Living in the tension of an ever widening circle.

Unknown-8“You are apostate.” “You have caused division.” “You have begun schism.” “I wish hell for you”. “You have broken my church.” “You have voted to Secede.” “You are in open rebellion.” “You are the spouse that has broken the marriage vows and will not stop.” These are just a few things that clergy “friends” of mine have shared with me directly in the last few weeks after the unanimous election of Bishop Karen Oliveto as the newest Bishop in the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church.

In the midst of the Spirit led celebrations of many in the United Methodist family, I hear the pain of disappointment and betrayal in the words of my colleagues as once again the actions of some have created exclusion for others. Many believe that we are at an impasse and the only way forward is a divergent path. How does God do a new thing? How do faithful believers respond to the move of the Spirit that pushes our previous understanding of scripture, of God, of ourselves and of who is “in” the circle?

We have been here before. Just a quick look at the Acts of the Apostles reminds us of the tension of expanding the circle. Think of how Gamaliel opened the door expanded the circle to include the Apostles as he spoke to the council “If this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to stop it.” Philip opened the door and expanded the circle to include the Samaritans and then the Ethiopian Eunuch, whose sexuality was not a barrier to full connection in the church as the spirit led him to Baptism. Ananias, led by the Spirit opened the door to Saul, a known persecutor of “people of the way”. Barnabas and Paul opened the door to the Gentiles as they shared how the spirit has moved in new ways. All of these moves pushed against the norm of the day. It pushed for understanding God and God’s people in new ways.

Each Holy Spirit moment led to the expansion of the kingdom work of God.

Some have said to me “How can we change 2000 years of teaching on Christian marriage?”
The Sunday after the election I attended North Scottsdale UMC and the Rev David Wasson reminded me of the story of Rahab. Rahab a gentile, saves the Jewish spies that were sent to Jericho by Joshua. They, in return, promise to save her and her entire family. After her rescue, Rahab and her family live in Israel according to the text. How can this be? How do they embrace the contradictions? The bible for years has been clear: Deuteronomy 7:1-8 – You must destroy them (Canaanites like Rahab), no inter-marrying! But then the Spirit moved. They took Rahab in. She married into the family. Marriage is redefined! Matthew includes this once-outsider in Jesus’ family. Matthew expanded the circle and included Rahab in the genealogy of Jesus.

Our founder John Wesley broke with nearly 1700 years of teaching on ordination when the official process and leadership of the church refused his request for the ordination of Methodist for America. Then he broke the covenant, some said he was in open schism and yet he followed the Spirit’s lead as he ordained Whatcoat, Vassey and Coke and yet stayed apart of the Anglican Church.

How did the community of God live in the tension of how scripture was understood and what became a normal practice of opening the door and drawing the circle wide? God seems to always draw the circle wide. Perhaps again we must catch up to what the Spirit is doing.

I still believe our best days are ahead together. Grace and peace.

Duane Anders
Lead pastor of Cathedral of the Rockies, Boise First United Methodist Church

Cathedral of the Rockies is one of the 25 fastest growing of the top 100 United Methodist Churches. Duane is the former pastor of Stillwater UMC in Dayton Ohio and former DS.

Special Contributor to UMR

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This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to
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12 Comments on "Living in the tension of an ever widening circle."

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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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David Vaughn
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Sorry, but the story of Rahab did NOT redefine marriage. There are other instances of marriages to someone outside the Hebrew family, such as Samson seeking a wife outside of his kin. Those marriages may have widened the gene pool but, they did not change the definition of marriage. Those marriages were still between a man and a woman. To use this story to infer that since Rahab was included in the children of Israel, that the Spirit has now moved to allow women to marry women and men to marry men is a terrible misuse of scripture.

jimmie shelby
Guest

Spot on, Mr. Vaughn. So many folks are looking for a special gene. Sad commentary, in deed.

Michael Robards
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Amen!!!
It is an abomination before God!!!

