Beyond Tears to Action

Earlier today, I posted an incredible video from United Methodist Bishop, John Schol of the Greater New Jersey area. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth your time:

As I did briefly this morning, I want to publicly thank Bishop Schol for what he has said here. I believe his tears are real and heartfelt. And I believe, based on what I see here, that Bishop Schol’s heart is broken, as my heart is broken, by the treatment of LGBT people, their straight allies and clergy friends, within the United Methodist Church.

I am sure for many of you, these tears are also very redemptive too. It helps tremendously see to the real feeling here. We at Northaven Church have the blessing of similar tears by multiple United Methodist leaders over the years. These are people who represent the greater UMC, beyond our local church, who were moved to tears as they have heard the stories of the people of Northaven Church.

It was extraordinarily cathartic for those who had never seen such a thing, and I feel certain that Bishop Schol’s video is being heard in much the same way by many people around the connection today.

But as somebody’s already asked on Facebook, “A heartfelt message, but what’s the way forward?”

Let me speak to this briefly now.

Because the way forward must be something beyond tears. It must be something beyond emotion.

The way forward must include bold and quick action on the part of the United Methodist Church and its leadership. While I am grateful to Bishop Schol, and Bishop Johnson for saying trials are not the way forward, it is also not simply enough for trials to stop.

Another way must be found, altogether.

Currently, supportive clergy, churches, and layfolks are left with two options:

a) Follow UMC polity and continue to participate in bringing harm to LGBT brothers and sisters, or
b) Practice “Biblical Obedience” and risk being seen as violating our polity, even as they remain faithful to Jesus.

There must be a third way.

it must include polity changes at least along the lines of “live and let live.” Perhaps something like a “local option,” where churches like Northaven –who are absolutely ready to embrace same sex marriage as a pastoral rite for our members, and gay clergy as their pastors– could have both without fear of penalty or “trial.”

What I am doing here is being bluntly specific about what it will mean to truly be the open and inclusive church we say we want. What it will take is action, by the whole church.

In his video, and speaking directly to LGBT persons, Bishop Schol said this:

“I want you to know that there are United Methodist Churches that have opened their doors widely to you, and are ready to be in ministry with you, and treat you just like everybody else in their church. We want to be in fellowship and ministry with all people, especially our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”

And that is absolutely true. He’s talking about the church I serve, among many others in our Dallas area and across the nation. So, I know that’s a true statement.

But it’s not enough for us to have open congregations, “ready to treat you like everybody else,” because everybody knows that right now, our polity doesn’t. The Schaefer trial brought that painfully home.

Anything less than acceptances of same sex clergy and same sex marriage is not truly a church where “we treat you like everybody else,” and merely perpetuates a system where some of us are unable to fully extent the ministry of Christ in the mission fields to which God has placed us.

In fact, while I appreciate the “shout out” that Bishop Schol gives to Reconciling Congregations, in a sense mentioning them without mentioning real change simply perpetuates the problem we have now. It allows the whole system to say, “Well, there’s churches like Northaven around, so what’s the problem?

I talked to a colleague at a large church in our annual conference earlier this year, and after listening to me complain about this very attitude, he said to me, “Eric, in a sense we all have a problem in that we’re assuming because there are Reconciling Churches, none of the rest of us have to deal with these issues.”

Yes. Precisely. And I’ll go further: Nothing of substance will change until all the other churches and leaders change. Pointing to the fact that “Reconciling churches exist,” or taking comfort in it, does not solve the problem.

Because the truth is, many of us are are doing ministry with one hand tied behind our backs. If we stay true to UMC polity, we are not able to reach out fully to the mission fields God is calling us to, or provide the pastoral support God would expect of us.

Bishop Sally Dyck recently described both this problem, and the way forward, in her blog:

“Not allowing space for people who long for an open church is counter-productive to fulfilling our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ.”

Yes. Precisely. We are failing to reach a significant part of the “mission field” of North America due to our current policies. I will refer you back to this blog I wrote immediately following the presidential election. “What the Presidential Election Should Teach the United Methodist Church.”

The bottom line is that it means Adam Hamilton was right. Unless we change, we’ll lose the next generation of evangelical Christians, and we’ll lose them over our anti-gay policies, not because we change them.

Bishop Dyck said it this way:

“The church and its leaders long for “more people, younger people, and more diverse people.” But with “more people, younger people (and not so young), and more diverse people” come people for whom the matters of human sexuality aren’t a stumbling block in faith but quite the contrary. When we aren’t open and welcoming of all people, our statements on human sexuality are an impediment, causing many within the church to become disappointed in the UMC and to feel that we are being hypocritical in what Jesus would have us be and do. We need space so we can grow and be vital.”

Yes. And, again, amen and amen.

What is needed, and need quickly, is action. What is needed is, to use Bishop Dyck’s words, genuine “space for those who long for an open church.”

So, yes, I am deeply and sincerely moved by the video of Bishop Schol.
But I’ve also personally seen those kinds of genuine and cathartic tears before.

What’s needed is a way forward that is beyond tears to action.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

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