Love Your Neighbor Coalition Statement to the Commission on a Way Forward, Council of Bishops, 2019 General Conference, and all United Methodists
In Leviticus 19:18, it is written, “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” (NRSV)
Rabbi Hillel was one of the most important and influential rabbis of all time and passed away during Jesus’ early life. Hillel drew on the passage above in articulating the fundamental principle of Jewish moral law, in this famous quote: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole of the Torah; the rest is explanation; go and learn.”
A few decades later, Jesus similarly drew on this passage when naming the first and second greatest commandments and establishing what has come to be called the Golden Rule in Matthew 22:37-40: He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all of the law and the prophets.” (NRSV)
The Gospel of Luke follows this teaching with the Parable of the Good Samaritan in an effort to further explain the meaning of this teaching (Luke 10:25-37). Often, in the church, we focus on defining what “neighbor” means. The expansive definition of neighbor provided crosses all racial, ethnic, social, cultural, political, religious, and geographic boundaries. Yet, the parable also expounds on the definition of love, demonstrating that it goes beyond the deep tenderness and affection felt toward a romantic partner and/or family member, and it is more active than most understandings of agape. The love in the Parable of the Good Samaritan is more like John Wesley’s understanding of grace, particularly sanctifying grace, the experience of God transforming us into whom God intends us to be. It is radically active. It requires substantial commitments of our time and resources even in people who are not part of any of our in-groups. It mandates that we cross boundaries.
It was with these understandings that the member organizations of the Love Your Neighbor Coalition (LYNC) took their name. Our group of organizations and caucuses imbued the second commandment into the name of the coalition in order to serve as a reminder of what is most fundamental about the kind of people Christians are charged with being.
African colleagues within the Coalition have offered a deeper understanding of these passages and this understanding of Christianity with the African concept of ubuntu.
In Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s 2005 book, God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope For Our Time, he writes about the concept of ubuntu:
The first law of our being is that we are in a delicate network of interdependence with our fellow human beings and with the rest of God's creation… [Ubuntu] is the essence of being human. It speaks of the fact that my humanity is caught up and inextricably bound up in yours. I am human because I belong. It speaks about wholeness: it speaks about compassion. A person with ubuntu is welcoming, hospitable, warm and generous, willing to share. Such people are open and available to others, willing to be vulnerable, affirming of others, do not feel threatened that others are able and good, for they have a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that they belong in a greater whole. They know that they are diminished when others are humiliated, diminished when others are oppressed, diminished when others are treated as if they were less than who they are.
The Love Your Neighbor Coalition believes that ubuntu and biblical principles should be applied to our current United Methodist struggle over the discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) persons.
For 45 years The United Methodist Church (UMC) has stated as its official belief that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and that marriage is only between a man and a woman. Subsequent additions have effectively sought to bar same-sex relationships and have taken increasingly punitive positions against any clergy or clergy candidates who are either in or seek to celebrate loving, same-sex relationships.
And for 45 years, LGBTQ+ United Methodists have been telling the church that these statements and policies contribute to the rejection, bullying and discrimination that such individuals experience in many societies. LGBTQ+ people commonly experience increased violence and threats of violence, murder, physical abuse by family members, being kicked out of homes, homelessness, bullying, harassment, spiritual violence, physical violence, verbal violence, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, employment discrimination, and housing discrimination around the world. Moreover, the corresponding trauma results in much greater incidents of depression, self-destructive behaviors, and suicide than that which is typically experienced by the rest of society.
It is out of these stories and others like them that the LYNC recognizes that our LGBTQ+ siblings, parents, loved ones, friends, members and pastors are harmed, humiliated, oppressed, and diminished by our current church policies. Policies that name LGBTQ+ persons as incompatible with Christian teaching and relegate them and their relationships to second-class status, unworthy of the church’s recognition, harms LGBTQ+ persons, and harms and diminishes us all, depriving us all of our human dignity.
In other words, these policies destroy our Ubuntu, and Jesus, John Wesley and the whole of the Bible have taught us that we cannot look away from this injustice. We must recognize LGBTQ+ persons as “us” and stand in solidarity. We must love. We all must struggle with our own sanctification.
Furthermore, in Wesley’s sermons “The New Birth” and “The Catholic Spirit,” Wesley taught that as long as we hold in common the essential elements of our faith, and as long as we unite in love — meaning that we love one another, that we commend each other to God in prayer, that we provoke each other to love and to good works, that we love each other not only in word but in deed and in truth — then our hearts are right and we should walk together hand in hand.
The approach of legislatively enforcing one viewpoint, overlaying it with discriminatory church laws, and backing those laws with punitive measures has struck down to the marrow of our union of hearts. Furthermore, it has had devastating effects in terms of the deaths of numerous LGBTQ+ members and colleagues, the spiritual destruction of the lives of many others, and in pushing The United Methodist Church to the brink of dissolution.
Leaders of that effort have called upon The United Methodist Church to double-down on this approach, demanding that the debate over the positions evangelical caucuses have pushed for a generation be “definitively resolve[d].” Failing complete success in this final silencing of justice-seeking voices, they have called upon the Commission on a Way Forward to prepare a plan that will divide and formally abolish the unity of The United Methodist Church.
The Love Your Neighbor Coalition proposes a different way.
The United Methodist Church is in the midst of a once-in-a-generation opportunity. A life-threatening harm has been named within the body and brought to light. How we respond will define our future. There are responses that will promote healing, restore relationships, restore our ubuntu, and lead to this struggle being remembered as a restorative struggle. And there are other responses that will amplify the pain. It is time to banish this period of legislated discrimination to the dustbins of our history.
Therefore, the Love Your Neighbor Coalition calls upon the Commission on a Way Forward and the Council of Bishops to develop a plan that maintains the UM connection and removes all forms of language that discriminates against LGBTQ+ persons from the Book of Discipline.
We call upon the delegates to the 2019 special session of General Conference to act to maintain the UM connection and remove all forms of language that discriminates against LGBTQ+ persons from the Book of Discipline.
Furthermore, we call upon all United Methodists to join together in love, grace, and compassion, to recognize “us” reflected in each other, and to work to strengthen our relationships and our United Methodist connection and restore our ubuntu, regardless of where we stand on the theological or political spectrums.
Finally, as we look beyond the 2019 General Conference, we call on those who become delegates to the 2020 General Conference and upon all United Methodists to careful examination of other ways in which we harm our ubuntu, other ways in which we perpetuate new and historic injustices against one another and our planet, and to join together to work toward our continuing restoration and sanctification in those regards as well.