A New Day

We love because God first loved us. ~ 1 John 4:19

I remember November 9, 2016, very well. It was the day after the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States of America. We remember…  It was also the day that we, the people of the Mancos United Methodist Church, met Reverend Karen Oliveto, our newly elected, first openly gay bishop in the United Methodist Church.

I stood at the top of our disabled ramp waiting for Bishop Oliveto and her wife Robin to arrive. My mind was jittery; I did not know what the future held for us. Bishop Karen and Robin pulled into our parking lot and stepped out of their modest car. Bishop Karen adjusted her clothing and set her face to meet an unknown people, friend or foe, in another United Methodist Church. I remember how the bishop walked quickly up our ramp with a purpose. Her eyes were down, probably reviewing the message she wished to share with us.

As the bishop neared the top of our ramp, I asked, “Bishop Oliveto?” She stopped, looked up, smiled broadly, and said, “Yes, I’m Bishop Karen Oliveto.” “Hi, I’m Pastor Craig.” “Glad to meet you, Craig.”  She shook my hand and introduced me to her wife. “Where are we today?” “What?” I asked. “Where is your congregation spiritually and mentally today?” There was no beating around the bush with Bishop Karen.

“We need a message of hope,” I said. “I got it,” Bishop Karen responded, and she took off into our church, leaving me and Robin standing. I think our initial encounter lasted less than twenty seconds. I ran after her. “Bishop… Bishop…” She stopped. “I thought you might want to know that we are a reconciling congregation.”  “Good,” Bishop Karen said, and she hollered to her wife, “Hey Robin, they’re reconciling!”

The bishop took off again and started introducing herself to everyone, shaking hands, smiling, and telling stories. The mood in the church noticeably changed. Everyone breathed and relaxed. “Is the Bishop an extrovert?” I asked Robin. “Yes,” she said. We both laughed.

I thought the road ahead for our beloved United Methodist Church and our country would be rocky and strewn with division. And as I watched Bishop Karen loving one person at a time, I also felt strongly that God’s Grace would ultimately bring us together and heal us. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God” (see Romans 8:39).

I remember November 9, 2016, very well. I met a servant leader, a woman of great faith in the abundant love and grace of God. Bishop Karen is human, but she chooses to love, to serve, to forgive, and to seek reconciliation between opposing groups despite receiving numerous death threats against her life. It saddened me to hear that she needed bodyguards to protect her and Robin.

Yet, her compassion for friends and enemies inspires me to walk closer to Christ.

As people of faith, we must constantly examine our consciousness and ask, “Is our circle of love and compassion getting bigger or smaller? Is anyone or any group left standing outside our circle?” Richard Rohr writes, “God always became bigger to me and led me to bigger places. If God could include and allow, then why not I? If God asked me to love unconditionally and universally, then it was clear that God operated in the same way.”

Father Greg Boyle writes, “Compassion isn’t just about feeling the pain of others; it’s about bringing them in toward yourself. If we love what God loves, then, in compassion, margins get erased. ‘Being compassionate as God is compassionate’ (Luke 6:36), means dismantling the barriers that exclude.”

In God’s circle of compassion no one is left standing outside. God welcomes our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, the poor, women, people of color, and the marginalized. How do we miss this message?

“Either Jesus is the ‘savior of the world’ (John 4:42), or he is not much of a savior at all. Either America treats the rest of the world and its own citizens democratically, or it does not really believe in democracy at all. That’s the way I see it,” says Rohr. I could not agree more.

For over fifty years the United Methodist Church has upheld harmful and devastating language directed at LGBTQ people. The arguments have been long, intense, and divisive. In a recent article from CBS News, Bishop Karen said, “Every day of my ministry, I’ve had to wonder, is this the day my ordination will be taken from me?” Over the years, how many LGBTQ people have lived in fear of the church? Fear of judgment and exclusion? Is fear or love the way of Jesus?

As reported in a CBS News article, this spring the United Methodist General Conference voted to overturn every ban on LGBTQ people. LGBTQ clergy can now openly serve the United Methodist Church and marriage is now defined as a covenant between two people of faith, rather than solely between a man and a woman. And the General Conference struck down a 52-year-old stance on homosexuality being incompatible with Christian teaching.

Bishop Karen said, “We were never incompatible.”

Father Richard writes, “Mature religions, and now some scientists, say that we are hardwired for the Big Picture, for transcendence, for ongoing growth, for union with ourselves and everything else. Either God is for everybody, and the divine DNA is somehow in all creatures, or this God is not God by any common definition.” Praise be to God!

May we embrace the radical love of God. May we repent of the harm we have done. May we love because God first loved us.

Blessings and peace,