The “Endy” Plan: Critique Part 2

The “ENDY” PLAN

“Before ending the United Methodist Church as we have known it, Central Conference representation at the table is essential in developing `the plan’ forward”

             The hope is that those who were at the Indy Plan table will acknowledge the need for broader involvement and more voices speaking into their work.  I trust they are aware of this need and agree.  I want to thank those who in good faith have worked together to bring about The Indy Plan.  Furthermore, let me be very clear, those who have been pushing for dissolution, and brought it to the table in Indianapolis I do not see as “bad people” or even “foes.”  To the contrary, these are faithful, loving, committed United Methodist colleagues—sisters and brothers with whom we still share in the UMC connection.  In fact, I have loved and respected many of the people in these conservative coalition groups for years, and in their Christo-centric approach to our mission statement, I am lockstep with them.  On needing to be more focused on the mission of “making disciples…” and “transforming the world…” all for Jesus sake, we must go forward singularly focused, even if our ways are separate. 

             The Indy Plan was an attempt to bring to the table selected people who identify as Centrists, Progressives and Traditionalists.  It is true that no one who identifies as LGBTQ, and no Central Conference representation was at the table.  The vast majority of United Methodists in the US and globally do not want to dissolve and dismantle the UMC, which would disrupt (if not destroy) the mission worldwide and negatively impact our global momentum.  The question some in our Central Conferences are raising, and well they should, is “why,” if the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) and related groups won the day in St. Louis (only by mobilizing the Central Conferences), are they working so hard to become another expression of The United Methodist Church?

             We must all be cautious because trust has long since been eroded in this decades long struggle.  It needs to be named that dissolution is a longstanding goal of the Institute of Religion and Democracy (The IRD, though not explicitly at the table in Indianapolis, is very involved). The IRD’s work with the UMC’s conservative coalition is not at all unlike what they worked toward in the dismantling of the Episcopalian and Presbyterian denominations in the US over similar issues of human sexuality.  The United Methodist Church is much larger than either of these denominational expressions and our global outreach from a US base is much more extensive.  Comparatively this makes a dissolution and dismantling much more costly and destructive to the cause for Christ worldwide.  The splintering of the Episcopal and Presbyterian denominations may very well lead to their ceasing to exist in the near future.   The Anglican periodical Covenant reports the following:

“Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) faces many challenges, notably over gender (whether to accept woman clergy) in ministry and how its various traditions relate to one another. As the time lengthens since the break with The Episcopal Church, the unity evoked by having a common opponent may lessen and have less ability to hold ACNA together… Conversely, it faces the delicate question of how it relates to the polarized America of Donald Trump. Navigating the waters of popular culture can make navigating ecclesial division feel tame in comparison.”

             The popular culture, and younger generations that make up this demographic, are the very people we are called to “disciple,” not fight.  The ACNA (Anglicans in the US) are but 134,000 members nationally, which is nearly identical to the North Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.  An Anglican priest once warned me, “Beware, when you start drawing the circles smaller and smaller, you can’t get them small enough.” 

             In my last article, I began a critique of the centering points of the Indy Plan, which I will continue here. I resume with the eighth point (all bolded text is quoted from the Indy Plan):

8. All expressions would develop a new General Conference, with its own Book of Discipline, structures, polity, and finances. Would someone explain how creating a new General Conference and new Books of Discipline is not dissolving what we have now?  Why else would everyoneneed something new unless what was once there is no more?  Am I missing something?  I get that the Boards and Agencies remain intact legally, but aren’t some separate corporations for the most part anyway?  If they are tied to the UMC entity and it all but goes away then what does this do to their status. I used to be more trusting, regarding church matters, but I’ve seen how this usually works. I have heard conservative coalition leaders say, “We already have our new Book of Discipline, structures, polity and finances 85% complete.” There are many questions concerning whether the new expression will be more “congregational” or “connectional.”  Would the new expression really want, or need bishops?  On the other hand, the new centrist/progressive branch of the former United Methodist Church could move forward with plans to delete the language that has dominated our conferencing and made it far from “holy” for many decades. We all agree that OUR Book of Discipline needs simplifying, streamlining and a close examination of polity and finances. The contentious environment in our church has stalled and thwarted this good and needed work for years.  We have been worse than the US Congress.

