The Raleigh Rant
Jesus lived and died in an occupied country that was only a tiny troublesome corner of the Roman Empire. He also dealt with the hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Sadducees who collaborated with the Romans. He tried to stay out of politics, and his stories dealt with the concerns of the common people. So why should we mix religion and politics? The Republican Party has manipulated the evangelicals to do its bidding, regardless of the cost. Their booming issue now is religious rights, i.e. methods to skirt the law. The Democrats often have appeared hostile to organized religion and seem to favor the secular.
What is the role of Progressive Christians? John Pavlovich recently challenged us to try to answer that question. We do not want to become as hostile, but we cannot remain passive in the midst of such a crisis of the assault on moral authority in this nation. The language of doublespeak has infested even the church, much less the political realm. People don’t seem to matter; it’s all about power and money. What we call populism is a joke and an insult to the common people. How do we define the “common good,” and does it matter anymore? The goal of many people seems to be about winning the pot of gold and maintaining the privileged status of a few. Even a billionaire such a Ray Dalio recently commented on a 60 Minutes interview that we are in danger of losing our democracy due to our economic inequality and lack of opportunity for all.
Christianity has strayed at times over the centuries from the message of Jesus and the Good News, and we seem to be in another valley of deceit again. The church appears to be more concerned with searching out heretics than in serving, and the poor and disenfranchised are left to rot. Sure, we still do lots of good mission work and help in times of disasters, but so do the so-called heathens. We are divided not so much by theology as by a division of worldviews. Openness versus fear; love versus hostility; abundance versus scarcity. How can the Holy Spirit move in the chaos of such division?
In the most basic terms, this isn’t about who is right and who is wrong. Everyone thinks God is on his or her side. But how do we know what he wants? Yes, the Bible is a good guide, but too often it is merely used as a weapon. It is not a question of different interpretations; it is a matter of priorities.
The radical right has adopted two social issues: abortion and homosexuality as the litmus tests of religious righteousness. Nothing else seems to matter to them. Strange that Jesus never talked about either of them so are they just the sins of the 21st Century? Perhaps the objective was simply to create more divisiveness as a means to win elections? Pick a hot button issue and get elected or have some convenient bogeyman to preach against. Who are we to judge their motivation? The question is how can we reach across that chasm? How can we engage the power of the Holy Spirit to meet such a challenge? That is the issue of our times.
The uproar following the Special Session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church has not subsided. The discussion has become more widespread and more heated both within the church and the media. Speculation is rampant, and at this point no one knows what the results will be. If I were placing bets, I would conclude that the Methodists eventually will split like the Presbyterians and Episcopalians did. I’m not in the political hierarchy of the church, in fact, I’m not even a member anymore so my opinion counts for very little.
On March 28th, Sacred Witness NC hosted a rally at the headquarters of the North Carolina Conference of the UMC to receive a petition signed by 1,300+ people opposing the Traditional Plan. Several hundred people heard a dozen or so speakers address their personal concerns, including the Bishop. It was indicative of similar actions across the nation as supporters of the Reconciling Ministries Network have risen up to express their concerns.
For the first time in years, I feel at peace and no longer in conflict with my church. I’m on the outside looking in: an interested observer but nothing more. I do not suggest that approach for anyone else. It simply was my decision for my personal physical and mental health
As for me, I’ve moved on to other things. I’m still involved with my local congregation and planning for an upcoming BBQ dinner. I’m slowly phasing out of RUM-NC and will miss Annual Conference for the first time in several years, I’m becoming more involved with the North Carolina Council of Churches. They have several initiatives that are of interest to me. They’re involved in discussions about immigration and gun violence. These long-festering issues are coming to a head in North Carolina, and the General Assembly is being pressured to take some action. I attended their legislative workshop at North Raleigh UMC.
We have more than enough local issues to deal with. The Mayor of Raleigh has announced that after a decade she has decided not to run again. Early reports predict a contentious campaign.
The regional transit authority, Go Triangle, has announced that it is abandoning the light rail project that had been in the works for a decade. The plan was opposed by Duke University and the NC General Assembly, and that effectively cut off state and federal funding. I expect that the lack of any plan will hurt future development in Durham and Chapel Hill for another decade as we continue to fail to cope with the rapid growth in population. Raleigh already was 20 years behind when it abandoned the Special Transit Advisory Commission (STAC) plan. We just don’t have the leadership in the state that politically supports public transportation. Charlotte is the only example of success.
I don’t have the money to become actively involved in the upcoming 2020 elections and don’t have a strong interest in volunteering at the local level. It’s way too soon to sort out the Democratic candidates, and it’s not productive only to oppose Trump. I wish we limited campaigns to three months as some countries do. The lengthy campaigns have become a tiresome process for the candidates, who face more of an endurance contest rather than exchange of plans and ideas. The public also has to suffer months of negative campaign ads.
Driving home from lunch recently, I passed miles of flowering trees in full bloom with a variety of colors, and the beauty stuck me emotionally. For a fleeting moment I felt happy.
Dear Rev. Roberts,
It is with regret that I request to withdraw my membership in the United Methodist Church. I will continue to attend and financially support the congregation that has welcomed me just as I am, rather than the church that tells me what I should be.
