Faith Lived Out: Let’s start with “Intrinsic Worth”

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About a year ago, I received a Facebook invitation from a friend. It was for a church event focused on the inclusion of all people. Knowing that I am committed to issues of justice and dignity, my friend thought that I might come. Yet the engaging, hip invitation included the following statement: “No haters allowed.”

I get it. The sponsors wanted to emphasize in the strongest fashion that they were dedicated to inclusion. They may have even realized the irony of their expression. But it was a nonstarter for me. I’ve never really considered myself a “hater.” The term speaks to the nature of one’s being. Yet I must admit that, like all of us, I have possessed a self-deceptive heart and have acted in less than loving ways. I was reminded of the old line from Groucho Marx: I was not sure that I wanted to join a movement that would have me as a member. Or perhaps I hoped to join one that would have me as a member, and this proviso threatened my welcome. No hating – to be sure, but something about the message did not seem right.

The second section of the United Methodist Social Principles emphasizes the “Nurturing Community.” Nurture. That sounds like a benign concept. Doesn’t it essentially mean care? However this particular section includes a naming of some very contentious issues. Here we find the family described as a model of human community and marriage as a relationship of equality. We find words of compassion for those who have experienced divorce and an affirmation of single persons. Yet here we also find flashpoints for much of our denomination’s conflict over sexuality and gender. An awful lot of our present turmoil can be linked to the statements in this particular section of the Social Principles.

Intrinsic Worth_550When writing about this part of the Principles, I find myself conflicted. I am not conflicted because of any confusion regarding my convictions around sexuality and gender. I have thought long and hard about those, and I am not afraid of my conclusions. Yet I am conflicted about whether my commentary on the specific disagreement over sexual/gender orientation would serve to strengthen the work of the gospel. Many have not only gone to the heart of the matter; they have gone for the throat – from several sides of the issue. In the process, we have dehumanized those who fail to reinforce our self-understandings. That’s right – “self” understandings. I can’t help but feel that some, at least, of the debate is about how we see ourselves as authorities. While many remain excluded, loud voices from several sides objectify each other.

Objectification is a process of refusing to acknowledge the agency, the uniqueness, the value of others. It is perhaps the inevitable result of inappropriately projected power. Objectification says, “I will acknowledge you when you meet my expectation, whim, desire.” It is the epitome of conditional acceptance. Thankfully (and prophetically) the opening paragraph to this section on the “Nurturing Community” includes the following statement: “Primary for us is the gospel understanding that all persons are important – because they are human beings created by God and loved through and by Jesus Christ and not because they have merited significance.” That is a kind of preamble within the larger preamble of the Social Principles, and it is placed immediately before some of the document’s most controversial sections.

Disagreement is one thing. But we better get it right when considering God’s love. How will we ever live down the fact that our last General Conference barely managed to vote for Paul’s articulation of God’s love as expressed in Romans 8? Can you imagine John Wesley’s reaction to the inspiring 56% endorsement of the Apostle? (sarcasm intended) The founding president of the College where I teach and serve as chaplain had strong opinions. However he grounded his convictions for justice and inclusion in the same truth that guided his treatment of all people, even those who disagreed with him. He was known for emphasizing the “Intrinsic Worth” of all, and he meant it as an unconditional regard for the being of each and every person. We live in a conditionally driven era of history. The church is not in trouble because we have failed to enforce our power over others. We are in trouble because we have been acting like the prevailing culture of conditional and manipulative behavior. When the church begins to love like Jesus loved, it will become the kind of radically impressive body that a whole host of burned-out folk are seeking.

Chris Momany, UMR Columnist

Chris Momany

Chris Momany has been chaplain and director of church relations at Adrian College since 1996 and has taught in the Department of Philosophy/Religion since 1998. He is an ordained United Methodist minister, and a graduate of Adrian College, Princeton Theological Seminary, and Drew University. His academic interests focus on Christian ethics and philosophy. He has been published in the Christian Century, the Wesleyan Theological Journal, The Asbury Theological Journal, the Circuit Rider magazine, the United Methodist Reporter, and other venues. Chris also writes for the Daily Bible Study curriculum of the United Methodist Publishing House and for MinistryMatters, an online ministry resource. His book on the Wesleyan ethic of love and justice bears the title, Doing Good: A Grace-Filled Approach to Holiness. Chris has led many conferences, workshops, and continuing education events. For several years he has combined his research and teaching with a focus on human trafficking. Today it is estimated that 27 million people are held as slaves throughout the world. Chris has been a national leader among college and church professionals in confronting this issue.

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3 Comments on "Faith Lived Out: Let’s start with “Intrinsic Worth”"

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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jwlung
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As a self-identified member of the “Mean Party,” I am described by the party of inclusion as an ignorant bigot. That is the purpose of the term “homophobe.”

I have no need to be proven right. Apostate bishops can hem and haw concerning Jesus resurrection and no one, other than the apostate, need fear hell. To bless sin, and call evil good, puts souls in danger of eternal separation from God.

Craig L. Adams
Guest

The way the homosexuality debate is conducted in the UMC is very disheartening to me. it seems like the need to be right is the main thing in people’s minds. We are proving to the world that we not only don’t love each other — we don’t respect each other either.

Thomas Coates
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But sadly, our Social Principles– nuanced and careful with definitions of family, military service, and abortion takes a hard-right and very hurtful tern regarding LGBTQ persons. It’s difficult for LGBTQ persons and Allies to come to the table when the power balance is so vastly weighted against LGBTQ persons and Allies.

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