Shuck and Jive

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Sometimes You Gotta Take a Risk

I salute my colleagues at Dumbarton UMC in Washington. Here is the story.
A United Methodist congregation in Washington, D.C., has vowed to celebrate same-sex weddings, putting itself at odds with other Christian churches protesting the District of Columbia 's new marriage equality law.

The pastor and 12 other ordained clergy who attend Dumbarton United Methodist Church in Georgetown said they would conduct such ceremonies after Congress failed to override D.C.'s new law on March 3. The larger United Methodist Church does not permit same-sex weddings, and no other Methodist congregation in Washington has taken the same step.

The Methodists are even more superstitious than Presbyterians in regards to LGBT equality. This means that the risk is larger for these clergy. But that is what the job is about. Rev. Mary Kay Totty knows it:

"As a pastor, I am called to extend care and grace to all people even as Jesus did," said Rev. Mary Kay Totty, pastor at the 238-year-old church. "We celebrate love and loyalty wherever it is found."

....Totty said the church is aware the clergy are at risk by performing same-sex weddings in a denomination that does not sanction them. "However," she said, "marriage equality is about justice and civil rights. The District of Columbia acknowledges that it is wrong to discriminate against people based upon sexual orientation."

Recognizing such marriages is a logical step for the District's oldest Methodist congregation, she said. In 1987 Dumbarton publicly welcomed lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and their families into full participation in the life and ministries of the congregation. With the new policy, couples wanting to be married will meet with the pastor to discuss the church's marriage guidelines and to discuss counseling. "We rejoice that at this point in history, the arc of justice now bends toward equal recognition of marriage for all couples," said Totty.

You got it, Rev. Totty. You are brick of the day.

Read the congregation's statement on marriage equality.


  1. If we had real bishops, this kind of thing would not be allowed. It's fine if these pastors want to do this - if that is how they feel led - but they should not remain United Methodists. In the same way that a Catholic priest who felt called to marriage should not remain Catholic. But yes, we should celebrate it, not matter how against the discipline and theology of church it is. Why should pastors subordinate themselves to the teaching of their church? How primitive.

  2. pastormack, I can honesly say, after reading several of the posts you've recently written, that your attitude is one the reasons I left the church.

  3. @Don

    ...your attitude is one the reasons I left the church.

    We can celebrate that you had the opportunity to leave. Pastormack's forebears would have made you "subordinate" yourself to the "discipline" of the church at sword point.

  4. Some more news from across the pond:

  5. Now, now... There's nothing at all wrong with this statement of pastormack's:

    "Why should pastors subordinate themselves to the teaching of their church? How primitive."

    He's absolutely correct. Why should they? Even for Methodists, the bishops and church tradition are not Popes. Or to put that in a PCUSA context, in spite of the ardent beliefs of the pastormacks or the busybodies, fusspots, tattletales and scolds of the PCUSA, neither Calvin nor our Book of Confessions get to claim papal infallibility.

    With all due respect to our Catholic friends, I think that to believe that men or man-made confessions are infallible is indeed primitive (and unscriptural.)

    Like our religious forebears we are called to a grown-up faith that trusts in God, not men. But unfortunately many Protestants haven't yet made it past the Reformation.

  6. For some years, I was friends with the former pastor of Dumbarton -- Rev. Dr. Mary Kraus, who is now retired, I believe. We lost contact when I moved from D.C. to West Virginia in 2002. Rev. Kraus and the Dumbarton folk are more interested in distributive justice-compassion than in what the Bishop or the Methodist "Discipline" (their rule book) may proclaim.

    They were a sanctuary church during the Iran/Contra wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua in the 80s. I met Mary Kraus in Nicaragua in 1987 . . . we were on the same trip, sponsored by CISPES.
    Mary once defended a colleague in another state who was accused of witchcraft (in the late 1990s, not the 1690s).

    As for Pastormack, I do feel deeply sorry (seriously) for folks like PM who live in such a horrible world, where the Devil rules, and sin is rampant, where there is trouble, danger, death, and terror in every closet, under every bed.

    If there were a way to transform his world, I would do it in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, "magic" is no longer possible. We now know (which real magicians have known all along) that we are the ones whose intentions determine our fate, and our reactions to that fate determine the quality of our lives.

    The story of Jesus healing one of the lepers comes to mind. He first asked the man if he wanted to be healed. The man said yes. Then he said, "your trust has healed you. Go in peace."

    We might think that of course the man said "yes." Who doesn't want to be healed? But the question is central and fundamental.

    I think there are two types of humans. Those who live their lives out of fear, and those who live their lives out of love.

    Our friend PastorMack does not want to be healed of his fear. Dick Cheney does not want to be healed of his fear . . . There are many others.

    By their fruits are they known.

    End of sermon.

  7. Sea Raven -

    Lovely words. As for the question "who would not want to be healed?", you wisely chose not to say that Pastor Mack would be one to answer "No", because he feels certain he is not the sick one.

    I can understand that! If I were asked that question, knowing (or perhaps fearing) that the "healing" would place me in PM's world (which you so aptly described), I would scream my answer: "NO. NO. A THOUSAND TIMES NO!" I prefer the healing rays of the sun to anything I might find in that closet.

  8. By the way, Sea Raven - I believe I met Rev. Kraus once as well! I worked for several years with a group in Minneapolis that worked with CISPES and the Nicaragua Solidarity Committee, Pastors for Peace, the Maryknoll missionaries, etc.

    While I never traveled to Central America, I did get the honor of meeting several heroes of the peace and justice movement, including Rev. Kraus, Father Roy Bourgeois, Rigoberta Menchu, Daniel Ortego, Jack Nelson Pallmeyer, and others. What amazing times, and what an awakening for me!

  9. Yes!! Mary's family was from Minneapolis -- another connection I had with her (my sister lives there).

    PastorMack is the only one who can tell us whether or not he wants to be healed of his fear. But before we liberals get too smug, think about what that means? If we are truly healed of our fear, then our lives transform in very unpredictable ways. For example, we could end up getting crucified. So, the question may look easy, and the answer may look obvious, but Jesus was not about the easy or the obvious.

  10. Was your sister ever involved in the Central America Resource Center/Resource Center of the Americas? If so, I may know her, too! Minneapolis is a big city, but the peace and justice movement there is a pretty tight group.

  11. No. My sister has not been a political activist. She is a musician -- writes fabulous music for women's voices. Her website is

    Carol B. Singer

  12. "As for Pastormack, I do feel deeply sorry (seriously) for folks like PM who live in such a horrible world, where the Devil rules, and sin is rampant, where there is trouble, danger, death, and terror in every closet, under every bed."

    Well, sin is rampant, in my own life at least - and judging by the news and daytime tv - in much of the rest of these United States. I'm not quite sure what it is I am afraid of, though.

    I thought I made a quite simple observation that if you as a pastor cannot submit to the discipline (why is this a bad word for Christians?) of their church structure, you should change churches. I'm assuming that should also be the case - just to take a wild-ass guess - for PCUSA clergy who don't believe in the ordination of women. I think they are idiots, of course, but it seems logical to me that they should belong in the PCA. Same with UMC pastors who want to affirm gay marriage - let them be ELCA Lutherans or Anglicans.

    And I don't have a sword. Wesley was all about discipline, though; he never called himself a bishop, and he loathed the early American bishops for doing so, but he himself did act like a little pope from time to time. Didn't Calvin in Geneva?

    I'm not sure "my attitude" can be derived from a couple of blog posts. I'm quite a bit more combative in the blogosphere than in real life - though I imagine most of us are. It is easy to be a keyboard warrior, afterall. I assure you my parishioners think I'm a swell guy (though I am a sinner, through and through).

    Don, I am sorry you left church. I grew up in a fundamentalist environment and was turned off of church for a long time as well.

