leave those of us who engage in charitable giving and advocacy? Deep solidarity puts us in a mutual relationship with those we intend to support, helping us realize how much we share in common. In the current economic climate, even the middle class is waking up to the fact that the problems of the world are no longer passing us by as our children, our parents, and our communities are taking hits, as are more and more of us.

The ever-growing need for charity and advocacy should make us aware the extent of the problem and that there is no easy fix. In many of our large cities like more than a third of all children now live below the poverty line, while most of their parents are working (in Dallas, TX, for instance, 38 percent of children are directly affected by poverty). And even college graduates find it more difficult than ever to find and keep a job and pay off their burdening debt. As we begin to address these problems together, our differences do not fade away but can be put to use productively.

Those who are experiencing the problems of our time in the most severe ways—like the many working families wo have trouble making ends meet—can help us see what is really going on. Their perspective can serve as a lens that helps us see how our stories are connected: low-wage work depresses all wages, fear of deportation creates easy opportunities for worker rights violations that creep into all job sectors, problems that are compounded by race and gender. When we begin to realize this, those of us who still enjoy some limited privileges can begin to put them to use for the community.

The 1 percent are not excluded from all of this but are invited to take the side of those who are struggling. If our Abrahamic religions traditions are right, God does so as well.

Joerg Rieger and Rosemarie Henkel-Rieger have worked for decades in movements of resistance to power and domination, both in Germany and the United States, with the intention of providing genuine alternatives. Joerg is an author and professor of theology, and Rosemarie is a community and labor organizer.

Buy United We Are a Force: How Faith and Labor Can Overcome America’s Inequalities now.


 

After Charlottesville: Not Enough

By O. Wesley Allen, Jr., Author of Preaching in the Era of Trump

First off, a confession: I am a white man.

As an American and a Christian I have been utterly disappointed and disgusted by our president’s response to last weekend’s event in Charlottesville. As everyone who has followed the presidential pendulum knows, on Saturday, August 12, President Trump blamed “many sides” for the violence that ensued and climaxed in white supremacist James Fields ramming his car into a crowd of counter protestors resulting in a dozen people being injured and Heather Heyer’s death. After some criticism, on Monday, August 14, Trump read a prepared statement that condemned racist violence without placing any blame on the side of activists. On Tuesday, August 15, at a press conference in which Trump intended only to address new infrastructure plans, he responded to journalists’ questions about Charlottesville with fire and fury by reasserting that there was “blame on both sides” and that there were “some very fine people on both sides” even though he continued to condemn white supremacists, the KKK, and Neo Nazis. Since then his tweets double and triple down not on condemning white supremacy but on supporting them.

Preaching in the Era of TrumpIn contrast to my frustration with President Trump’s lack of a moral vision in responding to Charlottesville, I have been pleased to see the widespread responses by political leaders (Democrats and Republicans), celebrities, late night hosts, pastors, bishops, business leaders, and even international voices condemning the white supremacists, Ku Klux Klan, Neo Nazis, and white nationalists. The kind of blatant and violent white supremacy emboldened by Donald Trump’s campaign and election must be resisted, countered, and conquered…and it seems that the only ones unwilling to do this are the white supremacists themselves (including our president).

Still, these condemnations have not gone far enough… not nearly far enough. To use Paul Ryan as an example, he tweeted in response to Trump’s press conference on August 15, “We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.” I single out Ryan’s tweet not because it is unique but because it is typical, and I am pleased to see someone in Trump’s own party saying No quickly and firmly to any attempt to draw any type of moral equivalency between the two sets of protestors in Charlottesville this weekend. Yet, this type of condemnation is easy.

What I mean is that it is easy for any decent white person to reject those who spout loud, radical, explicit hate speech and who promote violence and act violently in enforcing their racist, terrorist ideologies. What is harder…and necessary…is for white leaders not only condemn white supremacy but also to condemn and speaking honestly about white privilege. White privilege is the foundation of white supremacy. It is easy to condemn those who are white supremacists while silently living out the privilege of being white in a racist society. After all, even James Murdoch of Fox News did this in spite of the fact that long time Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly explicitly criticized the left for wanting “power taken away from the white establishment” and for arguing that “white privilege in America [is] an oppressive force that must be done away with” as part of his support for Trump’s candidacy during the election.

