Tag Archives: GC2019

“God Friended Me” Theology

I admit I got hooked on the CBS Sunday night series God Friended Me.   Even though I find myself rolling my eyes far too often at some of the cheesy coincidences or the many ways Miles and Cara awkwardly inject themselves into the middle of people’s lives, I still find myself moved by the story line and blaming my watery eyes on allergies.

The show is about Miles Finer (played by Brandon Michael Hall), an atheist who is also the son of an Episcopal priest (played by Joe Morton) who gets a friend request from someone named God.    Each show centers around a friend suggestion made by God which Miles and his band of friends (Cara and Rakesh) strive to help.   The side story happening alongside the drama of helping their new-found friends is their quest to discover who is behind the God account, because, well, the atheist Miles knows it most certainly can’t be God.

While the story line is intriguing, the theology behind it is not surprisingly dreadful.   Miles’ dad, the priest, offers very little in the way of correcting whatever misguided views his atheist son or lesbian daughter have.   More importantly, he presents his role as priest, and that of his church, as nothing more than a place where people discover their purpose in life.  The implication is that faith is simply discovering what your heart wants and going after it.

What’s implied by the father is explicit with his son.  In this week’s episode, Miles and Cara are discussing life and both affirm the necessity for everyone to follow your heart’s desire.   In fact, Miles states, your heart will never lead you astray.

In this way, God Friended Me does a marvelous job at positioning the Self at the center of the universe.   It affirms what all of us are all too easily persuaded to believe:  If I desire it, it must be good.   In this show, God friends me and affirms all that I am and the Church is there to support and nurture that belief.

Scripture, of course, has something very different to say about the nature of our hearts and the innate goodness of our desires.   The prophet Jeremiah warns us that our heart’s are deceitful and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9).   Who can know it? he asks.   It can be known, but to do such requires wisdom, and wisdom requires a fear of God (Prov. 9:10).   Without a holy fear of God, without surrendering our hearts, our wills, our lives over to God,  we cannot rightly trust any desire we have.

I know in myself that I have desires which are not of God.   And I am not speaking of just the obvious ones, or the addictive ones.   I am not speaking merely of those desires which if acted upon might cause harm to myself or others.  I am speaking also of those secret and not so secret desires which can parade themselves as virtue in our culture today.    Desires like ambition, greed, fame, pride.   A desire to be liked by others.   A desire to be known for my good deeds or pitied for my bad.   These desires, and many like them, are not from a pure heart but from one that is rooted in the things of this world.   To advise me to trust my heart and follow after it would be foolish indeed.

CBS is not the only platform telling us to trust our heart’s desires.   This message comes at us from all angles, including the Church.   I’ve written here in the past about the impasse the United Methodist Church is experiencing over homosexuality.    At the root of this struggle is a God Friended Me theology, one that suggests that if a person loves something and is not harming anyone, it must be good.   It’s an easy, and appealing theology to embrace.    It certainly tickles the ears.

One of my daily practices is to read a portion of Psalm 119.   There is one theme in this longest chapter of the Bible which is abundantly clear:   The writer desires nothing more than to be molded according to the word of God.    If the desire does not spring from God’s law, the psalmist wants nothing to do with it.     I have written in the past about how praying this to be true of me has changed my life.    It’s a prayer I continue to pray today, and have begun praying for our Church.

James couldn’t be more clear when he wrote that temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away (James 1:14).    Having a healthy skepticism of our heart and it’s desires is wise, and praying continually that our heart and it’s desires be conformed to the word of God is prudent.   Doing so gives us assurance that indeed, God has befriended us, and we are his friends if we obey his commands (John 15:14).

 

 

 

A Response to #UMC Bishop Karen Oliveto urging #LGBT to stay

Early on in my theological education I was in an awkward place.   I knew I was called to pastor, but because I had been running from God for so many years, I didn’t have a church home and therefore did not know where I might one day land.    So I began investigating different denominations, what they believed, how they did church, who could and could not be ordained within them, what the qualifications were for their pastors, etc.    I quickly discovered that there were several denominations that were not options for me due to my divorce.  After crossing those off my list I began pursuing those churches where those sins of which I repented (like my divorce) would not preclude me from being a pastor.

Hello, United Methodist Church.

