#UMCGC -Doing Biblical Justice

17 05 2016

Doing Biblical Justice is 1) Meeting the needs of the most vulnerable and 2) Righting wrongs done to the most vulnerable. Biblical justice is always directed toward the poor and oppressed. This is what the LORD Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. (Zechariah 7:9-10) You never read about God fighting for justice and being a “defender of” the rich or the strong. Now this doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care about justice for ALL people. It just means that as a default, justice usually happens for the strong, rich, powerful and privileged. They have the status and means to defend themselves. So injustice happens less frequently to the strong, rich, powerful and privileged.

But people with less including the widow, the orphan, the foreigner, and the poor as well as migrant workers, some single moms and elderly and minorities – these groups are more vulnerable to injustice particularly because they oftentimes do not have the means or the generational support or the social status or class or level of influence or power to defend themselves. They are more oftentimes victims of crime or violence or corruption and being taken advantage of because they are overlooked or easier prey. So, because they cannot easily defend themselves, God has a special place in his heart for them. That is why God is described as a “defender of the poor” and one who “takes up the cause of the orphan and the widow.” God stands up for the vulnerable because no one else will.

That’s why I’m so proud that today, in one of our General Conference sessions, we voted to add a section to our constitution right after Article IV. Inclusiveness of the Church (which acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth and all people regardless of race, color, national origin, status or economic condition can participate in the life of the church) and Article V. Racial Justice (recognizing the sin of racism and vowing to confront it in all its forms) providing biblical justice for women! Here’s how the new paragraph will read:

As the Holy Scripture reveals, both men and women are made in the image of God and, therefore, men and women are of equal value in the eyes of God. The United Methodist Church recognizes it is contrary to Scripture and to logic to say that God is male or female, as maleness and femaleness are characteristics of human bodies and cultures, not characteristics of the divine. The United Methodist Church acknowledges the long history of discrimination against women and girls. The United Methodist Church shall confront and seek to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, whether in organizations or in individuals, in every facet of its life and in society at large. The United Methodist Church shall work collaboratively with others to address concerns that threaten women’s and girls’ equality and well being.

The United Methodist Church and its predecessor denominations have historically been doers of biblical justice whether through the abolitionist movement, women’s suffrage or civil rights. United Methodists care for the vulnerable.

After lunch today, there was a protest on the plenary floor. It began as what looked like a march for #blacklivesmatter (which seems to fit all the categories and descriptions of what biblical justice is all about). But it quickly turned into a demonstration for full inclusion of the LGBTQ community. Full inclusion of LGBTQ means openness to ordain self-avowed practicing homosexuals and freedom to perform same-sex weddings. But are these two “issues” the same? Is the LGBTQ church fight a matter of biblical justice? At least according to Bishop Scott Jones, it is not. He says:

“Some violators of our church’s laws will argue they are justified by allegiance to higher principles such as their view of justice…When people justify their actions as “civil disobedience,” they are misusing language. It is not disobedience against the government. It is ecclesial disobedience. They are violating the rules of a church they have freely joined when other, similar churches offer acceptable ways of pursuing their calling.” (See his entire article here.)

Of course the disagreement about full inclusion of LGBTQs and whether or not this is truly a matter of justice may very well blow up the United Methodist Church. More demonstrations are coming in the following days. Chances are they will become more disruptive. One lady was arrested outside the Oregon Convention Center today because she had a bag full of urine she intended to throw on delegates. It’s getting uglier here. There is even rumor of a potential plan to dissolve the United Methodist Church as we know it at a special session of General Conference to be held in 2018.

I don’t have control over everything that happens to the UMC. But I’m committed to biblical justice and being a part of a Church that protects the most vulnerable.

#UMCGC – Behind the Rumors of Schism

17 05 2016

I think we accomplished more legislatively today than we did in all of 2012, but it is my sense that most people are primarily concerned with the future state of the United Methodist Church. Thus, I want to offer a two part opinion piece that 1) provides an informed guess about all the events that led to this morning’s chaos, and 2) some of the possible ways forward for our denomination.

