Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Going Forward in the UMC

This morning was filled with tears as I listened to the connection of the United Methodist Church continue to erode. It hurt because I have been here before and I know that if we do not pay attention, we will end up repeating the same mistakes I witnessed back in my college days at Baylor University. You see, I was not always Methodist. I grew up in a wonderful Southern Baptist Church whose cornerstone included the name of my beloved grandfather. I was born in Waco, Texas, and even though my parents were both from Arkansas and returned to Arkansas, Baylor University was always where I planned to attend college.

I entered Baylor in the Fall of 1974, the year we won the Southwest Conference football title for the first time in fifty years, On Sundays, you could find me in worship at First Baptist Church in Waco, listening to the wonderful sermons of Rev. Peter McLeod. I had trouble finding my major but finally ended up in the School of Music, studying organ under Dr. Joyce Jones. I found a parttime job as organist for First United Methodist Church in McGregor, Texas. and that is where things began to change.

The fundamentalist movement began to sweep through the Southern Baptist Convention and it took aim at Baylor. I remember specific incidences but it is doubtful that my memory is 100% accurate. The tipping point for me was the banning of the book used by Dr. Lester's Old Testament class. I remember the book well because Dr. Lester was tough and I spent many hours of study going over and over the readings and my notes. The book was written by the Chairman of the Religion Department, Dr. Flanders. In the end, the book was banned because it mentioned evolution as a theory of creation. It did not teach evolution as truth - it gave many theories. It did not matter. The sentence was struck and the book eventually republished without it. That was it. I was done with my beloved Southern Baptists.

Before you jump to conclusions, I still love my Southern Baptist roots. They taught me the Bible. I witnessed firsthand the glories and tribulations of the local congregation. My love of the local church grew out of my experience at Second Baptist Church. They have always been wonderful to me and my family and I will forever be grateful. But there were questions that never seemed to have answers and I found the emphasis of living the way of Christ taught in the Methodist Church more helpful than the arguments over end times that seemed to prevail in Baptist teachings.

When I finished graduate school at Baylor and moved to Houston, Texas, I finally moved my membership and my loyalty to St. Luke's United Methodist Church. At the time, I had no idea that the call to ministry I experienced at age 14 would be fulfilled in the Methodist Church. Still, I grieve for the destruction that has followed in the denomination that birthed me.

So, for those who are curious, here is what I painfully learned. Litmus tests never work. What I witnessed in the fundamentalist takeover was about power and money - it was not about God. Period.
The motives may start out as something pure but the more lines are drawn, the argument becomes about us. Even the best of us with the most sincere motives cherry pick our scriptures. We are errant. We are sinners. In "defending" God, we create idols and we cannot even see them. 

As I told my congregation Sunday, I am a walking oxymoron because I absolutely believe in the authority of Scripture and yet I'm a 60 year old divorced woman who has the privilege of serving as a senior pastor of a large United Methodist church and I absolutely love my people, my staff, and my job. I experienced grace in an event that I believed would send me straight to hell. Wow! God has me in a place where I will forever be grateful and I will forever extend grace to both the great and small.

So where do we go from here? My brother reminds me to look where the fruit is being produced and fruit is being produced in conservative churches, in progressive churches, and everything in between. God is working and we are way behind the eight ball in finding a way to organize a church around that. So let us stop drawing lines between us and begin finding connections first to Christ and then to one another. Yes, we will all need to repent and become humble but in my experience, that is exactly where God wants us to be.

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