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9Reconciling Kansas Newsletter

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  • Called Out
    Jan 2, 1999
      Reconciling Kansas

      Jimmy Creech � Omaha, Greg Dell � Chicago, Don Fado � Sacramento.
      By the end of January, all these preachers and cities will be emblems of
      The United Methodist Church's struggle to agree on a Christlike ministry
      to all people who are sexual. Despite official efforts to control the
      church's image and cohesion, conscientious groups and individuals make
      those efforts difficult for church officials wanting to impose the
      uniformity of injustice.

      In an apparent effort to erase any sexual controversy, the church has
      recently banned clergy and congregations from blessing same-sex unions
      -- the issue that put these cities and pastors in the national spotlight
      -- and restricted organizations from fusing their United Methodist
      identity to symbols of theological variation. Despite their best
      efforts, the sexual landscape keeps changing. Secular events like
      President Clinton's sexual liaisons, the fractured Republican response,
      gay rights reforms in Europe, and Matthew Shephard's murder position the
      United Methodist struggle in a social context too large for church
      leaders to control. That inability to control society may produce
      muscle-flexing within the denomination, where church leaders imagine
      greater power.

      Author Bruce Bawer suggests we simply see such struggles as a
      theological choice between the church of love and the church of law. And
      neither geography nor the parliamentary maneuvers of church councils
      will distance United Methodists in Kansas from choosing which church
      they serve.

      You've probably noticed that your opinion about homosexuality (and no
      longer abortion) is the litmus test for membership in those churches.
      While some people debate the morality of homosexuality, others believe
      the deeper issue is the sex-negative tradition of America's Puritan
      founders and their Roman Catholic ancestors.

      Right there, things get tricky. When simple conversations about sex
      start mentioning (take a big breath) history, science, sociology,
      Augustine, incarnational theologies of sexuality, Manicheism, sexual
      ethics, the Jewish idea of basileia, hermeneutics, Gnosticism, and the
      Greek Stoics ... well, most Americans welcome a less intellectual
      shortcut, something that can be shortened to a single word like "sin" or
      "perversion" or "abomination." And the magic of those words is their
      power to invoke America's dominant (but now tottering) sexual ethic
      while sparing the speaker the work of explanation and especially
      critical evaluation.

      Intellectually, it's much easier to recite America's sexual mantra --
      "Just say no to sex until marriage til death do us part" -- then
      enforce the cultural norm by reacting with cultural propriety to all
      expressions of eroticism. It's either normal or deviant, and it's just
      that simple.

      If you missed The Fifties or their rerun on "Laverne & Shirley", here's
      how to respond. Sanction highly visible and celebratory events for
      people who appear to conform to the norm; and, for all deviants, dole
      out muted celebration, benign neglect, pity, relentless coercion, silent
      disapproval, pious judgment, moral condemnation, or passively sanction
      somebody else to attack and punish transgressors. Obviously, all the
      sophistication and fun of mastering the code lie in dealing with
      deviance, which is one reason why homosexuality is a more popular topic
      than, say, singleness.

      If you doubt these dynamics, just listen to pundits and politicos
      rehearse the stale choices awaiting President Clinton. Just compare the
      criteria for selecting political leaders to "Leave It To Beaver".
      And just watch as people (supposedly in the liberal camp) gleefully
      gossip that Larry Flynt is ready to dish dirt on Kansas congressmen. In
      each scenario, our only choices are to praise conformity or punish
      transgressors, and ultimately people at opposite ends of the political
      and theological spectra jointly and thoughtlessly reify the dominant
      sexual ethic.

      Pious politicos call this moral and Christian.

      But maybe it isn't.

      If scripture teaches any sexual lessons, perhaps it's to forgive even
      when sexual sin leads to a cover-up murder (King David), to protect
      people whom religious zealots entrap in sexual snares (Jesus, the
      Pharisees and the caught woman), and to acknowledge the holy faith of
      sex workers (Rahab). Perhaps the Christian lesson is that God does
      �not� share the same sexual ethic as Colonial Puritans who sailed
      the Atlantic to make a New World pathetically like the old one they
      ostensibly eschewed. Maybe we should instead copy the behavior of
      the welcoming father who threw a party to celebrate reconciliation
      instead of preaching and punishing.

      There is, of course, a glitch. Some religious folks seem to be direct
      descendants of the parentified Big Brother who groused at his father's
      forgiveness, who resented the lack of appreciation for years of dutiful
      compliance to the culture's norms. "You mean I could have done what my
      brother did and you would still love me?" he seems to ask. And according
      to Jesus, the father seems to say, "Yeah. Of course." That's a tough
      pill to swallow for religious folks who believed they had to be more
      pure than everybody else � and (secretly) damn proud of it.

      All those emotional dynamics will surface this January as Greg Dell
      endures a church trial for performing a same-sex union at Chicago's
      Broadway congregation, as Don Fado and other clergy challenge the
      denomination's restriction of clergy rights by co-officiating a holy
      union in Sacramento, and as Kansans in the Hays DIstrict dialogue about
      homosexuality with Bishop Fritz Mutti -- this time at Quinter UMC on Sun
      17 Jan 99. (Learn more at http://www.gbgm-umc.org/kansas-west/)

      While most people tediously reshuffle the worn deck of sexual manners,
      the active ministries of Reconciling Kansas continue, unhindered by
      official rulings and public opinion.

      Corbin-Caldwell, the Open Door Fellowship, Salina Trinity, Viceroy, and
      Wichita College Hill continue to provide models of practical ministries
      for congregations or for groups. Whether it's a serious study of the
      sexuality debate, serving a hot dinner to the homeless at a cold night
      overflow shelter, creating Christmas for a needy HIV+ family, making
      inclusivity a norm, celebrating the lives of gay men who've died of
      AIDS, or publicizing that your congregation welcomes all people
      regardless of sexual orientation, the important thing is not the label
      but the actual ministries.

      And typically, you'll find one of Kansas' Reconciling United Methodists
      behind each ministry, willing to ask a question publicly, to ask an
      official church committee to discuss a hot topic, and to instigate a
      ministry for and with the King Davids and adulterous women and prodigal
      sons and Rahabs of contemporary Kansas.

      This January, think of what you as one person can do -- alone, with your
      friends, in one of the groups to which you belong, through your
      congregation, or in your district and conference.

      And remember that you're not alone. Friends are as close as clicking
      reconcilingkans@... .

      Celebrate Epiphany!