Photo by Flickr user Esther Simpson, some rights reserved.

Commentary by Patrick Scriven | Director of Communications & Young People’s Ministry

LLet me first name that I write from a place of deep privilege. I am a straight, white male, married with kids and living the dream. Theologically, I am a progressive in a conference that does almost everything in a progressive way. Finally, while I’m not clergy (that last piece of privilege in the church), I serve on conference staff and regularly sleep next to a pastor who will also be a district superintendent very soon.

But I think the most profound privilege I carry would be the many opportunities I’ve had to meet, speak with, and serve the diverse and wonderful people of the Pacific Northwest Conference. When I was new to my position on conference staff, I was prone to gravitate toward the people and places where I found affinity. These relationships are great at offering affirmation and helping one to grow in confidence and a sense of value – things that are often needed when you are new or young, both of which I once was.

As I’ve grown in experience, and hopefully matured in spirit, I now recognize how much of a blessing my interactions across difference are. I rarely learn much in talking with a sister or brother about a topic upon which we agree but I grow significantly when I create space to see things from another’s point of view. When I spend time living in community with the ‘other,’ and exert my focus and energy toward the things we hold in common, somehow those differences seem less important even if they never quite fade away.

They also help me to catch a glimpse of how much bigger God is than any box I could ever put God in.

I’ve come to value such relationships because these interactions help me to see the deficiencies in the way I approach the world. They also help me to catch a glimpse of how much bigger God is than any box I could ever put God in. But I’ve also never been repeatedly told that a core part of my identity is a mistake, or worse.

Enter the following floor speech by Kathy Cosner, a laywoman from our Silverdale United Methodist Church. She offered these words as the annual conference debated a resolution calling for the cessation of church trials.

“When I first looked at this legislation…I wasn’t too sure, I knew I wanted to speak to it but I wasn’t sure whether I would speak for or against. Frankly, I think church trials are destructive. I think they are expensive. I don’t think they reflect well on the body of Christ. I don’t like them. 

But my largest objection to this legislation is that it is symptomatic of the kind of processes that have been in place in this conference for years now. It’s symptomatic of the way we’ve been dealing with this problem and other problems. It’s not a matter of holy conferencing to introduce legislation like this.  It’s not faithful, it’s relying on an institutional motion and I’m feeling an incredible sense of urgency at this time.

I’m listening to the reports of the various groups calling for schism in The United Methodist Church over this issue. And I feel that we need to make a substantive change in how we be the church; how we work together; how we face things together.

I believe The United Methodist Church has something significant to offer the body of Christ. We have some unique features that are valuable. I don’t want to see that lost. So I’m speaking to this not because anything is going to change at this Annual Conference, and frankly I think it’s too bad that next annual conference is right before General Conference because the temptation to act in a political fashion is going to be even stronger.

So what I’m asking this body is to imagine is functioning together in a more dialogue-centric fashion, without legislation on this issue. Now to be honest, I don’t think the issue of sexual orientation is what’s at the bottom of our, our dwindling, our schism, our fractioning; whatever you want to call it. I don’t see that as the cause. I see this as multiple things combining to pull us down. But regardless of that, unless we are willing to take some risks and make changes in the way we function together as the church, I don’t see the results or the outcomes changing.

I’m dissatisfied with being a part of something that looks like a political action group or an institution. I want to be a part of the church. I want to be a part of the body of Christ. I know that there are people, many people on this floor, who have lives committed to Jesus Christ. What I’d like to see if for all of us to rise up and act on that faith in a way that is an inspiration to the world; the larger community around us. What I’d like to see is a move away from political legislative processes. 

I personally have no faith in political processes to save us. I have a lot of faith in Jesus Christ. I believe he does new things everyday because I’ve seen him do new things in me. I believe he can do new things in the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference but only if we ask him, only if we are willing to take some risks. And that means all of us need to start praying for a new vision – a new way of being together – and it’s got to start soon because I think we are running out of time. 

Thank you.”  – You can view Cosner’s comments in context around the 2:32:38 point on our Youtube page.

While I know that I don’t agree with Kathy on all of the questions pertaining to human sexuality, I long for, and have at times experienced, the Pacific Northwest conference she hopes for as well; one where we can actually talk to each other without trying to ‘win’ the debate, score a cheap point, or demand the sacrifice of personal integrity for compliance to those who hold the power.

I see this Pacific Northwest Conference emerging in the new faith communities we start that cross the theological spectrum; and I must confess I struggle with that diversity. I see it in the intentionality to create space for the traditional perspective in positions of significant leadership; and in the grace and patience those so entrusted seem to incarnate. I’m a bit inspired by that and I’m moved by the passion of folks like Kathy who are willing to stay in relationship while being out of consensus.

While I appreciated much of Kathy’s statement, particularly the way she connected risk and relationships, I kept wishing that she would name the other side of the coin. While we haven’t had a trial in the Pacific Northwest in a while, the memories of days not so long past still haunt us and revisit when ministers across the connection are defrocked and refrocked on the whim of a jury. Clergy bringing charges against their colleagues within the last year suggest these fears aren’t completely unfounded.