So, what happened to get the rumor mill buzzing and created a feeling of panic across denomination? The following is my best piecing together of what generally happened along with my own interpretive lens:

Pre GC through May 15th – Apparently at least one bishop (and possibly more) had been in conversation with some of the caucus group leaders representing the differing stances on human sexuality within the church including Good News (proponents of keeping our current Disciplinary language), Love Your Neighbor (in favor of “full inclusion” of LGBTQ community – meaning they affirm clergy performing same-sex marriages and ordination of openly practicing homosexuals) and some large church pastors who have proposed what they call a “third way” (allowing pastors and churches to individually choose their stance without a mandate either way). It seems this group had been in conversations about possible ways forward including the possibility of schism.

Monday, May 16th – As the votes came in for elections to the Judicial Council, University Senate and Commission on General Conference, it became fairly evident that the majority of those elected were favored by Good News. This signaled the “writing on the wall” for Love Your Neighbor and there was amplified talk of further General Conference disruption and even a more aggressive move toward schism. Thus, Monday evening, the fact that there had been behind closed door meetings discussing ways forward, INCLUDING ways for the church to split up, was leaked and that sparked a firestorm of panic. Whether or not it was intentional, this certainly “disrupted” General Conference.

Tuesday, May 17th – Recognizing the outright chaos and fear of the conference and wider denomination, the Counsel of Bishops found themselves in a mess, one that they helped to create with their involvement in “behind closed door” conversations. [To be clear, I don’t think ill of their motivation, but the lack of transparency does not inspire trust!]. Caught with their hand in the cookie jar, the COB called a time out on themselves. President of the COB, Bishop Bruce Ough addressed the General Conference declaring that the bishops were as divided as the rest of the church, and would not be bringing forward or supporting any plans of schism. They would preside, but not lead during the way forward. Soon afterwards, proponents of this “middle way” urgently requested that the bishops “do what they were elected to do” and lead the way forward. In a very mixed vote (passed by roughly 100 votes), the body requested that the bishop’s come back with suggestions tomorrow morning.

In part two, I will offer some of the possible ways forward for our denomination that is deeply divided around human sexuality.

#UMCGC -When you are weary

14 05 2016

We’re almost to the half-way point of General Conference. Committee work for some will continue until 9:30pm Pacific Time. As you can imagine, by this time in the week, many delegates are getting a little tired. Almost everyone is away from family, many are out of their own country, and all have been rung through the emotional ringer. We have had people getting ill and several struggling from dehydration. I’ve been feeling physically great all week only to come down with a migraine headache this afternoon! As I look around my committee room right now, there is a palpable weariness.

You and I both know that people at General Conference aren’t the only tired and weary among us. I have a sense that my wife feels exactly the same way right now. (I am so thankful for you, dear!) You may be exhausted as you read this. Let me encourage you. God has made provision for your weariness. It’s called Sabbath rest.

This will not be my most profound blog entry during the week of General Conference, but I hope it is the most read and acted upon. If at all possible, when you wake up on Sunday morning, go to worship with your faith community, enjoy your family or friends and ENJOY God’s gift of Sabbath rest in Christ. I may or may not write about my rest tomorrow. If I decide not to, its because I’m napping! Either way, we will catch up on Monday.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. – Jesus in Matthew 11:28

#UMCGC -When your blood starts boiling

14 05 2016

I’m not a General Conference rookie. After my first go-round in Tampa in 2012, I have been fully prepared to experience frustration, stress and yes, even anger here in Portland. As part of my daily heart preparation, I’ve been centering myself on admonitions in God’s Word to love and be a peacemaker and to do good to others. My verse this morning was James 1:19: Understand this, my dear brothers and sisters: You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. I shared it on Facebook and received encouraging words of prayer from far away friends. Boy, I needed them today!

