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The fury of asking for love

I’ve been a member of the United Methodist Church my whole life. I’ve been angry at the church since I was in high school.

That doesn’t sound terribly healthy, and I assure you there’s more to it than that. I’ve gotten a lot of good out of my Methodism. But this week brings to the forefront, again, the reason I’ve nearly left multiple times.

I was in high school the first time I knew someone who was rejected by the Methodist Church for being gay. I knew this person to be good, kind, and a great disciple, someone who brought others to know the love of Jesus. I couldn’t figure out what else the church might want in a person. Apparently it also wanted that person not to have been born gay.

When I was a sophomore in college, a dear friend of mine shared with me that he was gay, and also that many religious people in his life had rejected him. Again, the dichotomy hit me in the face. My friend was a person of faith, and he was strong enough in that faith to see that people rejecting him were missing the point — but it hurt him all the same.

The Methodist Church’s official position

The Methodist Church added language to its Book of Discipline in 1972 that says homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

¶ 304.3 Qualifications for Ordination

While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world. The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals1 are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.2
1. “Self-avowed practicing homosexual” is understood to mean that a person openly acknowledges to a bishop, district superintendent, district committee of ordained ministry, board of ordained ministry, or clergy session that the person is a practicing homosexual. See Judicial Council Decisions 702, 708, 722, 725, 764, 844, 984, 1020
2. See Judicial Council Decisions 984, 985, 1027, 1028

In practice, what this means at a high level is that if you say you’re LGBTQ, you can’t get ordained as a Methodist minister, and no Methodist minister can conduct a marriage between two men or two women, and a Methodist church can’t host such a ceremony.

What this means at a day-to-day level and a personal level varies a lot, depending on the particular Methodist church you wander into. For many years, individual and groups of Methodist churches have disavowed these and related statements in our Discipline, and have welcomed all people into their congregations as full members, participants, and leaders. Some Methodist ministers have conducted weddings for gay and lesbian members. And some of them have been kicked out of their positions in the church for it.

Many other Methodist churches haven’t taken a formal stance, but in practice, have welcomed all members, and have created loving, affirming faith communities that welcome LGBTQ members just as they would anyone else.

And many Methodist churches are horrified that the rest of us “welcome” LGBTQ members in an inclusive way. They think we are misguided at best and have wandered from Christ’s teaching.

One of the great benefits and, simultaneously, one of the great drawbacks of the United Methodist Church in the United States is that we span the entire political and theological spectrum. Whoever you are, at the moment you’ll find a home in the Methodist Church. And whoever you are, you are bound to disagree with a lot of the other people here.

There are some very real differences with our rapidly growing church communities in some African countries and other areas where being or living as an LGBTQ person is illegal, as well.

Making Methodist policy

Every four years [usually in a Summer Olympics year], the Methodist Church holds its General Conference, a meeting of delegates from all over the world to talk about church policy. Every four years since I was in high school, I’ve gotten my hopes up as the topic of inclusion comes up, and every time, I’ve had my hopes dashed again. Each time, it’s gotten more personal for me. It’s harder and harder for me to ignore the ways that the official position of the United Methodist Church harms more and more of my friends and family. And frankly, it should be too much for it to harm ANY person at all. The very idea that a church is actively and willfully excluding people — I still can’t get it right in my head.

I’ve stuck around this long because I’ve found enough reason for hope to stay. I remember after a General Conference in the mid-1990s, standing around with several members of my church at the time, discussing our heartbreak. The people I was talking to all happened to be gay men. And we all felt called to stay, to “be part of the solution.” This must have been 1996.

I’m not a patient person. But faith communities are tricky. There’s no perfect one, of course. And I have found lots to love and support in the Methodist churches I’ve been part of.

The closest I’ve come to leaving so far was about 10 years ago. We were changing churches about the time my youngest was born. We were considering joining another denomination. I looked seriously at two other denominations that affirm people who are LGBTQ. And I ended up back at a Methodist church, because there were too many pieces about this place that speak to my soul, especially our focus on social justice.

Frankly, I have a hard time reconciling that social justice focus with a Discipline that actively rejects a class of people. I find every defense of the Discipline disingenuous. The only real defense I’ve ever seen has been people citing the few verses in the Bible that reject homosexuality. Now, I do get why you think those are important, especially if you say you’re a Bible-believing Christian. If the Bible is God’s holy word, those must matter, right?

Here’s what I’ve never heard anyone adequately explain:

  • People who support LGBTQ exclusion are not up in arms about the fact that we ordain divorced/remarried people.
  • People who support LGBTQ exclusion do think slavery is wrong, even though the Bible discusses it as if it’s obvious that people have slaves.
  • People who support LGBTQ exclusion don’t run around taking an eye for an eye or amputating the hands of thieves.
  • People who support LGBTQ exclusion eat shrimp and wear blended fabrics and don’t stone adulterers and I could go on for a long time but I will stop here.

