Where do we go from Kansas City?

May 29th, 2019

I’ve been to Kansas City

Will Parker, the comic character in the musical Oklahoma! is flabbergasted by what he experienced when he sings, “Everything’s Up To Date in Kansas City.” The refrain repeats, “They’ve gone about as fer as they can go.”

I was among 600 United Methodists from every annual conference in the United States who went about as far as we could go in Kansas City.

We were guests of The Church of the Resurrection where the hospitality of hundreds of energetic laypersons demonstrates why it is the largest congregation in the UMC.

You’ll find a report including video interviews with some of the leaders at UMCNext. Some folks who gathered in Kansas City supported dissolving the UMC to form separate denominations. A majority felt called to “stay, resist, and reform” the UMC. Three days of worship, prayer and vigorous conversation resulted in four affirmations held in common.

  1. We long to be passionate followers of Jesus Christ, committed to a Wesleyan vision of Christianity, anchored in Scripture and informed by tradition, experience and reason as we live a life of personal piety and social holiness.
  2. We commit to resist evil, injustice and oppression in all forms and toward all people and build a church which affirms the full participation of all ages, nations, races, classes, cultures, gender identities, sexual orientations and abilities.
  3. We reject the Traditional Plan approved at General Conference 2019 as inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ and will resist its implementation.
  4. We will work to eliminate discriminatory language and the restrictions and penalties in the Discipline regarding LGBTQ persons. We affirm the sacred worth of LGBTQ persons, celebrate their gifts and commit to being in ministry together.

We went about as far as we could go.

So, what about you?

Our pastor at First United Methodist Church in Winter Park ends every sermon with the question, “So, what about you?” So, after being engaged in this debate for more than 40 years, here are my own reasons for supporting those affirmations.

I believe the Bible.

For more than half of my years in ministry I supported the conservative interpretation of Scripture regarding same-sex relationships. But similar to Peter’s relationship with Cornelius (Acts 10), I experienced the Spirit at work in the lives of faithful followers of Christ who happened to be gay. It led me to deeper listening for God’s living Word in Jesus through the written words of Scripture. E. Stanley Jones, the sainted hero of Asbury Theological Seminary, repeatedly said:

“The Bible is not the revelation of God; that would be the Word become printer’s ink. But the Bible is the inspired Record of the Revealtion–the Revelation is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.” (The Word Became Flesh, p. 243)

Reading the written word through the living Word, I realized that not everything that is biblical is Christ-like. I came to honor the literal interpretation of these texts in their cultural and historical context while holding them in the larger context of Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God coming among us. That’s the starting point for the way my call to be part of an inclusive church grows out of my life with Scripture.

I’m a Methodist.

While honoring other branches of the Christian family tree, I unashamedly follow Christ in the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition. That means that my life and faith are centered in God’s grace and in loving God and loving others. It means I interpret Scripture through reason, tradition and experience.

I am passionately committed to both personal evangelism and social justice; to inviting people to become disciples of Jesus Christ so that they participate in God’s transformation of the world. My commitment to being part of an inclusive church grows directly out of a deepening life of discipleship. It’s why we wrote A Disciple’s Path.

I share what Wesley called “the catholic spirit.” I am unwavering in my commitment to the central core of the faith while allowing space for diversity of conviction around the circumference. It leads me to affirm the core values of the Uniting Methodists' movement and their vision of “A Harvest of Hope.”

I supported the One Church Plan because I believe that our theology, tradition and mission as United Methodists is strong enough to hold us together in ministry while we honor differences in culture and conviction. Unfortunately, the so-called Traditional Plan contradicts this part of our Wesleyan/Methodist tradition.

I’m going on to perfection.

I believe in and am experiencing the Wesleyan understanding of sanctification. I’m on the journey toward being made “perfect in love.” I believe the Holy Spirit is relentlessly at work to shape and form us into the love and likeness of Christ. I’ve seen the way others have been with me on the spiritual journey toward a wider, more inclusive love. Where we’ve been is not where we will be; what we’ve been is not what we are becoming in Christ. Looking ahead, I want to preserve space in the church for others who are on this journey with me.

I believe the center can hold.

After coming home from Kansas City, I reread a book I wrote more than a decade ago. With a few updates, Journey to the Center of the Faith still describes my commitment to a way of life that is Christ-centered, biblically-rooted, Kingdom-visioned, Spirit-animated, open-minded, warm-hearted and grace-filled. It affirms my hope that within the United Methodist Church there is still a center will hold. It describes the direction in which I pray the “people called Methodist” might go from Kansas City.

That’s about as far as I can go.

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