How different would our national conversation be right now if the Republican speaker of the House had tweeted, “We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. I commit myself to leading the House of Representatives in seeking a legislative agenda that dismantles institutionalized and implicit white privilege that provides a fertile soil for such hate speech and violence to thrive!” No one would be talking about Trump’s response anymore because serious conversation does not suffer fools.

I am not naïve enough, however, to expect the white majority in congress (Republican or Democrat) to find the courage to take up such a conversation while raising money from the white majority in their districts to be re-elected every two and six years.

I am naïve enough, however, to believe that the white majority of preachers who are called to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ can find the faith and trust in the God of all humanity to do just this. I am speaking of white leaders and white preachers because leaders and clergy who are person of color have been doing this for generations. It is time for those of us who benefit from white privilege to join them in declaring its evil and sinful nature.

Indeed, confession is the starting point for discussing white privilege in sermons. As opposed to condemning racism “out there,” sermons by white preachers that will have to potential to lead congregations through repentance to social action will likely begin with honest self-reflection (“in here”) about the various ways we have benefited by being white in a racist society. We may not have participated in direct discrimination of people of color, but we have been able to climb higher on the societal ladder thanks to others being forced to occupy lower rungs.

When we white preachers admit that we have benefited from racist structures perhaps even while despising them, our white congregants will be able to admit their participation in ongoing, systemic white privilege as well. Then they will be able to recognize that the opposite of privilege is oppression and that while they are not protesting with Neo Nazis and the Alt-Right they have been living on the side of the oppressors. And then they will pray for forgiveness. And then they will work for change.

Of course, I am not naïve enough to think one or two sermons by one or two preachers will reverse generations of ingrained ways of thinking and acting much less overcome the heightened level of explicit hate in the current cultural atmosphere. But I am naïve enough to believe that if enough preachers start to discuss white privilege pastorally and prophetically, God’s word will not return empty.

So, when it comes to white pulpits being silent about white privilege …enough is enough. Let’s get talking. Let’s start preaching.

O. Wesley Allen, Jr.
O. Wesley Allen, Jr.

Rev. Dr. O. Wesley Allen, Jr. is the Lois Craddock Perkins Professor of Homiletics at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University. Dr. Allen serves as president of the Academy of Homiletics.

Overcoming the anxiety of talking about racism

Editor’s Note: Carolyn Helsel’s upcoming book from Chalice Press, Anxious to Talk about It, aims to help white people talk about racism. In this guest blog, she reflects on the August 11-12 violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. 

Carolyn Helsel
Carolyn Helsel

Sick. Sick to my stomach. I opened social media Saturday morning to reports of torches and racist slogans of white nationalists at a “Unite the Right” rally on the campus of the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

I turned off my phone to get breakfast for the kids. We were traveling to San Antonio for the day, so attending to children occupied my mental space. But I wasn’t hungry for breakfast.

While I tried to keep current events out of my mind, they kept showing up. As we drove through downtown San Antonio, three white men carrying signs and wearing shirts with Confederate flags crossed the street in front of my car while I waited at a stoplight. These men were headed several blocks away, to join a protest against the removal of a Confederate statue from a San Antonio city park.[1]

Later that afternoon, while I sat at a restaurant, the news on the TV reported the alarming headlines: at the Charlottesville rally, a neo-Nazi drove his car into the crowd of counter-protestors, killing a woman and injuring 19.

Minutes later, I overheard a young white man joking at a nearby table, “I tell you, white men have it hard these days.” I’m not sure he’d been paying attention to the news from Charlottesville.

Driving back to Austin, my mind kept returning to the white men wearing Confederate flags in San Antonio and the white men in the pictures from Charlottesville, carrying torches. I kept wanting to distance myself from them: these white people are not the kind of white people I know and love. These are really bad people. Ignorant people. Evil people. But feeling sick-to-my-stomach did not go away. I could not distance myself far enough.

Returning to social media at the end of the day, several people called out to white preachers, asking: “How are you going to change your sermon for tomorrow?” Articles in major news outlets challenged the Christian church to respond with a definitive condemnation of white supremacy, asking: “After Charlottesville, will white pastors finally take racism seriously?[2] And “How Will the Church Reckon with Charlottesville?[3]

But I wondered whether the people who went to this rally even went to church? I doubt it. I wanted to think of them as crazy hate-filled heathens who would never step foot in a church. I want to think of these people as so very different from me.

