5 Hidden Gems from Global Methodist Meet-Up

UMCwater

A few highlights from the United Methodist Church’s General Convention meeting held last week in Portland, OR. This is the top policy-making body of The United Methodist Church, which convenes once every four years.The conference can revise church law, as well as adopt resolutions on current moral, social, public policy and economic issues. It also approves plans and budgets for church-wide programs.

There was lots of coverage on the sexuality debates (Final: “We’ll talk about this later.”) and they voted on a new hymnal, increased the budget, voted to keep fossil fuels in their investment portfolios (Shame on you! You’re Bill McKibben’s denomination!), and are in the midst of learning how to understand themselves as a global church with significant expansion and leadership in Africa.

But here are 5 items that I found particularly heartening:

1. Hearing the Plea: Safe Water For All

What happens to a community when there is no safe water supply? Look at Flint, Michigan. The lead that has leached from pipes there remains an ongoing concern. “The problem with Flint right now is this is going to be a generation’s long issue,” says Michigan Area Bishop Deborah Kiesey. “The children of Flint, particularly, are the ones most affected by this poor water.”

From Michigan to Liberia, and Portland to Philippines and Honduras, poor and marginalized communities are struggling with water contamination that threatens everyday life. United Methodist Women called attention to their plight during a lunchtime rally on May 16 at the Oregon Convention Center plaza. The event was part of the UMW Day celebration during the United Methodist General Conference.

2. The Church’s Response to Ethnic and Religious Conflict (p 863-864)
Buried in the fine print was a significant change in language on issues of war and peace–the decision to quit using language of “nonresistance” and take up language of “nonviolence.”

“We call upon our seminaries and United Methodist-related
colleges and universities to offer courses on alternatives to violence and to sponsor local community initiatives to diffuse ethnic and religious conflict. We also call on our seminaries to encourage the study of the theological roots of violence and of Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence nonresistance and resisting evil; and …”

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IRD’s Mark Tooley Takes Issue With McKibben on Climate Change

Mark Tooley
The Institute of Religion and Democracy president Mark Tooley, a longtime “opponent” of Sojourners’ Christian mission and also a faithful brother in Christ, has taken issue with my article Why Bill McKibben is the New Noah.

IRD is a conservative religious thinktank noted for its critique of  progressive religious groups as well as for advocating a strong defense of Christian freedom and traditionalist view of scripture as well as a conservative political perspective. Mark has worked at IRD for many years. He’s also a proud Methodist – as is Bill McKibben.

Mark writes:

McKibben’s plan is for all enlightened investors to divest from oil, gas and coal companies, to levy special taxes on energy firms, and to demonstrate against the Keystone Pipeline and development of tar sands oil. Berger admits these acts may not “completely reverse climate change.” But “we’ve got to listen to Noah this time.” After all, remember last time.

It’s nice that Rolling Stone readers were momentarily excited. But getting arrested at anti-pipeline demonstrations will not affect global temperatures. If prophets of climate apocalypse are anywhere near accurate, the global industrial economy would have to grind to a virtual halt before there’s any appreciable impact.

McKibben’s counsel may help stifle economic growth, keep poor people poor, and help corrupt overseas tyrants retain their energy monopoly. It will not affect climate. But it will help yuppy environmentalists feel virtuous at minimal cost to themselves. Didn’t the real Noah demand more?

For Mark, I’d have to say this is as close to a plea for help as I’ve ever heard from him. I agree with him completely that a blip in Twitter after Bill McKibben’s Rolling Stone article does not reverse climate change, nor does risking arrest in front of the White House. But I firmly believe that “acting in hope” and choosing to act “for life,” rather than withdraw in cynicism, will be honored by the Holy Spirit and is a faithful expression of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

As for Mark targeting the emotional life of “yuppy environmentalists” … well, I also agree. People don’t like to sacrifice – especially when they don’t see others around them doing it. And for the U.S. to seriously reduce our dependency on finite energy resources, we need to all sacrifice–starting at the top of the economic pyramid–rather than just making the poorest and the weakest sacrifice.

Besides, if there is one thing that Bill McKibben has made clear, it’s that we can’t get ourselves out of this climate mess by buying a Prius or or recycling. There has to be an international sea change in how we do business or there will be … well, an international sea change.