To live together in the Promised Land, we have to stop acting like we are still in bondage, and we have to value where we are going more than our memories of where we’ve been.

So what if we were to take Kathy’s request seriously and not bring forward any legislation on the topic of human sexuality? And what if those who were in the minority on this issue (in the PNW) didn’t bring forward any charges against clergy, laity, or churches living out their mission in faithful conscience if not in direct obedience to the letter of the law?

Even better, what if we intentionally reached out to the closest United Methodist church (geographically) that was the farthest from us (theologically) and chose a project to tackle together for the sake of the larger community (and for our own)? I suspect such risk taking practices would bring us all closer to providing a true alternative to a world quite familiar with the partisanship we are broken with as well.

To live together in the Promised Land, we have to stop acting like we are still in bondage, and we have to value where we are going more than our memories of where we’ve been. Our salvation will come from the love we create. May God continue to be with us as we begin our next act together and may we discover new reservoirs of love, grace, and patience for those who hold the differences that God will one day reconcile.

3 COMMENTS

  1. I, too, appreciate the passion that both sides bring to issues, but Kathy loses me when she objects (consistently) to the church dealing with issues in a political fashion. In his own way, Jesus Christ dealt with Rome in a political fashion. Jesus challenged Caesar in a way that most of us would not have the nerve to do, if we had been alive during those days. So the Annual Conference is following Jesus when it decides to tackle an issue and in some ways, it is not following Jesus when it avoids issues.

    We spent a lot of energy reflecting on the terrible things that happened at Puyallup during World War II. Where was the church then?

    Are we aware of the terrible things happening to undocumented immigrants in Tacoma right now, today, in our own time? I am aware of two or three Christians called United Methodists who are doing anything about it. The treatment of children in that context is hinted at in our newspapers, but mostly there is silence. Will we wait 50 years to name the injustice of putting children in jail over something they were not responsible for?

    It is a bit like (but much worse) than attempting to destroy an United Methodist minister for something he “might do” in the future. With that yardstick, how could any of us survive?

    I would not be bothered if we didn’t pass petitions at Annual Conference. They are often hurtful. I stopped writing them several years ago. Long before I joined this conference in 1995. But my motivation was not that they were political. My motivation was that they were useless.

    If you think we have lost our way in society over guns, give some money and energy to a program that will make a difference in our society and that would not be passing a resolution at Annual Conference. I decided to do something about guns. I sold mine (legally) and no longer own a gun. They were useless anyway. When I sold the guns a short time ago, I wisely kept the bullets separate from the guns. I still have not found my bullets. They would not have been useful for self defense if some gun nut attacked my personal space. But I still have a baseball bat. I have not had to use it yet.

    My best experience (in nature) with a gun in my hands and bullets in the chamber was at Yakatat when a brown bear passed by me just 30 feet away. Praise God. The bear did not see or smell me (I had been in the woods for a couple of days) and I admired it as it ran pass me and went on its way. And I had enough self control not to shoot it. (That would not have been legal, as I did not have a bear permit, just a moose permit. But the moose was safe. I didn’t see any on that trip.)

    We have laws controlling hunting (a very political issue) and we ought to have laws controlling who can own a gun (another political issue). Jesus challenged Rome (a political issue) and he paid the price.

    I hope the United Methodist Church continues to be concerned about political issues, but I will really be impressed when we are willing to pay some price for our concerns and we put our money where our mouths seem to be located, as did Jesus.

  2. I appreciate, greatly, what Patrick shared, what Kathy said and what John has written. Being concerned about political issues is what allows the country to function, and us, as citizens, to have our voices heard. I also agree that legislation always ends up hurting somebody. Years ago, the Legislative Committee I was in was going to vote not to even read a proposal. But somebody said, it too, deserves consideration, somebody believes in it.

    But somehow, I have come to believe that we have slightly lost our way. The Mission of the UM Church is

    ” ¶ 120. The Mission-The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

    I believe that when we focus on a lot of legislation, we begin to lose sight of that. If you wish, as in John’s great example, to help support gun laws, then go and do so. It is a political issue in this country. But don’t expect everybody to be with you.

    If you wish to work for better wages for people, a justice and political issue, especially in this state, then go and do so. But don’t expect everybody to be with you.

    And, if you are doing things that you believe in passionately, that is wonderful. But don’t expect everybody to agree with you and don’t try to make your point (believe me, they’ve heard you), don’t try to make them feel stupid or silly or unhelpful when you don’t agree with their point of view.

    I believe that if we focused on the Mission, which would include being Christ-like for each other, many of our “arguments” would become discussions that could, just possibly, change the world.

  3. The United Methodist Church cannot even put the ‘fun’ in dysfunctional;
    we are removed from meaningful work and action with a myriad of petitions at an Annual Conference. I lost Kathy when she got to “dialogue-centric fashion” in her very passionate speech.
    As Sharon said: “If you wish to work for better wages for people, a justice and political issue, especially in this state, then go and do so. But don’t expect everybody to be with you.” Especially do not expect your larger church to be with you.

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