9. Annual conferences in the U.S. would decide by majority vote with which expression to align. Annual conferences choosing not to make a decision would become part of the new Centrist/Progressive UMC by default.   (Same conclusion for #11 regarding local churches)Whether realignment happens at the Annual Conference level or the Local Church level the bar should be intentionally high.  Who would ever want to move a local church in the direction of a major decision with a “simple majority?”  Shouldn’t we expect a 75% approval rate on big, visionary decisions? Our Boards of Ministry require a 75% affirmative vote on our ministry candidates.  An Annual Conference should have a very high bar to realign with another expression apart from the United Methodist Church. It takes a 60% vote to elect a bishop. 

10. Central Conferences would decide by majority vote with which expression to align or to become an autonomous Methodist church. Central conferences choosing not to make a decision would become part of the Traditionalist UMC by default. Annual conferences outside the U.S. could decide by majority vote to align with a different expression than their central conference. How many representatives from Central Conferences were there at the table in producing the Indy Plan? The answer: NONE. A high bar of realigning should also be encouraged for Central Conferences, too, but Central Conferences would be the best to decide their standards of realigning.  Central Conferences should determine their own default and the Annual Conferences within them, given they are already granted polity and structural autonomy, and they may or may not believe it necessary to realign with the new Traditionalist expression.  I would think that many Central Conference leaders would want to align with the General Board of Global Ministries and the predominance of churches that have been faithful in apportionment payouts and many other projects, but I dare not assume when the stakes are this high. Central Conference delegates, leaders and bishops, not a group of US church leaders presuming to think and speak for our Central Conferences that are very diverse, should decide whatever would be concluded on this matter.  There is a link below to a map that shows the annual conferences that are most faithfully paying apportionments to support the Central Conferences.

11. See #9

12. Clergy would decide with which expression to align. By default, they would remain part of their annual conference in whichever expression their annual conference affiliates, unless they request to affiliate with a different expression. Clergy also will need to go where there are appointments available too. Where will retired pastors align to ensure their pensions are faithfully paid? Will there be adequate places for women and clergy of color in all of the expressions?  I would hope so, but this is a concern in playing with a “congregational” approach.

13. Bishops would decide with which expression to align. By default, they would remain part of the Centrist/Progressive UMC, unless choosing to align with a different expression. Service as active bishops in each of the new expressions would depend upon the provisions adopted by that expression.  The Indy Plan ends with the discussion of bishops, proposing to have bishops stay in place with the waving of the mandatory retirement (20).  It is highly predicted that the Traditionalist expression would need few or no bishops, even though there are a few who might seek the new expression, and that would be probably satisfactory to all involved.  This plan also calls for delaying the election of bishops from July 2020, which in all likelihood will mean electing nearly all centrist and progressive bishops across the Jurisdictions.  There is a link below to a map that shows every US jurisdiction with a super-majority of centrist/progressive delegates for 2020.

             The rest of the Indy Plan deals with pensions and the assigning of liability (14), Annual Conferences and local congregations beginning August 2020 in their new expressions (15), establishing Wespath, UMCOR, UMW, and the United Methodist Publishing House as independent corporations (16), all other agencies becoming part of the Centrist/Progressive UMC (17), funding continuing for Central Conferences through 2024 (18), and then we get to the MAIN concern, a process and principles for dividing general church assets would be adopted by General Conference, to be implemented by an arbitration board (19).  

             Many think we are playing with fire in messing with “the money” regarding pension funding and how pension liabilities can be enforced.  The rest of the Indy Plan is about separating out the agencies and boards that the new Traditionalist expression wants nothing to do with, but there is still one exception: the money.  Again, the overall poorest payout of apportionments comes from the local churches, annual conferences, and jurisdictions where the Traditional Plan’s support in the US is strongest.  It still baffles many Centrists and Progressives desiring NOT to dissolve the church that there is such a desire for the money and assets that are established around Board and Agency functions, much of which Traditionalists have not believed in nor supported. 