Daniel Wagle
Guest
I would like to inform you that unclean foods are also called an “abomination” (toevah) in Deuteronomy 14:3. This is exactly the same word (toevah) used in Leviticus 20:13 about a man lying with a man. So, in other words, this is a ritual purity law, rather than a moral law in Leviticus 20:13. Mark 7:18-23 and Romans 14:14 both state that Christians are not required to keep ritual purity laws. Saying one can eat beef but not pork is certainly NOT a moral opposition to eating pork. The basis was that pork and shellfish were unclean AND therefore an… Read more »
Paige
Guest

To state that the Ethiopian Eunuch had any sexuality at ail is to assume facts not in evidence. The greatest likelihood is that he was celibate, although the Bible doesn’t address that issue at all. The point is that salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ is available to all. Nowhere, however, does the Bible state that sin can be rationalized or justified. It is something Jesus followers should confess and repent from, using the power of the Holy Spirit to avoid committing the same sin in the future.

Daniel Wagle
Guest
Deuteronomy 23:1 specifically states that Eunuchs were to be excluded from the community or congregation of the Lord. So, it is significant that the Ethiopian Eunuch was fully included in the Church. Physical imperfections made a person less holy in some of the old law. Persons who were crippled, blind or lame could not offervup the food of the Lord in Leviticus 21:16-23. Similarly, a lamb to be slaughtered had to be free of physical imperfections in Exodus 12:5. However, Isaiah 56:4-5 states that Eunuchs that keep the Sabbath and hold fast to the Covenant will be given an imperishable… Read more »
Richard F Hicks
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“If your heart beats in love and loyalty to Jesus Christ then give me your hand.” JW “God has no center point and a circumference which is everywhere” (?) “Hope has two beautiful daughters – anger and courage. Anger at what should be but isn’t. Courage to make changes toward what should be.” Auggie of Hippo. Thank you, Richard F Hicks, OKC

Pastor Dave
Guest

Sorry, but the story of Rahab did NOT redefine marriage. There are other instances of marriages to someone outside the Hebrew family, such as Samson seeking a wife outside of his kin. Those marriages may have widened the gene pool but, they did not change the definition of marriage. Those marriages were still between a man and a woman. To use this story to infer that since Rahab was included in the children of Israel, that the Spirit has now moved to allow women to marry women and men to marry men is a terrible misuse of scripture.

Daniel Wagle
Guest
Genesis 2:24 states “That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings (dabaq, cleaves) into his wife, and the two become one flesh.” Ruth 1:14 states after Naomi stated that her daughters in law should go back to their mother and father that Ruth “cleaved, clinged” (dabaq) to Naomi.” Ruth 1:16-18 statement of loyalty to Naomi is often used in marriage vows. It is as if she left her mother and father and cleaved to Naomi, which echoes Genesis 2:24. Boaz stated in Ruth 2:11 that Ruth left her mother and father and went to a new… Read more »
David Vaughn
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In interpreting Biblical passages, context is vital, especially when there are different possible definitions and usages. Ruth ‘clinging’ to Naomi, does not mean or infer that she was a lesbian. Ruth was married to one of Naomi’s two sons until he died, and she later married Boaz. And, sexual relations between close relatives was expressly prohibited in the holiness code. “Do not have sexual relations with your daughter-in-law.” Lev. 18:15. The context of the passage clearly indicates that Ruth did not want to leave Naomi in order to return to her homeland, nothing more. And, the fact that Naomi said… Read more »
Daniel Wagle
Guest
Remember, a standard Levirate relationship between a brother and his brother’s wife was also forbidden in Leviticus 20:21. However, such a relationship was considered a duty in Deuteronomy 25:5. You could say that Naomi and Ruth had sort of a Levirate relationship, which was very loving. However, Ruth engaged in a Levirate marriage with Boaz, which Boaz himself described as Levirate in 4:5, to raise offspring for the departed. However, Ruth bore a child out of love for Naomi, rather than for Boaz in 4:15. Her marriage to him was not of love, but only for the purposes of providing… Read more »
David Vaughn
Guest

Yes, the marriage between Boaz and Ruth was a Levirate marriage as permitted and prescribed in Leviticus. And, Naomi and Ruth having been through the loss of their husbands and Naomi’s son, had a close relationship. But, I see nothing that would suggest that their relationship was similar to a Levirate marriage, or any other possible marriage permitted in the scriptures. Nor do I see anything that would suggest their relationship compares to God’s design for a man and a woman in Gen. 2:24. That is a total stretch to attempt to justify same-sex relationships- nothing else.

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