An Open Letter
To: Rev. Tom Lambrecht, member of the Commission on a Way Forward
From: Elaine Stanovsky, bishop of the Greater Northwest Area of The United Methodist Church
My heart is not at war. I am not using clergy and staff appointments to undermine the unity of the Church or the work of the Commission on a Way Forward. My heart was at peace when I appointed Rev. Kathleen Weber to my cabinet. It was at peace when I approved hiring Rev. Brett Webb-Mitchell by the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference. These are two deeply faithful, highly qualified, effective leaders, well suited for the ministry contexts they are called to serve. They were not chosen for their sexual orientation. I did not disqualify them because they are honest about their relationships.
I’ll admit that I felt defensive when I read your article, “Northwest United Methodist Defiance.”[i] “Poke in the eye,” “overt defiance,” “callous disregard,” “double-barreled assault,” “escalation,” “in your face repudiation.” Why do you think you know my heart? We never had a conversation.
So, I returned to the The Anatomy of Peace,[ii] recommended by the Commission on a Way Forward and the Council of Bishops as a way to disarming ourselves for the difficult conversations the Church needs to have. I re-read the section called, “From War to Peace,” and practiced the steps for “getting out of the box” of self-justification and blaming:
- Look for the signs of self-justification and blaming. This was easy for me. You took two of my actions out of context, weaponized them with aggressive rhetoric, and lobbed them into the last meeting of the Commission. You misrepresented my motives. You never asked me what I believe, why I believe what I believe or why I lead the way I lead. And you didn’t even have the courtesy to send me your article. I first saw it when a friend forwarded it to me as an email distributed on March 16, 2018, three days before it was available publicly as a blog on the Good News Magazine You aren’t practicing the practices that the Commission recommends.
- Find an out–of-the box place. There was a time when a colleague lashed out at me in a meeting, accusing me of racism. I broke into tears and retreated from the meeting and the accusation. A friend sought me out, listened to my pain and invited me to be the whole and well person he knew that I could be. My heart returned to peace and I was able to approach the person I had offended, and begin a long slow journey to healing.
- Ponder the situation anew. What are this person’s challenges, trials, burdens and pains? How am I adding to them? Wow! I only know you as a guy who attacks from a safe distance rather than picking up the phone. Can I cultivate curiosity about what pain you bear? How are your opinions and actions shaped by your love of Jesus?
- Act upon what I have discovered; do what I think I should do. I think I should not strike back. I should respond with curiosity. Yet, I think I should not remain silent. I invite you to play fair. I invite you to disarm. Despite deep misgivings, I will give you the benefit of my doubt – that you might want our United Methodist Church to be strong into the future and faithful to God’s leading as much as I do. I hope and pray this is true. If it is true, and we are willing, God can teach each of us to love the other as we love ourselves. I invite you to talk with me before you write about me. I invite you to send me a copy of anything you write about me before you send it to your email distribution list or post it on the internet. I will commit to abiding by the same standard in the future.
You are meeting with the Commission on a Way Forward as I write. I pray for you, Tom, and for the work of the Commission. I pray for the future of our church, that we will find a way to continue to share the good news of Jesus Christ, even as we continue to seek to understand the fullness of God’s intention for humankind. I hope that, as a member of the Commission, you are leading us in the way the Commission said it would at the beginning. Do you remember?
The Commission will design a way for being church that maximizes the presence of a United Methodist witness in as many places in the world as possible, that allows for as much contextual differentiation as possible, and that balances an approach to different theological understandings of human sexuality with a desire for as much unity as possible. – Commission on a Way Forward: About Us
We need a Church that aspires to this vision: one church, a variety of expressions; one body, many parts. In the Northwest we’re cultivating this spirit, in support of the Commission’s work, as we send 50 trained leaders across the area to facilitate Table Talks about the Way Forward between now and June, and dedicate 4 ½ hours during our Annual Conference sessions to The Anatomy of Peace and small group conversations. God is at work when two or three gather. I’m expecting miracles.
The Lord bless you and keep you;
the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you;
the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace.
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky
[i] “Northwest United Methodist Defiance,” by Thomas Lambrecht, circulated by email from email@example.com on Friday, March 16, 2018, and posted as personal blog on Monday, March 19, http://tomlambrecht.goodnewsmag.org/northwest-united-methodist-defiance/.
[ii] The Anatomy of Peace, resolving the heart of conflict, The Arbinger Institute, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, 2006.