             Why would the conservative coalition want not only a nearly disregard of the trust clause (which was put in place largely to avert exiting the denomination), but also desire significant money and assets?  This is especially odd given the money and assets were given for and are aligned with, ministry and mission some of which they have largely opposed and want nothing or little to do with going forward into their new expression (according to the Indy Plan)? One answer may be that there is no way to fulfill promises of support to continue the Central Conference funding in areas where the UMC is growing and the need for funding is greatest, unless they can secure a significant amount of the money and assets.  Certainly, Centrists and Progressives also want to participate with our global sister and brother United Methodists in church growth and development worldwide and have given very generously to this end for decades.  Cannot we at least be honest about how greed and quest for control has brought about a spirit that is detestable?

             Sadly, many of the tactics and strategies (which I have witnessed first-hand) used by the conservative coalition to garner General Conference votes from our global sister and brother delegates has been unethical at least and in some cases dehumanizing.   This approach of the past is exactly why a broad table being formed and everything being on “top” of the table in forming the New Plan is essential.  So much time, so much money, so much energy has been expended to keep the Book of Discipline language regarding human sexuality exclusive.  Ultimately what we ALL have to show for our longstanding battle is a declining US expression of United Methodism and a church on the brink of being dissolved altogether and dismantled.  Yes, we all see the need for major changes, but only a minority voice in the US on the “far right” and “far left” has spoken about dissolution of the UMC as the solution, and hopefully we are all reaching agreement that this is not the voice of the future.

             If we asked all United Methodist worldwide if we should cease to exist as a denomination over our disagreements regarding homosexuality, it would be an overwhelmingly, “NO” vote.  And this majority voice would be vast, theologically diverse, and beautifully global—a true portrait of The United Methodist Church.Some may choose to leave, but the church that does so much good in making disciples, bringing emergency assistance, administering health measures worldwide, transforming the world, MUST NOT DISSOLVE.  The Indy Plan creators say that it “does not dissolve the United Methodist Church” and in coming days, when legal minds weigh in on whether it does or doesn’t really dissolve the church. The Indy Plan creators will be held accountable for this promise.  God intends to do a new thing, despite our “kicking at the goads” (Acts 26:14).   

             There are other plans emerging, some of these discussions being led by Central Conference Bishops and leadership representing great diversity and with those representing the Indy Plan.  The Indy Plan, if it is truly not about a form of dissolution is not wasted work, and may very well advance the conversation.  We will be only served well by a plan that is not void of Central Conference and greater diversity in its formation.  Developing the Indy Plan or any plan, and immediately going out to “sell it” to Central Conference delegates as “the way forward” is a step backward.  For these reasons and more, the Indy Plan at best must lay on the broadly set table beside other plans for consideration.  Together those at the table would bring about The Plan that will help us avert another GC 2019 and sincerely bless those who truly want to go on their way.  And John Wesley said at the very END of his life, on his deathbed in fact, “And the best of all is, God is with us.”  And this truth should give us squabbling Wesleyan’s hope.  God have mercy on us.

Rev. Dr. Stan Copeland

Part I : Dissolution is No Solution

“A respectful and responsible, yet pointed critique of the Indianapolis Plan”

             Like many in the “center” of United Methodism I have been taken aback by some of the Mainstream UMC articles as being somewhat abrasive. These feelings have been more about style, than about questioning the “hard truth” the articles have uplifted. The last article exposed the tactics and strategies of the “conservative coalition” (WCA, Confessing Movement, Good News, and IRD), and sadly I vouch for the accuracy.  All this aside, it is time those of us who are declared now to be Centrists (both center right and center left), thought to be the largest group of United Methodists, we `compatibilists’ need to speak out and request a hearing.

