Monday, September 30, 2013

letter 99

September 28, 2013

Bishop Mark Webb
Upper New York Conference
United Methodist Church
324 University Ave., 3rd Floor
Syracuse, NY 13210

Dear Bishop Webb,
I would like to start my letter by saying I do not envy you and your current situation at all. It must be hard to be faced with this type of decision. There are many people watching you and your decision, you may in fact be writing history. This is why I am writing you, I hope that you will be able to see the right way to proceed, not from a religious or ideological stand point but as a human being. I feel religion although at the heart of this issue bears no weight on this issue, it is more than ideology.
Some background first, I was raised a United Methodist, went to church, and Methodist summer camp. In my adult life I strayed and didn't go to church, college was too much fun to be up before noon on a Sunday. When I finally “grew up”. I decided I wanted to go back to church. Found a phenomenal church attended, was on a committee and even had my son baptized there. Then the pastor was transferred and I stopped going, the pastor being the main reason I was there. This pastor was dynamic, knowledgeable but most importantly I could relate as a human, not just as someone to seek guidance from. After this pastor left I asked around but my wife and I currently do not feel the need to attend a church, and the fact that the church as an organization is so closed minded about the issue of homosexuality is the main reason.
As a human being, which we all are, we do not have a right to decide who get to love who. I don't care if your a president, king, dictator, or pastor. Love is out of bounds to you. If we were ALL created in God's image then, if he has such a hang up on homosexuality then why does it exist? Simple thought I know but give it a minute. Okay moving on, secondly, I have met some people who are homosexual who are more loving, and better Christians than some clergy out there. These people have been facing a lifetime of discrimination and yet they find solace in a God who, in your narrow interpretation does not even care about them. To me those people embody what faith means. Let us not forget that in the 20th century it was illegal for an African American to marry a white person. We look at that now and see that as crazy and backward. Sound a bit familiar?
I am imploring you to look at the decision at hand. You are going to go after a man who wanted his daughter to be happy, and did what he could to do that. He then helped other children (we are all God's children right?) to be happy as well. Instead of punishing the man I want to shake his hand, and tell him keep up the good work. This man is helping people who others have cast aside. There was a historical figure who did this, heard about him, think he name was…... Jesus, that's it.
I'm going to leave this before it seems to much like a rant. Bishop Webb, please remember, you are a human being, and you are on the verge of something that will have ramifications for generations to come. Look into your heart, put down the book, and look into who you are. This man has done nothing wrong. He has helped many when they needed it. He has stood up for those who were voiceless. To me that is the most Christian thing any one can do.
Gregory Milunich

letter 98

September 29, 2013

The Reverend Mark J. Webb
Bishop of The Upper New York Annual Conference
324 University Ave., 3rd Floor
Syracuse, NY 13210

Dear Reverend Webb,

My name is Landon D. Reid and I am writing to you as an example. I am an example of someone who is not a United Methodist but who has been deeply affected and personally transformed by a UMC clergy member, The Reverend Sara E. Baron. 

I was raised within a Baptist Church that offered little theological compromise with respect to the doctrinal issues of the damnation of non-Christians, the subordinate status of women, and the sin of homosexuality. Thus, the teachings of the religious institution in which I was raised contrasted sharply with the radical lessons of hope, understanding, and acceptance embodied in the Biblical Jesus. I long wondered how an institution, conservative by nature, could act as the proponent of such a radical message of understanding. The reconciliation of the message and the institution charged with disseminating that message seemed impossible. My friendship with Rev. Sara Baron helped me to see how an institution can promote justice for the poor, racial reconciliation, and gender equality. 

In a world so thoroughly characterized by violence, it is only the perversion of a malignant heart that fails to recognize and nurture love. All of the adjectives conjured by the term “Christ-like” stand in contradistinction to any policy that condemns, derogates, or dehumanizes in the name of love. 

One of the things that I have heard Rev. Baron preach time, and time again, is that we all instinctively recognize love when we see it in the world. It may come in unexpected forms, and manifest in an endless variety of ways, but our human default is to recognize love. Perhaps, then, it is a particularly insidious sin (one necessary for dehumanizing another) to fail to recognize love. In my years of experience considering the persistence of racism and sexism as a behavioral scientist, I can testify that few of the individuals engaging in racist or sexist behavior believe themselves responsible for any problematic action. This is similar to way that the clergy members who signed the “Unwise and Untimely” missive that inspired Martin Luther King, Jr.’s classic “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” (two of the eight signers were UMC Bishops) relied heavily on an appeal to law, order, and discipline to justify their behavior. 