I have much respect for those churches who have a stated covenant – a standard by which they as a church, particularly its leaders, will order their lives.   There is an integrity about them which I find compelling, even if and when I don’t agree with their standard.    I have an equal if not greater amount of respect for people I have met along the way who feel they have been called by God into pastoral ministry, but for one reason or another, they cannot do so in the church they have long called home.   Throughout seminary I met many women who found a home in the United Methodist Church because they could not be ordained in the church of their youth.    They could have stayed, I suppose, and tried to change their church.   Many of them even tried, so they said.   But after being rebuffed a number of times they remembered Jesus’ command,

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet (Matt. 10:14).

They determined to practice biblical obedience by moving on rather than casting their pearls before swine, so to speak.

I have much respect for them.   Rather than lobby year after year after year, for 40 years or more, stirring up dissension among their peers and rivalry among the ranks, they chose instead to find a new home.    They brought their charge before others, and when those others would not repent and change their ways, they found a place more amicable to their convictions.

It never occurred to me to chastise these women for leaving women behind in the churches they left.   Nor do I recall the women who did leave worrying about the spiritual well-being, or physical safety, of the women they left behind.    I did hear, however, much respect all around for those who stayed and those who left.   I heard things like, “Many of them seem to flourish in that environment, and they are following their convictions, as I am.  I wish them well,” and other such sentiments.

Churches that do not ordain women on biblical grounds are still thriving, with many women within their ranks who are flourishing.  Beth Moore doesn’t seem to be hurting too terribly from complementarianism, and this is true for thousands if not millions more.   No one is forcing them to stay in a church which abides by certain rules.  They are free to leave and find a new home just like the many women I met in seminary and have been blessed to serve alongside.   While I may not agree with their interpretation of scripture and how women may or may not serve the church, I can respect it.

That respect for their institutional rules, coupled with how I think it best to love my neighbor, conditions how I would counsel a young woman in, let’s say a Baptist church, on what to do with her perceived call into ordained ministry.   It would be very unloving of me, I think, to encourage her to stay and fight the system, or “kick against the goads.”  Rather, I’d probably encourage her to become a Methodist.

Which is why I find the current advice of one of our bishops so out of place, if not harmful.  Karen Oliveto, the UMC’s openly defiant, lesbian bishop, wrote that she will not leave the United Methodist Church, and urges others not to do so either.  Rather, they should stay and continue to fight so that the church she loves will not “derail their ministries or commitments to love all people.”   Aside from the fact that the bishop should know better – that loving someone and exercising church discipline are not mutually exclusive (amen, parents?) – why does someone who believes that the Church’s teaching is harmful to LGBT people encourage said people to stay and kick against the goads?

 

Having said that, I am mostly in agreement with the bishop at least on one point.  I don’t want to see gay people leave the church, either.   I want to see them, along with everyone else, being redeemed through the body of Christ.   I want to witness waves of people laying their disordered loves at the altar and being transformed from the inside-out.  I want to see people humbled and broken before God, willing to die to an identity rooted in sexual brokenness (this is for both gay and straight people) and rise again in Christ alone.

And none of us should expect anyone to show up at the doors of any church ready to embrace this cruciform life.  I know I’m not most of the time and I have been in church all my life!   But I do expect, and I think it’s fair to expect, that as a Church we are speaking with one voice when it comes to the things we believe Christ desires to redeem, and chief among them in our present day (as is true of all days) is how deeply fractured we are when it it comes to understanding sex and our bodies.    If we as a Church cannot be united around this, than we render ourselves double-minded and thus unstable in all our ways (James 1:8).

May we as a Church love our neighbors well by offering them gracious counsel should their conscience not allow them to abide by their Church’s teaching, and may we love those who stay well by being united in how we speak about these things which have so thoroughly divided us as of late.

A response to Adam Hamilton’s new United Methodism

Adam Hamilton, whom many might consider the pope of Methodism, wrote a blog post the other day titled, “A New United Methodism?”

While reading it, I couldn’t help but notice how all the arguments against the will of the General Conference (reaffirmed again and again and again) have to do with how it might make people feel and equally if not more importantly, how this will cause people to walk away from the church.   We will lose numbers going with the “traditional” plan.

I couldn’t help but wonder how another story in the gospels would have been blogged about if Rev. Hamilton were writing then.   Below I’ve quoted the section which stuck out to me the most, followed by my own satirical rendition.    What would Hamilton say about Jesus’ tactics with the rich young ruler?

