Sermon: I’m a Creationist!

“I’m a Creationist!”

(it’s not what you think…)

(April 22, 2012) Scripture teaches us the importance of caring for all of creation as God’s good gift. This is never at odds with our work for social justice for the poor and oppressed, but an integral part of it. We give thanks for the earth this Earth Day. (Leviticus 25:1-12)

In preparation, I read (and therefore frequently cite) the essays at the front of The Green Bible. Great read.

How come your DS always comes for a surprise visit on the day you’ve spent most of the week prepping for General Conference, not crafting a perfectly postmodern worship service? Love you anyway, Brigid!


Diary of a Delegate: Reproductive Rights and Doing no Harm

General Conference logo, United Methodist Communications

Like all legislative committees, Church and Society B will divide into subcommittees to handle the categories of our (rather massive) load of resolutions and petitions. Although I requested this committee because of my strong desire to see our church change its policy on homosexuality, there’s a good chance I may volunteer for or be placed on a subcommittee handling reproductive rights, something else abut which I am passionate. As I wrote earlier, however, this is a conversation that I find personally painful. I’m therefore working on preparing mentally, emotionally, and spiritually for this task.

In my earlier post on the subject, I focused on how I found our language about abortion painful, especially in some of the legislation that is proposed (seriously, petition 20924, on p. 280 makes me want to revisit my most recent meal). However, I want to be a little clearer about what I think we need to focus on– and avoid– in the conversation about reproductive rights.

1. I neither want to debate, or think it’s fruitful to debate when life begins. I make an odd progressive perhaps, but I will say this up front: I don’t know when “life” begins, because I don’t know what we mean by that. But the only place where I can draw a line is in fact at conception/implantation (which are a few days apart). That’s when you have all the pieces and conditions you need to make a life. It’s not like there’s a day when you can say aha! Here’s an independent life! Well there is– a birthday. But as one who has been pregnant, I identified my baby as a person long before each was born. And I did identify the baby I lost at just shy of 12 weeks as a baby. Emotionally, that’s what it was.

But that’s not a legal or ecclesialogical argument. It’s important for pastoral care purposes that we recognize that women and their partners who are seeking counsel following abortion, pregnancy loss, or infertility, may use different words and concepts for fetuses at various stages. As with any counseling situation, the counselor should mirror the language used by the client/congregant. If I’m mourning my baby, call it a baby, even if the zygote never implanted. If I can only talk about the fetal tissue that I lost, call it fetal tissue; it may be too painful for me to say baby right now. Pastorally, in the practice of lay and ordained ministry, we don’t argue about when life begins. All we do is listen to the person.

2. This brings us to an important point in my mind: I don’t think it is necessary or helpful for the church to have a policy about when and how we think abortion is appropriate/necessary/permissible/not a terrible sin. This differs from the homosexuality debate. It matters as a church what our policy is about the ordination of or marriage of glbt persons, because as a church, we are in the business of ordaining and marrying. As a church, we are not in a position of providing abortions, fertility treatments, or adoptive services. We are in the business of being in ministry with women and their partners and support systems before, during, and after the medical situations and decisions. We don’t decide which treatments for cancer we think are best before we are in ministry with people living with cancer or families who have lost a loved ones to cancer. Our job is to be a compassionate presence. In order to minister with women who are considering or have had an abortion, we don’t need to make a statement as to when we think it’s okay. She may or may not have taken that into account. So what? Our ministry is now. Abortion happens. I think we need to say that we believe abortion should be safe, legal, and rare. The rest is not in our hands. What is in our hands is whether or not we are able to respond with compassion to the people who have walked that road.

3. And so, we need to first do no harm. Our language in the Social Principles in the Book of Discipline and in the Book of Resolutions has to do no harm to the women and their support persons with whom we hope to be in ministry. In order for people to seek out the church for counsel and support in this difficult time, they need to feel that they will be met with compassion, not judgement. If a woman believes that her church or pastor will condemn her as a murderer because she chose abortion when her life was not in immediate physical danger, will she ever mention it to the pastor? Lift it up in a prayer group? If she thinks the church or pastor will dismiss out of hand one of the options before her without hearing or caring about the complex factors involved, will she seek counsel? Not likely. She will bury it in the shame and guilt and pain she many feel. She will not seek the forgiveness she may feel she needs, or have the support of her church family in the midst of a difficult choice. Our language will have harmed her because it will have prevented her from seeking support, healing, and wholeness.