    That's actually one of the reasons I keep turning up on here. I think that this brand of hyper-modern theology, aside from being the ugly twin of fundamentalism, is a disservice to the church precisely because when the mission of the church and even a basic sense of orthodoxy has flown the coop, church becomes about people and theology deforms into anthropology. That's why I am saddened by cynical way in which the name of the risen Savior is dismissed as a "majik" word that is unimportant. But George Lindbeck and William Placher could do a much better job than me of explaining all this.

    But you're right, there is nothing in the Bible that should lead us to think that part of being Christian leaders is being subject to some rules and regs. It's not like Paul went around chastising his followers for not holding to the apostolic teaching they had received. Oh, wait...

  13. Pastormack, because you're not presbyterian, perhaps you aren't aware of our disciplinary structure.

    Any elder can bring charges against a pastor at any time. We have had, in the PCUSA many, many, many cases in which people have brought charges against pastors for ordaining LGBT people or participating at same-sex marriages. In each and every one of these cases, the pastors in question submitted to the disciplinary processes of our denomination. Not a single one of them ignored the process, nor ran away. I can't speak for them, but I think it is clear that they are well aware of the consequences of their actions and they are willing to submit to the consequences should someone decide to bring charges.

    So, though you write many words on church discipline, I suspect you really don't know anything about the PCUSA and are just typing away to hear the pleasant clickity-clack of your own keyboard.

    And BTW, though you know it already and are just being intentionally obtuse, I didn't dismiss the name of Jesus. I dismissed your use of His name as some sort of majik totem. In fact, I'm taking Jesus himself seriously, rather than simply invoking his name as some sort of incantation.

  14. @Pastormack:

    If you are serious about this discussion, then I suggest you read John Shelby Spong, for starters about how Christianity must either change or die, and then maybe Matthew Fox's Original Blessing, and The Coming of the Cosmic Christ to discern how and why Christians (and others) need to bring our Cosmology into the 21st Century. Then get your teeth into John Dominic Crossan and the Jesus Seminar.

    It is precisely because many folks are still stuck in the medieval triple-decker universe that many more are spending their Sundays contemplating how a non-theistic, non-personal "god"/creator is revealed in the natural world.

    Christian "exiles" (Spong's term) from the faith still want to follow the teachings of Jesus and join the great work of distributive justice-compassion in this life, but we are not too worried about hell or heaven in the next life.

    If all that is too "hyper-modern" for you, then there's not a lot more that can be said in a blog commentary.

  15. Pastormack, I am curious about your take on Martin Luther's decision to try to reform the church from within. Was he wrong? Should he have quit the Roman Catholic Church and started his own? Of course he eventually did do that but not until he was thrown out. At least that's my understanding of history.

    The Presbyteriam motto is "Reformed and Always Being Reformed". How can we make the reforms we feel are very much needed if we leave the church?

    Maybe Martin Luther King, Jr. should have left the country since he couldn't obey the law.

    Something for you to think about I hope.

    + Love + John A Wilde + Whitesboro NY +"The spirit of liberty is the spirit of not being too sure you are right.” – Judge Learned Hand

  16. Excellent point, John W. I always find it interesting when our efforts at trying to get the church to be more faithful to its calling are greeted with suggestions that we leave.

  17. @John W.

    Thanks for reminding us of MLK. Of course there are rules. When the rules increasingly become unbearable for a number of people, many of these people work to change them.

    Sometimes in order to change them, courageous people with conviction need to break them. Those who break them may pay the consequences of doing so.

    Through this process the wider public may see that these rules are unjust and need to be changed.

    The Apostle Paul sought to enforce his rules to be sure. But he also broke a few along the way.

  18. Alan, I'm sure I love the sound of my keyboard as much as the next blogger, and I appreciate the lesson in Presbyterian polity - you're right, I don't know much about the Presbyterian system. I was commenting specifically on the Methodist structure - when I said "we," I mean me and other United Methodists. Our bishops are more administrators than spiritual leaders and holders of teaching authority, which I think is unfortunate.