The fallout was predictable and swift.  LGBTQ persons in our churches, and their friends and family, felt shunned—hurt by their denomination—and many made plans to leave churches, particularly those churches that supported the new policy and vote.  Even those in supportive congregations struggled with whether they should leave the denomination, despite the love they felt for their local church.  Meanwhile, the presidents and boards of some United Methodist-related colleges and universities have begun to talk about disaffiliating with the UMC (they all have students, and many have faculty or staff who are part of the LGBTQ community).  Pastors, lay people, and churches who had previously been quiet about inclusion and the Discipline’s incompatibility language, were moved to action by the hurt they saw inflicted on their members.  Congregations who have never withheld apportionments began asking about doing so to register their disagreement with the decision of General Conference.  Many pledged acts of dissent and disobedience to the Discipline.  Seminary students and candidates for ministry have been contemplating ending their efforts to become future United Methodist pastors.

All of this has led thousands of local church leaders to ask if they have a future in the UMC. While these hoped for a Church that made room for conservatives, centrists, and progressives, while removing language and policies that were hurtful to gay and lesbian people, they left General Conference feeling pushed out of their own denomination.


Mark 6 – And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.


The fallout was predictable and swift.  People of means who had been faithfully following The Way felt shunned – hurt by their rabbi – and many made plans to leave.  Many influential rabbinical schools and those of the Republic have begun to talk about disaffiliating with this would-be Messiah (they all have students, and many have faculty or staff who are part of the ruling class).   Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes who had previously been quiet about inclusion and Jesus’ exclusive language, were moved to action by the hurt they saw inflicted on this rich young ruler and all those who, by no fault of their own, find themselves wealthy.   The Temple finance committee, which never withheld it’s tithes in the past, began asking about doing so to register their disagreement with Jesus’ decision to demand so much of someone who hasn’t harmed anyone.   Students from both Hillel and Shammai schools have been contemplating ending their efforts to become future rabbis.

And in spite of all of this dreadful fallout, Jesus would not budge.  Rather, he insisted that it is extremely hard to enter the kingdom of God.   He even had the audacity to insist that he is loving this young man, even when asking so much of him.   When asked, “Who then could be saved?”  Jesus said, “With man, it is impossible, but not so for God.  With God, all things are possible.”

All of this has led thousands in Jerusalem and beyond to ask if they have a future in the Kingdom of God as described by this man claiming to be Messiah.   While these had hoped for a Messiah who would accept everyone just as they are – legitimizing their claims to be sons of Abraham – his exclusive, traditional, even bigoted views are indications to many that this movement is not of God.

 

The Sin of Self-Gratification: Taking on the “M” Word (Part I)

“I’m not hurting anyone.” I have offered this as justification for my own sexual sin, and have heard it repeatedly these last few days at the United Methodist General Conference.

I felt God nudging me to share something I wrote several years ago after finding victory over another “harmless” sin, masturbation, the most private and culturally acceptable sin. The truths found here are easily forgotten or ignored but are essential, I think, for any ongoing debate or conversation around sexuality.  This is in large part because we have forgotten that our bodies are not our own to do with as we please.   Coming to a shared understanding of this is crucial before building something new as a church.

Please read and share: “The Sin of Self Gratification.”

via The Sin of Self-Gratification: Taking on the “M” Word (Part I)

Love, Sex, Harm and Healing: What’s happening in the #GCUMC is for all of us

The world is watching the UMC Special General Conference today, waiting to see whether or not the Traditional Plan will become the settled law of the church with regards to human sexuality and marriage.   During yesterday’s session, a young gay man named JJ Warren  became an overnight sensation with his passionate speech on the floor, calling upon the Church to seize this moment to show the love of God to all people.   You should take a listen:

I was moved by his passion and his words, but something wasn’t sitting right with me about the whole thing.   Later that night I posted these thoughts on Facebook and Twitter (@holtz517):

“They didn’t know God could love them because their church said God didn’t.” ~JJ Warren #GC2019

I was not as moved by the impassioned speech given today by a young gay man aspiring to be a UMC pastor as the rest of the world, it seems. Not because it wasn’t a good speech (it was) but because it’s passion and conviction seemed misdirected.

I have been a bleeding liberal and a rabid conservative on this issue over the years. I’ve known good and godly people who love Jesus and the Bible in both camps.