In two of my pre-conference posts (#UMCGC May we not be of one heart? Part 1 and Part 2), I held up a vision for civil dialog and respectful disagreement on some of the controversial human sexuality issues facing our United Methodist denomination. I held up this vision with the clear understanding that they can only happen when a mutual covenant of trust and grace is established. My colleague, Sara Isbell, and I were able to enter loving, respectful dialog despite our disagreements because of such a covenant. But what do you do when such a covenant doesn’t exist or worse, is broken? How, as a peace-making follower of Jesus (is there any other type?), should you respond when someone says they want dialog, but only uses it as an opportunity to attack you while your guard is down? Typically when that happens to me, my blood starts to boil.

I was faced with this situation in Friday’s General Conference. Someone who knew better made judgments about me and used trite, overly simplistic, irrational and totally unfair generalizations about me. I was misrepresented with no invitation to express myself, explain my thoughts, or even to ask clarifying questions to this person who has regularly spoken about the need for “across the aisle” conversation. I was so thankful I had been praying all morning to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry!

When this kind of thing happens, instead of building bridges of trust and respect, it creates easy opportunities for entrenchment. It takes people who might be able to find some mutual ground and polarizes them so much they can’t see any good in the other – they can’t have compassion for the other – they can’t see the other as a human being created in the image of God. And it happens all the time.

This afternoon I had a conversation with a fella I’ll call Larry. I only met Larry today, but he opened up to share how he had been so hurt over the way his concerns for the Church he’s served for 3 decades have been dismissed. He’s felt attacked by those who he disagrees with about human sexuality. And he essentially asked me, how do you deal with it? What do you do when your blood start’s boiling?

I shared with him some of my convictions. That by God’s grace, I choose to see those I disagree with not as my enemies, but people who love God and are trying to do the right thing. I choose to see those who are angry and bitter as those who have been hurt. Hurt people hurt people, right? I try to remain in touch with my own brokenness whenever I come too closely to judging someone else’s brokenness. And I try to live with compassion for those I disagree with. Well, after sharing a couple of examples, I looked at Larry and his head was hunched over and I noticed he was weeping. This man I just met confessed to me that he become a pharisee. Larry’s heart had reached a boiling point so often and he became so deeply entrenched over the years that he unknowingly turned into a legalistic and hard hearted pharisee. And for whatever reason, God chose that moment to break him.

By the grace of God, I pray that I will never become a pharisee – that my heart will not grow hard and that I will not build walls when attacked unfairly. When my blood starts boiling , by God’s grace, I pray that I will be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry. By God’s grace, I pray that I will continue to have genuine compassion for those I disagree with even if they do not exhibit the same toward me. If you find your blood boiling, or you find your heart growing hard toward those on the other side of the aisle, confess to God your pharisaical nature and ask for his forgiveness. Pray for a softer heart. Don’t settle for entrenchment. Follow Jesus and choose the way of the cross. And please pray for me to do the same!

#UMCGC – A Lesson in Communication – Rule 44

13 05 2016

If you’re a leader of any group of people, it doesn’t take you long to find out that sometimes you can have the best plan, but if you don’t communicate it well, you will unintentionally create fear, anxiety, frustration and maybe even distrust in the hearts of your followers. Everything may work perfectly in your head – you may even have it clearly outlined on paper – but when the details are not shared with those whom it affects, you will not create the kind of ownership needed for it to succeed.

This was a hard lesson learned by the Rules Committee and all those who had invested time and energy to develop an alternative way of creating helpful legislation for difficult topics, particularly disagreements around human sexuality. This alternative process was called “Rule 44” and was offered to all delegates in writing about 3 1/2 months ago. Rule 44 was explained in approximately 8 paragraphs and basically suggested the creation of 50-60 small groups of 15 delegates each who would discuss their thoughts and feelings about the United Methodist Church’s stance on same-sex marriage, homosexual practice and ordination of openly LGBTQ clergy. We were told those thoughts from each group would be collected and then looked over by 6 people (selected from a group of 24 nominees) and synthesized into legislation that would be brought back to the full conference to be debated, discussed and voted upon.

