Join me for a conversation about The United Methodist Church, disaffiliation, and shared discipline. The Rev. Dr. Jonette Gay interviewed me in February 2023 on the podcast of Otterbein UMC, Lancaster, “Hey! Hey! Anybody Listening!”
DOTAC Diakonia Seminars in May
Diakonia of the Americas and Caribbean (DOTAC) is hosting a series of virtual seminars in May on the theme, “Perspectives on the Diakonia of All Believers.” I am honored to be among the presenters (download flyer). Please join us to learn more about ministries of love, justice, word, and service.
A Trauma-Informed Journey from Classroom to Community
COVID, racism, institutional change—trauma is all around us. The project, “Trauma-Informed Classroom Teaching at Lancaster Theological Seminary,” equipped our faculty to improve classroom learning for students with existing and ongoing trauma histories. We became trauma-aware, the first step in becoming trauma-informed. We are still on a journey from classroom to community.
Read more in my blog post for the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning, January 04, 2023.
Celebrating Liberation Theology
So grateful for the Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Soto Albrecht! She shared a vision and invited me to accompany her in a collaboration. The result was the book, Liberating the Politics of Jesus: Renewing Peace Theology through the Wisdom of Women, now #4 on Amazon’s list:
I’m humbled to be among these giants of liberation theology: Miguel de la Torre, James Cone, Delores Williams, and others.
Responding to Professional Misconduct
I am excited to announce that the FaithTrust Institute has released a new resource. Responding to Spiritual Leader Misconduct (updated edition) lays out the basic principles of analysis of misconduct in a spiritual or religious community: who, what, when, and where. It offers the principles for trauma-informed responses to complaints and the conceptual framework to navigate the process of response. Best of all, this resource is free to download!
This resource includes my essay, “Community Healing after Spiritual Leader Misconduct.”
Responding to Spiritual Leader Misconduct: A Handbook, edited by Lauren D. Sawyer, Emily Cohen, and Annie Mesaros, 181–86. Seattle, WA: FaithTrust Institute, 2022.
The handbook (PDF, 204 pgs) is free and available to download Responding to Spiritual Leader Misconduct. A printed copy can be purchased at Amazon.com.
About Our Disaffiliating Kin: A Reply to Tom Frank
There’s more to be said about disaffiliating congregations, to whom you recently wrote words of warning. While your letter conveys the avuncular wisdom I have come to expect of you over many years of mentorship and friendship, I did not recognize myself or my congregation in your depiction. Some of our United Methodist kin are disaffiliating for very different reasons than supposed in your letter.
United Methodism is a large clan, and our kinship ties are deep and varied. We share the DNA of an evangelical, ecumenical, justice- and mission-oriented tradition of Christians seeking to be made perfect in love in this life. God bless our souls! This is a complicated inheritance. I agree with your warnings, particularly about the Global Methodist Church. However, not every disaffiliating congregation embraces the Traditionalists’ quest for a purer expression of their version of Wesleyan piety, centered on LGBTQ exclusion. Some disaffiliating congregations find themselves in quite the opposite situation: seeking a safehouse from their domestic abusers.
This big tent of United Methodism has provided cover for too many abuses for too long. Every four years we gather for a family reunion called General Conference. However, this gathering has ceased to be a place of joy and renewal. Instead of nurturing friendships and fellowship, we spend most of our time together fighting one another, each of us grasping for enough power to bend the others to our will. This self-perpetuating reunion resists reformation. Until we abandon this combative arena, our clan will continue its internecine strife, substituting one issue for another in continual battle. This reunion is structured for little else and needs to end.
General Conference is but one symptom of our broken family system. Tom, you know better than most that abuse through exclusionary church laws has become a normalized dysfunction within the United Methodist clan. Your courageous witness at church trials and other venues over the years attests to the resulting harm to our collective body. Amid our incessant battles, United Methodists have become inured and insensitive to the harms they perpetrate on each other. These political dynamics are played out in our ecclesial households, providing official sanction for the abuse of some of our most vulnerable members.
