The Seeds of Justice: One in God’s Eyes
Rev. Sandy Johnson
April 30, 2017
In 1962, 29 yr. old James Meredith enrolled as a student at the University of Mississippi, the first black man to do so in history. His first day on campus he was escorted by U.S. Marshalls who were there to protect him. Meredith made this bold step to put pressure on the Kennedy administration to uphold the civil rights being fought for, those rights that were, by constitution, available to all persons, but had been hijacked against people of color. His admission to the university sparked “student protests and riots, and racial tension ” hit a new high as a result.
“The Methodist Church, like most white denominations in the South, had not at that time spoken out against the beatings, lynching’s and mistreatment of black Americans. Yet, our church’s official position condemned racial discrimination. ”
In response to this heightened tension, four United Methodist Pastors met to make a statement, to take a stand on what they believed to be essential human rights. They met and drafted what is known today as the “Born of Conviction Statement.”
The document began with these words: “Confronted with the grave crisis precipitated by racial discord within our state in recent months, and the genuine dilemma facing persons of Christian conscience, we are compelled to voice publicly our convictions. Indeed, as Christian ministers, and as native Mississippians, sharing the anguish of our people, we have a particular obligation to speak.”
These young, white clergymen knew that simply watching the injustice and hatred fill the air, wasn’t enough. They believed that they publicly needed to take a stand, affirming the United Methodist Social Principles at a time when many in the UMC chose to ignore them completely, maintaining racist and bigoted points of view.
The document’s writers “spoke of the responsibility of the church to steward freedom of the pulpit and the call to pastoral/prophetic responsibility on the part of clergy. They expressed their concern and opposition to racial segregation, stating clearly the Biblical and Church’s conviction that there must be no discrimination based on “race, color or creed.” Their third concern was the undermining of public schools by the proliferation of private Christian schools used to preserve segregation. ” The communities had figured out that if they put state funds toward private schools, segregation could continue.
Once the statement had been written, they sought out other young, white pastors who would agree to sign on, to risk all to make a statement to not only their annual conference and to the communities in which they lived. Twenty-eight pastors stood up to discrimination and put their very lives in jeopardy, answering the call Jesus Christ put on their lives.
As we dive into this second week of our Seeds of Justice sermon series I can’t help but include the discrimination that we are a party to when we, as United Methodists continue to refuse to ordain people in the LGBTQ community. Last week I shared that the Judicial Council of the UMC was meeting to decide whether the consecration of Bishop Oliveto violated church law. Bishop Oliveto, a gay woman, has served in the UMC for decades as an ordained elder.
Last July she was elected and consecrated as Bishop in the Western Jurisdiction. “Within hours, her election was contested by the South Central Jurisdiction, which includes Texas, Kansas, Arkansas and five other states. South Central leadership said Oliveto’s election is not valid because Methodist law bars pastors who are “self-avowed practicing homosexuals. ”
The Judicial Council ruled Friday that Bishop Oliveto’s election “is in violation of church law which bars the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals,” although they did not remove her as bishop, instead sending the issue back to the jurisdiction that chose her.”
“The decision stated, “Under the long-standing principle of legality, no individual member or entity may violate, ignore or negate church law. It is not lawful for the college of bishops of any jurisdictional or central conference to consecrate a self-avowed practicing homosexual bishop.
“It’s up to the college of bishops for the church’s Western Jurisdiction – the same jurisdiction that elected Oliveto – to hold a trial. ” “If the jurisdiction’s college of bishops doesn’t follow through with a trial, they could face repercussions from the church’s 45 bishops around the globe. ”
Discrimination comes at us in a variety of forms. I could spend the next few hours sharing story after story of current day discrimination on the basis of race, religion, gender, age, ability, size, nationality, and the list goes on. All discrimination is against our Biblical teachings, our call as followers of Jesus Christ. Before Christ, believers were imprisoned and guarded under the law. The law was the standard, it was there as our disciplinarian. That is “until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. ”
We are followers of Christ. We are no longer Jews and as such we no longer are imprisoned by the law. Jesus says in John 13:34-35:
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:34-35).”