I’ve never heard a traditional Methodist church say to gay people that God doesn’t love them. That may be what they *hear* through our policy, but that isn’t the message, nor it’s intent.

As a staunch progressive, I’ve been guilty of preaching a vast, feel-good love of God. I was passionate and sincere, to be sure, and I trust God used it in spite of the fact that this “love” only told half the story. Perhaps I was doing what Paul called “proclaiming Christ from selfish ambition” (Phil 1:17), of which he was gracious enough to give thanks for anyway.

But the love of Christ is not a gushy love affirming me and the world as we are. Certainly it’s a love that loves us no more or less at any time in eternity, but once we are aware of this love, it becomes a consuming fire, making us born again. We are no longer our old selves, but new creations(2 Cor. 5:17).

Traditionalists do not believe God doesn’t love gay people. They believe that God loves all of us broken people the same – gay, straight, addicted, confused, prideful, rebellious – that God has a particular design and plan for human sexuality and marriage and any deviance from that is not a sign of how bad you are but a recognition of how badly we need Jesus to redeem us. If not in this life than the next. Our identity is not our sexual preference but sinner and saint.

There is something beautiful about a life that is surrendered fully and completely to the will of God, who says not my will but His, not my body, but Yours. God’s love is not sentimentalism, but a power great enough to sustain, even thrive, a person through the painful crucifying of the flesh. That is the promise and hope of the Gospel, which is an invitation to come and die. Yet live.

Traditionalists do a poor job, perhaps, of conveying that love properly, and progressives have a hard time hearing it for what it’s worth. That’s what today’s speech helped me see.

Praying for grace and peace.
#GCUMC

Some of the comments I’ve received conveyed concern that I am doing harm to queer folk by my words.   That is certainly not my intent.   One of my biggest concerns about what is at the root of what’s driving our Church’s current divide, and expressed well, I think, in the passionate speech above, is how much our culture has dumbed down the word “love” and how little we understand it’s radical, transforming nature.

Love, as I understand it, is the very definition of God, the same God who calls every one of us, regardless of our sexual orientation, a sinner.   We are born into this world as “enemies of God” (Rom. 5:10).  Every being alive needs to be born yet again (John 3) and have their entire inner world conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 12:1-2).

Is God doing harm to us by calling our natural selves – the me I wrestle with daily – sinful and at enmity with Himself?   I don’t think so.   It’s the most loving thing for God to bring to our awareness our great need for him.   The Apostle Paul, after serving Christ for nearly 23 years, still struggled with this inner man at odds with the will of God.  In Romans 7 he cries out in anguish over this battle going on between his flesh and the Spirit.   He recognizes that the only relief is to cry out to God in Christ and give thanks that he is being delivered from this body of death.

Paul is a saint not because he was free of struggles but because he humbly submitted and crucified all that he was – desires, thoughts, actions, will – recognizing his great need for Christ.

One of the comments left on my page, insisting that I am doing harm by saying what I said above, wrote that the subtext behind support of a traditional, orthodox view of sexuality is

1) being queer is sinful, 2) when we actually encounter Jesus/get saved, we leave behind our sinful ways, and 3) therefore, if queer people don’t leave behind their sin, they haven’t actually encountered Jesus. (Chris Boeskool)

I responded quickly, and admittedly there is so much more to be fleshed out here but my take on those three points is as follows:

1) it’s not being queer that is sinful – it’s being human. Every one of us – straight AND gay – are born with broken sexuality that gets played out in a myriad of ways. 2) When we enter into a life with Christ, we only BEGIN what will be a life long journey of dying to self and living for Christ. It doesn’t happen over night and some things are more weighty than others, like our sexuality. 3) Those struggling to leave behind their sin is no indication that they haven’t encountered Jesus. It’s merely evidence of the Holy Spirit at work in their life and they need support, love and encouragement on the journey just like everyone else – just like I need.

This post is already longer than I intended, and yet there is so much more to say.   I’ll leave you with this:  I don’t believe that it’s anyone’s desire to intentionally harm any child of God – be they gay, straight, transgendered, unsure, traditionalist, progressive, centrist.   What I have learned, however, is that what I once considered harmful towards me in the midst of my own sexual brokenness was, over time, God’s mercy and love.  I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, see that, however, until I was broken and crying out with Paul, “Oh wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body of death?!”

I know, O LORD, that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me (Psalm 119:75).

It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees(Psalm 119:71).