Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Open hearts, open minds?

I can't speak for where the UMC is in Rapid City (though several UMC'ers I know in Rapid City that I know [including three retired pastors I know!] have grown past their Church).

But if you have not been welcomed, I want to invite you to my church (St. Andrew's Episcopal, Rapid City). To stop by for a breather, or hang out for a while, or join our family.

Outside of the Unitarians, my parish may be the most open and accepting church in town, and maybe in the Black Hills. Our minds aren't checked at the door (sample a sermon as evidence), and the doors and hearts are open for you at St Andrew's.

10 December, 2008

If the hearts and minds and doors were really open . . .
. . . more United Methodists would be singing these lyrics by Shirley Erena Murray:

For everyone born, a place at the table,
To live without fear and simply to be,
To work, to speak out, to witness and worship,
For everyone born, the right to be free.

And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy
Compassion and peace.
Yes, God will delight when we are creators of justice,
Justice and joy!

A gay former member of one of the ministries in which I served wrote to me recently: “Why do you bother? Why do you keep working to get United Methodists to really be what they say they are? Their hearts and minds ain’t never goin’ to be open to people like me, and you know it!” The letter concluded, “Thanks for your love, and thanks for trying, but don’t waste your retirement on all those hard hearts!”

These are the feelings of one whose dignity has been bashed by the United Methodist position that GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered] people are “incompatible with Christian teaching,” bashed to the point of having to find and experience God’s love in a church with a different attitude. How very sad. What a sad commentary on our “incompatible” teaching of the love of God revealed in Jesus.

This is the testimony of one whose very being has been bashed by the Church that gave him baptism and welcome, by people who testified at his baptism, “we will live according to the example of Christ . . . we will surround him with a community of love . . .we are all one in Christ Jesus. With joy and thanksgiving we welcome you as a member of the family of Christ.” [Quoted from the United Methodist rite for baptism and confirmation, United Methodist Hymnal.] But obviously that love and that welcome didn’t hold when the United Methodists learned he had been given a gay personhood by God.

This is the farewell from one whose personhood has been bashed with qualified love, with conditional welcome, something, it seems to me, quite incompatible with the God of real Christian teaching as given in the New Testament scripture.

We have a lot of beautiful words in our rituals. From our pulpits we hear a lot of Godly admonitions. There is a lot of piety flowing from regular attendance at Bible studies and Sunday School classes. But when we withhold that place at the table, when we fail at justice for one or for all, when our compassion is tainted with prejudice, when our offering of peace is less than inclusive of all God’s people, when our creative wills are jaundiced by condemnation, when our hearts are hardened by judgment, which isn’t our prerogative, then our witness is false. When our proclamation of love can not be perceived as love, then we have failed.

This is Advent, the season of waiting, of preparation. It is time for a new openness to the message of the child in the manger and the Son on the cross.

“Open hearts, open minds, open doors?” Sorry, you have the wrong church!

And that’s my irreverent “take” this time on the irresolute goal of United Methodism!

William George Myers, O.S.L.

[Brother Bill is a member of The Order of Saint Luke, a member of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference of The United Methodist Church, and in retirement lives in South Dakota and Arkansas. He has been a pastor, community center administrator, a chaplain, and also a teacher of theology, English, and theatre. He writes this column with the hope to further the “open” ministry of our Church. He may be contacted at brownwgm2@sbcglobal.net.]


  1. It would take too long for me to comment about churches in South Dakota...who has been supportive and who hasn't. All I know is what I've seen...for most of the churches in this state, as a gay man, the cross represents the punishment I can expect in this life if I don't change who I am or who I am potential capable of loving. I've been told "We're all equal in the eyes of God. We're all sinners." If I'm equal to God, why can't I be equal in South Dakota? If we're equal on the ethereal plane, why aren't we equal under the simple laws that govern our society? I no longer have an answer for my gay brethren.
    Further, after ten years of celibacy and a loveless life,...plus years of failing to find someone I could be with, I've given up here in this state...this nation. I continue to live. I continue to go forward. I have reasons to do that every day...and I expect to live to an older age than I am...which is 57 this weekend. I was once told I'd be dead by age 43...in Pierre by the head of the South Dakota Family Policy Council...when I was 45. But I can assure you that the majority of those "in the body of Christ" have never made an effort to anything other than tell me how wrong I am for feeling what I've felt. They really don't want me to believe in their God...rather they proven to me that I should believe in gODD. As long as I lead a loveless and unhappy life, they're completely happy with me. I don't get it...if God is love...then there is never any possibility for me to every find Him again. So I've come to believe in gODD. Because gODD is who they're really telling me to believe in...a supreme being that isn't love, isn't anything but a bizarre stranger to me and that's all He's ever suppose to be to me.

  2. It's a terrible tragedy. For me the whole central point of Christianity is about getting over yourself and putting your effort into opening doors for others.

    The Baptismal Covenant of the Episcopal Church asks:

    Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

    If only we did more of that, the Kingdom yearned for in all faith traditions would be closer to Earth.

  3. And... I hope you had a good birthday, Barry. Your courage and commitment floor me.

    When I think that this isn't worth it, I remember folks like you who have refused to accept the bigotry, continued to live your lives here with integrity, speaking out in truth when necessary.

    I see so much change since I came to Rapid City in 1995 and I hope to see even more in the next few years.

  4. I love the Baptismal Covenant. My Rule of Life is adopted from it, and I measure my behavior toward others by what you quoted.

    That said, before I found the Episcopal church I considered ditching Christianity altogether (I lived amongst Baptists, Pentecostals, etc in the South and Midwest) due to the overt rejection I received as a divorced single mom. I was NOT welcome in any church I attended. Had I been a convicted murderer I would have been more welcomed. I seriously flirted with the idea of Unitarianism, or just ditching all religion.

    I am not equating what I experienced with the intense pain in Barry's post. I was somewhere less extreme on the continuum. But, I was Other. Only when I realized for myself that God had not done this to me, humans had, then I could move on. And finding the Episcopal church and churches like it really helped.

  5. And for Bob...

    Do you really think the God of Abraham and Isaac, the God of Sarah and Rachel, the God of Mary and Monica, wants us to believe that pi = 3? (1 Kings 7:23)

    I'm so glad your opinions are going back to the fringe where they belong and the grownups will be in charge again next year.

    A blessed Advent and Christmas to you by the way, may the season grant you peace, and especially understanding for those of us who just don't get it.