But as a colleague of mine from Austin Seminary, Dr. Margaret Aymer, reminded me, these people still look like me and are not that different from me. Dr. Aymer posted the picture of the torch-wielding men, and instructed viewers to look them in the face: “If you are white or the parent of a white male child, as I am, look at these faces. Look hard. These are not monsters. These are not deformed or mentally ill people. These could be your sons. These could be my son. Look hard. There is no “they” out there. This is about you. This is about me. This about how you interact with family and how your raise your children. Do not look away.”

As uncomfortable as it makes us, we need to keep looking. We need to sit with the discomfort of these terrorizing moments, because they will not go away when we are not looking. They will keep happening. There will continue to be demonstrations that support this way of thinking. We need to denounce them as evil and to condemn this rhetoric.

At the same time, the depth and breadth of racism is thicker than this one event, bigger than a group of white nationalists protecting a statue, older than the history that these whites want to memorialize. And condemning racism as evil demands more than realizing that racism is a problem. We have to keep talking about it with other white people.

White liberals have prided themselves on “getting it.” There’s a sense of self-righteousness that comes from feeling you are on the right side of history. But self-righteousness fosters a sense of superiority. And superiority continues to compete for superiority. There will always be better labels, more critical analysis, and more radical calls for change; but if these only lead to self-satisfaction in our moral superiority, we have failed. Whites who want to make a difference need to accept that there is no moral high ground for us: no matter how “woke” we are, we continue to be part of a system that unjustly benefits us. We are not superior to these white nationalists. We bear the guilt as well.


[1] Emilie Eaton, “Dueling San Antonio protestors clash with each other, police over Confederate monument.” The San Antonio Express News. (August 12, 2017). http://www.expressnews.com/news/local/article/Dueling-San-Antonio-protesters-clash-with-each-11814577.php

[2] Jemar Tisby, “After Charlottesville, will white pastors finally take racism seriously?” The Washington Post. (August 12, 2017). Accessed online at https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2017/08/12/after-charlottesville-will-white-pastors-finally-take-racism-seriously

[3] Emma Green, “How Will the Church Reckon with Charlottesville?” The Atlantic. (August 13, 2017). Accessed online at https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2017/08/will-the-church-reckon-with-charlottesville/536718/

A Back-To-School Practice from “Faithful Families”

Excerpted from Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home by Traci Smith.

First Day of School – New Beginnings

Heading off to school on the first day can be daunting for parent and child alike, as there are so many questions in one’s mind. “What will the new year be like?” “Will I like my teacher?” “Will my child be happy?” This is a yearly tradition involving making a copy of your child’s footprints on the first day of school and saying a simple prayer for the year to come. This tradition also relates to the graduation ceremony listed next.

Designed for Ages Preschool—Senior in High School

Materials

1. Construction paper

2. Washable tempera paint

3. Wide paintbrush

4. Shallow pan of soapy water

5. Washcloths and towels

Time Investment: 30 minutes

How To

1. On the night before or the morning of the first day of school, paint the bottom of your child’s feet with a wide paintbrush and ask him or her to step on a piece of construction paper. As he or she does, say, “Your feet remind us of the journey you will take this year at school. I know that you will learn so many new things and go so many new places. I hope that you will go with courage and strength and know that God goes with you too.”

2. Before the child steps off the construction paper, say this short prayer,  “God please be with [child’s name] as [he/she] heads off on [his/ her] first day of school. May the year be full of new experiences and knowledge, and may [he/she] walk in light and truth every day. Amen.”

3. Wash off the paint from the child’s feet and head off to a new year!

Notes

• The time investment for this activity is listed at 30 minutes, but it actually takes much less time. The reason for the inflated time is simple: nobody should be rushed on the first day of school! Take the extra time to avoid a stressful morning, or do it the night before.

• Those who are coming to this tradition with older children might be tempted to skip it, thinking, “Well, we haven’t done it in the past, we should just skip it.” I think it’s never too late to start a new tradition, and this is an easy one to start at any time! Go ahead and start it, no matter how old your children are!

Variations

• Do handprints instead of footprints.

• Show the footprints from previous years and notice how the child has grown and changed.

• Trace around the hand or foot and make handprints or footprints that way.

• Do this every year on the last day of school instead of the first, and talk about all of the places the child has gone in the past year.