It is precisely during changing times that institutions must look to those leaders who actively recognize and encourage love wherever it is found. This is unutterably difficult and requires a courage that can only be grounded in faith. 

As you consider the future of your own ministry, and the direction of those you were charged to lead, please remember Christ-like love. 


Landon D. Reid, Ph.D.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

letter 97

Bishop Mark Webb
Upper New York Annual Conference
324 University Ave., Third Floor
Syracuse, NY 13210

                                                                                                            September 27, 2013

Dear Bishop Webb,

            I add my thoughts and prayers to all those that have been sent your way in recent days regarding the Just Resolution Process for Rev. Steve Heiss.  As many others have stated, I also understand the position you are in regarding the need to support the Book of Discipline. However I also understand that this is a situation in which there is a potential for important actions that reflect the word of God, rather than the words of humans.  The Book of Discipline arose from Wesley’s attempts to bring order to a new movement.  This movement that looked to reignite the Holy Spirit in the lives of all persons.  I have seen this Spirit in many of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters through their passion to serve God, to follow Christ and to be true and active disciples.  This passion exists despite the decades of abuse, oppression and separation from full communion resulting from the last minute addition of a few words to a resolution originally meant to support full inclusion – “incompatible with Christian teaching”. 

It is clear that the UMC in general is not of one mind regarding this issue, and that many you serve as Bishop feel that this wording contradicts the entirety of Jesus message that the greatest commandments on which all law should hang are to love God,  and to love your neighbor as yourself. Based on my understanding of the Gospel, anything which contradicts those commandments, whether it was Hebrew law before Jesus or not, should be considered incompatible with Jesus’ own teachings.  For me, the teachings of Jesus hold a higher value than the often flawed historic teachings of the church teachings which once accepted slavery as compatible with Christian Teaching; which once accepted that women should not be allowed to be clergy or lead in other ways; and which once found the Doctrine of Discovery and the concept of Manifest Destiny to be compatible, even though they led to the genocide of hundreds of thousands of Native Americans.  As these examples show, the things considered compatible with Christian Teaching have not always proven to be compatible with our current understanding of Jesus’ Teaching – and in each such case the United Methodist Church and its predecessors have eventually come to understand that it is Jesus’ Teaching which takes primacy over Church Teaching.  Thus we have changed what the church teaches to be compatible with the true intent of Jesus’ message.

Many denominations and large portions of our society in general have already come to that realization, and it is my prayer that someday soon the United Methodist Church will as well.  But, in the meantime you are left with the existing dilemma.  I ask you and those making the charges to consider, during this process, what happens if Pastor Heiss and others are found guilty of violating the Book of Discipline (BOD)  and suffer consequences, then in 2016 there is a change in the BOD?  If the teaching of Christ to love all equally finally becomes the law of the UMC,  will Pastor Heiss and others be reinstated? Will they be asked to go through the ordination process again? Will they receive apologies and services of repentance as we have already had to do for our treatment of people of color, for woman and as we are currently in the process of doing for the harm we did to Native Americans?    I ask that you keep this potential  in mind as the process continues. 

Finally, I want to ask you to consider the “just resolution process” itself.  What does just resolution truly mean? How do we examine the concept of harm and who is harmed when this is what the process hopes to address?  These question has been considered quite eloquently by Kevin Nelson in a recent piece posted to the Reconciling Ministries Blog.  I copy here only a small portion of his thoughts, but I recommend that you and everyone involved in this procedure take the time to read the entire piece at  Nelson, in considering what harm is created by such actions, writes:

“Turning to the matter of “harm,” I understand harm to clergy, to the clergy
covenant, and to the covenant with all Christians in the following ways:
-Harm is done to the clergy covenant of mutual care when complaints are filed against clergy related to their pastoral care efforts. 
-Harm is done to that covenant of mutual care when complaints are filed against clergy related to their loving, covenanted relationships.
-Harm is done to the clergy covenant with all Christians when our members are denied pastoral care.
-Harm is done to that covenant when members of The United Methodist Church see their pastor dragged into complaint procedures and put on trial because that pastor dared to marry them.
-Harm is done to the covenant with all Christians when members of The United Methodist Church see their pastor dragged into complaint procedures and put on trial for whose love they bless or whom they love and with whom they form covenanted partnerships.

