I’ve Been to Kansas City
Will Parker, the comic character in the musical, “Oklahoma”, is flabbergasted by what he experienced when he sings, “Everything’s Up To Date in Kansas City.” The refrain repeats, “They’ve gone about as fer as they can go.”
I was among 600 United Methodists from every Annual Conference in the United States who went about as far as we could go in Kansas City. We were guests of The Church of the Resurrection where the hospitality of hundreds of energetic laypersons demonstrates why it is the largest congregation in the UMC.
You’ll find a report including video interviews with some of the leaders at UMCNext. Some folks who gathered in Kansas City supported dissolving the UMC to form separate denominations. Others felt called to “stay, resist, and reform” the UMC. Three days of worship, prayer, and vigorous conversation resulted in four affirmations held in common.
- We long to be passionate followers of Jesus Christ, committed to a Wesleyan vision of Christianity, anchored in scripture and informed by tradition, experience and reason as we live a life of personal piety and social holiness.
- We commit to resist evil, injustice and oppression in all forms and toward all people and build a church which affirms the full participation of all ages, nations, races, classes, cultures, gender identities, sexual orientations, and abilities.
- We reject the Traditional Plan approved at General Conference 2019 as inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ and will resist its implementation.
- We will work to eliminate discriminatory language and the restrictions and penalties in the Discipline regarding LGBTQ persons. We affirm the sacred worth of LGBTQ persons, celebrate their gifts, and commit to being in ministry together.
We went about as far as we could go.
So, What About You?
Our pastor at First United Methodist Church in Winter Park ends every sermon with the question, “So, what about you?” So, after being engaged in this debate for more than 40 years, here are my own reasons for supporting those affirmations.
- I Believe the Bible.
For more than half of my years in ministry I supported the conservative interpretation of scripture regarding same-sex relationships. But similar to Peter’s relationship with Cornelius (Acts 10), I experienced the Spirit at work in the lives of faithful followers of Christ who happened to be gay. It led me to deeper listening for God’s living Word in Jesus through the written words of scripture. E. Stanley Jones, the sainted hero of Asbury Theological Seminary, repeatedly said:
“The Bible is not the revelation of God; that would be the Word become printer’s ink. But the Bible is the inspired Record of the Revealtion–the Revelation is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.” (The Word Became Flesh, p. 243)
Reading the written word through the living Word, I realized that not everything that is biblical is Christ-like. I came to honor the literal interpretation of these texts in their cultural and historical context while holding them in the larger context of Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God coming among us. That’s the starting point for the way my call to be part of an inclusive church grows out of my life with scripture.
- I’m A Methodist.
While honoring other branches of the Christian family tree, I unashamedly follow Christ in the Wesleyan/Methodist tradition. That means that my life and faith are centered in God’s grace and in loving God and loving others. It means I interpret scripture through reason, tradition and experience.
I am passionately committed to both personal evangelism and social justice; to inviting people to become disciples of Jesus Christ so that they participate in God’s transformation of the world. My commitment to being part of an inclusive church grows directly out of a deepening life of discipleship. It’s why we wrote “A Disciple’s Path.”
I share what Wesley called “the catholic spirit.” I am unwavering in my commitment to the central core of the faith while allowing space for diversity of conviction around the circumference. It leads me to affirm the core values of the Uniting Methodists‘ movement and their vision of “A Harvest of Joy.”
I supported the One Church Plan because I believe that our theology, tradition, and mission as United Methodists is strong enough to hold us together in ministry while we honor differences in culture and conviction. Unfortunately, the so-called Traditional Plan contradicts this part of our Wesleyan/Methodist tradition.
- I’m Going On to Perfection
I believe in and am experiencing the Wesleyan understanding of sanctification. I’m on the journey toward being made “perfect in love.” I believe the Holy Spirit is relentlessly at work to shape and form us into the love and likeness of Christ. I’ve seen the way others have been with me on the spiritual journey toward a wider, more inclusive love. Where we’ve been is not where we will be; what we’ve been is not what we are becoming in Christ. Looking ahead, I want to preserve space in the church for others who are on this journey with me.
- I Believe the Center Can Hold
After coming home from Kansas City, I reread a book I wrote more than a decade ago. With a few updates, Journey to the Center of the Faith still describes my commitment to a way of life that is Christ-Centered, Biblically-Rooted, Kingdom-Visioned, Spirit-Animated, Open-Minded, Warm-Hearted, and Grace-Filled. It affirms my hope that within the United Methodist Church there is still a center that can hold. It describes the direction in which I pray the “people called Methodist” might go from Kansas City.
That’s about as far as I can go.
Grace and peace,
18 thoughts on “Where Do We Go From Kansas City?”
Dear Jim, I always love what you put here and what you write in your books…but this one completely blows it out of the water. Our Pastor has the same view and it comes through loud and clear in his daily walk, but I see the division growing in our church and in Methodist Churches in our area. Thank you for stating it so clearly. Blessings!