Proponents of Rule 44 felt that something needed to change in the way we discussed such sensitive topics which have created misunderstanding and hurt for many people. Among other things, critics of the rule felt uncomfortable giving so much power to six people. And it seemed that everyone had questions. Proponents assured the conference of Rule 44’s viability – critics were skeptical. What ensued on social media and on the conference floor was nothing short of a spectacle. In the end, Rule 44 was defeated 57% – 43% (in a controversial ruling, it was determined Rule 44 actually needed 67% approval to pass, so it fell far short).

After Rule 44 was voted down, I spoke with one of the Rule 44 small group facilitators who had just been trained the evening before. She showed me the materials that were going to be used in the small groups had the vote to approve Rule 44 had passed (and another vote to ensure that we would use that process on issues of human sexuality). She explained the process clearly, showing me the materials to be used and exactly what information would be passed from the groups to the committee of six. Then she showed me what the committee of six would do and how that would create the legislation that would be brought to the conference. We talked back and forth – I offered a suggestion for what might work better, and after about 20 minutes of dialog I said to her, “I believe Rule 44 would have passed if every delegation had this information ahead of time to allow them time to digest it and practice it in their preparation meetings.” She agreed and together we grieved a bit for our denomination.

There are so many leadership lessons to be learned from this fiasco, but this was the most profound for me. Yes, you can have the best plan, but if you don’t adequately communicate it and create ownership of the process, it will be bound to fail, and unfortunately create more skepticism the next time around. I’m disappointed because I think we can do better than this. Poor communication kills relationships, dreams and visions, and possibly even denominations. A couple of pleas:

First, for those who voted FOR Rule 44 – understand that the skepticism of the 57% was not uniformly a desire to avoid difficult conversation. There were very important issues that were unresolved or at least poorly communicated.

For those who voted against Rule 44 (like me) – please be open to a perfected process if and when it is presented to us. Use it in your churches and delegations. Try it out. From what I saw in detail, I felt it could become something very helpful.

And finally, for those who have the charge of preparing and planning future versions of Rule 44. PLEASE understand the magnitude of your task. You’re not just charged with creating the plan. You MUST also create ownership of the plan amongst the delegations by over communicating the details and getting all the information out 12-18 months in advance of GC 2020. I encourage you to not give up, but please learn from this year’s failure.

#UMCGC – A Top 10 for a slow day at GC2016

12 05 2016

There were some great things that happened today. Here’s a countdown…

10. I ate Baklava – wow that was good, and I wanted more.

9. Rule 44 was tabled, then taken off the table, and we’ll vote tomorrow – a controversial way for handling sensitive legislation dealing with human sexuality has been proposed. The action on it wasn’t as exciting as the twitter feed about it.

8. The Cubs lost two games today but are still 17 games over .500 and it’s only MAY – no, it’s not good that Cubs lost. That is bad. But their winning percentage is still .758

7. My day ended at 4:45pm – I was only 11 votes away from being elected as a subcommittee chair in the “Faith and Order” legislative committee. If I was elected, I would have been in training until 9pm! I won even though I lost.

6. I met some great people – I met an “adorable” clergywoman named Juliet from Louisiana where she serves as a district superintendent. She had some great stories, but the best was a powerfully redemptive story about her son. I love hearing how God works in amazing ways. Talk with somebody new today – you will be blessed by it. (By the way, “adorable” is an inside joke in case Juliet actually reads this.)

5. I got up early and ran through downtown Portland – It was so beautiful and new that I just wanted to keep on running and was a bit late for my breakfast appointment!

4. I can’t get the song “No Longer Slaves” out of my head – what a great song by Bethel Music. We’ve begun singing it at church and it’s a regular on my iTunes playlist. “I’m no longer a slave to fear; I am a child of God!” Powerful song – check it out here.

