FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

From Extinguished to Distinguished

Statue of John Wesley – Photograph Source: Ebyabe – CC BY-SA 3.0

In 1973, at age 46, my character was assassinated and I was forcibly retired by The United Methodist Church’s then Southern New England Conference after performing the marriage of two male members of Boston’s Old West Church, where I had been minister for eight years. On September 18, 2019, forty-six years later, at almost 93 years of age, Boston University School of Theology, a major institution in New England United Methodism, honored me as one of its three 2019 Distinguished Alumni/ae. Upon learning that I was being so honored, my wife, Eva, who was beside me all those years, said, “From extinguished to distinguished” – then added, “But you were never extinguished.”

At BU School of Theology’s 2019 Alumni Celebration, we three Distinguished Alumni/ie were invited to form a panel and speak on the topic, “The Three Greatest Challenges Facing Us in the Next Decade.” Being a panelist offered me the opportunity to provide the following commentary on United Methodism and other Christian denominations.

The first challenge facing us involves reexamining The United Methodist Church’s own mission statement, which declares, “The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” The statement continues: “The United Methodist Church affirms that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior of the world, and the Lord of all.” Then these words: “As we make disciples, we respect persons of all religious faiths and we defend religious freedom for all persons.” (“Book of Discipline Section 1: The Churches”)

Here, with an ecumenical tip of the hat, the Church tries to have it both ways. How can you believe that Jesus “is the Savior of the world” and “Lord of all” and “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” while still “respect[ing] persons of all faiths?“ If you really “respect persons of all faiths,” why do you need to make disciples of them?

This contradiction is similar to another in which the Church wants it both ways. Methodism’s Book of Discipline states, “We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God . . . and need the ministry and guidance of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment.” Then these words: “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Rejection with a “straight” face, which was evidenced by so-called “Traditionalists” at last February’s special General Conference on “human sexuality,” when a [smaller] majority ruled again that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” But more and more United Methodists recognize that “the ministry and guidance of the Church” has been the greatest obstacle to LGBTQ persons “in their struggles for human fulfillment.”

Sadly the seeds of imperialism are embedded in Christianity. A reported resurrected Jesus gave his disciples “The Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28: 18-20)

That assumed “Great Commission” has been used to rationalize “discovering new worlds” and invading and plundering all kinds of people. A “Commission” that, I believe, leads many evangelical-believing Christians especially to unconsciously rationalize and accommodate America’s imperialistic pursuit of world domination – masked as a “global war on terror.”

An example is the reported finding that “87 percent of white evangelical Christians in the U.S. supported” President George W. Bush’s illegal, falsely-based criminal invasion of Iraq.” Certain evangelistic leaders were reported as “claiming that the American invasion of Iraq would create exciting new prospects for proselytizing Muslims.” (“Wayward Christian Soldiers,” By Charles Marsh, The New York Times, Jan. 20, 2006) These Christians were responding to Bush’s own imperialistic faith: In preparing to invade Iraq, he said, “We do not know all the ways of Providence, yet we can trust in them.” (“A War Became a Crusade,” by Jackson Lears, The New York Times, March 11, 2003) “The ways of Providence” led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, triggered a vicious sectarian civil war in Iraq, gave rise to ISIS, and created chaos in the Middle East.

Many people of faith opposed the invasion of Iraq in the beginning, some strongly. But American boots on the ground had a muting, normalizing effect.

Which brings me to the second challenge facing us: the militarization of empathy, that serves to normalize and perpetuate America’s so-called “global war on terror.” The militarizing of empathy is especially seen in national newscasts that end with military families reunited – briefly – in surprise homecomings. Service men and women return to surprise their children at school, at home, at Christmas, and their families in a variety of settings. These emotionally charged reunions lead viewers to tearfully identify strongly with military families – and by extension with our government’s global warring. Or, lead viewers not to think about America’s endless warring. The result is the reinforcement of patriotic allegiance and amnesia. There is also the constantly televised presence and honoring of military personnel at sporting events, with military flyovers on special occasions.

Who benefits from America’s “global war on terror?” Obviously the military/industrial/intelligence complex profits from unending war. A golden goose that keeps on giving. Why do we need nearly 800 U.S. military bases in some 70 countries around the world? (“Why We Should Close America’s Overseas Military Bases,” By John Glaser, Cato Institute, Oct. 7, 2016)

Certainly the “war on terror” is not to protect Americans. Some 7,000 Americans have been sacrificed on the altar of our bipartisan government’s imperialistic pursuits, with hundreds of thousands more wounded. If our government were really about protecting Americans, it would bring our military personnel home to their families and invest in education, employment opportunities, and health care for all Americans, and use diplomacy, rather than threats and sanctions and warmongering, to resolve problems with other nations.

Morally outraging to people of faith should be the militarizing of empathy: the hijacking and weaponizing of the universal religious ethic of The Golden Rule that is intended to inspire people to transcend sectarianism and nationalism and identify with each other.

The third challenge: our moral frame of reference should be the common humanity we share with all other human beings, not an evangelizing religion. Morality guided by human rights, not partisan politics or sectarian religion. Faith leaders speaking reality and moral truth to political – and ecclesiastical — power, not merely providing the Invocations and Benedictions for those in power.

The 2020 General Conference awaits United Methodists, offering the Church the opportunity to actualize its slogan of “Open hearts, Open minds, Open doors” by embracing all people as compatible. The militarization of America continues. The historic white-controlled hierarchy of access to economic, political and legal power still dominates America’s status quo. And an authoritarian, psychopathic president is now at the helm, denying climax change, threatening war against Iran, and exploiting the plight of migrant families at the Mexican border, to whip up his white nationalistic base for the 2020 election.