This practice, and more than 50 more simples ideas for turning everyday family moments into sacred ones, can be found in Traci’s new book Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home.

Creating Connections in the Chaos: A Mother’s Day Reflection

This morning I was at a cafe getting some work done while my four-month-old daughter Marina Lynn was sitting beside me in her stroller. When her smiling and cooing turned to fidgeting and crying, I picked her up out of the stroller and started to pace around in the cafe. Two women caught our attention. “We’re grandmothers” one said.

“She’s gorgeous!” exclaimed the other  “I don’t suppose you’d let us hold her while you finish up your work.” 

“Actually,” I said, “I would love it,” and I plopped Marina into their laps and hurried back to what I was doing. 

I listened with one ear as they doted over her, and I finished up my emails as quickly as I could. When it was time to go, one of the grandmothers looked at me, teary eyed and said “I know old people say this all the time, but enjoy every minute. It goes by so, so fast.” 

I recognize there are problems with that statement. One does not enjoy every moment of parenting. I did not enjoy it when one of my older children learned to remove his diaper and “made a mess” in his room (I promise you, whatever “mess” you are imagining, the reality was worse). I did not enjoy the dry heaves and vomiting when I was pregnant with Marina Lynn. I do not enjoy trying to balance the pressures of work and writing and parenting. I do not enjoy having to apologize when my child causes someone to trip in the grocery store because he’s not watching where he’s going. And so when these two grandmothers told me to “enjoy every minute,” it would have been tempting to say, “Yeah right! You forgot how it really is!” but instead I said, “You’re right,” because they are. 

Whether we enjoy it or not, these years will fly by. Our children are four months old. We blink and they are four years old. We blink again and they’re fourteen. Blink one more time, and our children are having their own children. I know this is true because I have experienced it myself, and because my elders have told me it is so. 

So how will we live out these precious few years we’ve been given? I’m a strong believer in tradition and ceremony. We ought to try and make these days count. My book Faithful Families is an attempt to create sacred moments at home. In between the chaos of daily living we can carve out moments of connection. A prayer here, a ceremony there.  Mother’s Day is coming up soon, and many of us will shower our mothers with candy and cards. There’s nothing wrong with that. And yet, my suspicion is that many of the mothers you know are longing for something deeper than this. We’re longing for connection. We want our days to count. We know they’ll be gone too soon. 

— 

Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home is a book of simple practices designed for mothers (and fathers) who want to create meaningful connections with their children. On this Mother’s Day, our gift to you is the gift of gratitude. Download the free gratitude practice, below, and enjoy these moments, fleeting though they may be.

Traci Smith is the author of two books with Chalice Press, Faithful Families (formerly Seamless Faith) and Fellowship of Prayer (2015), and a contributor to Out of the Deep: Pastoring in Creative Space. Traci has a Master of Divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary and is pastor of Northwood Presbyterian Church in San Antonio, Texas, where she lives with her husband and children.


An Appeal to the Methodist Council to Defer Action on Bishop Oliveto’s Case

By Rev. Frank Schaefer

On this day deliberations have begun by the highest United Methodist judicial body (Judicial Council) whether our first openly gay bishop, Karen Oliveto, can remain in office after being elected and consecrated less than a year ago.

My thoughts and prayers are especially with Bishop Oliveto, as I personally know what it’s like to face the possible loss of your career in front of the Judicial Council. I remember going before this body just two years ago knowing that not only my personal career was at stake, but the fate of so many LGBTQ members including my three gay children. When the ruling came out that I would not be defrocked again, I counted it a victory for the LGBTQ community as much as a personal victory. That was a good day. I was certainly not ready to face another defrocking—an experience I have described with intimate details in my book Defrocked published by Chalice Press.

Our beloved United Methodist Church has been stuck at an impasse over this for many years and show-downs like this are becoming more frequent and more intense. Representatives on both sides of the issue are aware of just how high the stakes are. The biggest fear, which appears to become more real with every show-down is that our denomination could split, splinter and become irrelevant.

I do realize that there there are two sides of course. No matter what the Judicial Council decides, there will be grief. I do realize that the church law, as currently written, forbids the ordination of openly gay persons in relationships (“self-avowed, practicing homosexuals”).

However, it should be clear to everybody after General Conference 2016 that our Conference Delegates have acknowledged that the United Methodist Church is divided over the human sexuality doctrine as currently written. General Conference 2016 voted to authorize the council of bishops to put into place a special commission to determine a way forward.

In my opinion, as long as there is official debate on this doctrinal issue, the Judicial Council should not make a drastic decision. While I personally long for the Council to affirm the election of Bishop Oliveto, I think the wisest outcome of this hearing–given the ongoing Way Forward process–would be to defer action.

I appeal to our Judicial Council to please consider deciding this way. And should a decision be made to defer action, I also appeal to the entire body of our denomination to embrace this ruling. May God be with us in these times of struggle!

For news of the Special Session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church (UMC) to be held February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri, see here.

Frank Schaefer is an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church. He is married to Brigitte and has four children. He was educated at Princeton Theological Seminary. In 2013, Frank Schaefer was tried by a United Methodist court for officiating his son’s same-sex marriage and was defrocked over his refusal to uphold the Book of Discipline, which meant virtually to denounce gay marriage rights. In June 2014, a regional appeals committee decided to reinstate him as a minister; in October 2014, the highest court of the United Methodist Church upheld that reinstatement. Now leading a United Methodist campus ministry in California, he is a speaker and human-rights activist.

Order your copy of Defrocked: How a Father’s Act of Love Shook the Methodist Church here.

Is Your Pastor Sexist? Is the New York Times Sexist? Are You Sexist?

Over the past few weeks, we’ve watched our Presbyterian colleagues protesting Princeton Theological School’s plan to honor Tim Keller, who in his long ministry has argued women should be subservient to their husbands, a point of view that is also interpreted to state women should not be ministers.

Before I go any further, let me be clear: CBP/Chalice Press strongly disagrees with that stance, or with any stance that espouses inequality in any form whatsoever. There are many, many, many1 women doing incredible ministry that should inspire us all to step up our game. We’re lucky to work with them.

Back to the story. Traci Smith, author of the recently released Faithful Families: Creating Sacred Moments at Home and a Princeton alumna, blogged about this and caught the attention of both Tucker Carlson Tonight on Fox News (she declined their interview request) and the New York Times, which didn’t reach out to her but quoted her blog instead.

Is Your Pastor Sexist?, by Times contributor Julia Baird, referred to “Rev. Tim Keller” and “Dr. Keller.” It then referred to Traci as “Traci Smith, a former Princeton seminarian who is now a minister,” and noted Christian author Carol Howard Merritt as “a pastor in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).” No Rev. before their names.

Surely this was a mistake, right? Copyediting gone awry? 2

Traci and Carol both mused about that on social media, and their connections jumped on the bandwagon. I’m not one to fire off Letters to the Editor, but this was clearly an instance where we could offer our opinion as a publisher regarding one of our writers, as well as share a view on the world of ministry with some folks who might not necessarily understand how things work in the professional field. So this morning, I sent off this missive:

    Dear editor,

    Julia Baird’s opinion piece, Is Your Pastor Sexist?, contains several unintentional but extremely ironic sexist errors. The male subject of the article is referred to as both Rev. Keller and Dr. Keller, indicating the Times uses honorific titles. Two female pastors, Traci Smith and Carol Howard Merritt, do not have Rev. attached to their references, indicating the Times does not use honorific titles. Which is it? Surely this decision isn’t driven by gender?

    It’s likely bad copyediting is the culprit here, but this oversight epitomizes the everyday challenge female pastors face in their vocation — sexism undermines the equally challenging work they do in a workplace that is all too often hostile to them simply because of their chromosomal combinations.

    I see one correction already in the online version. If a story about sexism is inherently sexist, that probably merits at least a correction as well, does it not?

    Sincerely,
    Brad Lyons

A few hours later, an email rolled in from Matt Seaton, Staff Editor in the Op-Ed Department:

    Thank you for your letter regarding Julia Baird’s Op-Ed essay “Is Your Pastor Sexist?” I am responding because your letter was forwarded to me as the editor of this article.

    Times style usually allows for use of the title “Rev.” (for Reverend) only on first mention, and this was applied to the Rev. Tim Keller in this case. (Thereafter, he appeared as Dr. Keller, given his doctorate of ministry.) But honorifics are applied as context allows, not as a rigid rule.

    Our chief copy-editor explained to me that the “Rev.” title was not applied to the other two ministers in the piece, Traci Smith and Carol Howard Merritt, because they were introduced in ways that would have made the addition of “the Rev.” awkward and clumsy, and because, in each case, they were both clearly identified as minister or pastor.

    On second use of each of those ministers’ names, “Ms.” was the correct honorific, since neither of them, to the best of our knowledge, has a doctorate of divinity or ministry.

    Thank you for your attention to this matter and taking the trouble to communicate your view to us.

    Best, Matt

So the honorifics were cut because it would make the writing clunky. That’s weak. Very, very weak. Just rewrite the sentence! You’re not going to wear out your computer or need Tommy John surgery to fix that.

But it’s more than weak — it’s offensive.

I understand we’re talking about a few letters, but those few letters make a world of difference. Though their choice was intentional, their choice also subliminally subjugates female pastors in their vocation and in our culture.

CBP/Chalice Press is a ministry of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), which has for decades ordained women, and our first female General Minister and President, Sharon Watkins, is about to be followed by our second female General Minister and President, Teresa Hord Owens. We’re darn proud of that. Beyond that, we work with women and men, ordained and non-ordained, from many denominations, because we believe everybody has gifts from God regardless of whether they’ve gone through school or the proper training.

What I hear from my female colleagues in ministry is that it’s getting better but that the gender gap we see across society still exists in ministry – in the lack of respect shown to female clergy, in disparate compensation packages, and in the opportunities to lead at vibrant congregations. It’s going to take a lot of work to fix this, but we must fix it, and all the other prejudices in our culture, if we are to live in the Beloved Community.

It falls to all of us in the ways we talk about each other, the ways we hold each other accountable for our biases, the way we work on ourselves to erase those biases. But the New York Times, bless its heart – I sure hope it comes to its senses soon.

Footnotes

1. Many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many, many… well, you get the gist.
2. Baird reached out to Traci and said she hadn’t used titles, that they were added later.

How Progressive Christians are playing catch-up

Every once in a while, small publishers think about big media and how to overturn the tables in the temple.

A few weeks ago, Publishers Weekly’s Lynn Garrett asked for my thoughts on Progressive Christian publishing given the electoral insanity beginning to unveil itself on our national and state stages. (There is still sanity at the county and municipal levels, thank God. Let us unite around quality trash collection!) That article, “Justice a Hot Topic for Religion Publishers: Books on racism, immigration, and poverty are more relevant than ever,” was released on Inauguration Day, and it looks across the broad religious spectrum. It’s a good read about the state of the industry.

Here’s the quote Ms. Garrett used:

“Progressive Christians now have the sense of urgency that the Evangelical church has had for a long time. Conservative Christians built their movement through a variety of media, and book publishing has been a key part of that. Now it’s the progressives’ turn.”

Need evidence? Driving across southern Missouri last Sunday, I couldn’t find the Packers-Falcons game[1] – one of the NFL’s penultimate games, two teams playing for a Super Bowl berth – but I could find half a dozen evangelists trying to save souls through the AM dial. For at least 40 years, Evangelical Christians have learned how to organize and how to spread their message, and now they dominate the political stage, the airwaves, and the bookstore shelves. Progressive Christians haven’t had that multimedia ambition, and we’re paying the price.[2]

One would think the Republican Revolution of 1994 would have been enough to jumpstart the liberal/progressive multimedia boom. Or the 2000 election. Or the rising tide of resentment in the Tea Party eight years ago. But here we are, a quarter-century later, lagging far behind, with the highlights being Air America and “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.” Both secular, and both just memories now.

But what good is a multimedia network if you have no clear message? Let’s not dwell on the Evangelical with-Jesus-or-against-Jesus mentality that can be wonderful or terrifying. Let’s think about the message of the Progressive Christian media. The Jesus of Progressive Christians welcomes the immigrant; shows mercy and tangible support for the downtrodden; and celebrates the iconic American belief – and Christian belief – that in our uniqueness, we are all beautiful in God’s eyes. Progressive Christians need to teach that Jesus[3], the scorned Jesus who weeps when 30 million Americans lose their health care, when refugees are sent away, when LGBT persons are treated as third-class citizens.

And what will the multimedia network empower us to do? It will train a new generation of Progressive Christians in the art of opposition and organization; teach the language of protest, conflict resolution and compromise; and reframe for the world the oft-ignored fact that Christian values come in many forms often the polar opposite of what the high-profile, media-darling Christian leaders assert.

