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What Middle Am I In?

June 28, 2017

By Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli

Nearly 10 years ago, at a dinner in New York City, I was stunned when someone at my table declared clearly that there is really no point in dialogue or relationship with those whose beliefs will not be conformed to your own.

I didn’t accept such a claim then and, as a person formed in and by the Wesleyan way, I don’t accept that claim now.

Even so, during the recent Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference Session, I learned some of my colleagues were confused to find my name listed among the individuals who recently initiated a movement described as part of the “Methodist middle.” United Methodist News Service cited this movement as evidence that “The United Methodist Church has a ‘vibrant’ center that can keep the denomination strong despite the damaging debates around division” over the issue of the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals in the life and clergy of the United Methodist Church.

On more than one occasion, a colleague said to me, “What ‘middle’ are you in?”

My first response is, “I am in the middle of the tradition!” Engagement with scripture through the Wesleyan, United Methodist tradition is the rich soil that nurtured my roots and supported my growth for more than four decades of my life. It’s where I live. It’s not “mushy” nor does it force me to give up on siblings to my right or to my left. Rather, the Wesleyan way allows me – with all my convictions and conscience – to stay in mission and ministry with those who might prefer I just take my convictions and go. 

I am in the middle of a tradition that affirms:

  • “The church is a community of all true believers under the Lordship of Christ.”
  • “The church of Jesus Christ exists in and for the world, and its very dividedness is a hindrance to its mission in that world.” (The Constitution of The United Methodist Church: Preamble, The Book of Discipline)

 I am in the middle of a tradition that affirms:

  • “Grace pervades our understanding of Christian faith and life.”
  • “Scriptural holiness entails more than personal piety; love of God is always linked with love of neighbor, a passion for justice and renewal in the life of the world.” (¶102, Our Doctrinal Heritage: Distinctive Wesleyan Emphases, The Book of Discipline)

 I am in the middle of a tradition that affirms:

  • “Christian truth… stands revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, vivified in personal and corporate experience, and confirmed by reason.”
  • “God’s eternal Word never has been, nor can be, exhaustively expressed in any single form of words.”
  • “The crucial matter in religion is steadfast love for God and neighbor, empowered by the redeeming and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.” (¶103, Our Doctrinal History, The Book of Discipline)

 I am in the middle of a tradition that affirms:

  • “Our theological task is… critical in that we test various expressions of faith by asking: Are they true? Appropriate? Clear? Cogent? Credible? Are they based on love? Do they provide the Church and its members with a witness that is faithful to the gospel and reflected in our living heritage and that is authentic and convening in light of human experience and the present state of human knowledge?

Our theological task is constructive in that every generation must appropriate creatively the wisdom of the past and seek God in their midst in order to think afresh about God, revelation, sin, redemption, worship, the church, freedom, justice, moral responsivity, and other significant theological concerns. Our summons is to understand and receive the gospel promises in our troubled and uncertain times.”  (¶105, The Nature of Our Theological Task, The Book of Discipline)

What I prefer to call the “centering” movement in The United Methodist Church is a middle where these central claims provide the ground upon which we stand, struggle, and strive for more perfect love to fill and fuel our witness.

People who know or observe my ministry are aware that I believe LGBTQ+ persons are “wonderfully made” (Psalms 139:14) in God’s image and are beloved children of God. I firmly believe that LGBTQ+ persons belong in the church at every level of leadership and bring unique gifts to the work of ministry. I believe that marriages between LGBTQ+ persons are the same high, holy calling as my own. Clearly, I am not “in the middle” or “on the fence” with regard to this struggle which is threatening to split The United Methodist Church.

Do I fear for the emotional, spiritual, and physical safety of LGBTQ+ persons in our church and society? Yes. Will I continue to advocate for LGBTQ+ inclusion in the life of the UMC? Yes. Do I wish that others would come to see in scripture the primacy of loving, mutual, and just covenant relationships regardless of orientation or gender identity? Yes. Will I push back on any word or action that does harm to LGBTQ+ persons? Yes.

Am I zealous to remain in relationship with those who intensely disagree with me? Yes.

For the sake of justice for LGBTQ+ persons, some of my deeply respected colleagues would prefer separation from the seemingly intractable and deeply broken UMC system. I am sympathetic to that perspective. However, I am also privy to the extraordinary witness of LGBTQ+ persons in my congregation who love Jesus and love The United Methodist Church and are determined to stay in the struggle even as they are on the receiving end of so much indignity and injustice.

They strengthen my resolve to do what I have often called “the harder thing” required of us by the gospel: to stay connected as one Body and try to offer the world an alternative vision to the polarizing and warring ways of the world. (cf. 1 Corinthians 12, John 17)

A dismembered body can’t breathe, can’t see, can’t move, can’t reach out to touch and care for the wounds of others. A dismembered body can’t speak words of love or justice. A dismembered body won’t have the capacity to engage in the struggle against racism, poverty, addiction, unemployment, homelessness, xenophobia, and lack of adequate healthcare. A dismembered body can’t walk much less “run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2)

The Body of Christ called The United Methodist Church is already weakened by cutting off the full participation of LGBTQ+ people. Further severing of the body through division, while tempting, would be the ultimate capitulation to a culture overwhelmingly characterized by “us” versus “them.” For biblical, evangelical, pragmatic, and missional reasons – and inspired by my LGBTQ+ colleagues and friends – I will at least try to do “the harder thing.” A broken world needs a whole body, even a body that has a long way to go toward perfection.

What middle am I in?

I am in the middle of the prophetic tradition, the Jesus tradition, the Wesleyan tradition, the United Methodist tradition. I am in the center of a tradition that believes the love and grace of God are big enough to hold and save us all. It’s a strong, diverse, challenging place to stand. And I give thanks that there are so many across the connection who stand there too.

The Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli is the senior pastor of Foundry UMC in Washington, D.C. She participated in the gathering to “To Serve the Present Age," in May 2017 with 46 other United Methodists to explore the denomination’s vibrant center and how the denomination can remain strong despite damaging debates around divisions. A second gathering is planned for this fall. 
 

Comments
M Jun 28, 2017 8:38pm

While this is a lovely approach, I am uncertain that I am willing to raise my child in a church body whose formal doctrine tells her she is incompatible with christian living or that her call to ministry is invalid. I am also not happy abouy financially supporting a conference (annual and general) that perpetuates this unholy oppression.

Carol Williams Jun 29, 2017 7:41pm

What a wonderful message of love and acceptance through the life of Jesus.
Thank you for your witness in a time of angst hatred and judgment. Peace be with you...

Dr Mary Lautzenhiser Bellon Jun 29, 2017 9:02pm

I resonate and you are a wonderful writer and preacher. I heard you while visiting my daughter in DC

Rev. Robert Barnes Jun 30, 2017 9:33am

I would submit as one who to some extent disagrees with Rev. Gaines Cirelli, that her positions (right or wrong) are worthy of respect but some of them are decidedly not "centering" or centrist. Accepting everyone and wishing to include them in the church is something we can all agree on. Redefining marriage is not.

Paul Nelson Jun 30, 2017 10:57pm

What a beautiful testimonial! The Rev. Gaines-Cirelli is another in the long list of distinguished pastoral and prophetic leaders that Foundry United Methodist Church has enjoyed over the years.

Richard Davis Jul 2, 2017 2:24pm

When the Puritans arrived in Massachusetts, they were Calvinists who believed in election. But they also realized that no one could say who was or was not of the elect until one died and faced the judgment. So no one could say whether Gov. Winthrop himself was of God's or the devil's party. They could not absolutely trust Winthrop's judgment. The only alternative was a communal consensus of what was the proper course of action, because if this was the City on the Hill, sure, a majority of the participants were of the elect. As a consequence, Democracy was born in America. The only valid decision on any issue was the democratic consensus, whether directly by the whole body, or indirectly through their representatives. It seems to me that this must be the policy of the Methodist Church. no faction can take upon itself a monopoly on what "Justice" demands. It must be a consensus of the whole church, not of a self-appointed elite. This is not Iran, where a special body of Immans have a direct line to God. There is a certain arrogance in assuming that the congregations in the small towns in the red states are bigots just because they refuse to go along with the affluent elite.

Alex da Silva Souto Sep 15, 2017 2:20pm

In counseling a couple trapped in an abusive relationship, should a pastor counsel the couple to remain together even if there are no signs that the abusive spouse is willing to stop the harm?
How many years of conversations does a pastor deem sufficient before prioritizing the safety of the abused spouse?
When does abuse become a matter of opinion or interpretation?

LONNIE D BROOKS Sep 20, 2017 5:35pm

This is a great commentary, but, unfortunately, the issue is not now, nor has it ever been, whether or not it is better for the UMC to remain united, but the terms, conditions, and covenant under which we will remain united. The covenant right now is broken, so it seems that we either need to revise the covenant so that it is acceptable to all of us, or we need to acknowledge the brokenness and find a new relationship. What Uniting Methodists is proposing seems to many of us the way forward, which is to permit annual conferences to determine who is suitable for ordination and to permit pastors to decide whom to marry to whom. But with the spectacular failure of that proposal at General Conference 2016, the issue becomes, How do we get that adopted at GC19, so that all this wonderful stuff about the center will hold?

Fellow Clergyperson Sep 20, 2017 5:39pm

I am genuinely interested to hear Rev. Gaines-Cirelli and other leaders in the Uniting Methodist Movement address the question of how full human rights and inclusion in the church of LGBT persons differ from full human rights and inclusion in the church of people of color. Would she remain in a Methodist Church that did not ordain and/or marry people of color? Again, I ask this question sincerely and hope Rev. Gaines-Cirelli will respond.

Harold Hughes Sep 20, 2017 5:45pm

This solution Uniting Methodists is proposing is highly wrong. While it may work in Foundry, it kicks all of us in the South to the curb because of the proliferation of Evangelicals down here. Full inclusion is the ONLY solution.

Rev Ausley Sep 20, 2017 6:15pm

https://www.umqcc.org/a-response-to-uniting-methodist-movement

Lowell Kohlrust Sep 20, 2017 7:04pm

I was confirmed into the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1948. In the years since that time I have seen the people called Methodist unite more than once. the ME and AME churches recombined. I have witnessed divorce as a negative requirement for clergy. Divorced Be Gone. That is what the Bible says in more than one place. Ask King David. That is no longer an issue. one of the early mentors in my lifge was davivorce ministrer who was the manager of the Cokesbury Book Store in Chicago where I grew up. There have been few Methodist ministers better than he.was. A UM ministerr in New Mexico where we now live now live was divorced and remarried. he continues to pastor. So don't preach to me about what the Bible says and doesn't say.
I am a Certified Lay Servant, former Lay Leader, member of the Finance committee, Treasurer, Financial Secretary, District Statistician, and a Methodist for almost 70 years. I still believe in God's Word and the Teachings of the Christ, Peter, John and Paul. Think about many of the people they ministered to in Asia Minor and Southern Europe and their cultures.
thanks be to God for the person he has raised for 80+ years

Ron Wood Sep 20, 2017 7:42pm

You are not in the middle, you are on the far left of this issue. There is no middle, as you can't straddle a fence, you can't be in the middle. You have firmly taken your stand to disavow the UMC book of Discipline and also the word of Jesus, where he says marriage is between a man and a woman. I believe God loves us all, he loves my worst enemy as much as he loves me. I love or at least try to love all people but a sin is a sin, is a sin, until we recognize it as a sign and seek forgiveness via Jesus Christ. Homosexuality is a sin. There is not middle on this, it is clearly a sin. What we have today is no longer the United Methodist Church but the Un-United Methodist Church and the skim/split will occur soon as the called 2019 General Conference, if not before then. Once the spilt occurs, I don't think there will be a Middle United Methodist Church. Time will tell.

Joseph N Easley Sep 20, 2017 9:02pm

Thank for your article. I agree with you--on both your beliefs about LBGTQ+ persons and same sex marriage and on my desire to be part of a United Methodist Church that does not deny me the ability to believe that and practice that belief in my ministry but also does no deny my brothers and sisters who think differently about this. This united church would have to affirm the dignity of all persons, oppose discrimination against anyone and cannot say "we believe" that loving same-sex relationships are "incompatible with Christian teaching," but it also would not require everyone to believe to believe they are "compatible, all clergy to perform same-sex weddings nor all congregations to accept an LBGTQ pastor. A United Church could allow us to respectfully hold different opinions on what biblical Christianity teaches at this--just as we allow diversity of interpretation and understanding on many other matters that are not essential for following Christ.

Anonymous Sep 20, 2017 9:06pm

This position is not "middle". This is liberal.

Carla Sep 20, 2017 10:01pm

Ginger, if I may call you by your first name, thank you for the beautiful piece that you wrote.
I am over 80 a wife, a mother and a grandmother. I have three grown daughters who are intelligent, independent women. I have seven grandchildren who are wonderful young people, ranging in age from 32 to 17, including a gender fluid grandchild who is articulate, intelligent and mature.
I am so gratified that there are clergy, like yourself who accept, in full inclusion, all God's children who love God and their neighbors as themselves.
Will the church split? I do not know, but a schism can be avoided if the UMC will adopt a Big Tent Methodism for now, and maybe in the future a church that truly lives up to its motto of "Open Hearts, Open Minds and Open Doors."

Ray Chamberlain Sep 20, 2017 10:06pm

Who ever said denominational unity is the highest virtue????

Carla Sep 20, 2017 10:15pm

Ron am I a sinner because I was born to be short? Am I a sinner because I have blue eyes when most of the world has brown eyes? No, thus, those who are LBGTQ+ were born as they are, and they are fully human and fully God's Children.
The Bible says many things that are interpreted in different ways.
You are free believe as you do. However, what would you say to your son or daughter if they told you, which they may be afraid to, that they were gay or lesbian? Would you disown them? Would you tell them that they are "sinning?" I do not know your age, but I can assure you that you may well have a grandchild, a niece, nephew, friend, coworker, barber, doctor, lawyer, financial planner, someone or
maybe more than just one person whom you know well, and that person is gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or gender fluid.

K. T. Gregg Sep 20, 2017 10:31pm

She quotes the book of discipline, but not much about the Bible. In ! Cor 6:9 explains where homosexuals will not go, unless they pray the sinners prayer and repent of the sinful lifestyle. Where are the born again Christians in the Methodist Church?

Fred Sep 21, 2017 7:21am

What are the differences between Catholics, Baptists and Methodists? Doesn't each worship the same God? But each group has a different interpretation of the scriptures? Why then wouldn't the Methodist Traditionalists and the Methodist Progressives split and become two denonimations? The progressives have become far too political in terms of supporting big government and their agenda. The leadership of the UMC no longer follows their own Book of Discipline. The UMC supports the agenda of the left and twists the meaning of scripture to support illegal immigration, government healthcare and a $15 hourly minimun wage. I am tired of looking at the @umcjustice page and seeing that I, as a white male, am a racist and the cause of all the problems in this country. For me, a split can't come soon enough. My interpretation of scripture is far different from the Progressive Methodists. The UMC has. in my opinion, become Cultural Christianity.

Robin Sep 21, 2017 8:47am

Ms. Gaines-Cirelli, thank you for your word here and your ministry. God bless.

Rev. Steven McComas Sep 21, 2017 1:53pm

I firmly stand with you in the middle. thank you for clearly articulating where I stand.

Cal Peteersen Sep 21, 2017 5:08pm

Thank you for your well thought and emotional approach to a very sensitive and divisive issue. There are some excellent studies relating to the interpretation and historical perspective relating to the homosexual/heterosexual verses in the Bible. Where is the homework being done to educate and understand these verses?
I am a divorced pastor and I shall never forget the healing that came to me when I discovered that there were two Aramaic verbs that were translated into Greek verbs that Jesus used when he was talking about divorce. One verb clearly meant divorce in the legal understanding. The second verb meant put away. What Jesus was condemning at the time was men putting away their wives instead of giving them the legal rights of divorce. A put away woman was never free to go back to her family, remarry, or have any hope of a normal life. Her only choice was to be a prostitute or beggar, and as a put away woman she was always at the beck and call of her legal husband who could demand sexual favors, the house cleaned, a meal cooked or whatever he wanted of or from her. The only translation,that I am aware of, that correctly translates these two verbs is the American Standard Version of 1903. The ASV revised translation was pressured by ? to go along with all of the other mistranslations of these passages of Jesus sayings.
I would encourage those who preach and seek truth regarding scripture passages that have been used to hurt people, to do some serious studying before making judgements about who is the sinner and who has the right to throw the first stone.

Lynn Geer Sep 22, 2017 2:15pm

I want a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I don't want to attend a church that tells me what I must believe. The Bible says many things that are interpreted in a variety of ways. The present Discipline has evolved. I pray we can lighten our doctrine. I endorse what Rev. Gaines-Cirelli said.

Reb Bacchus Sep 23, 2017 6:27am

I've spent the last 21 years in Kairos Prison Ministry. I love ALL God's children. However it isn't love to declare a sin to be not so. I hate the passage in Matt Mark and Luke about millstone and leading to error. Still, it IS there, and the Council of Jerusalem made clear we are bound by OT rules on sexual sin. I don't like some of those rules, but as they are there. Finally I'm not going to throw stones at the LGBTs until after I stop being convinced my brother-in-law's new RV wouldn't look better in my driveway. We are ALL sinners and fall short and are in need of Grace. But I'd still not want to have to explain a millstone.

Rev. Suzanne Davis Sep 23, 2017 6:30am

I totally agree with Ginger my hope is that we will find a way forward with out splitting the church.

Reb Bacchus Sep 23, 2017 6:31am

PS
I have a personal relationship with Christ but I NEED a church that will lead me away from sin. I am not smart enough nor do I hear my Lord well enough to always know sin. I NEED a church to tell me.

Rev. Bruce Kent Sep 23, 2017 6:49pm

I see hope for our denomination by the stand of Rev. Gaines-Cirelli and others of the Uniting Methodists movement. Jesus taught by action and words to respect others despite differences in beliefs. Cannot Christians differ on issues without resorting to insults and terminal stiff-neckedness?

Dave Tirner Sep 23, 2017 8:40pm

Jesus loves and accepts us but has never accepted our sin. If you love him then obey him.

Bonnie Thomas Sep 23, 2017 10:22pm

The UMC has become politicized. A leftist agenda has infected it, and a split seems unavoidable. I find myself creating excuses not to go on Sunday anymore. The sermons are silly, watered-down, dumbed-down and sentimental. I will always love my Savior but I'm losing interest in going to church.

Mark Burgess Sep 24, 2017 7:11am

Sounds more like a muddle than a middle.

Reb Bacchus Sep 24, 2017 4:39pm

One last thought, I love the idea of compromise, but I don’t it here. I don’t hear any compromise in the good Rev G’s position, she’ll stay in communion with those who take a traditional approach but since just saying homosexual behavior is sinful is hurtful and she will “push back” folks like me. I don’t see her position as accommodating. I don’t see her accepting my position as middle ground so all I see is her “tolerance” of folks like me until we see the error of our ways.

Sin is sin, we are all sinners so of course LGBT folks can be great Christians! That doesn’t say anything about their sin. Additionally, since the latest peer reviewed research shows that there isn’t a biological basis for being gay, it removes one of the most persuasive arguments for accepting the idea that homosexuality isn’t sinful. So is the good Rev open to changing her mind? Once again the vision of millstones comes to mind. Based on scripture who will wear one? Who loves a sinner more the one who says there is no need to change or the one who loves the sinner enough to be honest! Do I want LGB (not T which I think is mental illness and open to children abuse) in full accommodation, I just want them to say, as I do, “I’m a sinner in need of God’s Grace!”

Paul Sep 24, 2017 5:34pm

Every sin is forgivable, including homosexuality!, except blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. This 'gay agenda' is blasphemy. We are all sinners saved by Grace, and to say we were 'born that way' in a biblical perspective means we were all born sinners. Saying a sin is not a sin, or a normal result of genetics are both lies and go against the Salvation and Reconciliation of those who call themselves Christ's Church in this world. Many times those who called called, complained and wanted to be like the rest of the world, it won't turn out well for us if we follow the same narrative.