These and other issues reveal that the common humanity everyone shares should be the epicenter of the moral universe, not an evangelizing religion. Our religious founders and saints have different beginnings and histories, but all of us share similar birth stories, and at the moment of birth we are most alike. We have different faith traditions, but the same universal need to be loved and to love. We speak different languages, but laugh alike. We don’t look alike, but our facial expressions tell the same story – of surprise and pleasure, frustration and anger, joy and sadness. We sing different anthems — with the same pride. We may regard each other as foreigners, yet we love and grieve the same. Anywhere in the world, when people are oppressed, their innate human response is to struggle for liberation. Thus the common humanity all people share should be the frame of reference of the moral universe. And our common humanity is powerfully expressed in most religions’ shared belief in The Golden Rule: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7: 12)

I believe life is about finding one’s own place and making room for others. My steeple has become the aspirations of all people, my altar the common ground on which everyone walks, my cross the oppression from which any individual or group is seeking to liberate himself or herself or itself.

The challenge we face is not that of transforming everyone into our likeness, but transforming ourselves by recognizing the likeness we share with all other human beings.

More articles by:

Rev. William E. Alberts, Ph.D., a former hospital chaplain at Boston Medical Center is both a Unitarian Universalist and United Methodist minister. His newly published book, The Minister who Could Not Be “preyed” Away is available Amazon.com. Alberts is also author of The Counterpunching Minister and of A Hospital Chaplain at the Crossroads of Humanity, which “demonstrates what top-notch pastoral care looks like, feels like, maybe even smells like,” states the review of the book in the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling. His e-mail address is wm.alberts@gmail.com.  

July 08, 2020
Laura Carlsen
Lopez Obrador’s Visit to Trump is a Betrayal of the U.S. and Mexican People
Melvin Goodman
Afghanistan: What is to be Done?
Thomas Klikauer – Norman Simms
The End of the American Newspaper
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Merits of Medicare for All Have Been Proven by This Pandemic
David Rosen
It’s Now Ghislaine Maxwell’s Turn
Nicolas J S Davies
Key U.S. Ally Indicted for Organ Trade Murder Scheme
Bob Lord
Welcome to Hectobillionaire Land
Laura Flanders
The Great American Lie
John Kendall Hawkins
Van Gogh’s Literary Influences
Marc Norton
Reopening vs. Lockdown is a False Dichotomy
Joel Schlosberg
“All the Credit He Gave Us:” Time to Drop Hamilton’s Economics
CounterPunch News Service
Tribes Defeat Trump Administration and NRA in 9th Circuit on Sacred Grizzly Bear Appeal
John Feffer
The US is Now the Global Public Health Emergency
Nick Licata
Three Books on the 2020 Presidential Election and Their Relevance to the Black Live Matter Protests
Elliot Sperber
The Breonna Taylor Bridge
July 07, 2020
Richard Eskow
The War on Logic: Contradictions and Absurdities in the House’s Military Spending Bill
Daniel Beaumont
Gimme Shelter: the Brief And Strange History of CHOP (AKA CHAZ)
Richard C. Gross
Trump’s War
Patrick Cockburn
Trump’s Racism May be Blatant, But the Culture He Defends Comes Out of the Civil War and Goes Well Beyond Racial Division
Andrew Stewart
Can We Compare the George Floyd Protests to the Vietnam War Protests? Maybe, But the Analogy is Imperfect
Walden Bello
The Racist Underpinnings of the American Way of War
Nyla Ali Khan
Fallacious Arguments Employed to Justify the Revocation of Jammu and Kashmir’s Autonomy and Its Bifurcation
Don Fitz
A Statue of Hatuey
Dean Baker
Unemployment Benefits Should Depend on the Pandemic
Ramzy Baroud – Romana Rubeo
Will the ICC Investigation Bring Justice for Palestine?
Sam Pizzigati
Social Distancing for Mega-Million Fun and Profit
Dave Lindorff
Private: Why the High Dudgeon over Alleged Russian Bounties for Taliban Slaying of US Troops
George Wuerthner
Of Fire and Fish
Binoy Kampmark
Killing Koalas: the Promise of Extinction Down Under
Parth M.N.
Back to School in Rural India: Digital Divide to Digital Partition
Ed Sanders
The Burning of Newgate Prison: a Glyph
July 06, 2020
Melvin Goodman
Foreign Election Interference: Who is to Blame?
JoAnn Wypijewski
On Disposability and Rebellion: Insights From a Rank-and-File Insurgency
Marshall Auerback – Jan Frel
There’s a Hidden Economic Trendline That is Shattering the Global Trade System
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A Just and Talented Government for Our Hazardous Age
Manuel García, Jr.
Biosphere Warming in Numbers
Ron Jacobs
Kidnapping Kids: As American as the Fourth of July
Tasha Jones
Pyramids. Plantations. Projects. Penitentiaries
Binoy Kampmark
Criminalising Journalism: Australia’s National Security Craze
Eve Ottenberg
Re-Organizing Labor
Mike Garrity
How We Stopped Trump From Trashing a Critical Montana Roadless Area in Grizzly Habitat
Nino Pagliccia
The Meaning of the 1811 Independence for Today’s Venezuela
Michael Galant
We Need a Global Green New Deal
Jill Richardson
Learning Not to Look Away
Marshall Sahlins
Donald Trump at 130,000 and Rising
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail