Editorial: Mid-Course Testimony

It has been a year since I wrote ‘For the Sake of the Bride.’  When I wrote it, I was looking through a two-year window leading toward General Conference in May of 2016.  Now, I realize one year of that time has passed.  The window is half the size it was. We literally have less than twelve months left to go.  I can only speak for myself, but that is a sobering realization.

I have completed attending two UM Annual Conferences, and at both I was asked valid questions about my ministry since I wrote the book.  I have decided to share my responses to several of the questions here, in the event you may have wondered similarly about me.

First, I was asked how I could write the chapter “No More Sides” and yet be so involved in progressive groups and related ideas.  Primarily, I do not know how anyone can live without convictions or fail to share deeply-held ones, and I am no exception.  But holding convictions does not mean I have sold my soul to any “company store.”  Caucuses and camps have agendas that I do not need to have as a free agent.  And no person or group has 100% of the truth. I am not stepping away from my personal beliefs, but to assert that they place me in a camp is not true. The fact that I have spoken at RMN events and other progressive meetings is simply due to the fact that there is where I have been invited, and I can testify that at such events I have been genuinely loved by people who are truly Christian, and who love Christ and the Church as much as anyone I know. I have moved around enough to become convinced that LGBTQ Christians must no longer be treated as they have too-often been. That is my conviction, not my camp.

Second, I have been asked how I can advocate a cultural (fallen-world) definition of love.  The fact is, I have no interest in that whatsoever.  I am advocating agape and hesed, nothing else.  People are free to agree or disagree with my hermeneutic, but at least I hope they will do so realizing I am not trying to get the world’s definition of love into the Church, I am trying to get the Bible’s definition of love into the world.

Third, I have been asked why I am “unbiblical.”  The irony here is that I am as committed to the inspiration and authority of Holy Scripture as ever, and I have spent this past year immersed in the study of God’s written Word, using the inductive Bible study methodology that I was taught in seminary and have later taught in seminary myself.  I believe the Bible is right about human sexuality, but I am at a place where I am willing to entertain the idea that the Church has gotten its interpretation wrong, just as it has done about other things in the past.  The fact that groups are divided on human sexuality and all of them are using Scripture to advocate their respective position is not a moment to debate who is “right” and who is “wrong”–it is rather an occasion to recognize that God has punched the ‘warning buzzer,’ and is calling us to realize we are at a point (as the Church has been before) where we must talk.  Another conciliar era is upon us. The question is whether we have the will that Christians have had in the past to do the harder work of holy conferencing–a work which schism never requires of us.

Finally, I was asked why I do not identify people with whom I disagree, as if that is somehow a lack of courage on my part.  However, it is actually my unwillingness to engage in tabloid journalism that easily deteriorates into naming and shaming. I am not contending against people, but rather wrestling with ideas.  I deliberately strive to keep my writing and speaking on that level.  I believe it helps guard against a ‘root of bitterness’ from arising in me and contaminating my efforts.  Valid points get lost in name-calling.

So, here I am (as we all are) with only half the time left to discern and decide many things related to General Conference.  I realize how quickly the coming year will pass, and I wonder if delegates will arrive in Portland with a responsive (conversational) capability or a reactive (contentious) spirit.  And as with other things, the ability to make good decisions ends up having more to do with attitudes than actions. Godly decisions are always born in the heart, not the back-room.

I will continue to be a voice for the future which I believe is best for the Church–a future which is viewed by some as progressive (and therefore dismissed by them), but which I believe is a more intentional application of the two great commandments to the life and witness of the Church–an application that includes all God’s people as God’s beloved sons and daughters, and offers everyone its sacraments, ceremonies, and offices.  I will continue to do this as an orthodox Christian whose hermeneutic is not the same as some others, but whose love for the Church rises as high as anyone else’s.

I eschew any notion that there is some guru waiting in the wings to “save” the UMC, or that someone’s hip-pocket plan is superior to holy conferencing.  The future is too hard for any of us to create.  But I continue to cling to what God said long ago, “Behold, I am the God of all of all flesh.  Is anything too hard for me?”  (Jeremiah 32:27)

At mid-course, that is my conviction, hope, and prayer.

About jstevenharper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 31 books.
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5 Responses to Editorial: Mid-Course Testimony

  1. Jane Holzkmp says:

    I’m always with you! You write so convincingly. Wondering how the conference ended?

  2. Tom Pope says:

    Steve, it was good to see you at conference. These are interesting times, it is so easy to become distracted by social issues that we forget our task of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We are not called to preach a gospel of lgbt acceptance or lgbt condemnation, we are called to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ.

  3. Jack Harnish says:

    Well said, as always, Steve. Thank you for leading the way in the right spirit.

  4. Dear Brother Steven, continuing the theme of Christ as the Way, Truth and Life, he is also the Word of God, and the I AM who is is the Father and in whom the Father is made known by the Holy Spirit. What I am concerned about is the way in which the Bible is sometimes used to replace the Living Word of God, Jesus Christ. God did not send a book, as precious as the Book may be, God sent His Son! He, not the Bible, is the revelation of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Bible is the testimony of God’s people in the Old and New Covenants (Testaments) to who God is. We argue about the authority of the Bible and accuse each other of being un-Biblical, and in doing that we become un-Biblical and miss knowing the One God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit to whom the Bible bears testimony. And when we do that we don’t encounter God in our encounters with each other with all our differences.
    We in the Southern African Methodist Church have been “struggling” with the same issues in similar ways as the UMC. I am so grateful to God for your integrity and insights. It is so much more important to Jesus that his disciples be united, than divided into camps which think that they are right and the others wrong, for then they are both wrong.

  5. Dear Brother Steven, Thank you for putting into words what I have come to believe about where I stand without joining a camp. “Names, and sects and partied fall; Thou,O Christ, art all in all.” I am sure that whis is what Jesus meant when he claimed to be the Way, the Truth and the Life.

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