    Sea Raven, the fact that Spong can still be called "Bishop" is a travesty. I'm sure many Anglicans - those who actually hold to outmoded things like creeds - feel the same. I am familiar with this work, and that of the Jesus Seminar. Treating the gospels as historical artifacts than can be mined and, in fact, voted on in search of the truth is evidence not just of an unfaithful reading of the gospels, but also of a failure to treat the gospels as what they are. As one of my professors said, "Historical-critical scholarship is a bottomless pit." It is a useful tool, but a poor one indeed if it is the only one in our kit. Afterall, it is a short step indeed from a Crossan or Borg to a Bart Ehrman. I prefer folks like NT Wright and Richard Hays myself. For those of you who love the Jesus Seminar, you should look at the work of Luke Timothy Johnson, who has a damning critique of their work.

    Abundance, thank you for a legitimate question that is pertinent to this conversation. I don't think any of us can fault Luther for what he did. The Catholic Church had grown bankrupt in many ways; I think the fault lies with them for Luther's schism (I think I read something similar in a piece by Hauerwas recently). So no, I can't blame Luther.

    But we shouldn't be too quick to make ourselves into little Luthers every time we don't like something about the Church. His issue was theological, not political (though this can be a thin line, I recognize). Also, Luther faced real consequences for his actions (and so did MLK Jr.); part of my point about having "real Bishops" is that in the UMC, as far as I can tell, there are no real consequences for actions like those at the DC church (part of the reason I don't think this church is as 'courageous' as Rev. Shuck does).

    Luther really was a rebel. So was MLK Jr. But "rebellion" has been done Ad Nauseum in America since the 60's; I don't think we as a church need to go back to medieval Catholic discipline, but we have surely swung the pendulum too far in favor of democratic liberalism. A correction is in order if we are to survive as anything more than collections of individuals working for whatever our particular vision of "the common good" happens to be this week.

  19. You are a big talker, Mack...

    But "rebellion" has been done Ad Nauseum in America since the 60's;

    For the church in D.C. or for those who work within and without the church for justice for lgbt people your seal of approval from your self-righteous perch means shit.

    You can call my brand of theology the ugly twin of fundamentalism and you can comment over here thinking you need to save my sheep or offer "the truth" or whatever it is you think you have, but as far as I can see, you are nothing but a punk.

    You will never come close to have 1/10th of the integrity of Rev. Totty.

  20. "Our bishops are more administrators than spiritual leaders and holders of teaching authority, which I think is unfortunate."

    Meh, I don't know anything about that. Fortunately we got rid of such silly popery many centuries ago.

    "but we have surely swung the pendulum too far in favor of democratic liberalism."

    Anyone who says we've "swung the pendulum too far in favor of democratic liberalism" has simply demonstrated that he doesn't know anything at all about the PCUSA. So, I wonder why you bother complaining about the UMC to a bunch of Presbyterians.

  21. "Anyone who says we've "swung the pendulum too far in favor of democratic liberalism"" . . .

    knows little about democracy, or liberalism, let alone distributive justice-compassion.

    Some of the best folks on the Planet, IM (not so)HO are those theologically conservative Christians who understand the meaning of incarnation, resurrection, and salvation not in terms of personal souls going to heaven, but in terms of present-day here-and-now justice. Liberation Theology comes to mind, as does, for example, the Christan Peacemaker Team that included Tom Fox, a Quaker, who gave his life in the service of justice, and the rest of the team that included at least one Mennonite, all of whom declined to testify against their Iraqui captors.

    These are the same folks who are not afraid to be against both abortion and the death penalty, who treat "criminals" as humans who need help, not condemnation, and who have the courage to love their enemies. As Daniel Berrigan once said (I believe it was Daniel) when threatened with jail if he did not tell who drove the truck that held the protestors that threw the blood, "the holy spirit was driving."

    Yes Lawd.

    I'm done with this thread.

  22. Gosh, I thought you leftists were supposed to be more tolerant of the views of others?

    Well, I suppose we all have a great deal of room for the Spirit to do some sanctification. Myself included, and probably at the top of the list.




    Punk, Pastor, Etc.

  23. "Gosh, I thought you leftists were supposed to be more tolerant of the views of others?"

    Not me. I think it's important to have an open mind, but not so open that your brain falls out. ;)