I, too, would like to belong to a “broad church” inclusive of Methodists of a wide range of religious opinions. However, I can no more insist on a continued union with kinfolks who have enshrined their discriminatory opinions as essential doctrine masquerading as church law than I can insist that a battered wife remain within a marriage to her abusive husband. In both cases, the abuser broke the covenant long before the survivor of abuse sought safety by leaving. Tom, in stating the dangers of disaffiliation, I think you have understated the violence of continued unity. To shame such a congregation for seeking disaffiliation is tantamount to victim-blaming—or worse, collusion with the abuser.
Until The United Methodist Church transforms itself into a place of safety and affirmation for LGBTQ persons, there will be congregations like Grandview Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, which chose to disaffiliate in order to protect the vulnerable. This congregation spent years in discernment about God’s call in their lives, learning that they are called to be in ministry with and to affirm the gifts of all persons. Grandview’s action to disaffiliate was a recognition of a covenant already broken within the UMC. As a child of United Methodism, I grieve this divorce of my ecclesial parents even as I support Grandview’s decision.
Grandview is not alone. There are other congregations that have or are seeking disaffiliation from the UMC in order to escape the abuse and to be freed to be fully in ministry with LGBTQIA+ persons. However, it is difficult to know how many progressive congregations are considering disaffiliation because many do not want to have anything more to do with their former abusers. Some, though, have found each other and offered mutually support and encouragement. Three other congregations, formerly United Methodist, are journeying with Grandview toward a new form of Methodist connection. These relationships are growing deeper as we relearn how to do church together.
Any real change in the UMC will require courage—courage enough to leave this clan, if necessary. I give thanks for my siblings in faith, such as the leaders of Love Prevails, who have witnessed to God’s call on their lives and the ongoing hypocrisy of the UMC. Leaving the UMC can be a prophetic act of resting evil and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves—including the form of a church. We must repent of having asked LGBTQ persons to bear the burden of our ecclesiology while awaiting the moral arc of United Methodism to bend sufficiently to prevent their ongoing victimization.
Disaffiliation is “a regrettable alternative in the midst of brokenness.” As such, it can be a faithful response to God’s call on our lives. I wish it were not so. May it be so. Amen.
Resources for Healthy Boundaries in Ministry
Healthy boundaries are essential to healthy ministry. My own book, Professional Sexual Ethics provides case studies and discussions for group study. If you’ve seen the movie Honk for Jesus, you might be interested in The Rev. Dr. Doug Powe’s assessment of the Eddie Long case! (chapter 12)
The Faith Trust Institute now offers many of their training manuals online free, including the workbook Healthy Boundaries 201.
Resources on the ethics of gifts include a discussion of IRS guidelines, discussion of church and tax law, a ChurchFinance365 resource on tax free gift to the pastor, and an interview I gave for LNP.
Also of interest is a curriculum for congregational discernment published by the Kentucky Annual Conference of the UMC.
Beautiful Words and Actions
Creation justice is the most recent chapter in an evolution of thought in the United Methodist environmental witness. This tradition of beautiful words and actions shows United Methodists thoughtfully and faithfully engaging the most pressing environmental problems of the day—in each and every generation.
Read more in my article in the September Newsletter of the United Methodist Creation Justice Movement.
The Creation Justice Movement is emerging at this kairos moment to connect and support groups within the United Methodist Church and beyond for the work of creation care, justice and regeneration.
Will You Join Me in Opposing Christian Nationalism?
I am one of dozens of Christian leaders in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, who believe that “Christian nationalism” contradicts both the teachings of Christ and the core tenets of the U.S. Constitution. We voiced our concerns in a recent op-ed.
Jennifer Mattson and Matthew Lenahan, “These local Christian leaders reject Christian nationalism,” LNP | LancasterOnline, July 24, 2022.
Please join us by opposing this dangerous ideology in your community. It is important to let your neighbors know that most Christians do not support “Christian nationalism.”
Bivocational in Lancaster
Journalist Elizabeth Evans features my book and several graduates of Lancaster Seminary in her article, “Bivocational Clergy are Increasingly Common in Lancaster County and Beyond,” LNP and LancasterOnline, June 25, 2022.