I have struggled to become reconciled with my church ever since my partner in 1967 was told to drop out of seminary because he was gay and had no promise within the Methodist Church. I observed the witch hunt trial of Gene Leggett in San Antonio in 1976 that became a public spectacle and an embarrassment to the church. Subsequent clergy trials have occurred depending upon the arbitrary opinions of the local bishops, who can choose how to enforce the Book of Discipline. The resolution of these trials is capricious and inconsistent, and a trial often is ignored if a person is willing to lie. If our church is willing to prevent from ordination an outstanding young preacher such as Jeffrey Warren, who is reaching out to spread the good news to unbelievers, then it has the wrong priorities. (His presentation at General Conference was shared 516,560 times on social media just in case you thought he had no impact.)
Over the years it has become apparent to many that the United Methodist Church is more interested in maintaining the status quo and appealing to leaders who represent a conservative class of older members who have the most money. The debate is not about a cultural divide; it’s about political power. The Methodist Church was envisioned by John and Charles Wesley as an evangelical movement, but it was never fundamentalist in its interpretation of the Bible. After 14 years of serving as a co-leader of a weekly Bible study, I am still growing in my knowledge of the scriptures and also how to interpret them for the 21st Century. The fundamentalists cannot say the same. Love the sinner, hate the sin is still a statement of judgment. This struggle is not an interpretation of scripture over which we can amicably disagree. It has consequences.
This long debate about dogma has alienated not only the LGBT community from the church but also many others who see the church as focused more on self-righteousness than service. According to the UMC polls of the current generation, the Methodist Church has become irrelevant to their lives. The church has become an archaic institution that holds no promise of salvation unless we are in strict conformity with a 19th Century dogma. The Special Session of General Conference passed the Traditional Plan enforcing the restrictions of the 2016 Book of Discipline. Some are hopeful the plan will be overturned by the Judicial Council. If that occurs, we still will have the status quo. That is unacceptable to me. We are not petty children who have been hurt because we lost a game. We have suffered shame and abuse, sometimes murder, from those who claim to act in the name of God. As the Special General Conference demonstrated, the priorities of the church have changed, and evangelism is near the bottom of the list. Doctrinal purity is foremost.
At 83, I now believe that reconciliation with my church is not possible and that the established order will continue for the foreseeable future. I also have withdrawn my participation in the Reconciling Ministries Network and the North Carolina Chapter. The church hasn’t listened to our pleas. I can’t continue to participate in an exercise in futility. The Bishop’s periodic sessions of dialogue have served only to talk the issue to death with no real progress. I don’t want to hear another endless debate of the “issue.” I am not an issue; I am a person. If the church cannot accept me just as I am, then it has no place for me.
cc: Gray Southern
For many years I played the role of a victim. For a decade I coped by hiding in the closet. Then I tentatively started to come out to a few people, but I still was afraid and lacked self-confidence. I avoided any risk so I compromised my career and avoided any situation that might be a threat. I lived life on the fringes - not really engaged.
Slowly I realized that my WASP privilege shielded me from many of the problems that people of color face in this country every day. I came to understand that I was only one of many who are marginalized by society by racism, homophobia, greed, and class distinction. We may not be able to control our circumstances, but we can choose our responses.
I even found a partner, but again the pressures of society made it difficult to maintain that relationship. I could not even imagine the opportunity of getting married and living a normal life.
I found a steady job and settled down in a small community and got by - getting along and keeping a low profile. I wasn’t living up to my potential, but again I was afraid of taking the risk of stepping outside my comfort zone.
The train was crowded, and every seat was filled. The young woman politely asked if the seat next to me was available. It took some time for the train to get underway. In the meantime, she turned on the overhead light and started reading. After the train started moving, she got up and went to the club car where the lighting was brighter. She stayed there for a long time before returning to her seat.
After she sat down again, we struck up a conversation. I learned that her family originally was from Ethiopia. They had emigrated first to Mississippi and then to New Jersey, where she earned her college degree. She had heard about the job opportunities in the Triangle and applied for a job in Raleigh. She liked the lively downtown atmosphere and the loads of activities for young professionals. She was happy in North Carolina and not particularly interested in its politics.
We chatted for some time before lapsing into silence as the hours got later. I last saw her leaving Raleigh Union Station. I wondered how a beautiful young African-American felt about the Deep South, and she admitted that it was a challenge at times. Raleigh was much more progressive, and she felt that her race was not an issue.
With all the current hysteria about immigrants of color, I guessed that the transition of her family might be more difficult today. I also thought of another immigrant family who fled to Egypt to escape persecution. Although they later returned to Palestine, Egypt and Ethiopia became early adopters of Christianity and fostered the developed the Coptic branch of the religion. Although Christians are now a threatened minority in these Muslim nations, many ancient churches still survive. According to tradition, one even holds the sacred chalice of Christ.
People have searched the scriptures in the Old Testament of the Jewish tradition of hospitality that was prevalent in the first century. Then we had the Crusades and now the civil wars in the Middle East. The refugee crisis in Syria has overrun European countries that struggle to cope with the influx of millions of people. America seem to be threatened by a few thousand refugees on our southern border. Let’s face it, the real issue is racism and not security.
We are a nation of immigrants. During the 18th Century, they came exclusively from Europe. For most of the 19th Century, the people came from Europe or China. In the 20th Century, we attracted people from all over the world, primarily because of better economic and educational opportunities than in the less developed nations. We put up lots of barriers to protect ourselves, but people still come in spite of our overt hostility at times. Why?
Because for generations we were the beacon of hope in a world filled with wars and lack of economic opportunity. Poverty exists in this country but not in the same extent as in many other countries, such as India.
Jesus was a Jew and a Palestinian. Would we welcome him today?