Mark speculates that the strategy McKibben and others around the world are putting forward to reverse climate change may “stifle economic growth, keep poor people poor, and help corrupt overseas tyrants retain their energy monopoly.” Gee. I sure hope not. But since the current system is doing these things anyway, I’m not sure what we have to lose.

And I’m very clear what we stand to gain: A planet where God’s word can take root in fertile soil and where the rains come in due season; a planet where “they will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9). Thanks, Mark, and peace.

Caf-Pow! NCIS’ Goth Grrrrl on Prayer and God

Here’s yet another reason we love NCIS‘ punk-forensic-grrrrl Abby. She’s Methodist.

NCIS is a classic American “police procedural.” The JAG spin-off is now one of America’s most watched dramas. NCIS’ winning formula involves comic elements, ensemble acting, and character-driven plots.

Like the best detective novels or murder mysteries, it assumes a world of high moral standards and in each episode that world is disrupted by crime and the team works to restore the balance of justice.

Integral to the team is goth, tattooed and pierced Forensic Specialist Abigail “Abby” Sciuto, played by Pauley Perrette. Her skillful acting in this delightful, wicked smart, funny, and powerful role has singlehandedly empowered girls to pursue careers in science. It’s even got a name: The Abby Effect.

“Part of ‘The Abby Effect’ has been this incredible role model for young girls,” she says. “I hear from them or their parents and their grandparents all the time. Some of them started watching the show when they were 12 and now they’re going to college. ‘Abby’ has made it a viable opportunity for them. You can go into science and math. That’s amazing. Women were never encouraged to go into hard science or math. Now there have been girls going into science and math because of a television character,” she says.

Perrette has degrees in sociology, psychology and criminal science. She’s also regularly attends Hollywood United Methodist Church. More recently she’s joined the UMC’s Imagine No Malaria campaign.

Check out the short video below to hear Perrette talk about her relationship with God, how she prays, and what her church community means to her. (A shout-out to Julie for sending this video.)

Pauley Perrette is the narrator of a TV special called Killer in the Dark: An Extraordinary Effort to Combat Malaria. The program documents the daily struggle in Africa against malaria and highlights the work of Imagine No Malaria to wipe out the disease. The program is presented by the National Council of Churches under the auspices of the Interfaith Broadcasting Commission and produced by United Methodist Communications.

The Good Book and Gay Marriage

Bill Wylie-Kellermann

Yesterday in Minneapolis, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) crossed an historic threshold as Presbyterians in the Twin Cities area voted to eliminate all official barriers to the ordination of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people as ministers and lay leaders in their 2.4 million member denomination.  With their vote the Twin Cities Presbyterians were the 87th Presbytery (a regional governing body) to vote yes, giving the denomination the majority of votes needed to approve the landmark change.

In light of this historic event and other debates closer to home, I want to repost a 2008 item below.

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One of my faith heroes and friends, Bill Wylie-Kellermann, a United Methodist serving as pastor at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Detroit, recently engaged in a faith-based debate for Newsweek about what Scripture teaches on same-sex marriage. I found it very insightful. His dialogue partner was Barrett Duke from the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Their online discussion was a follow-up to the Newsweek cover story by Lisa Miller, Our Mutual Joy.

It’s this kind of thoughtful interaction that can help people of faith grow together in Christ—while hopefully (in my opinion) moving us toward a Christian faith that asks about the “content of one’s character,” one’s fidelity to God, and how one manifests God’ love both materially and spiritually to the poor and the least of these, rather than sexual customs or mores.

Another interesting exchange to recommend is Jon Stewart’s interview with Mike Huckabee on social conservatism and gay marriage. Respectful, funny, and enlightening.

Here’s a bit from the Newsweek exchange, but read the whole thing:

Bill Wylie-Kellerman: I found the cover story by Lisa Miller quite good over all, and stimulating, raising a number of things about which I’d like to talk, beginning with the very nature of marriage in church and society. That is actually a matter of some theological confusion. I love the Bible, and stake my life in the biblical witness, and it is that which calls me to the struggle for full inclusion of gay people and their gifts. I know we disagree.

Barrett Duke: Greetings. I look forward to our conversation. This is a very important topic, not only for the church but also for our culture. I believe Christians must submit to the Bible’s teachings, and I believe the Bible is unequivocal in its teaching that homosexual behavior is sinful. That being the case, it is impossible for me to accept same-sex marriage, which legitimizes a sinful behavior.

