Not This, But That. But What's That?

Not this. The Judicial Council ruling, unsurprisingly, enshrined much of the actions of General Conference 2019. I, along with pretty much every United Methodist I know, say “not this.” 

This is not the United Methodist church that I signed up for. 

Our earlier position of not allowing “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” into the ranks of the clergy was problematic enough, but now we have removed the protection of the word “self-avowed.” Social media postings or living situations are now fair game for anyone who wants to formally out someone else. “Practicing” is no longer a protection either, removing the (not fantastic, but I know folks who have chosen it) option of remaining celibate. Nope, if you’re gay, or if someone suspects you are, you’re out of here. 

Performing same-sex weddings now has mandatory and harsh consequences. Let me be clear about the import of this action. I could have sex on the chancel of my church with someone other than my husband while rolling around in the Sunday offering that I had absconded with, and there would be no mandatory penalties. (Just to clarify, I have never done any of those things, separately or all at once, nor will I.) But if I perform a wedding for two people in love, I face an automatic one-year, unpaid suspension, and the second offense would result in the removal of my credentials. Neither the Bishop, the Board of Ordained Ministry, or the Annual Conference would have any discretion in the matter.

 So I join with many, many other United Methodists in saying “not this.” This is no longer my denomination. If not this, then what? What’s next? 

One conversation suggests bringing about change by resistance. In a meeting I was in earlier this week, one person made me smile when she said, “The WCA (the group representing social conservatives) is like the dog that has caught the car.” I’m not sure they really thought they would win, and they are likely wondering what to do now. The WCA went into General Conference with articles of incorporation for their new denomination and a meeting date in April to constitute their new entity. When they won the UMC instead, they set aside their planned meeting. Now, however, they have custody of a church in schism. It appears that both progressives and a large number of moderates will be heading for the door, leaving the WCA with a fragment of the US churches and most of the churches beyond the US, including Africa for whom the UMC provides the bulk of the financial support. 

Many statements and actions of resistance are flooding our denomination already, and perhaps they will provide the WCA an excuse to revert to their original plans to leave the church. It’s hard to believe that will happen, though, when Bishop Scott Jones has announced that if 100 clergy in his Annual Conference perform same-sex unions, there will be 100 charges filed and 100 church trials held. It seemed like hyperbole when he said that before General Conference, but now it sounds like his description of reality. One person’s “act of resistance” is another person’s “simply doing the right thing,” so resistance will continue regardless.

Another conversation is being led by Adam Hamilton. He is working methodically and with great intention to create a new something, based on the best of our Wesleyan heritage and responsive to the needs of 21st century Christians. (You can read more about it here.) I find his words and actions very hopeful. A new church could bring new opportunities to reach new generations with the love of Christ.

After the Judicial Council ruling, someone asked, “So, can progressives leave now?” While I respect the right of everyone to make their own best decision, I plan to hang around for a while. It’s just getting interesting and, one way or another, I believe we’ll end up with something a lot better than what we have now. I know it’s not this, and I can’t wait to be a part of that which God is bringing about.

To my kidlings, in light of the college admissions scandal

To my amazing, incredible, so-totally-loved kidlings,

The recent college admissions kerfuffle that we’ve been hearing about  as gotten me thinking.

First off, I’m still in shock that Lori Loughlin was caught paying $500,000 to get her daughter into USC. Y’all grew up watching Full House, and I imagine that you, like me, might be wondering how much she paid to get Mary Kate and Ashley into the college of their choice. I looked into it, and it appears that she did nothing wrong as a television aunt, and that the twins got into NYU on their own merit, although they neglected to graduate. I’ll miss Loughlin being on the playlist for the Hallmark Christmas movies, but I’m confident that there are other actresses of a certain age to step into her stylish-yet-sensible shoes.

All kidding aside, I am so troubled by what these felonious parents have taught their kids. Not just that lying, cheating, and stealing are go-to ways to get what you want. No, I am more troubled about what these parents have taught their children about themselves. These children have been shown that they are not enough. No matter how  smart they are, or how hard they have worked, or how passionate they are about a hobby or a skill, their parents have taught them that they are not good enough to get anywhere worth going on their own. What a terrible thing to teach your own child!

Perhaps the kids felt a shimmer of relief when someone else walked into the SAT test impersonating them. Maybe there was a glint of admiration for the gumption it took to pretend to be a star water polo player while coming from a school that didn’t even have a water polo team. It’s possible that these kids even felt some pride for coming from a family with enough money to make their own rules. None of these things would have changed the core message. Their parents told them unequivocally that they were not good enough to do it on their own. These young people are marred and broken by that knowledge.

I want you each to know that your dad and I think that y’all are three of the best things we’ve ever done, and that you are wonderfully and fabulously enough. 