 With all this in mind, I close by once again:
recognizing that the situation is not an easy one and that there is no easy way to resolve it;

recognizing that you are being asked to be a prophetic voice that discerns and acts according to the difference between the Teaching of Christ and the Teaching of the Church;

recognizing that to respond in accordance with the Commandments on which all law should hang, rather than on what is written in the BOD will not go over well with some;

recognizing that you have over and over again asked us to make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the TRANSFORMATION of the world – not that we make Disciples of the Book of Discipline for upholding outdated Church teaching which maintains the status quo and continues to do harm by treating many of God’s children as something less than full kindred working with us towards God’s Kingdom;

and finally, by praying for everyone involved in this process, Pastor Heiss, the person that brought the charges, you and all those whose lives are affected by the actions under consideration. I pray that all are able to come to an understanding that respects all persons and that truly demonstrates that we recognize all humans as children of God, equally blessed by God’s grace, and equally worthy of full recognition and acceptance by the Church.

May all of you, and all of those affected, find peace and justice in this process and may we all seek to spread the Good News of Christ in every action we take.

Seeking God’s peace for all

Douglas Mackey

Saturday, September 28, 2013

letter 96

To the Churches
Bishop Webb
    Our constitution is a set of rule by which our country was founded and ruled by. Probably shortly
after it's inception, the lawyer was born, to help us interpret the rules. Yes I know where did that come
from. Well there came the Bible. A bunch of scrolls found all over, and a group of scholars who sat down and decided which ones were in and which were out. Then comes the interpreters. I have heard sermons that said " God hates sin. If you are a sinner God hates you." Well not being a theologian, I have read the Bible, and I read that God can not even look at sin, and the Bible says I am a sinner. God must hate me right? I have had "interpreters" say that while the Bible is a good book. A book of good stories passed from generation to generation. Some say the Bible was written to a generation, certainly not timeless.  Churches over time have kept certain things in the Bible, then suddenly reinterpreted them, like the womens' role in the household, and certainly in the church. Rules on modesty, adornment, and head covering. On issues mentioned in the Bible such as homosexuality, the church remains very ridged.
    I say all this to say, the church has become the rules. It's the first thing wetalk about and are
asked about by outsiders. The rules are something worth fighting for and about. We split churches, we tear apart communities, and families because we must defend our interpretation of the rules. We have
punished, sued and killed over the rules. I really remember the life of Jesus being about so much less, and so much more. I think about John 3:16 and about the women about to be stoned for adultry.
I think about all of the conversations with the church of the time about the rules. So many have turned
from religion because they know, and are honest about it, they can not keep the rules. I know I can'y keep the rules either.If I say I can or lead others to believe I do I am a liar. I think that's against the rules. I don't know that Jesus talked much about the rules. When asked He said 'love the Lord your God
with all your heart, with all your mind and thith all your soul, and love your neighbor as your self' If we
can teach that, and live that, honestly, I should think we would have our hands full. We live in a very
broken and hurting world, Those that need us most are turned away by us and our rules. Do I really
love God with all nof my being? Do I really love my neighbor, do I treat him as I would want to be treated.
    One can take their rules and money to court instead of reaching out. One can take their rules to
their church or club. Our churches will die, and we will defend our rules to the end. Rules first, Jesus after you get the rules.
    I believe we will allbe judged one day on our actions here. I pray that we will consider
our actions only with Christ in mind, and prayerfully consider what we are doingin the name of Jesus.
Help us Jesus, as we honestly try to consider You, our Redeemer, first. Help us to do Your will to bring all we can to an introduction to you. Help us not to judge, but to love as You have loved us. We know we can not do this of our selves. Be in us, Jesus, that Your name would be glorified. Amen.
Bud Webb

Friday, September 27, 2013

letter 95

September 26, 2013

Bishop Mark Webb
Upper New York Conference
United Methodist Church
324 University Ave., 3rd Floor
Syracuse, NY 13210

Dear Bishop Webb:

I am praying daily that God leads you to make the right decision to not pursue a trial against Steve Heiss.  Steve is not standing alone in rejecting the United Methodist Discipline’s uninclusive language against LGBT people.  A special opportunity has been presented to you – to join the Bishops who have vowed to continue their ministry as if that language was not included in the Discipline.

