March 14, 2006

Spirituality: Has God been demoted?

By Mary CartledghayesWay back in July I heard Karen Rontowski at Comedy Caravan. In her routine she mentioned growing up Methodist and went on to suggest that United Methodists are a bit squishy in their theology. She said, “I think they believe … umm … mmm … Take care!”As a United Methodist clergywoman, I’m OK with the jokes. “Take care,” although not demonstrably Christian, at least reflects kindness on our part. So does “be nice,” which, according to one of my professors at Duke Divinity School, is the Methodist motto. Less gracious people throw words like wishy-washy at us.There’s a difference between being wishy-washy and being reluctant to use religion for political gain. You didn’t see Methodists in the center ring during the circus that developed around Michael and Terri Schiavo. Also, during the 2004 election campaign, some Roman Catholic clergy said John Kerry should be refused communion because he supported abortion rights. We United Methodists support abortion rights, too, but we don’t refuse communion to politicians who want to outlaw abortion.When people say we’re wishy-washy, what they really mean is that our standards aren’t very high. On the contrary: Our standards are virtually nonexistent. Or they were until October 2005. Since then, your guess is as good as mine about what it means to be Methodist.Here’s what happened. Edward Johnson, a pastor in Virginia, refused church membership to someone who wanted to transfer in from another denomination. He’d been visiting for a while, sang in the choir, and so on. Johnson refused to let the man join on the grounds that he was gay.Last summer, the UM clergy in Virginia voted to place Johnson on unpaid involuntary leave. The reason? He had intentionally violated church law. Our legislative and doctrinal manual, “The Book of Discipline,” states that: “All people may attend worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments and become members in any local church in the connection.”We’ve always been inclusive with a capital “I.” That meant that nobody — not pastors, not bishops, not congregations — has the authority to pick and choose church members. We’re inclusive with the sacraments, too. We’ll baptize anybody: infant, teenager, elderly — we love ’em all. It’s the same with communion. Age, denomination, marital/divorce status — none of those things count.Church historian Gayle Carlton Felton says our inclusivity is based in our belief that “the sacraments belong to God, who graciously offers them to all who will receive.” Sacraments, church membership or participation: God’s doing the work. Clergy are the handmaidens. Historically, we’ve ordered our communal life around the certainty that God is the ultimate authority.Back in Virginia, some Methodists were objecting to Johnson’s involuntary leave. They said “the ability of local clergy to make their own decisions” was compromised in October; to the surprise of many of us, our judicial authority agreed. They reinstated Johnson. Not only that, they declared that pastors are responsible for deciding who can and can’t join the church.Numerous individuals and organizations, including our bishops, have asked Judicial Council to reconsider. Meanwhile, I’m trying to adapt to the notion that God’s no longer in charge.If we get to pick and choose people who aren’t good enough to join the body of Christ, why start with a gay man? Rich people are a lot more dangerous to our salvation. Let them figure out how to get a camel through the eye of a needle without our help. Otherwise, guilt by association might keep us perfect people out of heaven.I don’t see any reason to let poor people be Christians, either. I know Jesus embodied a preferential option for the poor, but let’s be realistic: He never had to replace the leaking roof of a sanctuary. If he had, he’d have advised us to reserve membership for people who can make a contribution.We’ll no doubt become a more harmonious and homogenous body if Judicial Council’s opinion stands. That’ll free up Sunday mornings for a lot of us. Instead of going to church to worship God, we can stay at home, look in the mirror and pay homage to our own images. Mary Cartledghayes is ordained in the South Carolina conference of the United Methodist Church and is the author of “Grace: A Memoir.” Contact her at

We need to Love

By DaveBringer

I think it is wrong for a person to be denied the opportunity to worship freely in this country. It is not our job to judge as humans. In the bible god encourages love I’m not trying to force anything on anyone but please read this passage. Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. Which practicing discriminatory practices which are man made do not practice love. As a person who grew up UCC and now Baptist I go to a moderate church. We have never practiced politics in the church which it shouldn’t be brought up if you read matthew 22:21"Caesar's," they replied. Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." which simply states it there in matthew 22:21 the separation of church and state. Mixing politics and religion are like mixing bleach and ammonia and jesus says the most important commandment is in mark12:28-31 28One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" 29Jesus answered, "The foremost is, '(A)HEAR, O ISRAEL! THE LORD OUR GOD IS ONE LORD; 30(B)AND YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND, AND WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH.' 31"The second is this, '(C)YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.' There is no other commandment greater than these." Which this means we got to love each other its not about how religious or holier than now. Its about loving god and loving each other so we need to get away from discriminatory practices which are not godly and which do not show love. So churches that do not let anyone join are working against gods will of love in 1 john 4-7-8 Which simply says in order to know god we must love and kicking people out and not letting them worship freely is not love its hatred and bigotry so lets love and respect each other
Thank you

David Lee Bringer