3. Did I mention I ate some amazing Baklava? – I really do want more…

2. Great to catch up with an “old” friend, Roger Ross – well, those of you know Roger know that he never looks like he’s aged a day, but its been a long time since we’ve talked long about life and ministry. I am always better for these times.

1. The Episcopal Address was nothing short of inspiring – Bishop Gregory Palmer, my former bishop (2008-12) brought it this morning. Empowered by God he challenged us to be humble and have hope. I can’t do it justice, but if you’d like to watch it, you can here.

That’s all from Portland for today. Enjoy some very amateur pictures from my run this morning.

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A view down the Willamette River in downtown Portland

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Check out the size of that UMC banner!

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A view of the Oregon Convention Center (where GC2016 meets) from across the river

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Only view I could get of Mt. Hood on my run

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The former Rose Garden now called the Moda Center where the Trailblazers play

#UMCGC – The Smell of Heaven

11 05 2016

I smelled heaven this afternoon. No, I didn’t walk by a Chicago style pizza place in Portland (if anyone knows of some good deep dish in Trailblazer country, please let me know). I smelled heaven during our opening worship service and it brought me to tears.

Please don’t take offense to this. I don’t mean it in any negative way. Simply observation with all my senses. People have odor. I’m guessing you’ve noticed this from time to time. I’ve been privileged to travel the world a little bit over the last 10 years, and in that time, I’ve observed (with my nose) that people in different regions of the world have unique smells. Maybe it’s food preferences, or the water or the cultural habits of personal hygiene. It really doesn’t matter to me. I’m not making any judgments about the smells although this afternoon, they made my eyes water.

You may not know this, but the United Methodist is a worldwide church. 42% of the 864 delegates to General Conference are from outside the United States. There are many parts of the world underrepresented because the UMC does not formally exist in those places (India, China and South America come to mind) but still, 30% of our delegates are from Africa, 4.6% from Europe, and 5.8% from the Philippines, making us a global denomination. Our opening worship reflected that reality beautifully.

I was moved deeply in my spirit when we sang the song “Holy, Holy, Holy” and recited the great commission from Matthew 28:18-20 in multiple languages, but I was unprepared for our time of Holy Communion. Yes, the liturgical words, “Make us one with Christ, one with each other, and one in ministry to all the world” were powerful, but it was the smell that overwhelmed me. The communion servers were immediately in front of my table, and as dozens and dozens and dozens of delegates from all over the world walked in front of me, I could smell each and every one of their uniquenesses, and the beauty of it broke me in so many wonderful ways. Tears came to my eyes as I thought upon the picture of heaven from Revelation 7:9, After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb… Today I smelled heaven.

In other news I also won a John Wesley doll. I wonder if this is part of what he had in mind when he said, “I look upon all the world as my parish.”

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General Conference Delegates from around the world participating in Holy Communion



#UMCGC – A “Thank You” & Another plea for civility

10 05 2016

I met Barry* last night while riding on the MAX railway system to my hotel from the airport. Barry is here in Portland as a volunteer for General Conference (the once every 4 year worldwide United Methodist gathering that sets the policy and direction of the entire denomination). He remembered my name from earlier at the airport when he greeted me and other delegates after our 4-hour flight from Chicago. I’m so thankful for Barry and the many others like him who are here to volunteer their time. They are serving Jesus as they serve so many including me.

We chatted about several things. Barry told me where he was from (Georgia) and that he had flown a long way to be here. I shared with him that I flew from Illinois so I didn’t travel as far as he did, but it sure felt like a long day! He was very hospitable and offered to help me get where I needed to go. (Since I’m almost always a bit over prepared, I knew exactly where I was going and how to get there, but it was kind of him to offer!) Barry mentioned that he had other travel plans since he was on this side of the continent, and we chatted about a few other things. I asked him if he brought any family along and he mentioned that he and his husband were here together.