There is room on the airways, in the bookstores, and in the places where power resides, for all points on the theological spectrum. But we can’t just hope that equal time will materialize out of thin air. It will take action, it will take money, it will take commitment, and it will take courage.

So far, we’re all set on courage. Saturday’s global Women’s March included all the issues dear to progressives; we may finally feel the urgency. The tide might actually be turning. The time is right for a Progressive Christian media explosion. Now it’s the Progressives’ turn to put in some grunt work and build our movement. Religious publishers can be a key part of that new movement, but that will require having those books more widely available and visible, and people will need to buy them. And, I think, people will buy them … AND put them to good use.

Let’s get to work.


[1] Thank goodness. I was wearing Green Bay green, and the afternoon did not go well. Not at all.

[2] And without mass media sharing the inclusive message of the mainline church, it shrinks rapidly as the Evangelical church grows. I can’t help but think there’s a connection.

[3] Have no doubt that our Islamic siblings would say the same of Muhammed, our Jewish siblings the same of their prophets, our Buddhist siblings the Buddha, and so on. Bar a few folks dealing with severe mental illness, we’re all on the same side — of peace and justice and freedom, despite what the fear mongers want you to believe.

 

Pearl Harbor, Heart Mountain

A pleasant sunny, muggy Hawaiian morning that smelled of seawater and steel.

A miserable blustery, rainy Wyoming afternoon that smelled of snow and mud.

One caused the other. And it could happen again.

Two summers ago, my family visited Pearl Harbor, just west of Honolulu. We’ve all read about the infamous attack time and time again, and I knew a lot about Pearl Harbor. I could name all the battleships on Battlefield Row, knew the timelines, and understood the multipronged attack that lured the United States into World War II. When I stood on the USS Arizona Memorial, gazing at the ghostlike shell of a ship just below the water, when my 5-year-old daughter spotted oil rainbows in the water, I could, for a moment, hear the explosions and the planes and the screams of pain and death and smell the smoke and the blood. When the attack ended, 2,471 American servicemen and civilians had died, another 1,213 were wounded, and Pearl Harbor had become a national shrine for the American fallen of all our wars.

The flag over the USS Arizona Memorial, June 2015. Photo by Brad Lyons
The flag over the USS Arizona Memorial, June 2015. Photo by Brad Lyons

Then, this past October, I visited Heart Mountain Relocation Center, between Cody and Powell in northwestern Wyoming. Built in the months after Pearl Harbor, during the desperate first months of a war we were losing, Heart Mountain detained almost 14,000 Japanese Americans during its more than three years of operation. A shameful part of American history, these Americans weren’t given the option to relocate to Heart Mountain or the other relocation centers scattered across the western half of the country. They were forcibly moved. The centers provided some measure of home; students continued their education, a hospital offered medical care, and semblances of community such as a camp newspaper and dances were allowed. But the 650 barracks were abysmal, the camp prisonlike. The early winter weather the day I visited made it far too easy to imagine the Wyoming wind tearing through the cracks in the poorly built barracks far too easy. Residents had some freedom within the walls, but let there be no doubt: those residents were interred, held against their will.

Barracks and chimney, Heart Mountain Relocation Center, Wyoming. Photo by Brad Lyons
Barracks and chimney, Heart Mountain Relocation Center, Wyoming. Photo by Brad Lyons

Just as there’s not much of the devastation left at Pearl Harbor, there’s not much of Heart Mountain left, either. A guard tower stands near the highway turnoff, and there are a few old barracks, the hospital’s chimney, and a short footpath with plaques detailing life at the camp. When the camps closed in the months following the V-J Day, most Americans went on as though internment had never happened. Most of the Heart Mountain camp has been erased from existence, and I assure you I never learned about internment in history classes.

Pearl Harbor caused Heart Mountain.

And if we’re not careful, the ongoing persecution of Islamic Americans may yet cause another roundup of Americans who look different from those in power, who have beliefs different from the majority of Americans (or, more likely, a vocal minority) but who still share a belief in justice and equality and freedom. That another Heart Mountain could possibly occur, unthinkable not too long ago, is a horrifying shift in American politics. In these xenophobic times, it is our obligation as people of faith, as people urged to love the strangers among us, as people who follow Jesus who was a refugee as a child and oppressed and executed by a foreign empire, to keep that from happening again.

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