I was heartened when you handed our new District Superintendent the shepherd’s crook and recited Jesus’ words to Peter “Feed my sheep”.  Did Jesus mean some sheep or all sheep?  And think of all the sheep that could be physically fed with the money that a trial costs the Church!  Tabernacle United Methodist Church feeds 100 -120 people every week, with money contributed and fundraised for that purpose.  From all accounts, a trial costs upwards of a quarter of a million dollars.  That money could feed a lot of people!

I wonder where the money to conduct a trial comes from?  Is it from our conference’s ministry shares, or is there a national fund?  Either way, I believe that that hard-earned money was contributed to the Church in good faith that it would be used judiciously, with justice and love always prevailing. 

A lot of time and effort has been spent on this issue in our community in recent months, since the State legalized same-sex marriage, yet the church continued its prohibition (who would have thought the State would lead the way in Justice?). Honestly Bishop Webb, I’m sick of thinking about it.  I want my thoughts and actions to reflect the love that Jesus has shown for us, in some more constructive way.  I want equal love for our LGBT brothers and sisters to be a given, something that the UMC has done their apology and repentance for, and moved on. 

My prayers are with you.


Fiona Cleugh

Thursday, September 26, 2013

letter 94

September 24, 2013

Bishop Mark Webb
Upper New York Episcopal Area
324 University Avenue, 3rd Floor
Syracuse, NY  13210

Dear Bishop Webb:

I am called to add my voice to the many others naming the blatant injustices against LGBTQ persons perpetuated and encouraged within our denomination by the rules.  As one taught as a Methodist throughout my entire life to value, affirm, and celebrate equally all persons no matter race, gender, sexual orientation, or other uniqueness, I am truly baffled as to how and why our denomination, with its long and beautiful tradition of leading with passion and energy the charge to combat social injustices in all arenas of our society and world where they are found, has for several decades now chosen to remain so profoundly and obviously lost and how we, as a denomination, continue to fail to discern and embrace the movement of God that is right in front of us.  The many voices you have heard in the letters written to you in support of Reverend Steve Heiss all express that they clearly not only see and hear God’s movement, but that they are speaking with God’s truth in love.  They recognize that we have reached the end of our 40 years of wandering in the desert lost and unsettled.  It is time for us to be found once again and to offer a promised land to all without exception.

Reverend Heiss has named the injustice and, in a form of civil disobedience, has made a brave, conscientious and God blessed choice to deny the “rules” of the institution in favor of living out the call of inclusion as clearly exemplified for us in the life of Jesus.  I have heard you state numerous times that we are all called to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  Unfortunately, we cannot transform a world which is already light years ahead of the church in responding to the concerns of LGBTQ inclusiveness.  Instead, it appears that there may currently be many more prophetic voices outside of the institutional church calling us to the Way and modeling God’s love with others than are apparent within the church institution, particularly when it involves embracing the full worth and inclusiveness of those that are not like us.  Your place in changing this dynamic can be either historically significant for and morally affirming of diversity within our church or your actions can be pharisaically in line with the “rules,” the status quo, and the fearful. 

Considering your position as a very new Bishop in the United Methodist Church, as a professed person of God, a follower of John Wesley, and as an ordained elder, you are clearly facing a decision far greater than how to offer grace to Reverend Heiss in this single situation.  God’s call for change won’t and can’t wait for the General Conference in 2016.  The Holy Spirit is quite obviously moving among the persons in Upper New York in a very profound way.   You have been blessed with the gifts and circumstances that will allow you to take a lead role in moving the entire denomination towards change for full inclusiveness of LGBTQ persons in all areas of the church.  This may very well be God’s true call upon you at this time.  Deciding to follow that call, setting one’s own human formed goals aside, and giving all over to God’s lead will be extremely difficult.  The Bible is full of examples of those who fought God’s call, but, of course, in the end God’s way won out.  Therefore, I am not only seeking to see genuine grace and absolution given to Reverend Heiss for his blessed acts of Love, but I am strongly urging you to personally take perhaps one of the greatest leaps of faith in your ministry and to not remain neutral on this issue, but to speak, act, and live the Gospel message by leading the charge for change.  God and opportunity are knocking.  Answering the knock at the door is truly living out the prophetic leadership role to which we entrust our Episcopal leaders.

