Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society

Some readers may recall that one of my brothers responded during the family discussion by mention of Reinhold Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society.  In the next preceding post, His Spirit Is Crying Out and Yearning, the reader will hopefully recognize that the issues of homosexuality and transsexuality, when considered in the light of actual lives, aren’t so easily identified or judged.

Why do I juxtapose these two statements?   Because Niebuhr understood that one cannot do theology in the abstract.  His prayer, known as the Serenity Prayer, has been an inspiration for those confronting addictions based upon 12 Step programs.   It recognizes that when one “does theology” in the flesh, one must struggle “to know the difference” between what we can change and what we cannot change.  He has been cited by both extremes of the political and religious spectrum and all points between.  In the 2008 presidential election, he was quoted by both President Obama and Senator McCain.

For an excellent discussion of Niebuhr’s teaching and influence, particularly as relating to his book, Moral Man and Immoral Society , see http://www.onbeing.org/program/moral-man-and-immoral-society-rediscovering-reinhold-niebuhr/feature/five-conversations/2253.  That National Public Radio website describes Niebuhr’s contribution: “We explore the ideas and present-day relevance of 20th century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, an influential, boundary-crossing voice in American public life. Niebuhr created the term “Christian realism:” a middle path between religious idealism and arrogance.”

Niebuhr’s Moral Man and Immoral Society

Bob and Betty Dorr’s Story

OUR STORY—BETTY AND BOB DORR, First United Methodist Church, Omaha

In the late 1950s, Betty’s brother was seen in a gay bar while serving in the Army.  He received a dishonorable discharge.  That was when we learned he is gay. Betty’s parents, especially her mother, never wavered in their love for their son.  Betty’s brother remained an important part of our family.  In the mid-1960s, Bob’s brother told us he is gay.  It didn’t matter.  He is loved and accepted in our family.

As we raised our family of three sons, we didn’t bring up the subject of homosexuality with friends because we didn’t want to risk jeopardizing her brother’s public school teaching job.  In 1992, our youngest son Michael came out to us at age 27 while in Omaha to attend his best friend’s wedding. He knew we would still love him because his two uncles were loved and accepted within the family.

Why did he wait so long to tell us he was gay?  He said, “Mom and Dad, I know that you love me, but when I walk out the front door who else will?  My church has told me that they feel it is wrong and so does society.”  Michael excelled in academics both in high school and college.  He rose to senior management at the Chicago-based Leo Burnett advertising agency.  However, his personal life took a bad turn.  He struggled with alcoholism and drug abuse. He was diagnosed with bipolar mental illness.  In 2006 he died at age 41 in his Chicago apartment of cardiac arrhythmia, a heartbeat disruption.

After Michael came out to us, we joined the Omaha chapter of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), and for about a dozen years one or the other of us led our local chapter. We also became active in efforts to win equal rights for gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders in theUnited Methodist Church.  Betty testified in the defense of Jimmy Creech at his church trial for conducting a Holy Union commitment service for two lesbians at our church, First United Methodist in Omaha.  Creech was acquitted at that trial. Later he conducted a commitment service for two gay men. He was tried again and lost his ministerial credentials.  Betty served on the national board of Reconciling Ministries Network, which is committed to winning equality for GLBTs in theUnited Methodist Church, and also on the steering committee of the Parents Reconciling Network, a group affiliated with RMN.  She has retired from the board and the steering committee.

Along the way, we have helped many parents understand that their gay son or lesbian daughter still is the same person they always have loved. When we served as grand marshals of the Pride Parade in Omaha, Bob spoke these words for the two of us: “On behalf of all accepting parents of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender children we say this, If your parents for whatever reason don’t love and accept you just as you are, think of us as your parents. We are honored to be your parents.”

Young GLBT people need to know that there are pastors and lay members who care for them and that they can come home to their church.

Bob and Betty Dorr’s Story

Love of God and Neighbor Letter

Today, February 24, 2012, I received an e-mail with the following letter which it reports has been sent to United Methodist delegates of General Conference, 2012.  That e-mail also references a statement entitled “For Love of God and Neighbor: A Common Witness to General Conference 2012, which I have signed and may be found at http://gc12.org/sign/love-of-god-and-neighbor-statement/.

