A Pastoral Response to the Events in Charlottesville

Dear Lovers Lane Family,

This letter is a pastoral response to the white supremacist gatherings and domestic terror attack in Charlottesville, as well as the increasingly heated conversation around racism and Confederate memorials.

First, I want to say that we must know and be thankful that we, through our mission of “Loving ALL,” have a message we have been given by the Holy Spirit to proclaim and live out. Friday, Aug. 11, I was on vacation but couldn’t stay away from our children’s musical, Created in His Image. I wish the whole world could have been there seeing and hearing our kids. Racially and culturally our children were like a beautiful tapestry, represented by their colorful presence and in their words of song. Their message was that we are all created as sisters and brothers in the image of God.

The scene in Charlottesville that Friday evening deeply saddened me. The images of young white men carrying torches and Nazi flags, yelling racial epithets and white supremacist chants, quite frankly, disgusted me. As news broke on Saturday of a white supremacist driving his car through a crowd of protesters in an act of domestic terrorism, I was heartbroken, not only for the family of 32-year old Heather Heyer who was killed, but also for the 19 persons injured. I was also saddened for the misguided haters and for our country, which continues to wrestle with the evils of racism, white supremacy, and violence.

As the pastor of our diverse congregation, and with deep East Texas roots, I have witnessed first-hand the realities of racism that are felt even today by women and men of color. Truth be known, few of us who are white can say we have not engaged in racist thoughts and actions, or benefitted from a culture that favors some of us over others of color. What we witnessed in Charlottesville is racism in the extreme, which sadly goes on elsewhere in our country and in our greater world. We must stand against hate, whether it be extreme or moderate, even as we repent and pray that God will “perfect us in love” and rid us of any racist thought or tendency.

I’m not there yet, are you?

Through a vote of its city council, Charlottesville moved to relocate a statue honoring Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and to rename a park that bore his name to be “Emancipation Park”. Many other cities, including Dallas, are finding statues of persons representing the cruel and deadly Civil War of 150 years ago becoming the focus of controversy. More city councils will be voting to move, sell or even destroy such statues. I am definitely in favor for a rally against racism, but I am concerned that focusing on statues can become a deterrent from the deeper problem, which is not primarily the “hot-button” statues, but the racism that for many, they represent. It would be tragic to me if we thought that the removal of Confederate statues will make everything right and good and Godly. Let us not be deceived, issues of race relations, hate and harm, are much bigger and deeper than the largest General Lee statue in the land.

Even as the racists, Nazis, and white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville, they did so under the guise that they were protesting the removal of a statue. They were not: It was a rally packed with agenda. They said they were protesting out of love for their country, but were they? I doubt it. They gathered out of deep hatred for our black, brown, and Jewish brothers and sisters. They gathered to show power and inspire fear and violence in Charlottesville and cities all across our country.

Dallas is one of many cities facing the issue of what to do with Confederate memorials and legacy names throughout our parks, buildings, schools, and other public spaces. I want to say that history is of incredible value to any country that wishes to learn from its past mistakes and successes, but what some may see as a somber memorial, others see as revisionist celebration of a dark time in our past. Some have elevated these statues to a position of idolatry, and we ought to remember that as U.S. citizens, the only flag that unites is not the “stars and bars” but the 50 stars and 13 stripes of Old Glory. The only monument that we gather around as Christians is that of the cross of Christ. My mentor used to say, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross of Jesus.” In other words, everyone, “ALL,” are those for whom Christ died and offered his redeeming love. Inclusion and acceptance was not an idea that WE came up with, but one that GOD created and punctuated with the Cross.

While we find a way forward as a city to both remember our history in a proper light, and create a city today that is welcoming to ALL who call Dallas home, I want to remind us that the statues are not, in and of themselves, the larger disease of racism. We must not be satisfied with simply moving monuments to museums, or even beating them into rubble, we must work tirelessly to continue bridging the divides that weaken us as a Greater Dallas community. At Lovers Lane, we will continue to seek reconciliation. We have one of the most diverse congregations in our denomination, and yet we have a horizon dream of not simply being diverse, but becoming a “sacred blend” of all God’s children as we, side by side and hand in hand, do mission and ministry, worship and celebrate, break bread together and fellowship around tables that are extensions of the Lord’s Table at which ALL are welcome. Let us hold fast to this dream, let us pray fervently for God’s spirit to continue his work in us, and let us stand boldly for racial reconciliation, not only at Lovers Lane, but throughout this city and the world.

It’s All the Same Water

Preachers spend a lot of time preparing primary messages for our congregations on Sunday. In the summer people are coming and going. Joy Comes serves as a way of me sharing what is on my mind to a congregation that is always on my heart.
We are in a sermon series entitled “Then and Now” that was the catalyst for me starting my blogging adventure. I want to be so bold as to offer my sermon on July 23 as my verbal blog.  I would appreciate hearing from those of you who take time to hear from me.

Who Are We

Joy Comes when a congregation stands united through a hopeful proclamation as Lovers Lane has through the years. Through that time, some people have come and gone; and people leaving the family can be painful. We must remember, however, where we have come from in order to know where we are going.