I think Lisa Miller’s NEWSWEEK article was atrocious. It was obviously biased in its attitude from the start. It is evident to me that Lisa already had her mind made up and was simply interested in trying to convince her readers that she was right. Of course, she is within her right to do that, but she was hardly honest in her treatment of the Bible in the process. She dismissed it without even giving it opportunity to speak. Her comment, “Religious objections to gay marriage are rooted not in the Bible at all, then, but in custom and tradition …” was offensive and uninformed. My objections to same-sex marriage are very much rooted in the Bible. If NEWSWEEK actually intended to be an honest mediator of this issue, they should have published pro and con articles by respected Bible scholars rather than engage in such blatantly obvious opinion journalism.

Wylie-Kellerman: By laying out a clear argument, public conversations are invited. I also know it was a great breath of air for gay folks to read a theologically literate argument on their behalf. They are so constantly hit over the head with Scripture, to which we must surely come.

Ms. Miller called the mix of civil and religious elements of marriage an often “messy conflation of the two.” I agree. On the one hand, a marriage is a civil contract between two people and the state with certain rights, responsibilities and privileges implied. On the other, it is also often an act of worship between two people before God, surrounded by prayer and support from a worshiping community and with the presence of ongoing pastoral care. It seems to me only over the former that the state should have authority. In the Episcopal Church, for example, marriage is one of the sacraments. In Methodism, it is a service of worship. This means we have the intrusion and participation of the state in a sacramental act of worship. That’s more than messy.

Duke: I’m sure some considered the article a “breath of air,” but they have not been well served. It is not a theologically literate argument. It didn’t even deal with many of the key Bible passages. Reading Ms. Miller’s article, one could get the impression that the New Testament is silent about the subject of homosexuality, which of course it certainly is not. Furthermore, my objections to same-sex marriage are not based solely on the Bible’s teachings. The Bible informs my opinion about this issue, but the question I think we are trying to answer is, what does God have to say about this? It is clear that the Bible condemns homosexual behavior. Since I believe that the Bible is God’s word, and I have good reason for this belief, then it must mean that God condemns homosexual marriage, so the Bible cannot be used to help create an argument for same-sex marriage. Whether one wants to create a nonreligious, i.e., civil, marriage or not, it doesn’t change what is the clear biblical teaching about homosexual behavior.

Wylie-Kellerman: I want to go forward here speaking out of the conversation which I hear going on in Scripture, one pertinent to the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people. The direct sanctions in the Levitical code against male homosexual acts arise during the period of the exile. They are part of the purity code that set boundaries against assimilation into Babylon. Much of those laws concern dietary restrictions. Think Daniel and Meshach and friends and their refusal to consume the imperial diet. The boundaries of the community are being proscribed and protected by the code. As I understand it, the body itself becomes the image of community. So all of the body’s entry and exit points, all orifices are regulated: what goes in as resistance to the empire—like kosher table—has served Judaism’s cultural identity throughout the Diaspora. By the time of Jesus, however, these boundaries had been turned on their sides. The purity code was turned against women, the sick and disabled, and poor people. They were the unclean.

At great personal cost, Jesus set about in his life and ministry to welcome the unclean into his community and to his table. He violated the purity code with his body, even finally on the cross. In the Book of Acts (chapter 10), the Holy Spirit urges Peter in a vision to eat unclean foods, and he says that would be an “abomination.” Precisely so. But the Spirit persists, and he accedes, which really means he is able to welcome and eat with a gentile, Cornelius, otherwise unclean, then on his way to visit. St. Paul spends a lot of his correspondence thinking this through in writing about the law (more than the purity code, but really set in motion by its stricture). For him the issue is whether the “wall of hostility” (Ephesians) would run down the middle of the common table, even the communion table, dividing Jews and gentiles in the Christian community. In the church, the movement is toward fuller and deeper inclusion. It is that which culminates in Paul saying there is neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female for we are all one in Christ. In the context of the American freedom struggle, this was understood by the church (sometimes poorly and certainly belatedly) to imply, there is neither black nor white. Today I hear the summons to say, in Christ, there is neither gay nor straight.

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