Dear United Methodist Church Leaders:

The General Conference briefings in Tampa, Zimbabwe, and the Philippines provided delegates and church leaders time to explore the vital issues that will be under consideration at General Conference. As disciples of Jesus Christ, together we seek to embody God’s love and justice through The United Methodist Church. With the sometimes surprising leading of the Holy Spirit, we strive to love our neighbors and to embrace our unity in Christ in the midst of diverse opinions.

Whether it is seeking peace and challenging war and violence, sharing leadership with Central Conferences, protecting the lives of immigrants or moving beyond judgment to love toward gay people we raise our hands to God in praise and supplication that we might follow the lead of the Holy Spirit.  So what has God been telling us? Scripture reveals richly abundant human diversity and that God loves our diversity.

  • Peter was told not to deny what God had made holy-the uncircumcised.
  • The Ethiopian eunuch asked whether he could be baptized-God said yes!
  • Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and he defended her right to learn.
  • Paul said there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free.
  • The Syrophonecian woman-a foreigner-received healing for her daughter.
  • John 3:16 says that ALL who believe are welcome in the kingdom of God.

When human religious and cultural practices kept people out, Jesus turned the tables, challenged exclusion and called people to live out their core faith values.  The Holy Spirit has been changing hearts and calling us out of the wilderness of judging our neighbors to the gospel call to Love Your Neighbor.

  • It is time to take Genesis seriously and be good stewards of the natural world.
  • It is time to trust the Gospel that teaches us to love our enemies.  War, persecution, violence and bullying are not the answers to our deepest fears.
  • It is time to trust the Holy Spirit who through forty years of dialogue has prepared the church to affirm gay and lesbian disciples as church members and leaders.
  • It is time to trust God who teaches us to love our neighbors, not criminalize immigrants among us who seek to make a living or flee from violence.

John Wesley’s three simple rules for Christian living, now called our “General Rules,” are: Do no harm.  Do good.  Stay in love with God. We know what it is to do good and to stay in love with God but we don’t always know when we are doing harm.  Here are some actions you can consider:

  • You will be receiving more mailings from the Common Witness Coalition as we go into General Conference. Read everything, watch everything, learn everything.
  • Commit to do no harm.  Trust the Gospel.  Trust Jesus. Love God. In light of Jesus’ teachings and Wesley’s wisdom.
  • Sign the statement “FOR THE LOVE OF GOD AND NEIGHBOR” http://gc12.org/sign/love-of-god-and-neighbor-statement/

Sincerely,

The Common Witness Coalition

Love Your Neighbor Logo

·         Reconciling Ministries Network

·         Affirmation: United Methodists

Love of God and Neighbor Letter

Bishop Hagiya Courageously Speaks Out

I am a member of the United Methodist Church.  I have noted in the past that retired bishops of this church have joined in an appeal to the church to lovingly embrace in both our membership and leadership those of us in the GLBT community (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transsexual). I have thought it a shame that no active bishop of the church, to my knowledge, has had the courage to take such a stand, but have waited until retirement.  Bishop Hagiya is an active bishop who has found a way to remain true to his office and at the same time to be true to his Christian faith.

I have understood in part the reluctance of active bishops in that the bishop is sworn to uphold the laws and principles of the church. At one time, I was a county judge. I was sworn to uphold the laws of the state of Nebraska as they were, and not as I wanted them to be. A judge who is not willing to be bound by the law has an obligation to relinquish that post to someone who is willing to be bound by it. Likewise, any United Methodist bishop who is unwilling to be bound by the Methodist Discipline and Principles has an obligation to relinquish that position to someone who is willing to be so bound.

However, a distinction is to be made: nothing prevents a judge from noting that the law, as written, is unjust. But, until the law is changed, the judge is bound by the law as it is, not as it “ought to be.” A judge is not a legislator.