If you’ve been paying any attention at all, you know that debates about human sexuality are high on the agenda for this General Conference. It could be the issue that blows up our entire denomination. But I want to urge everyone to grasp the reality that this is not just an “issue.” The decisions we make at General Conference, and maybe even more importantly, the way in which we make them affect real, kindhearted, good and loving people like Barry and his husband.

When it comes down to it, people will believe that homosexual practice is either an acceptable or unacceptable practice for Christians (and to be clear, I believe you can love Jesus, love Scripture and love the mission of the church and yet come to different conclusions, interpreting in different ways). I don’t think any act of General Conference will change how either “side” interprets the Bible or chooses to believe. However, we can all remember the Barrys out there and in the midst of our differences, we can treat each other with love (and if not love, then at least civility and respect). Please continue praying with me for our General Conference – that the way we go about disagreeing will actually be a testimony of God’s grace and love and not another obstacle to people finding it.

Barry, I know I changed your name for this blog, but if you ever read this and realize I’m talking about you, thank you for serving me today. Your kindness showed me your love for Jesus. I hope and pray that I can serve you at this General Conference, if not by my votes, then certainly by the respect and graciousness I offer back to you.

*I changed Barry’s name for this post.

You may also be interested in previous posts about disagreeing civilly. May we not be of one heart? Part 1 and Part 2

#UMCGC Why I chose Faith & Order Committee

9 05 2016

For those of you who aren’t aware of the inner workings of General Conference, there is a TON of proposed legislation. Every delegate looks forward to February with fear and trepidation. February is when the Advanced Daily Christian Advocate (ADCA) is published and sent to delegates. Don’t have any idea what the ADCA is? Imagine 4 phonebooks arriving at your doorstep only you are supposed to actually read them. Yes, 4 phonebooks. (After conference is intend to attempt tearing them in half like a true strongman.)

The volumes of legislation all seek to alter, in some way, the guidebook for United Methodists, the Book of Discipline, or it’s supplement, the Book of Resolutions. In order to facilitate the legislation, the 864 delegates are broken down into 13 different subcommittees that each deal with legislation around a particular segment of the Book of Discipline and corresponding Resolutions. Legislative committees include Church and Society (1 & 2), Conferences, Discipleship, Finance and Administration, General Administration, Global Ministries, Central Conference Matters, Independent Commissions, Judicial Administration, Local Church, Ministry and Higher Education, and my committee of choice, Faith and Order.

In Tampa, at the 2012 General Conference, I served on the Local Church subcommittee and experienced the legislative process first hand. Early on in the first week of GC, the delegates break into their legislative committees. Anywhere from 50-100 people gather together and one of the first tasks is to elect a committee chair, vice-chair, secretary and sub-committee chairs. Then an agenda is set and for the next few days the committee (or subcommittees) discuss, amend and ultimately vote on every piece of legislation. Sometimes there is overwhelming agreement sometimes there is contention. In either case, the committee’s decision isn’t final until the legislation gets to the floor of the entire body of General Conference in the 2nd week. If there was overwhelming agreement, the legislative item will be lumped with MANY other items in a daily consent agenda and voted on in mass. If there is contention in the legislative committee, it MIGHT come to the floor to be debated, amended and voted on by the entire body. Whether it comes to the floor or not is determined by the agenda committee that is comprised partially by the chairpersons of each subcommittee. Yes, plenty of politics…

Anyway, you just got more information than you likely care to read about. Back to my original point of writing. WHY I chose Faith and Order. Faith and Order covers legislation in my favorite part of the Book of Discipline which cover our “Doctrinal Standards and Our Theological Task,” “The Ministry of All Christians” and the meaning of and qualifications for ordination. I chose Faith and Order because I love the doctrine of the church. I’m particularly passionate about ordination and our doctrinal standards. In fact, while serving on the Board of Ordained Ministry in the annual conference to which I belong, I love reading and learning from as well as critiquing and challenging the doctrinal work that our ordination candidates submit. It’s the part of the church that not only connects us with the church universal, but also highlights unique Wesleyan contributions.