I remember the college searches with each of you. Perhaps it was Midwestern modesty, but none of you felt like you needed an Ivy League school to prove your worth. We looked at schools that seemed to be good matches for you because of what they had for you, not because of the name. We wanted for you to be at a place where we could help you graduate debt-free. Beyond that, you did it all. You took your own tests, the results of which were always a happy surprise for us. You interviewed and applied for scholarships and did all of the normal stuff, and you did well. You never needed bribes or lies, because you have always been good enough to be where you needed to be.

Each one of you is making your own path through life, and we are so very proud of you. Nothing can change that.

If you know nothing else about yourselves, please know that you are enough. You are good enough. You are kind enough, loving enough, smart enough, everything enough. We would never sell out your “enough-ness “ for as cheap a price as money.  We’ve not always been perfect parents, but if we’ve been able to teach you how beloved you are, then that is enough. 

As are you. 

With all of our love,
Mom and Dad

Family Heritage

My mother expressed more than once her great surprise at having given birth to a pastor. (Her exact words, which would always amuse and horrify me in equal measures, were “I can’t believe a preacher sprang forth from my loins.”) Her incredulity mirrored my own quite often. As the 13th woman ordained in my Annual Conference, and as the first woman in every pastoral role in which I’ve served, I’ve wondered more than once how I got there. 

Last night, my perspective changed entirely. I was at a family reunion dinner in New Orleans, celebrating the 80th birthdays of my mother’s twin siblings. (Thanks to the miracle of modern air travel, I was able to be at dinner in NOLA Friday night and have lunch back home the next day.) I had received an email from my uncle earlier in the week, asking me to offer a blessing for the meal. And, he continued, “Methodist ministers have had a big role in the Radford family! I would like for you to make a few remarks about Methodist ministers in our life.” 

I started thinking about a couple of Methodist ministers that were a part of our family. Dr. Bill was a bachelor all of his life. During his tenure as Dean of Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, he lived with my great-grandparents. He performed the weddings of my parents and my aunt and uncle, before going on to become consecrated as Bishop Cannon. There was also a great uncle somewhere along the line that baptized a couple of my grandparents’ children. 

Rev. Richard Prior

My favorite family preacher though, is Rev. Robert A. Prior (1811-1861). He is my a-whole-bunch-of-multiples great-grandfather and served as a Methodist circuit rider in Georgia. I don’t know if he lived to be only 50 due to the Civil War or to the demands of the life as an itinerant preacher. I’ve enjoyed reading his Discipline, which is full of nuggets such as the dictum that, while a traveling preacher is preaching, the church is responsible for feeding and watering his horse. 

Thinking about my forebears in ministry last night led me to my first thought, which was, “Who am I to be surprised that I am a Methodist pastor?” What a great affirmation it is to know that I’m simply living into my family heritage. (Although I do hope I've got better hair than he does.)

But I realized something even more important. When we were growing up, we were not raised to be close to our extended family. It has only been as we’ve gotten older that we’ve sought each other out, primarily through Facebook and a wonderfully fun family football challenge orchestrated by my marvelous sister. We live across the country, from North Carolina to Florida to Mississippi to Missouri to Colorado to California. When 24 of us gathered for the birthday dinner last night, some of us had never met, and few of us had spent much time with anyone outside our own immediate family. However, I felt bonded with the people in that room in ways that surprised me. I could see the similarities of our grandparents in most of us. We have some common speech patterns, albeit different accents. We tend to laugh in similar ways, I think. There was a common bond among us that may have not been visible to anyone outside the room, but we felt it.

The Radford clan is far from uniform. Although we didn’t talk about politics (we were way too busy getting caught up on each other’s lives to go there), I’m fairly certain that a wide range of political opinions existed in that room. None of that mattered in the laughter, tears, and memories of last night.

Which made me think about Rev. Prior. He served a Methodist church that was divided over slavery. He lived through that vote for schism, and he served in the post-division church. It is very possible that I will soon follow in his footsteps by serving a church chooses to divide, although our issue is sexual orientation rather than slavery. This question will be before our denomination later this month at a Called General Conference in St. Louis.

I think again about my family last night, gathered together to celebrate. The most important thing was our common bond that we share, people that either were born into the Radford clan or chose to marry into it. Family goes far beyond politics. Can the same be true for our denomination? Can we find a way to live our common life as family, and not split over something that, years down the road, will seem tragic and useless?

My best vision for our unity is reflected in the One Church Plan, which I support. There are other plans out there, and the political wrangling over our future may lead us to another place. My hope is that the Spirit will lead us to a place of unity.

As much as I love and admire my family, the second thing I realized last night is that I truly don’t want to be exactly like my multiple-great grandfather, Rev. Prior. I don’t want to serve a church that splits, as he did. My hope is to serve a church that manages, in spite of distance and differences, to stay together, just like the very best families do.