I believe my friends in the Cabinet leadership of Upper New York would step up to make change happen along with you and in covenant with you because, in good conscience, their hearts know the turmoil that the injustices in the BOD inflict upon so many brothers and sisters in the pews and in the pulpits.  I have heard many of their expressions of their calls to ministry and watched the painful wars of conscience they must battle because of the honest demands that being in leadership of our beloved institution places upon them.  However, imagine the beauty of a leadership body that chooses to be in the middle of change and refuses to stand for less than God’s justice.  Our leadership can be such a leadership if so led by you.  Based upon voices at the UNY Annual Conference sessions of the last two years, it appears the majority of clergy and lay members would also be supportive of such an affirming stance by this Annual Conference.  Bishop, you would not be alone and you would be in league with Jesus in living out the change our church needs to experience. 

While tearing down barriers to inclusiveness, relationships with those in disagreement will need to be tended in love.  Those participating in recent conversations with you regarding human sexuality issues in UNY must continue to work together to determine how we can still live together and honor individual beliefs despite our theological and interpretive differences.  No matter the outcome of the search for a just resolution in the specific matter before you, communication needs to continue across the Conference while, simultaneously, intolerance and bigotry as written in the BOD and carried out by some must be boldly named and found unacceptable and intolerable by the people of UNY.  We must believe and pray that God will soften the hearts of those who define God only in terms that bring self benefit and self righteousness  and that God opens them to become persons truly living a faith-filled God life and growing the Kin-dom here on earth with all persons equally embraced. 

Deep prayer and discernment through silence and aloneness with God will inform and guide you as it has me during times of tremendous challenge, change, and fear.  The pain caused to so many and the institutionally condoned injustices against select groups of God’s children weigh heavily on all hearts fueled by a passion for Jesus and filled with God’s all-consuming love.

I have faith that the Will of God will ultimately prevail despite our human posturing and interference for own purposes.  I will pray that God speaks directly and clearly to you, Mark Webb, so that your heart is opened as never before and that you may have the wisdom to know which way the Spirit is blowing with every step and action you take in this matter.

In Peace,

Sherri L. Mackey

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

letter 93

Dear Bishop Webb:

I was disappointed to learn that you did not reach a just resolution with Pastor Heiss last week, and I am puzzled about why. At the 2012 General Conference, Pastor Heiss and others tried to start dialogue about the rules on homosexuality in the Book of Discipline, but their efforts were rejected, with great hostility. Last week, he proposed dialogue again, but you rejected that option – unless he would stop providing the sacrament of marriage to homosexuals, although legal in New York State. In other words, you want him to comply with antiquated sections of the Discipline, on the chance that others would stop refusing to participate in dialogue.

At Sunday’s installation of our new District Superintendent, you claimed that the most important quality in a new DS was deep love for Jesus Christ. How can that be, when you do not show that love yourself? As you know, the Bible tells this story about Jesus:
Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him and saying, Master, which  is the great commandment in the law?

Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Matthew 22:35-40 (King James Version)

On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

It seems like you hang your decision on the Book of Discipline. I wonder if you really believe the Discipline supersedes the Bible, even where the Discipline is unjust, or if you simply use the Discipline to hide your personal fears and prejudices. The reality is, the Discipline contradicts itself. It says the foundation of the United Methodist Church is to be welcoming and loving, as demonstrated by providing the sacraments; then it has lots of rules, some of which are not at all welcoming and loving. The reality is, the Bible has verses that contradict the lessons that Jesus taught. The reality is, mortals have cherry-picked verses from the Bible to justify despicable crimes against humanity. You are cherry-picking from the Discipline, and apparently from the Bible, and forgetting the center of what Jesus taught: the two greatest commandments, to love. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

The Methodist Church has had many wonderful members who love God, Jesus, their church, and one other person, a consenting adult who happens to be of the same gender. Pastor Heiss shared with you extensive documentation about the natural and benign nature of homosexuality, as well as the terrible harm done by attempts at “conversion” and by rejection. When our LGBTQ sisters and brothers are driven out of the UMC, which seems to be the goal, you also will drive out their straight family members, friends, and allies. We, who contribute our time, talents, and income to the church, generously, who have loved all the Methodist church represented, are horrified by the spiteful, vengeful turn in our leaders’ theology. This emerging theology rejects the two greatest commandments, on which all other laws hang. The new UMC theology rejects Jesus Christ!

Please, Bishop Webb, stop cherry-picking the Bible and the Discipline. Stop choosing hatred and exclusion over the love, inclusion, and passion for justice for which Jesus Christ lived, and died.

With hope, though fading,

Beverly Rainforth, Ph.D.