Archives for August 2015

Fighting Teen Suicide

girl in forestBy Rev. Thomas Lambrecht

A recent story by United Methodist News Service reports that United Methodist Discipleship Ministries is proposing to lift restrictions on how church funds can be used related to homosexuality. The restrictions have been in place since 1976 and have barred the use of church funds “to promote the acceptance of homosexuality.” A later addition also barred the use of church funds to “violate the expressed commitment of The United Methodist Church ‘not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends.’”

According to the story, “the proposal’s [to end the restrictions] main rationale is to enable Discipleship Ministries, without fear, to provide resources aimed at preventing teen suicide, particularly among youth who feel marginalized by their sexual identity.” As the article states, “Regardless of their theological perspective, United Methodists overwhelmingly want to prevent teen harassment and suicide.”

Good News certainly shares that passionate desire. That is why we celebrate organizations such as To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) that have done such good work with younger generations to combat addiction, depression, self-injury, and suicide.

“If your heart is broken, it’s okay to say your heart is broken. If you feel stuck, it’s okay to say you feel stuck,” writes Jaime Tworkowski, founder of TWOLHA. “You are not alone in these places. Other people feel how you feel. You are more than just your pain. You are more than wounds, more than drugs, more than death and silence. There is still some time to ask for help. There is still some time to start again. There is still some time for love to find you. It’s not too late.”

This is the kind of message that needs to be relayed to those with suicidal thoughts.

If Discipleship Ministries only wanted to address LGBTQ teen suicide, it could have proposed an exception to be made in this specific case. Instead, Discipleship Ministries’ proposal to eliminate the restrictions entirely seemingly advocates changing our church’s position regarding same-sex behavior.

It appears that Discipleship Ministries wants to be able to say that God created teens with same-sex attractions or gender confusion, and that these conditions are good and “normal.” One assumes that in sending that message, Discipleship Ministries would hope to remove any stigma attached to having LGBTQ desires or attractions.

Such an approach to fighting suicide among LGBTQ youth is misguided.

Studies by social scientists have shown that many youth experience same-sex attractions as teenagers, but then do not remain same-sex attracted. See, for example, “Same-sex attraction in a birth cohort” by N. Dickson, et al. Encouraging youth to “identify” as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender could prematurely lock them into an understanding of their personhood that they would otherwise leave behind.

More deeply, the message that God makes people lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender is a denial of the scriptural teaching about our humanity, maleness, and femaleness. It also fails to reckon with the pervasive effects of sin and the Fall. “Original sin … is the corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is engendered of the offspring of Adam, whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and of his own nature inclined to evil, and that continually” (Articles of Religion, Article VII). Human sexuality has been warped and perverted in all of us by the effects of original sin, leading to brokenness and futility in this area of life, as in all others.

So what ought we to say to young people who are experiencing same-sex desires or gender confusion that leads them to contemplate suicide? The most important thing we can say is that God loves them (and all of us) despite and in the midst of our brokenness, whatever it might be. God loves us desperately and unconditionally.

Because God created us and loves us infinitely, we are infinitely valuable to him. We are precious to him, “bought at a price” of the life of his only Son. Therefore, we are to “honor God with [our] body,” no matter what our desires and temptations might be. We find fulfillment and flourishing by giving ourselves to God, accepted, forgiven, cleansed, healed, and redirected by him. Setting ourselves in proper relationship to God begins the process of undoing the brokenness in our lives and restoring us to God’s full intention for us as we are being “conformed to the likeness of his Son.” That restoration is often not completed in this life, and we undergo hardship as we “groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for … the redemption of our bodies.” It is a hardship that we all share, even as it is unique to each one of us and the distinctive challenges we each face. And we can give our young people the assurance that we will walk with them through the hardships and pray with them as they seek God’s best for their lives.

At the same time, we must stand with and advocate for all our young people who are being bullied and intimidated by their peers for any reason. I weep at the hurt that is being inflicted on youth today by peers who hold them up to ridicule. It doesn’t matter whether they are being ridiculed for being perceived as gay or lesbian, smart or “dumb,” good looking or ugly, or for whatever manufactured reason—such treatment is wrong and immoral. The tendency of teenagers to ridicule others out of their own insecurity is only amplified by social media and the warped self-image based on the number of “likes” a person has.

The church’s role is to combat a culture of valuing persons based on superficial qualities or appearance and to help young people learn their innate value as human beings, created and loved by God. The church ought to be a safe place for all youth, where they experience the love of God through adults and other youth, and where they can begin to appropriate their standing as a child of God, beginning to work out their salvation through the grace of God. The church can empower parents to be a positive force in their children’s lives, equipped to counteract and protect them from the harmful effects of an ungodly culture.