I have heard from a dozen or more women (and some partners and parents of women) who have had abortions or considered abortions. I’ve not personally encountered a single one who chose abortion because her life was in immediate physical danger. The reasons were as different as the women: massive birth defects that would cause the baby to live only a few days and in excruciating pain; mental or psychological well being of the mother; inability to care for a child mentally, emotionally, physically, or financially; being young and scared. And like their reasons, the level of healing they had or felt they needed differed wildly, from feeling they made the right choice and had nothing for which to apologize, to agonizing every day. Some had made the choice decades ago, and some during the time that I knew them and knew of their situation. Some were grieving, some relieved.

But across the board, they had one commonality: they wanted to speak to me “off the record,” outside my role as a pastor. Across the board, each of them said that they had not and/or would not seek the support of their church or their pastor at the time (I was not the pastor of any of these women– curious. A safe outsider perhaps?). Across the board, each of them said that they did not feel they could turn to their church or their pastor because the church believes abortion is wrong, or at least wrong for the reasons they chose it, and they each expressed that they felt the pastor and/or the other members of the congregation would condemn them for the choice they had made or were contemplating.

Sisters and brothers, there are people who are hurting. People at a crossroads, making what may well be one of the most difficult decisions of their lives. People who have done something they felt they had to do, and grieve it or feel guilt and shame for it. People who have been afraid and alone and with no one to turn to. And they feel that the church is the very last place they can go for help. Is this what we want? Is it so important to those who believe that abortion is wrong that we hold a principled stand? Is that more important than having the opportunity to minister with women in the midst of their decision? Is that more important than the ability to help someone heal or seek forgiveness (again– using the language of forgiveness only if that’s what she articulates she needs)?

It is not. In order to do all the good we can, we have to first do no harm.

I support language that says abortion should be safe, legal, and rare, and then focuses the rest of our attention on the compassionate response to those considering or dealing with the aftermath of abortion: education and advocacy to reduce unintended pregnancies, promoting maternal prenatal health, ministries that lift up all options for unintended pregnancies, strengthening the ministry of adoptive services, and bolstering support for single mothers and for women whose financial, psychological, social, etc. conditions make caring for a child difficult or nearly impossible. To do this, we have to be part of the conversation and part of the support network for women at all stages of this issue. And to do that, we have to do no harm with our policy so that we are a place women and their support persons can turn.

[Edited to add: all this, and I didn’t even mention rape, sexual abuse, and incest. I can’t believe I left them out– I’ve never counseled a woman who disclosed that her pregnancy was the result of rape or incest– but they are of course factors in the discussion as well. Let us never add trauma to trauma.]

Diary of a Delegate: End– or Beginning– in Sight

General Conference logo, United Methodist Communications

It’s my last official day of work before General Conference. The phone is ringing constantly with church work and with people calling delegates for last minute legislative pitches. It’s actually kind of fun in a strange, stressful way.

Here online, I want to give another thanks to UM Insight for reposting my thoughts on bullying (my original post). Nice to be once again sharing space with my buddy Jeremy, too. Looking forward to seeing you in Tampa!

On the home front, my 21 month old son has a massive infection in his eyes, ears, and sinuses. Nothing like leaving one’s partner with a sick kid. I guess Will thought that his dad needed a bigger challenge at single parenting. He’ll have some grandparent assistance, but it really takes a village to raise kids, especially when they keep getting sick, and Mommie is jetting off to Florida for a couple of weeks.

The next person who tells me to “enjoy the vacation” is going to get laughed at in a most cynical fashion.

Extrovert that I am, I am mostly looking forward to connecting and reconnecting with friends from around the country and around the world. If you haven’t met me before, in heels I’m almost 6′, and I’ll be carrying a bright red laptop bag and whenever plausible wearing hot pink ally-fabulous Darren Criss sunglasses, hanging around the MFSA tabernacle, and advocating tirelessly for justice, inclusion, tenderness, and love. I should be hard to miss.

At least that’s my intention.

Diary of a Delegate: Who are the Bullies? (a call for repentence)

General Conference logo, United Methodist Communications

Last week I mentioned on facebook/Twitter that I was wearing pink as part of Pink Shirt Day, a movement to help raise awareness about bullying (here’s one article that gives a little background about why pink shirts). At the time I wrote that wearing a pink shirt was not all I planned to do to combat bullying.

As a member of the Church and Society B legislative committee at General Conference (convening in one week +1 hour, but who’s counting?), I will have the opportunity to discuss a few pieces of legislation seeking to update the UMC’s resolution, “Prohibition of Bullying.” There are some strengths to the various proposals offered (naming the often fatal consequences of bullying, encouraging a zero-tolerance policy for harassment and bullying, expressing the church’s stance through sermons and printed materials). However, I feel that across the board, the resolution could be stronger.