Rev.Robert W. Blaney Sep 24, 2017 10:38pm

Thank you for your cogent and coherent incisive essay. Congratulations. Continue in your efforts as many of have in the Cal/Nev Annual Coference.In 1999 over 90 clergy who the blessed the Union of two women. We were brought up on charges and exhorated. As a profession at the University of the Pacific teaching Social Ethics for 30 years I taught my students to respect all persons regardless of sexual orientation. keep up the good work on behalf of all United Methodist. The Rev. Dr. Robert W Blaney, retired UMC clergy and Professor Emeritus, University of the Pacfic, Stockton, California.

Dan Sep 25, 2017 7:58am

A very hearfelt and sincere posting, but I would like to present an alternative analysis of the "via media" you propose. I offer an article by Peter Jensen, the retired archbishop of Sydney, Australia. It is "The Mythical Middle" and can be found at - http://anglican.ink/article/mythical-middle.
The main point is that the supposed middle is not necessarily midway between two extremes defined by the person who is stating they are in the middle of these extremes. As it has been said, we are the church of Christ, not the church of nice. Suppose the loving, compassionate thing to do is embrace those who identify as same sex attracted with the love of Christ and tell them there is a better way than to act on their carnal desires as they currently feel them. Of course this also applies equally to those with heterosexual attractions expressed outside the bonds of holy matrimony.

Carla Sep 25, 2017 12:37pm

Reb Bacchus - could you provide a reference for this "latest peer reviewed literature" that you say "shows" that there isn't a biological basis for being gay?
Secondly, as a scientist I have to tell you that conflicting research (on any topic) is published all the time. Back and forth, until there is a preponderance of evidence, or a scientific breakthrough that settles things. A scientific issue is not decided by whichever the most recent paper suggests. Particularly in fields like psychology and human biology and the interactions between the two. I'm reasonably certain that the issue has not been "decided", and I would be surprised to see that it's leaning away from a biological link. Nonetheless, I would very much like to read the article(s) you reference. Thanks in advance.

Paul Sep 25, 2017 2:08pm

Carla, if you are truly a 'scientist' you will know how to do you own research for data on a subject.

James B. Potter Sep 26, 2017 9:49pm

What, then, does our motto 'Open doors, open hearts, open minds' mean? It means inclusion and does not condone condescension of folks different than other.s. In southern California, my UMC had a "Gay and Lesbian Bench" for those folks, and they were embraced and loved. And that congregation was not politically liberal, but rather conservative. We need to get over this hurdle for 'the good of the order.' John Wesley is spinning in his grave over this matter. Regards/Jim Potter, member UMC Kimberling City, MO, and Certified Lay Servant.

Judgement Day Sep 27, 2017 9:10pm

I am a pastor. Every day. I counsel people whose earthly life is in ruin because they fail to follow the teachings of Jesus and the Scriptures. If you are a pastor, you will not only have to answer for your sins ,but also the lives of sheep you were responsible for on this earth. We will all one day pass from this life and stand in judgement before God. I plan to be among the small group that have followed the Law that Christ was sent to fulfill.

Reb Bacchus Oct 1, 2017 4:19pm

Sorry, the meds I’m taking in my hospice, mess with what used to be a great memory. The report is from researchers at John Hopkins University, and isn’t peer reviewed because its isn’t the type of study that is reviewed. The University is, at last reading, continuing to stand behind the report.

Because of that my memory screwed up, I was certain it was from a good source but forgot where. However, the findings aren’t really new. If you actually read the brain studies, for example, that first showed a difference in gay and heterosexual men, it is exactly as described in the JHU report and doesn’t prove anything other than it exists in a very small sample.

One of the most telling arguments against “born that way,” and “no one would choose to be gay,” is that there has been zero effort to find the exact cause which might lead to “a cure” as birth defects are studied.

Reb Bacchus Oct 1, 2017 4:41pm

PS to Carla, does that mean climate change isn’t settled?

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