Christ doesn’t say that we are to love some people, or most people. He doesn’t give us a list of who to love, and who to not love. It is simply a commandment to love. Period! Whether we are young or old, male or female, able bodied or handicapped, brown skinned or white, born and raised in the United States or a precious immigrant, we are all one in Christ.
Continuing on this theme, our scripture this morning says, in Galatians 3:28,
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring heirs according to the promise.”
In this scripture, “Paul is still thinking of the essential part that the law did play in the plan of God. In the Greek world, there was a household servant called the Paidagogos. He was not the schoolmaster. He was usually an old and trusted slave who had been long in the charge of a child’s moral welfare and it was his duty to see that he acquired the qualities essential to grow to true manhood. He had one particular duty; every day he had to take the child to and from school. He had nothing to do with the actual teaching of the child, but it was his duty to take him in safety to the school and deliver him to the teacher.
That – said Paul – was like the function of the law. It was there to lead a man to Christ. It could not take him into Christ’s presence, but it could take him into a position where he himself might enter. It was the function of the law to bring a man to Christ by showing him that by himself he was utterly unable to keep it. But once a man had come to Christ he no longer needed the law, for now he was dependent not on law but on grace. ”
Jewish morning prayers, those prayed by Paul included thanks to God that “Thou hast not made me a Gentile, a slave or a woman.” Paul takes that prayer and reverses it. The old distinctions were gone; all were one in Christ…and if we are one with Christ, we, too, inherit the promises – and this great privilege comes not by a legalistic keeping of the law, but by an act of faith in the free grace of God. It is not the force of man but the love of God which alone can unite a disunited world. ”
And we are anything but united. The current status of our United Methodist Church demonstrates very dramatically that even among good Christian folk, we can’t all come together and we continue to focus on those things that divide us, rather uniting in our shared love of Jesus Christ.
Following the Judicial Council’s ruling, Bishop Bob Hoshibata shares these words with us:
Although the Judicial Council’s ruling does not immediately nullify Bishop Oliveto’s episcopacy, it does in other statements make it clear that our Church does not yet support full inclusion of LGBTQI persons. Because we are not all of one mind, I call us all to pause for moments of reflection and prayer, breathing deeply to take in God’s spirit. Just as the breath of air gives life and strength to the body; let God’s spirit give us spiritual strength and reassurance that God loves you.
For those who have been marginalized and hurt repeatedly by The United Methodist Church, especially LGBTQI persons, I repeat: God loves you. Even when you feel that your Church doesn’t love you, God loves you.
long for the day when the entire United Methodist Church will understand that we are called to love all persons. I will never stop leading our Conference in proclaiming that love. God’s love given abundantly and freely to all persons is a model for us to emulate in our lives, in our congregations, and in our communities. I continue to hope and pray that we will live and work together honoring the richness of God’s diversity so that even if we do not think alike, we will love each other. Let us be inspired by John Wesley, who asked:
“Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. ”
I would dare to suggest, that like Christ, like the twenty-eight white clergymen, and like the Western Jurisdiction, we will stand on the side of love. We will educate ourselves and support those whose voice is silenced, or ignored. We must dare to be bold in our work for social justice and put an end to discrimination.
Remember those twenty-eight white men who took a stand? “Within six months of the document’s publication, 20 of the 28 signers had left Mississippi. There were clergy throughout the state whose tires were slashed and crosses burned as threats. One learned that the Alabama Ku Klux Klan planned to kill him and dump his body in the river. Community members took turns sitting on his porch to make sure he was safe.”
Another pastor was called by the City leaders and they forced him out of town. The church boycotted one pastor after he preached a sermon entitled “A Trail Through the Wilderness.” They refused to pay him and then voted him out.
“The experience in Mississippi taught them, [and has the opportunity to teach us,] that “certain challenges are very difficult, but it by no means diminishes their importance’s. The key is to try to understand what God desires and act upon it no matter how tough it is. ”
Let us pray: Gracious Lord Jesus, guide us in our daily lives that we might love all, not some, not a few, but all of your people. Show us where we are demonstrating acts of discrimination in our thoughts, words, or deeds and help us correct ourselves so that we might be known as one of your followers, not by the membership certificate filed away, but by the way that we act toward your beloved children. Let us show love to everyone, always. Amen.