This approach is consistent with biblical teaching, and it can be effective in overcoming the trend toward suicide. And it doesn’t require the lifting of any funding restrictions enacted by the church.

Expelled from The United Methodist Church?

By Rev. Thomas Lambrecht

DOORWAY 10Recently, progressive blogger Jeremy Smith made the claim that “Conservative activists in the United Methodist Church are pushing out the perceived source of all things bad: Progressive Methodists.” Not only does Rev. Smith perceive an effort to “expel” progressives from our church, he also detects a trajectory changing who should leave the church. “Over the past 10 years, for folks seeking to divide the UMC, the rhetoric of ‘who leaves’ has shifted from ‘the Conservatives want to leave’ to ‘let’s make the Progressives leave.’”

In response to the narrative that Smith is positing, I wish to correct the historical record about this supposed shift from conservatives leaving to progressives leaving the church. I also want to dispute the notion that anyone is trying to “expel” others from the church.

Smith believes that the Rev. Dr. Bill Hinson’s speech raising the possibility of separation at the 2004 General Conference was “asking for the conservative churches to part ways with the wayward denomination.”

As one who also attended that conference and was present when Hinson gave his speech, that was not what he said or what he meant. This is what he said: “Our friends who have broken our covenant [namely progressives] feel that they themselves are broken… They are seeking autonomy from the larger body. They garnered more than 300 votes in an attempt to do things their way with regard to ordination in the Western Jurisdiction. Let’s set them and ourselves free to pursue our highest aspirations.” He concluded, “I believe the time has come when we must begin to explore an amicable and just separation that will free both sides from our cycle of pain and conflict. Such a just separation will protect the property rights of churches and the pension rights of clergy. It will also free us to reclaim our high calling and to fulfill our mission in the world. Therefore, let us, like Paul and Barnabas, agree to go our separate ways.”

What Hinson proposed was mutual, amicable separation as a way of releasing progressives to follow their consciences and pursue ministry in the way they feel God calling them. There was no talk of “conservatives leaving” or “expelling” anyone. At most, the raising of the question was a way of allowing progressives to leave, if they desired. Dr. Hinson’s heart was that the church should be released from fighting itself in order to carry on a more effective mission in the world. “We cannot fight both church and culture,” Hinson said. “Our culture alone confronts us with more challenges than we can humanly speaking confront and challenge. That struggle, combined with the continuous struggle in the church, is more than we can bear.”

Dr. Hinson acknowledged his own sadness with regard to the dividedness of the church and the ongoing pain suffered by both sides (and those in the middle). “No sincere person can rejoice in another person’s pain. No one enjoys stepping on another person’s dream… I believe it is time for us to end this cycle of pain we are inflicting on each other,” he said. “The thought of hurting another makes us sick. They hurt us by defying the covenant, and we hurt them with our votes to uphold the Discipline every four years.”

It is in that spirit of wanting to stop the cycle of pain that Drs. Bill Arnold and David Watson have proposed allowing any local church to withdraw from The United Methodist Church based on a declaration “that it is in irreconcilable conflict for reasons of conscience with the provisions of The United Methodist Church Book of Discipline on the practice of homosexuality and the blessing of homosexual unions.” There is no expulsion here. Only a desire to treat others as we ourselves would want to be treated, and a desire to respect the sincere consciences of others in our church body. It is also a concession to the idea that full-blown amicable separation may not be legislatively possible at the 2016 General Conference.

It is in that same spirit that Good News, understanding that the local church in Cassopolis, Michigan, was considering leaving the UM Church, stated that the congregation should be permitted to leave the denomination with its property and assets, if they so desired. “We believe the exercise of the trust clause to hold congregations within the church is a poor foundation upon which to build church unity,” Good News stated. We do not believe covenant ought to be coerced by financial considerations or the trust clause. Those who cannot abide by the covenant they made with The United Methodist Church ought to be allowed to leave without penalizing them. There is nothing new in this. We have maintained this position for many years. And we would hope that, if the language in the Book of Discipline were to be changed, we who could no longer live with that covenant would be similarly treated.

There is no “trajectory” moving from evangelicals leaving the UM Church to expelling progressives. In case the Rev. Smith has not noticed, it is evangelical congregations who are now leaving the denomination (such as Wesley UM Church in Quarryville, Pennsylvania and others).

Dr. Hinson’s question still stands, however. Is it time to consider the possibility of amicable separation? Can we continue to live together in the same church, while hurting each other through our deep disagreements?

I have no desire to expel anyone, nor any desire to leave the church in which I have faithfully served for over 30 years. I pray that I do not face that choice in the future.

(The full text of Dr. Hinson’s speech can be found in the May/June 2004 issue of Good News.)