In my yoga classes, including those at the Kirkersville United Methodist Church (KUMC), we LET GO of many things, including judgement against ourselves and others. Jesus taught us "...Love your neighbor as yourself," (Matthew 22:39).
After reading in recent newspapers and the internet about the recent "News about United Methodist's ban on LGBT at the 2019 United Methodist Conference" I met and spoke openly with KUMC Reverend E. Neil Gaiser, OSL. When I asked his opinion about this recent ban he replied, “The term ‘ban’ is a misnomer. The LGBT community is not banned from the Methodist Church. Under the traditional plan, LBGTQ persons are unfortunately prohibited from ordination and existing United Methodist clergy are prohibited from officiating at same-sex weddings. Violations of either would result in stiff penalties. This traditionalist plan retains the current UMC teaching on sexual ethics and marriage as between a male and female."
Although a small majority voted in favor of this plan, Reverend Gaiser disagrees their stance on supposed "biblically based" ethics in regards to human sexuality, arguing instead that theirs is simply a different interpretation of the scriptures. He pointed out that while Jesus says nothing about homosexuality, he had plenty to say about issues like divorce (and even condemning re-marriage); subjects that the more conservative groups in the UMC all but ignore. This, he feels, means that traditionalists are rather hypocritically cherry-picking which "Biblically based" ethics to follow and which ones to throw out or sweep under the rug. He added, "If an LBGTQ clergy person were forced to surrender their ordination credentials under the traditional plan, why wouldn't a straight clergy person who has been remarried be forced to do the same?"
As a socially progressive centrist Reverend Gaiser believes in the principles of truth, justice, fairness, and happiness (ethical and moral). He added, "At KUMC ALL are welcome at the church....and I mean ALL. I will NEVER exclude anyone."
Please read the full statement below which he wrote and posted on social media regarding the 2019 United Methodist General Conference.
"Hi friends, I have been asked to share words of advice and encouragement in the wake of our Special General Conference. I must confess that even after a night of reflection and prayer, it is difficult to do either. My heart aches for our LBGTQ siblings in Christ over the way in which our church, in my opinion, has misused scripture and tradition while seemingly ignoring the often painful and tragic realities of lived experience to exclude and further wound those who are, nevertheless, beloved children of God. I find myself in so much pain over this ruling, that it is in this moment, difficult to even identify myself as United Methodist, despite how much I love our church and our Wesleyan and Anglican heritage. But even as I say this, I must be careful in that even though I strongly disagree with those who have cast their votes and who support the traditional plan, they too are my sisters and brothers in Christ. I have to be careful to remember that, especially as one who works in the field of interreligious relations, we are a global church working alongside those who have a completely different ethic and theological understanding than our own and this has to be respected even as much as I disagree with their position, lest we run the risk of a sort of double-colonialism. This is why (though many of my friends and colleagues might rightly disagree with me) I would have been more in favor of something like the Connectional Conference Plan. Contextualization is of the utmost importantance for all parties who are trying as best they can to follow their interpretation of the scriptures and their conscience. Because of this, I was deeply saddened that it was not worked on more leading up to the GC and was essentially DOA. This is, (as others like Bishop Willimon have observed) simply put, one of the great challenges and hurdles of our polity; one that perhaps cannot be overcome as this sad ruling, passing with only the slightest majority, reflects.
And yet, my friends, it is at this point that I remind myself that my faith, ultimately, does not rest on human institutions, but in Christ and Christ alone. If you have ever attended one of my worship services or my Bible studies then you know that one thing I always emphasize in my preaching and teaching is human sinfulness, not as a list of 'thou shalt nots' but in the way that the German theologian Paul Tillich once argued: as a condition; a state of being. Our tendency is towards estrangement, division, and fragmentation. We see it throughout the Bible, we see it in our interpersonal relationships, we see it in our political landscape, and we see it reflected in the church. The history of Christianity is littered with such brokenness. Indeed, I am reminded of how the great reformer Martin Luther once said that we are both "simultaneously saint and sinner" and nowhere have I seen that reality more than in our General Conference these past few days with all the bickering and the hurt and pain that we have caused. As our Hindu and Buddhist friends would say, we are steeped in maya, in delusion. As Saint Paul would say, we see through a glass darkly. And as Niebuhr once observed, our own sinfulness and brokenness is perhaps the greatest empirical evidence of the truth of the Bible.
Thus, we are wholly dependent upon God's grace. And for that reason alone, in spite of all the tears I have shed for our LBGTQ siblings these past few days, and as difficult as it is, I am not without hope. The Lectionary reading for this Sunday is Luke 9:28-43, the story of the Transfiguration. Even in the midst of my grief, it is yet my fervent hope and prayer that Jesus will lead us up the mountain as He did Peter, James, and John, and that He will reveal Himself to us as He truly is, lighting our present darkness and dispelling the ignorance of our broken and fallen institutions and that He will somehow, in spite of all these setbacks, lead us back down into the valley renewed and transformed because there is still much work left to be done; especially that of loving our neighbors as ourselves and excluding none, for ALL are welcome at the Table. Kyrie Eleison. Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy."
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