In am reminded of the judge who tried, convicted and sentenced Gandhi in South Africa for sedition.  He professed great admiration for Gandhi and Gandhi’s commitment to Truth;  he expressed regret that under the law he had to sentence Gandhi; and he stated a great desire that the law be changed. However, he noted that he was obligated to apply the law as it was, not as he wished it to be, and he sentenced Gandhi to prison pursuant to the law.

People often misunderstand the method and power of civil disobedience.  The method of ciivil disobediences is not  sly violation of an unjust law, but open violation of the law and acceptance of the consequences.  The power of civil disobedience lies in its open violation of the law so that the people can see the injustice and demand a change in the law consistent with due process.  Gandhi noted that civil disobedience would not have any power over a government that did not respect its people.  It was effective against the laws of the English people because they could see that, as applied, certain of their laws violated their basic principles.

Likewise with active bishops of the United Methodist Church: they are bound by the law of the church as it is, and not as they wish it to be.   But nothing prevents them from seeking to change an unjust law.  Indeed, the office of bishop cannot insulate the person who fills the office from his or her duties as a Christian.

Therefore, I greatly admire Bishop Hagiya not only for his understanding of the distinction between office and personal responsibility, but his courage and integrity to act responsibly in Christian love, consistent with his duties as Bishop of the Pacific Northwest and Alaska United Methodist Conferences.  Here is his letter as I received it by Reconciling United Methodist e mail.

I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
John 13:34-35

I greet you in the very name of our Lord, Jesus Christ!
Difficult letters, like difficult conversations are never easy. However, God never promised us easy, and there are times when we must take up the cross and walk in faith. I write today not representing the United Methodist Church, for only General Conference can do that. So, even though I write this letter as your Bishop, I hope it will also be received as your friend in Christ.
With the signing by Governor Gregoire of a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in Washington as of June 7th, the state joins six others in recognizing this union. Personally, I celebrate the signing into law of the legalization of same-sex marriage for our state. It is an historic moment for the people of this geographic region, and it marks a secular turning point in the liberation of those who have too long been oppressed in our current times. I celebrate with those who will be free to enjoy equal health and security benefits through the state institution of marriage.
I also personally grieve over our United Methodist Church polity that will not recognize same-sex marriage. I believe that it is wrong, and we should work for a more inclusive and humane response. The reason for this stance is that I believe that Jesus Christ is the incarnation of God’s divine love for the entire creation, and no one should be shut out from God’s embracing Grace. God’s Grace is so pure and encompassing that anything that attempts to limit or control this love must be transformed.
In all humility, I realize that this represents my faith, and even though I must live by what I believe, I am fully aware that equally devout United Methodists have different views. To force my faith onto someone who has a different or opposing view is also to limit God’s divine love. I believe the loving example we must set is to come together for dialogue in mutual respect. Respectful dialogue means that we listen to one another honestly and openly. Dialogue does not mean that each side tries to win the other over with an opposing point of view, but pauses to hear the honest thoughts and feelings of the other side.
I deeply respect those who have different views on this issue, and even though I share my faith perspective here, I do not presume that this must be their truth as well. I believe that all human nature is flawed, and that God holds the only “Truth” with a capital “T”. We humans can only approximate the truth, and no person has a monopoly on it.
Our Pacific Northwest Annual Conference has been deeply divided by this very issue in the past. People have been hurt, self-righteousness has abounded, and lives have been damaged. This is not an embodiment of God’s divine Grace, and I pray that we can respond differently in the future. If we are to truly live by God’s love, then we need to treat each other with the respect of any creature made by God’s hand. All of us have the dignity and self-worth of a child of God.
I am not asking for a tepid and false peacefulness. We will disagree and not see eye-to-eye. I am not looking for an all-encompassing harmony in our present reality, but these great issues that divide us will not go away, and I call on all of us to enter into a civil dialogue that speaks of mutual respect. When such social issues threaten to pull us apart as the Body of Christ, I invite every United Methodist into the art of Holy Conferencing. Our times call upon us to model the love of Jesus Christ through our love for one another.
Even though we will disagree, I believe in my very bones that God is at work in the world, and in our lives. We have been shown a glimpse of God’s spiritual vision: where the wolf and lamb lie together, where water springs from the desert, and where weapons of war will be turned into instruments of life-giving peace.
I hold that vision before you on this day, and I also hold all of you in my prayers. As we continue as the “people of the way” let Christ be our guide and salvation, and let love rule our hearts and minds.
Be the Hope,
Bishop Grant Hagiya
Bishop Hagiya Courageously Speaks Out

Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell Speaks For Inclusiveness

November 11, 2011
Kermit the frog said, “It’s not easy being green”. I am sure that there are United Methodist Bishops who today would say, “It’s not easy being a United
Methodist Bishop”. Rather than condemning (or praising) The Council of Bishops statement in response to “…a group of clergy who have declared they would perform holy unions in opposition to the Book of Discipline”, I offer this paraphrase of a portion of their statement, remembering the racial struggles of our denomination. 
Although different, they may be instructive as United Methodism must, and I believe will, respond to the current language and legislation in our Book of Discipline. I am not sure all of us understand the “deep pain” that our Book of Discipline language and legislation is causing same gender loving clergy who are open about their commitment, and those of us who support them. I have substituted (highlighted) words that remember the tragedy of our racial history, with the hope that this will help us understand the similarities between segregation/exclusion of persons today because of their same sex commtments, and of persons because of their race, in the past.

“One of the deep disagreements and divisions within the church is over (the practice of racial integration recently highlighted by a
group of white and black clergy who have declared
they will attend racially segregated white churches in opposition
to the racially segregated policies and practices of those churches).
  This has caused different experiences of deep pain throughout the church. As the bishops of the Church, we commit ourselves to be in prayer for the whole church and for the brokeness our communities experience.”

The above is a paraphrased quotation of a portion of the letter from The Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church. It was written, remembering that on Easter Sunday of 1964, Bishop Charles Golden who was black, and Bishop James Mathews who was white, sought to attend the morning
service of Galloway Memorial Methodist Church in Jackson, Mississippi. They were turned away because the
Church had a Policy Statement that
declared their Church was “white only”.

It is difficult to remember and admit that once our denomination in its language and legislation and in the racial segregation it created and allowed, believed that, “The practice of racial integration was incompatible with Christian teaching.”

I beleve that our denominational history has prepared us to respond positively to the ministry opportunities and challenges of the 21st century. We once supported and enforced prohibitions against the consumption of alchohol, divorce of clergy, etc.

But, in time, we acknowledged that for a denomination to attempt to be in minisry with its “head in the sand”, diminishes and demeans the unique
significance of ministry in
the Methodist tradition. I had wished that The United Methodist Church might have taken leadership in providing the ministry of marriages and unions to same sex couples in those places where they are legal.  And, affirmed the same gender loving clergy who have been among us presently and historically, in local churches, as District Superintendents and as Bishops.

But, our sisters and brothers in other Communions have done this while we convey the impression that if our denomination did this, the foundation
of our United Methodist faith would crumble. Our faith
foundation is not that fragile! If this were so, we would not have survived the changes that we have made.

Years ago, the late, Reverend Doctor Ernest Smith provided Black Methodists for Church Renewal with our slogan; “OUR TIME UNDER GOD
IS NOW.”

I believe The Council of Bishops believes, and hopefully most of the delegates to the 2012 General Conference believe, a fresh and faith-grounded approach to language and legislation that first sufaced in 1972, must be reviewed and transformed.

The little boy who heard his parents talk at the dinner table, day after day, about the awful state of the world, sought to participate by saying, “The world must be in a mell of a hess”. The world is, and we squander the gifts God has given The United Methodist Church, as we act as though we believe that same sex couples and complete ministry to and with them, are responsible for the economic, health, violence and war issues that affect all of humankind.

We know this is not true, and we must dare say so!  United Methodist Church, “OUR TIME UNDER GOD IS NOW”.

May we, with God’s guidance and help, live in the present, as we shape the future.

Gilbert H. Caldwell

Retired Elder,
Rocky Mountain Conference
Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell Speaks For Inclusiveness

Memorial to the Norwegian Victims of Judgment, Hate and Fear

In this blog I have emphasized the Christian command to love.  I have noted the bad fruits of judgment, hate and fear of the GLBT community which Christian aggressors have tried to justify as God-approved, even God-directed.  Grief and loss, the bad fruits of judgment, hatred and fear, is expressed in many ways.

Picasso addressed such pain and loss in the context of the war in Guernica:

The painting may be accessed at my original source, http://www.artchive.com/artchive/P/picasso/guernica.jpg.html .  I also included it and discussed it in the context of violence in Tucson and Omaha in my post on a related site, The Bible Through Artists’ Eyes, which post you may find at https://bibleartists.wordpress.com/2011/01/22/remembering-recent-victims-of-violence/ .

For an excellent and sensitive journalistic photo presentation by Time, which honors the victims, those who were killed, those who survived and the many who grieve, see http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,2084743_2295860_last,00.htmlhttp://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,2084743_2295860_last,00.html

I note that the Associated Press reported today, July 28, 2011, that the Prime Minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg, “called on his country to react by more tightly embracing, rather than abandoning, the culture of tolerance that Anders Behring Breifik said he was trying to destroy.”  Now that is a faith statement that is sure to bear good fruit.  That is what true forgiveness is about: a refusal to be bound by the wrongs, evils and fears of the past as proper governmental authorities hold Breifik accountable.

Memorial to the Norwegian Victims of Judgment, Hate and Fear

“Fundamental” Problems

I am thinking of the awful fruits of the massacre of innocents in Norway by a Christian fundamentalist gunman.  How is this evil different from that of the Muslim extremists in the 9-11 atrocities?  How is it different from the attacks of the Christian fundamentalist and political right against the GLBT community?

At least in my lifetime, “Christian fundamentalism” has been used in reference to Christians who believe the Bible to be dictated by God to humans who wrote it into books that, by Divine guidance, came to compose the present Bible.  Being God-dictated, they believe the Bible to be literally true, both historically and scientifically.   Catholic fundamentalists may expand that dictation to include the Appocrapha and Mormon fundamentalists may expand it further to include the Book of Mormon.  Likewise, fundamentalist Muslims and Jews consider their scripture sacred and literally true as they read it.

“Fundamental” is perhaps an unfortunate choice of words.  I would consider that the word, fundamental, would describe my own view of the Bible, the “word of God,” and the “will of God.”  I seek to get to the core of the messages of the Bible, some of which might be a mix of history, reflection of the  writer or editors’ observations, inspiration, ignorance or even prejudice.

To my mind, the core of Jesus’ teaching that is fundamental to my Christian belief and practice is expressed in these statements which provide: 1)  a simple command: “Love God and your neighbor as yourself;” 2)  A measure by which you can recognize the validity of actions on the claim of faith: “By their fruits you will know them.”  3) how we show our love of Jesus: “Inasmuch as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me;”    and lastly, 4) the present and eternal reward: “The kingdom of Heaven is at hand . . . enter into your reward.”

I will accept the current use of “fundamentalism.”  Jimmy Carter addressed it and its consequences across various religions when asked by Trista Tippet on National Public Radio’s Speaking of Faith why so much violence in the post Cold War era has a religious dimension.  He responded:

I think it’s because of fundamentalists. Fundamentalism is a characteristic of dominant males who, first of all, subjugate women and derogate women’s rights. Secondly, an aspect of their fundamentalism is that they assume that they have a rare or unique relationship with God Almighty, whatever god they define, and their beliefs, therefore, are ordained by God. And since their beliefs are God’s beliefs, they are infallible. They cannot make a mistake or acknowledge a mistake. Anyone who disagrees with them, by definition, is wrong because ‘the disagreement is with me and with God.’ And being wrong, you are inferior and, in extreme cases, you are considered to be subhuman. And so that’s where violence erupts and condemnation erupts and value of a human life within a person who disagrees with you has little or no value. And that’s where the violence comes out, and that’s where the unnecessary war comes out, and that’s where what we define as terrorism comes out.

I think of the fear and hateful language and acts by American “Fundamentalist Christians” against the GLBT community.  That isn’t so different, other than in lethal scope, than the horror and pain inflicted by that Christian fundamentalist in Norway.

“Fundamental” Problems