             I think most United Methodists are sadly resolved to the fact that there will be a split in our beloved denomination. Keeping the divide hopefully to a “split” and not a “splintering”, or “disintegration”, is our collective prayer. The preface to the Indianapolis Plan (Indy Plan) states well our collective desire to “move away from the vitriol and caustic atmosphere” in the United Methodist Church and “move into a new season where for the sake of Christ we strive to bless one another.” The bottom-line hope for all of us is to “send one another into our respective mission fields to multiply our witness for the sake of Christ.”

             Respectfully and responsibly, one should ask, “Who represents the `we’ referred to in the Indy Plan?” Is there any good reason for those who put the Indy Plan together to not be formally identified? The names that are missing are the ones who perhaps are not as happy with the process, or the result. It should be general knowledge by now that there was not a consensus bringing the Indy Plan to the table. It is nearly admitted that the Indy Plan starting point is a fleshing out of the Jones/Bard Plan, which clearly is a “dissolution plan.” And just what does dissolution mean? A friend of mine said it well recently and as poignantly as I have heard, “I have heard dissolution used by people recently as, (1) removing or suspending the Trust Clause, so that individual churches (and annual conferences) can depart with their bank accounts and property intact; (2) separating from the Reform and Renewal Coalition; (3) dissolving the United Methodist Church and starting completely from scratch; (4) some combination of all of the above.”

             Let us be clear about the reason the conservative coalition (those not desiring to stay connected to a church that changes the official stance on all matters regarding homosexuality) is pushing so hard for dissolution. It is because they are the main group wanting to leave but believe that they cannot afford to look like they want to leave. In fact, it has been clearly stated by even some of our more conservative pastors that they are not willing to (or don’t think they can) lead their congregations into an exit of the denomination to join another one. This necessitates the dissolving of the denomination in the minds of some, so the push is for “we all have to leave” whether we want to or not. The pressure for dissolution has only intensified with the US delegate elections (70+ percent of US delegates identify as centrist/progressive), saying loudly and clearly to the world and the “global church” the US church is at a different place than it had been postured by the leadership in the conservative coalition. Even the more traditional leaning “Compatibilists” (who, like myself are more theologically conservative but not willing to leave the denomination over matters regarding homosexuality) do not want to see the UMC dissolve. Also, many of our Central Conference leaders see the peril and chaos in the dissolution and consequent dismantling of the UMC.

             It is regrettable to have to say that the Indy Plan’s pie-in-the-sky, nonchalant portrayal of dividing up assets, and how that could be done smoothly, is totally naïve. The legal wrangling of redistributing funds, especially those intended to be redirected from the clear purposes the funds were given for, would make our skirmishes of the past decades look like holding hands and eating ice cream. Make no mistake about it, the reason that a “clean exit” is being contemplated is that the US church leaders supporting the Traditional Plan, many of whom ironically have not supported much of what the funds were given for, do not want to leave the table without a financial share. Many believe this to be akin to a “money grab”. We all know what the Lord and the Bible says about money, and we can take those words “to the bank” as the process of seeking a way forward plays out. Let’s be clear, largely underlying the Indianapolis Plan and the drafters’ discussion has been and is about assets and the money.

             It is general knowledge that a “plan to exit” was already in place on the part of conservative coalition, if the One Church Plan had been the decision of the General Conference in St. Louis. There are a few “progressives” who want to dissolve the denomination and have their own expression of United Methodism.  This group needs to be clear that having “progressives leave” has been the hope, plan and prayer for the conservative coalition for at least two decades. The thought was that if the progressives, as small as they were thought to be, would simply leave, then all of the church’s “problems” regarding “homosexuality” would go away. The fallacy of this thinking was that the remaining United Methodists would somehow be of one mind, which we never have been. Sadly, but absolutely, there have been many questions on the part of conservatives as to whether “Progressives” in the UMC are really Christians. Talking points regarding isolated seminary professors’ actions and singled out pastors’ statements regarding “Christology” have been favorite go-to examples meriting the “non-Christian” label.  As a Wesleyan Evangelical pastoring a theologically diverse congregation, I can say this negative characterization of our “progressive” brothers and sisters is hurtful and unfair.

