June 1999


LOVE: "The Heart of God for the People of God"

by Cal-Nevada MFSA

(This reflection is offered to the people of the California-Nevada United Methodist Church, on the occasion of the 151st session of our conference, by the California-Nevada Chapter of the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA). It is a statement of our understanding of the inclusiveness of God's love. It comes from our commitment to working for such inclusiveness throughout the United Methodist Church.)

The Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) has served as a part of the life of the United Methodist Church, the Methodist Church, and the Methodist Episcopal Church for nearly a century. MFSA seeks to provide a fruitful witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all the world, working primarily through the ministries of the United Methodist Church. Among our objectives are: "to witness prophetically to Biblical faith in solidarity with persons who are oppressed," and, "to defend civil liberties and human rights as set forth in the Biblical tradition and in the U. N. Declaration of Human Rights." We find these purposes meet in the biblically clear human right to love and to know one is loved, that one's essential God-createdness is honored.

William Sloan Coffin has written words that speak of our experience: "I think we know far more of God's heart than we do of the mind of God. It's God's heart that Christ on the cross lays bare for the whole world to see. And 'God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God and God abides in them.' . . "For Christians the norm is Christ's love. If people can show tenderness and constancy in caring that honors Christ's love, what matters their sexual orientation?" (A Passion for the Possible)

The California-Nevada Chapter of MFSA thanks the God who is love for the prophetic witness of conference lay leader Jeanne Barnett and her partner Ellie Charlton. On January 16, 1999, in the theater of the facility where this conference meets, Jeanne and Ellie proclaimed, in all the church and for all the world, their loving and lasting commitment to one another in "holy union."

We thank their pastor Don Fado, longtime member of MFSA, and those lay and clergy members of our conference (including six members of our MFSA steering committee), of other UM conferences, and of other denominations, who stood with Don to pray God's blessing on Jeanne and Ellie and on their love for one another. This witness is one of both courage and commitment. This is a witness to our faith: where love is, there is God, making a way out of no way!

As we seek to move nearer to the heart of God, we are moved to offer the following:

--Scripture is not, as our culture purports, heterosexual. Scripture cannot be reduced to sexual issues at all. Scripture is about covenant. The terms of covenant are about love and justice. Justice is organized love, love in action.

-- Because of love and compassion, God heard the cries of a people in slavery and sent liberation. Out of that liberation, there developed covenant. Making covenant freely and fully is not possible but for our liberation. Our faith insists that later the fullness of God's love was made flesh in Jesus. And a new understanding of covenant was given, sealed in Jesus' own body and blood.

--Creation, as reported in biblical accounts, is good. God says so, again and again. Creation cannot be reduced to sexual issues or orientation. Creation, as a gift of God's love, offers a wide diversity in every aspect of life, including sexual orientation.

--All sexuality and all sexual expression, indeed all of life, is to be measured by one standard: Does it contribute to a law fulfilled in gospel, an order and discipline perfected in justice and love? As a new creation in Christ, we dare not miss any opportunity to encourage loving and lasting relationships between persons. This need is underscored by the "consumer/disposer" culture in which we live.

--"Covenanting," as persons and as peoples, is an art form and a practical, biblical instrument for the careful, prayerful attentiveness needed to nurture any lasting loving relationship. MFSA is grateful that the holy union has so stirred the hearts of our conference and our connection. Let us explore and embrace the furthest possible reach and resiliency of the covenants made among us.

-- As we focus our hearts on love, and on covenants of love and justice, we will move ever nearer to the heart of God.

We raise our concern about the use of scripture to justify cultural and ecclesial prejudice toward people because of their sexual orientation and because of the expression of their sexuality in committed covenant love. We raise our concern that the condemnation of the expressing of one's love for another person of the same gender already is giving encouragement tosome who are willing, physically and psychologically, to abuse our sisters and brothers who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered. In the name of God who is love, let the United Methodist Church cease this condemnation!

The effect of homophobia in the church is to deny the blessings of the church to persons who seek to make the covenants of loving and lasting commitment so desperately needed in our hurtful and hurting world. The further effect of homophobia in the church is to deny the church the blessings of full participation by each and of all of the children of our ever-creating and making-new God!

We hear the wisdom of Bishop Melvin Talbert, who reminds us (in his statement of March 23, 1999) that we have dealt with conflict and controversy before. And we will again. Bishop Talbert also calls upon us, as we struggle with divergent views, on this as on any issue, always to " . . . seek to do justice, and to act in a way that is consistent with the teachings and compassion of Jesus."

To the extent that we have been able to do so in this reflection, we credit God's amazing grace. In any place where we have not done so, we ask repentance of our own hardness of heart and renewal of our own spirit. We stand with each and with all of you in the plain way of Jesus. Let us continue to struggle together, in love, to claim all the wondrous diversity of God's own ways of loving and doing justice. And may our every intention and effort move us nearer to God's heart for ALL of God's people!

We also recommend for your prayerful consideration the statement of conscience and invitation to dialogue by the clergy who co-officiated at the January 16, 1999, Service of Holy Union of Jeanne Barnett and Ellie Charlton, Why We Officiated at a Service of Holy Union. Thank you.