Monday, September 30, 2013

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.

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