             Envisioning a church “sharing a common heritage from the roots of Methodism, unbound from the conflict that decimated the UM Church,”was the underlying hope of the One Church Plan supporters, and the Connectional Conference Plan supporters. The late Dr. William H. Hinson at the General Conference in Pittsburgh first stated, “Releasing one another for joyful obedience to Christ’s call on our lives,” clearly and publicly in 2004. However, the statement was in hopes of finding a way for the Progressives to exit.

             Let all be informed that the Indy Plan was primarily brought to the table by official members of the conservative coalition and is a version of the Jones/Bard Plan that is absolutely and unapologetically a “dissolution plan.” Following are the points uplifted by the Indy Plan that will be critiqued and pointedly questioned to test the claim of not being a dissolution plan. It’s been my experience that when persons or groups go out of their way to say what something “is not” it usually IS at least a version of what is being denied.

1. The 2020 General Conference of the United Methodist Church would birth a Traditionalist United Methodist Church and a Centrist/Progressive United Methodist Church. (Names are placeholders; each new denomination would choose their own name. Both can use “The United Methodist Church” with a modifier to distinguish the two if they so desire) If the Indy Plan is NOT a move to dissolve the denomination, then why could not the United Methodist Church General Conference 2020 simply birth a new expression—a Traditionalist United Methodist Church. This is what, prior to St. Louis, the leadership of the conservative coalition had wanted and had worked diligently on. This group claims to have already drafted most of their new Book of Discipline. With as many paid staff members employed by Good News, Confessing Movement, IRD and other groups who are part of this coalition, thorough planning around the “what if we lose” was absolutely done. Winning the day in St. Louis through strategies that worked masterfully makes even their once-thought-to-be “good exit plans” look like leaving power and money on the table. However, this necessitating ALL of us leaving smacks of “saving face” and not anything for “Jesus’ sake.”

2. The United Methodist Church would not be dissolved but would have its legal continuation through the Centrist/Progressive United Methodist Church. If this is NOT dissolution, then why cannot the Centrist/Progressive branch that would be the “legal” continuation and be responsible for the boards and agencies be The United Methodist Church? What if those of us as the Centrists right, Centrists left, Progressives and most in the Central Conferences like the name United Methodist Church? Why couldn’t we have the name? The answer is obvious, allowing such a sensible retaining of the name would mean we didn’t really dissolve and that which is “United Methodist” branded would not be up for grabs and division. Remember that it is a perceived “negative” for those who really want to dissolve being seen as the only ones leaving and believe they cannot afford to be seen as the group that left. As we know, the “United” part of our denomination’s name speaks primarily to our historic uniting with the Evangelical United Brethren and the Methodist Church. The United Methodist Church name speaks to this 1968 union not necessarily the state of “unity”. Our name should not be lost or changed without serious consideration given to its origin.

3. The Traditionalist UMC would be a global denomination that would maintain the current stance of the Discipline regarding the practice of homosexuality. So be it.

4. The Centrist/Progressive UMC would be a global denomination that would remove the “incompatibility” language, prohibitions against same-sex weddings and the ordination and appointment of self-avowed practicing homosexuals, and the funding restrictions on the promotion of the acceptance of homosexuality for its US-based annual conferences.Of course, this is clearly a matter that primarily impacts the US annual conferences. Why would not the US be its own Central Conference or Regional Conference? The United Methodist Church would continue to function as a global church of Regional Conferences coming together in a General Conference and in the mission field for the purpose of making Disciples of Jesus Christ and transforming the world through our collaborative and cooperative ministry.

             Who among us does not know that the United Methodist Church as we have known it will never be again as it has been in the past? There is a need for many good and positive changes to be made to further our missional outreach. We can also be big and broad enough to bless those who cannot continue in a connection with those United Methodists who desire and insist on more inclusion and justice for LGBTQ persons. Both changes and blessing of exits can be done without dissolving a denomination that desires to continue the work of Disciple making and ministries of justice and mercy in our quest to transform the world for Jesus’ sake.

A Response to Las Vegas

The ONE Concert was a beautiful celebration Sunday evening of World Communion. We, at Lovers Lane, were called together by the Crosswalk Worship community and led by our Modern Worship Band.

From its beginning days 16 years ago, Crosswalk has been about bringing ALL people together, and that spirit has grown into our mission of “Loving All people into relationship with Jesus Christ”. Cosmopolitan Church, Real Hope Church, our own Zimbabwean and Deaf Fellowships, along with our Modern Worship Band, led us to the Lord’s Table, which was beautifully set for all of us. The bread and wine were lifted up and called us through the Lord’s Prayer to the Table. We were black and white, young and old, Baptist and Methodists, gay and straight, seekers and believers; and Jesus set the Table.

The music took us to a level of worship that was so filled with the Spirit, so full of love. From the luring of the horn to the rhythm of the drums, from the beat of the bass to the strum of the guitars, we were drawn in close to the Lord’s Table and to one another. The voices of choral groups and the band, the signing of grace by our Deaf members and the sign choir, all lifted our hearts to experience being ONE in Christ. We were all hungry for unity, for walls to come down, for hugs to go out, and for the taste of God’s Love in the sweetness of the wine and bread. And we were fed. No one went away hungry. I kept hearing the words of the Psalmist ringing in my ear, “Taste and see that the Lord is good; oh the joys of those who take refuge in Him.” Ps. 34:8

In the waning hours of World Communion Sunday night, another act of insane, indiscriminate gun-violence in our land rained down death and injury. How can anyone reach a point in life to desire to bring about so much death? How can we, the church, rest, when so much transforming is needed? For those who would say it was God’s will, or in some way this act fit into God’s purpose, I would say, “Not my God’s will or purpose.”

My God cried, as people died, some even while saving others. My God loved us enough to give us freedom to make choices but shuddered again Sunday night at the capacity that His creation has to embrace so much evil and destruction. God stood Sunday night as Light, brighter than the billion lights of the city, ready to illumine the darkness, and on guard to redeem the worst of circumstances. My God, who is good all the time, will raise the dead to new life and heal the broken hearted.

God can move us to the place to stand for right and good, love, and peace and the work of being peacemakers. We never know when we stand next to one filled with so much hate that she, or he, would take life from a sister or brother. We often stand by those broken and wounded in spirit. This reality makes so important our work of singing about God’s love and amazing grace. It makes essential our getting beyond who people are and where they come from to say, “You are welcome at this table. Our God invites us all, and turns no one away.” Christ’s Body and Blood were shed as an act of unconditional love that has the power to change us and make us new. Is there any doubt about this good news needing to be heard by many?

As our hearts break for others, may we take refuge in “tasting and seeing that the Lord is good…” Let us pray for our sisters and brothers of Las Vegas and across this country, who grieve and are weeping. May we be reminders of God’s love and proclaimers that “Joy comes in the morning.”

I Shall Not Want

Dear Lovers Lane Family,

Last Month, Tammy and I had the joy of our daughter, Emily’s, wedding, which was all we hoped it would be and more. Seeing my daughter for the first time in her wedding dress in our Sanctuary was one of the most joyous experiences of my life. Walking her down the aisle of the Shipp Chapel and joining her hand to Jonathan “JB” Bryant’s hand in marriage was amazingly surreal. We are so proud of them and count ourselves as most blessed by God who made us in the image of his love and sanctified the gift of marriage.

Behind the scenes for 20 months we have prayed and hoped against hope that my Mom, who battles Parkinson’s Disease daily as she has for nearly 30 years, could attend. Mom and Dad not only attended the wedding, where she was able to be wheeled down the aisle, proud as a peacock, to watch her youngest grandchild get married, but she attended the rehearsal dinner the night before and the reception after the wedding. At the reception, they won the prize as Dad wheeled her on to the dance floor and they danced, as well as they could, as the couple who had been married the longest — 60 years. They were so happy, and all of us, family and friends alike, were all smiles, too. All that we had hoped for, and more, was realized and them being recognized was like the icing on the wedding cake — sweet, beautiful and everybody was taking it in with delight.

Shortly after the reception, I was back at the hotel room, propped my feet up, and was, for a couple of minutes, basking in the success of an over-the-top evening, while Tammy was running one last errand. I was just about to read the beautiful handwritten note that Emily had written to me and addressed “Daddy-O”, when I received a call from my dad who had received word that their house had burned to the ground. The sad word was that they had lost everything they cherished and had collected over the years. Mom had gone to bed Saturday night, before the news was coming in about their house that was no more.

So, the next morning with all of our family and extended family together in Dallas, my Dad told my mom that their house had burned. I was kneeling in front of Mom’s chair as Dad spoke so well and caringly, those difficult words of loss. Mom cried a little upon hearing the word we had been processing all night, and then she said, “Oh, all of my things.” Then nearly as quickly as she said those words, she looked at us and said, “But it was all just things, ‘stuff’. We have each other and we are safe. That’s what matters.” What a word of grace and truth. I know that Mom and Dad will be grieving the loss for sometime, but we are so fortunate that they were with all of us, their family, and not at home, which could have been really catastrophic. Until that weekend, my parents had not been away from home for two consecutive nights for five years.

Mom has been an “organized hoarder” forever. She had saved every picture, newspaper clipping, funeral bulletin, special service program that involved her family and closest friends and neatly packed them into marked containers and named photo albums. The fire claimed these items, destroyed hometown history, and family drugstore relics and furnishings that marked nearly eight decades of “Copeland Apothecary Care” for the people in our hometown and surrounding area.

Tammy and I were visiting the ruins of the house together recently  and on the ground there was a charred piece of paper. Upon closer examination, we discovered it to be a Lovers Lane quarterly newsletter that we used to produce, and this one was about 15 years old. It announced coming events and reported on a wonderful lecture. On the reverse side, in the margin, was an artistically laid out photograph featuring the 23rd Psalm  “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…” In other words, the Psalm proclaimed, “All we need that satisfies completely is in that relationship with God who is like the caring, compassionate Shepherd.” Our faith is in a Shepherd God who “makes us lie down in green pastures” full of life even in the midst of death. It is our compassionate God who “leads us beside still waters” brimming with peace and “restores our souls.” I don’t think that little piece of paper survived the fire for any reason but a God-given gracious reminder that all will be all right because this “valley” is not one in which we will reside, but one through which we will pass.

There were also several ornamental Easter eggs that had been in storage in Mom’s closet that were probably one step away from a garage sale, but today they are like precious gold. Their value however, is not in their charred surviving state; rather it is in their message of being the Christian symbol of resurrection and new life that the fire could not conquer. In the flower bed behind the burned out vehicles stood a simple, homemade, wooden cross that stated, “Jesus is Lord”. Those are the reminders that empower “80-something-year-old” Christians, and all of us who love them, to have hope and faith as we start anew.

We’ve cleaned the ruins, salvaged very little, and put most of the rubble in a huge hole to be buried. More than 60 people gathered, half of which were from Lovers Lane, to clean bricks and stone, and remove debris and ash down to the slab. At the end of a long, hot, dirty weekend, the naked, dusty, slab was not really a beautiful sight, but a mark of major accomplishment in this emotionally charged week. What truly was beautiful was the smiles on my parents faces as they saw, young and old, men and women, boys and girls, city and country dwellers, black and white, lay and clergy, Methodists and Baptists, and folk of other faith expressions, come to Chandler to say in word and in deed for so many whom they represented, “You are loved.”

And that is what I want to say this morning, from Tammy and me and our extended family, especially my parents — Martha and Don, “You are loved”. We love you and appreciate you greatly. Plans are already underway to replace the home and the contents that can be replaced, through the benefit of ample insurance. We go forward choosing to look for blessings from God that we would never experience had it not been for a destructive fire, because that is how our loving God works. None of us believe God willed, or caused a fire to destroy, but all of us are “standing on the promises” that God can redeem the worst of circumstances to bring new life even out of the ashes.

We covet your prayers, even as we pray our prayers of thanksgiving for you. We love the church that really does personify the “Gospel Truth” of “Loving All.” Thanks for being YOU!

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.