All of these and many other passages from the Bible are understood by everyone I know as something that may have been relevant 2000 years ago, but doesn’t make sense today. No one has ever explained to me how they “just know” that the few verses about homosexuality are different than the prohibition on eating shellfish.

I used to have more patience with the “hate-the-sin, love-the-sinner” way of thinking, even though it wasn’t my own. It’s pretty prominent in the Methodist Church, especially in more traditional congregations, who would be shocked to hear that anyone doesn’t feel welcome in their house of worship, even though many of those congregations give subtle and not-so-subtle hints that LGBTQ people aren’t actually welcome at all — they will “welcomed” as long as they conform to community demands to suppress themselves, to deny their identities. I’ve lost patience with that over time, as well, because I think I used to believe that would be a transitional state of mind, and as people came to know and understand more, they would realize that being born gay isn’t a sin, it’s just human. Just like being born with blue eyes or dark skin or short or tall or anything else.

I’m out of patience

I’m done with the patient part of my life. I cannot stand by and watch this church actively reject people any more. I have just the slimmest bit of patience left for the ideas in the One Church model, which is one of the proposals before the specially called conference this week in St. Louis. This model would allow ministers to conduct a marriage between two men and two women, but it wouldn’t make them do that. It would allow churches to host such a wedding, but it wouldn’t make them. And it would allow regional church conferences to ordain LGBTQ ministers, but it wouldn’t make them.

The idea here is that there’s room for everyone, and you could still believe whatever you like and be a Methodist. It’s less tactically messy than a church split, in theory, but I think it leaves a lot of questions unanswered. One of my biggest unanswered questions is, Are my apportionment dollars going to support a congregation or a pastor who is preaching that it’s sinful to be gay, or to be gay and not celibate? Because you can bet that there’s a gay or lesbian youth in the congregation every time that happens. How can I live with that?

Our preacher spoke today about the passage in Luke where Jesus commands us to love our enemies.

Luke 6:27-36 English Standard Version (ESV)

Love Your Enemies

27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic[a] either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.

32 “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. 35 But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. 36 Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.

No one here is my enemy. I don’t hate anyone involved. I know personally and love people on both sides of this conversation.

But it makes me angry that I feel like people I love are not truly loved by those on the other side. Because when you hate-the-sin, love-the-sinner all over them, that’s what you’re saying. They have an asterisk beside their name. There’s no such thing as separate but equal in the eyes of God, and the church shouldn’t do that, either.

I feel like people I love are in danger from those on the other side who demonize them and call them sinful simply based on the fact that God made them gay. I feel like people I love are left hanging in the wind by many people who would like to see full inclusion but are unwilling to fight for it.

And it infuriates me that I have to ask someone in my church to love my loved ones, to validate them as the beautiful, precious children of God that they are. That is not what I expect from my faith community.

Time’s up.

Living in My America

The morning after the 2016 presidential election, my children were distraught. My two girls the most—they had been so excited to see a woman elected to the most powerful position in the world. They both knew, to differing degrees depending on their ages, that the personal behavior and ethics of the man who beat her did not align with our own. My 17yo in particular understood everything that he had said, everything he’d been accused of. That morning, the scales fell from her eyes.

As I talked to my daughter that morning, I said to her that despite our understanding of the man elected, we could not equate his lack of ethics and morals with his voters’ values. Certainly there are people with truly disturbing beliefs who promoted his election. It is usually a sign that something has gone very wrong if you are on the same team with neo-Nazis and other white supremacists. There’s definitely something very wrong if you are on the same team and you don’t feel compelled to point out at every juncture that you disavow their racism and hatred.

But the vast majority of people who voted for him are good people, just as my daughter and I like to think of ourselves. I know this to be true because I know many of them myself. And in many cases, these friends and I simply happen to disagree on matters of public policy. They knew that Hillary Clinton would promote policies they disagreed with, so they voted for the other candidate. That’s how it often works in America, no matter what you happen to believe—we don’t always get our first-choice candidate, or even perhaps our fourth or fifth choice. We hold our nose and go with the person who seems closest, however fuzzy the comparison.

No, I told my daughter. What we learned is that other people had different deal-breakers than we did. Many liberals and progressives learned in the late 1990s that it was hard to reconcile the political positions of Bill Clinton with his personal moral choices and mistakes. For many conservatives, his personal failings simply confirmed what they already believed about him—and that reinforced their belief that a person’s character was an essential litmus test for their suitability to a life of public service. It’s not that Democrats didn’t care about Bill Clinton’s character—far from it. He’s just who we were stuck with by that point. Some of my conservative friends have had to make the same accommodation 20 years later. I do not gloat—it is a hard thing to reconcile.