Thanks so much for the update. I am so glad that your group met and expressed those views. Please keep me posted and let me know what we can do as lay folks to support you all.
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Jim: I am so glad you are “just pretending” to be retired. We need your voice. We need your mind, and most certainly we need your heart, Thanks, brother.
Thank you for sharing this Jim. I agree with you 100%. This is precisely where my heart and faith live.
Robbin Manor, Beymer UMC member
Thanks, Jim. Do you know if anyone is organizing for election of delegates who share your convictions? In have received several emails from WCA members organizing for the Traditional plan. David
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David: Yes. Several groups have worked together to develop a slate of possible delegates who are open to inclusion within the church. I don’t think it’s been sent out yet, but when I receive it I will forward it to you. Jim
David: I’d be interested in seeing the list you have received from WCA.Would you be willing to send it to me at jharnish1947.gmail.com?
Thanks, Jim. You have articulated where I believe a lot of US clergy are right now.
Jim, as a fellow attender of UMC Next I was a bit dismayed by this comment in your article “A majority felt called to “stay, resist, and reform” the UMC.” In the stay or leave Menti poll a majority favored leave. I’m saddened to see you using your platform to spread misinformation. I think a correction is warranted.
Thanks for your question. I dd not mean to spread misinformation and could have been more specific in that. The Monti polls were very close depending on how the question was asked. I was referring more broadly to the acceptance of the four affirmations that were the common ground among us.
Could you elaborate? I appreciate you got to this new view from the Bible and by being a Methodist. But how? I hear this often, but never see anyone actually deal with all of the actual texts. Also, how did the Traditional plan reject aspects of being Methodist? Again, it is not clear in what you said above.
Thanks for your comment. Numerous books “deal with the actual texts” in great detail: “Unclobber” by Colby Martin, “God and the Gay Christian” by Matthew Vines, and “For the Sake of the Bride” by Steve Harper are a few. I’d say the Traditional Plan is inconsistent with our tradition in several ways, but specifically in setting mandatory penalties for clergy rather than leaving those decisions to the Annual Conference which is where we have traditionally dealt with them. Rebekah Miles has spoken on this. (https://um-insight.net/perspectives/st-louis-as-a-damascus-road-conversion/). I hope that’s helpful.
Thank you for the resources. Though I have read God and the Gay Christian, I have not read the other 2. However, checking a quick review of Martin’s book (https://centerforfaith.com/blog/book-review-unclobber-by-colby-martin), I fear I will run into the same rhetorical fallacies inherent in well written persuasive memoirs. Have you ever worked out your own defense or argument dealing with all the questions?
I read Rebekah’s post and have many thoughts, but one still sticks with me. In John Wesley’s day he kicked out people from the class meeting deliberately not following the rules. There was always a path back, but the consequences were clear. What are we to do in our day? I realize we never quite squared the transition of a Monday-Saturday movement with the location of a Sunday institution, but there must be some accountability. What if a church continuously re-baptized new members with adult,immersion baptism? What if a church/pastor continuously preached TULIP theology? What if they continued even after a just resolution or disciplinary action by the Bishop? Any suggestions?
Joseph: Just back from a very busy Annual Conference, I can only offer brief responses.
First, assuming you are referring to the texts regarding same-sex relationships, I have worked out my response (as per Philippians 2:12-13) based on the original languages and cultural settings along with reason, tradition and experience but I’m not into “defense or argument.” Steve Harper has a very helpful resource list and interpretive comments at the end of his new book, “Holy Love: A Biblical Theology for Human Sexuality.” I recommend it.
On your second question, I believe deeply in a Wesleyan sense of accountability in Christian community and with grace, but I’ve never seen anyone brought to clergy trial for performing adult immersion baptism, TULIP theology or sheer pastoral incompetence and we have plenty of those! With Rebekah Miles, I find the Traditional Plan to be inconsistent with our Methodist tradition both in its mandatory punishments and in removing clergy accountability from the Annual Conference. I believe wholeheartedly in meaningful “just resolution” and have participated in it.
I hope that’s helpful.
Blessings on your ministry.
Thank you for sharing your Journey with all of us. ✝️Your thoughts have always brought me clarity as I struggle to make sense of our chaotic world.Gray
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Jim: I was introduced to E Stanley Jones while in seminary and probably have all of his books which have challenged and encouraged me. It is my uunderstanding that Asbury students are required to sign a statement of adherence to a doctrine of biblical “inerrancy.” Jones’ comment holds to the Wesleyan teaching of biblical “inspiration.” “The Bible is not the revelation of God; that would be the Word become printer’s ink. But the Bible is the inspired Record of the Revealtion–the Revelation is seen in the face of Jesus Christ.” (The Word Became Flesh, p. 243) Can you shed any light on this?
I know you are accurate about Jones’ understanding of inspiration, which is clearly not inerrancy or literal, verbal inspiration. I do not know if Asbury has such a statement or pledge.