This year our Faith and Order Committee will discuss important legislation that seeks to add the Nicene Creed to our Doctrinal Standards, possibly change our mission statement, sharpen language in our “Theological Task” and clarify the expectations for those seeking ordination (yes, there are several controversial issues regarding sexuality and ordination). For a doctrine nerd like me, it will make for an exciting few days in legislative committee during week 1 of General Conference.

#UMCGC May we not be of one heart? Part 2

6 05 2016

“But although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union; yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works.” – John Wesley, Sermon XXXIX, Catholic Spirit

The last Sunday in April I participated in a public viewing of An Act of Love with a talkback session with me and another member of our General Conference delegation. Sara and I are friends and colleagues although we are “not of one opinion” on the United Methodist’s current language regarding the practice of homosexuality. Despite our differences, Sara and I have engaged in helpful and healing dialog and, by God’s grace and Holy Spirit, modeled that type of dialog in front of the 150 or so gathered to watch the documentary. You can read more of the background in Part 1 of this post. I now want to spend a little bit of time reflecting on how it is possible for us to, as John Wesley put it, “be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion.”

First, let me say that I would not have willingly engaged in a public talkback session like this if it weren’t for my trust in Sara herself. Sara is a well-respected and fruitful pastor in our conference and the two of us have been friends and colleagues for several years. Not seeing eye to eye on this topic has not defined our relationship. Our love for Jesus and our love for people does. And maybe that is the first “how” steps in being “of one heart, though we are not of one opinion.” We choose to think the best of each other and each other’s motivations. We choose to not see each other as the enemy. I know and trust that she loves Jesus, the Bible and people at least as much as I do. If our denomination is ever going achieve a “Catholic Spirit” we must start with mutual respect and love and stop the divisive rhetoric that paints one another into categories of “heretic” or “hater.” In order for that to happen we must individually develop genuine friendships with colleagues on the other side of the fence and engage in difficult dialog seeking to understand before we are understood.

Secondly, while preparing together for our public talkback, Sara and I agreed upon similar goals. Here are a couple of those goals:

  • We agreed we would not approach this as a way to try and change the other’s mind. We assumed that our viewpoints and interpretation of Scripture would not be altered because of our dialog. Let me just say that we DID hope to change the minds of those in attendance – not to “our side” of the issue – but rather to change our perceptions of those who don’t see eye to eye with us.
  • We agreed we did not want to approach this from a win/lose standpoint, but rather a win/win standpoint. We decided that if either of us were getting negative pressure from someone in attendance that we would rise to each other’s defense. We also sought to give each other the opportunity to dispel common stereotypes that opposing sides like to promulgate to make themselves look better. For instance, progressives are often accused of not loving the Scriptures or being fruitful pastors. Conservatives are often accused of being haters of gay people or homophobes or unable to read the Bible contextually. We sought to dispel those stereotypes, which would lead us to “be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion.”

Although we did not write these goals down, we did covenant together to abide by them. I would not have agreed to participate in this forum had it not been for this agreed upon covenant with Sara. If either one of us would have sought to get our digs in and undermine our covenant, everything would have fallen apart. There is enough hurt surrounding this issue that we don’t need to create any more.

As I approach General Conference, I do so with opinions. I’d like to think those opinions are well thought out over countless hours of prayer and study and dialog. But simply because someone has a different opinion from mine does not make them my enemy. I’m a pretty competitive guy, and it’s natural for me to think in an us/them framework. Praise God I’m heading to General Conference empowered by the supernatural. I invite you to join me in submitting to the power of the Holy Spirit. Not to change how you vote necessarily, but to change the way you see those and treat those who vote differently than you. In that way, I believe we can be of one heart.