In that time frame, it was helpful to me to remember that some of our most beloved and revered presidents also struggled in their marriages. As a young adult then, I’d never really considered infidelity before, but as I pondered it, I came to an understanding that someone else’s marriage was none of my business in the particulars, and the only thing I really had to think about was whether a president’s personal actions endangered the country. You could certainly argue that any president doing something personally embarrassing could be a target for blackmail or a risk to national security, but it seemed highly unlikely to me that that was a real risk with what we learned about Bill Clinton.

When George Bush was elected, I was disappointed and frustrated with the way the election had ended, but I did not doubt his character. I disagreed with more of his policies than I agreed with, but I believed that he loved this country as I do and that he was honored to serve. He did many things I was proud of while he served, and has done many more since then. With the perspective of a little more time, I believe that the partisan rancor ushered in starting in 1994 but greatly intensified at the end of Clinton’s term created a political atmosphere where the collective we were bound to make mistakes by the time Bush 43 was elected. We no longer simply disagree. We no longer trust each other’s motives and perceptions. I hope I am around long enough to see our perspective on the Iraq War and the subsequent destabilization in other parts of the Middle East in 2053. I will be curious to see how history judges American actions in the early 21st century with the perspective of a little more time.

When Obama was elected, most Americans desperately needed the hope he promised. We were frustrated by two wars that hadn’t all gone the way we’d wanted, if we wanted them at all. Our economy was a huge mess. It just seemed like so many things had gone off the rails. Let me be clear to say—for the most part, I think presidents get too much credit and too much blame for the economy. Presidents and lawmakers rarely “create jobs,” no matter how much they like to say so. FDR can claim that, but most others, not so much. I give the Federal Reserve a lot more credit for that, but most of all, I credit the American entrepreneurial spirit.

And as we’ve seen the past 8 years, and in stark relief during the 2016 election, about half the country believed that Obama represented a new kind of president. The other half, of course, was horrified by him.

Here’s what I’ve learned the past 8 years:
* Most of the people who opposed President Obama aren’t racist.
* There are more than a few who are, though. And some of the people who are racist do not recognize this prejudice in themselves. It’s been my experience that some people who are racist are those who feel compelled to shout the loudest that they would never judge anyone on race, or sex, or religion. God bless, but they cannot see the log in their own eye, or perhaps even just know not to admit it.
* Many people in this country are deeply uncomfortable with a world that is rapidly changing around them.
* More than any other time in my life, the worldview that conservative Christian religion describes is separated from the world we see daily by a deep chasm.

Our country is rapidly diversifying, and that is scary to many people. I don’t think it needs to be. My America isn’t described by my Christian faith. It isn’t described by my white skin. I celebrate America’s growing diversity not just in the abstract but in fact and in the specific.

Many people have said that my generation does not appreciate the work that women before us did, and I think that has often been the case. Many women my age [solid Gen X] were raised to believe we could be anything. Many women my age have seized opportunities that came easier to us than our mother’s generation. And many women my age have liked to say that sexism no longer exists, or is isolated.

For a while, a similar vein was heard regarding racism in this country, though in my experience, most people who have talked about this society being post-racial have not been people of color. I think many women in my generation and younger really have lived most of their lives without directly experiencing sexism, but I also believe many of us have been trained not to know it when we see it. I think fewer of my friends of color could say the same—I myself have seen far more overt racism than sexism in my life, and none of that racism has been directed at me.

My friends in the LGBTQIA communities are living a different experience as well. So much of the fight for their freedoms has come to fruition in my adulthood, much of it in the past few years. Their fight is fresh, new, and raw. It feels fragile to me.

As the American experiment enters its 241st year, here are the things that describe my America:
* I believe in the 1st Amendment. Freedom of speech. Freedom of the press. Freedom of religion. These form the bedrock of my understanding of what we’re doing here.
* That freedom of religion is why I so strongly oppose a conservative social agenda. If you believe it’s wrong because your church tells you so, you can’t make that a law. No one around here thinks murder or theft is OK. Those are community-held moral values. You might have come to that from a religious perspective, but it’s not a religious viewpoint.
* Current efforts to abridge contraception access, gay rights, and women’s rights all stem from a conservative Christian perspective. You are free to make whatever choice you like in your own life, but you don’t get to dictate my life, my daughters’ lives, my LGBTQIA friends’ lives because of your personal religious beliefs. You wouldn’t want us to dictate your choices based on our faith, or even on our lack thereof.
* We are still struggling to get it right when it comes to sexism and racism. Many of the systems that run our country were designed in a time when we did not all hold the same understanding of each other that most of us do today. We are beginning to understand collectively the things that many individuals and communities have known for years—our criminal justice system was stacked against people of color in an institutional, systemic way many years ago. We have not yet fully realigned it. Women still provide most care for children, and our failure to require robust family leave undercuts many women’s abilities to support their families. The abettors and perpetrators commiting such hate crimes must be brought to justice, or maybe the mere mention of Florida mandatory minimum sentencing would put some things in place.
* At the same time, my strong belief in the 1st amendment makes it difficult for me to support harsher penalties for “hate” crime. We should punish the crime, not the thought, if we dare live up to our own ideals.
* Our poverty rate is a moral failing in the richest country in the world.
* People are not poor because they are lazy. They aren’t poor because they want to be. They aren’t poor because it’s so easy to live off the government.
* If we were going to call ourselves a Christian nation, our poverty rate alone would be enough to indict us at the pearly gates.
* Since we’re not, I’ll make the economic argument that our income inequality and high poverty rate hold back the entire country’s economic potential.
* It is the responsibility of every single American to get the very best education they can, taking full advantage of every opportunity available to us.
* If we’re all going to succeed, we have to stop fighting about how to educate kids and just do it.
* America has nothing to fear but fear itself. Anyone who tells us we should be afraid—they are the ones to fear. Fear holds us back and draws us inward. America is at her shining very best when she focuses outward, full of confidence, not as a bully, but as a beacon to the world.
* The freer the trade, the better off we are. Our industries need far larger markets than this country alone can provide. India and China are far, far larger than we are, and I won’t be surprised if our population is surpassed by another country or two in my lifetime. We have been a supplier to the world, and we must continue to be if you want the economic math to stay in our favor.
* We need to make it easier to gain new skills and transition to new work as technology continues to transform industries. The stagnation we see in some sectors of the economy is almost all related to technology.
* We have to remember to celebrate our growing diversity, not fear it. No immigrants have ever changed this country for the worse. Our world grows smaller every day. We gain so much when we learn new perspectives from each other.
* We must lead when it comes to protecting our earth. We should be the world leader in renewable energy.
* Denying our partnership to our traditional allies will hurt us more than them. Our power comes from our willingness and ability to build strong bonds with other freedom-loving nations.
* We have to believe in each other. We are the ones—all 323-and-some-odd million of us—who have inherited the American dream. That dream is built by believing in each other and in our collective potential. We are all of us essential.

Links from Old Natchez social media chat

I spoke today about managing your online identity. We talked a lot about teaching your kids the skills they need online, and helping them manage their privacy, as well.

We used these links to spur our discussion.

In case you weren’t scared already….

Kevin Colvin, busted for his Halloween partying

The Real Facebook Burglaries story

Google engineer stalks teenagers via their Google accounts

Managing your online identity

Everything you want to know about online privacy: We didn’t get to this site but it remains a favorite resource of mine.

Managing your privacy on Facebook

Get started with Twitter

Share photos: Flickr and Picasa

Share videos: YouTube and Vimeo

Free blogging services: and Blogger

Special cases

Teaching your kids about media

RIP Content Management

Session with Dries Buytaert, founder of Drupal.

Going to be a good counterpoint to the last session, it seems.

Couple of problems all businesses face:

Webmasters don’t scale.

Your proprietary CMS is slow to innovate.

Your users are your content creators.

Trying to control content is daunting.

Choosing a closed-source vendor is risky, depending on the vendor. What happens when they go away?

So Buytaert recommends open source software [surprise!]. It allows you infinite control, and it’s cheaper. Another key advantage is the level of innovation that happens with open-source.

OMG. He’s showing a really hysterical slideshow of crazy ways that people demonstrate their love for Drupal. Naked bike riding is involved.

OK, so how does Drupal address your problems?

Redefines the role of the web developer. It’s now often more about assembly, instead of writing code from scratch every time you need to do something.

Also helps your website scale. Some large websites running Drupal:

CMS can be slow to innovate. Buytaert gives a funny example of AOL, which was negotiating with a commercial CMS vendor, and while talks dragged on, AOL developers built a site in Drupal and so they went with that.

Users provide your content. Drupal makes it easy to build communities. My question: I have found Drupal sites to be powerful but not always intuitive to your average user. I need to check out some more of the sites that Buytaert recommends. Perhaps it’s just the implementations I’ve seen?

Great question from audience: If we choose Drupal now, how do we know that the developers will be there to support us? Buytaert’s answer is OK, but doesn’t go beyond, we have to train more people.

Another question: How will you stay flexible with your install base growing so rapidly? Buytaert: We don’t maintain backwards compatibility. Yowza. He acknowledges this is a good thing and a bad thing.

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