I’d like to see our denomination have a special Sunday devoted to combating bullying. We have a Creation Sabbath (this Sunday!), and a Children’s Health Care Sabbath; I’d like us to have a Sunday once a year– or at least once in the next quadrennium– devoted to being a sanctuary from bullying.

However, I think we need to go further, and this is tough. I believe that as a church, as members of the global body of people called Christian, we need to take a long, hard look at how our words, actions, and lack of action have contributed to a culture that allows bullying.

We are not the only ones to blame, by any means. Perhaps it is part of human nature, going back to our pack/tribe instincts, to pick on or ostracize those “not like us” or those who we think represent weaknesses or characteristics we would rather not see. While the most obvious cases of bullying these days are against persons who are gay, lesbian, and transgender, people get bullied for every reason and no reason. I have no idea, really, what made me such a great target in middle school– Was it being a bit, er, pudgy? Hitting puberty a little earlier? Loving school, learning, and teachers to the point of being a “nerd” and a “geek” long before those things were cool (they are now, I promise)? Having less than zero skill at kickball? Was it that I stood up for others, thereby allying myself with the rest of the “losers”? We didn’t even have a glee club to join together (not that I sing).  In any case, I was on the receiving end of vicious, demeaning, dehumanizing gossip and joking, often sexual in nature. In sixth grade.

None of what I experienced fell within the purview of the church per se. None of what I experienced, I would also argue, was anything like the scope of what some of my glbt friends endured and endure. While I would say I was teased and harassed and shamed and bullied and degraded, it was kind of generalized. The bullying and harassment directed at individuals who are glbt have a sort of organization about them; they spring from a shared narrative. I was teased because I was uncool. I believe that glbt individuals are bullied because people believe they are unnatural.

It is my strong belief that the mistreatment of persons who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender in our society arises from a narrative about “those people.” They are somehow broken, wrong, vile. They are not natural. They are inherently less than “us” (although of course, recent studies show that the “us” doing the bullying are often not so different from the “them” selected as victims).

Here is my challenge: the Christian church needs to seriously examine our role in supporting and perpetuating this narrative.

I won’t go further into the narrative. We know how wrong it is, how fatally brutal. I won’t go further into our support and perpetuation of it. We know what churches, denominations, and movements have historically said about gay and lesbian people, what we say now, and how we “justify” our words. But I will say this: unless we seriously examine and repent of our role in perpetuating a narrative that dehumanizes glbt persons, we cannot wash our hands of the bullying, harassment, shame, and torture unleashed upon them.

We have to admit that we have been wrong– wrong to label people as unnatural, wrong to build a narrative of immorality around loving actions, wrong to keep silent when people have been “gay-bashed” in the name of Christ. I will admit that I don’t exactly know how we do this if we are going to hold on to the claim that homosexuality is unnatural or immoral (nor do I think it’s my job to do deep theological reflection for positions that I feel are wrong and untenable). But for those of us who believe that bullying, harassment, and dehumanization are wrong, we’d better find a way to say that any part we have played in them is wrong too. I call for a call to repentance for our complicity in the narrative that supports bullying.

Then, and I do believe only then, can we model zero-tolerance anti-bullying policies, create safe spaces for those who have been the targets of bullying and harassment, and say with any integrity that we are committed to combating this evil in all its forms.

Sermon: Unsporting Conduct

“Unsporting Conduct”

(April 15, 2012) We love to celebrate Eater with great fanfare and language and images evocative of military conquest. But Easter is a victory not of might, but of peace. Can we leave our touchdown dances behind, and listen to message of forgiveness? (Luke 23:33-43)

This sermon is heavily indebted to Roger Wolsey’s blog post, “A Kinder, Gentler, more Grown-up Easter.” Thanks, Roger! With apologies to Queen, CeeLo, Lenard Cohen, and anyone who had to hear me sing. Also, if you love the f-word play on words, this video should give you a laugh.

Link love abounds

Welcome, readers of Ministry Matters as well, where my blog was linked today.

It’s great to have so many folks engaged in conversation about what keeps us together and what drives us apart. It’s different for each person, as is the balance of which force (the keeping together or the driving apart) is stronger. For me, I’m still here toughing it out. How about you?

More link love

Thanks, UM Reporter, for reposting my reflections on the death penalty.

(here’s my original post, and one that’s specific to the UMC).