In 1945, our second year of existence, the first people to leave Lovers Lane left over a disagreement about “whether or not to allow alcoholics in the church.” For those dealing with alcohol addiction in the 1940s, the church was a welcoming place; today, 900 people come to our campus each week, working on recovery from alcohol and other addictions.

In 1960, there were those who left, even walked out of worship, when Ms. Bernice Jones, an African American woman, walked down the aisle to join our congregation. Today, on any given Sunday, more than 300 people from a dozen African nations call Lovers Lane “our family.”

In 1995, two gay fathers had their two daughters baptized, marked with the waters of God’s first love, and people left. These men remain members and their daughters are beautiful, wonderful, strong, young ladies whose experience of church was one of an accepting “family.”

Today we have several families with two dads or two moms, and baptism is celebrated for all. Our longstanding welcome of ALL people continues. People come and go, but our congregation stands united, and people come because of “who we are.”

As I have reminded you for the past six years, approximately 70 percent of our new members are coming by profession of faith through the same waters of baptism, which is a symbol not only of God’s unconditional love of ALL people, but the unifying mark we all have in common. Most often these new family members are younger, and many are refugees from conflict-ridden countries. Others are “church refugees” from congregations that never welcomed them, wouldn’t make a place for them, and in some cases, even told them to leave. The love and acceptance of this congregation has taught me much and is still teaching me that our mission, “Loving ALL people into relationship with Jesus Christ” must always be what unites us. “Loving All” is who we are.

As your pastor, I have never believed our identity and “who we are” needed to be determined by our involvement in a group. I have experienced these groups as primarily political expressions that function like caucuses within our denomination; i.e. Reconciling Ministries Network, Methodist Federation for Social Action on the “left,” and Wesleyan Covenant Association (and its other three verses — The Houston Declaration, Memphis Declaration, and Confessing Movement) bringing up the “right.”

I have friends who associate with these groups, and unfortunately it does not seem to make us more “united”; it often seems to instill the “us” and “them” mentality of a secular society and worldly, divisive, culture.  I have always believed our strength, as United Methodists is not our sameness.  This sometimes is frustrating to me because I want people to “believe like I do.”  Our strong point is in our eclectic plurality regarding theology, culture, and what it means to live out our United Methodist mission, “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

If who we are is dependent upon determining who is inside our circle of common believers, our homogeny, then we can never draw the circle small enough.  If we say, these people are out today, and then other people will be out tomorrow.   The masses of people on the outside, want nothing to do with the inside of a church, because they see us as hypocritical and far from “transforming the world.”  The church must not be transformed by the world and its divisive, exclusive, ways. The world hungers for love, acceptance, joy and a deep-seeded happiness.  Lovers Lane, may we always be known by our name “love,” our radical acceptance, and our striving to create a culture of joy in life-together.

Let’s Talk Unity

“Joy Comes” will be a blog that alludes to the passage of scripture in Psalm 35:4, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Joy Comes will be about hope — which seems elusive at this time — for unity within the United Methodist Church “family.” This hope comes through the “weeping” for some sisters and brothers who have conceded to “amicable separation” as what they may be praying for. Therefore, the greatest hope with some in our larger family is a peaceful division of the denomination. Much like the church split in 1844 over the single issue of slavery and the complicated ethical and political issues in the country surrounding this matter, we now come to the brink of separation again, this time regarding homosexuality.

My hope is higher than division; and my excitement for a stronger, more focused denomination comes through my pastoral experience with YOU — Lovers Lane United Methodist Church. So, let’s talk.

Joy Comes will be written as, “Pastor to beloved congregation.” Lovers Lane United Methodist Church, for the past 20 years I have been blessed by God in pastoring YOU. God has taught me so much and is still teaching me, through service with one another in this 73-year-old church family. My prayer is that Joy Comes will not be experienced as a “bully pulpit” or “preachy.” I do not want it to come across as having a corner on the correct approach. Rather, I aspire to write in a testimonial way, to hopefully be helpful to our congregation of United Methodists here in Dallas as we navigate through a journey as a denomination.

Lovers Lane, we are surely not a people of one mind, but we must continue to be a people of one heart.

 

We will stand united, no matter what the denomination does, if we have the spiritual maturity to realize that we do not all have to believe alike, vote alike, look alike, or live alike, but we do all have to love alike — like our Lord and Savior, Jesus. Be reminded that we state in our congregational vision why we exist, and that is to be “One diverse community, passionately engaging the Bible, uplifting Jesus in worship and loving service and challenging in love that which divides.” Moreover, is not there plenty in our culture today that divides? Does that make us “right” or “left” “conservative” or “progressive”? The answer is “yes,” and this is the key to our unity.

May we never be a congregation that is brought to our knees by a culture that would have us bow at the altar of “homogeny,” or continue to disobey and disavow our Book of Discipline, or accept division as our only way forward. Joy Comes will aspire to be a conversation grounded in the belief that God will reveal for United Methodists a “more excellent way” forward. Join weekly in our discussion, and if you think our conversation is helpful, share it with others, and invite them to eavesdrop, or even join.

Our Lovers Lane mantra is “ALL are welcome,” and in that spirit let us not just talk, but let’s talk unity and pray for it, too.