Where Love Lives: Scripture, difficult conversations, and diversity

November 12, 2020

Editor's Note:  On October 7th Bishops of the Western Jurisdiction launched an engagement campaign designed to celebrate the radical inclusion and the diversity of people engaged in mission throughout the conferences of the WJ. Each conference within the Western Jurisdiction will develop content for different months throughout the campaign. In November, California-Pacific Conference reminds us that scripture is primary to our Wesleyan heritage.  This reflection from the Rev. Denyse Barnes of California-Pacific Conference lifts up scripture as a cornerstone resource for our everyday lives. California-Nevada will be working to develop content for the months of February and June, 2021.

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” [Galatians 3:28, CEB]

One of the favorite classes I teach during confirmation is the Wesley Quadrilateral. I use a wind chime as a metaphor and everyone in the class makes one to take home. The three chimes hanging down stand for tradition, reason, and experience, while the clapper stands for scripture. None of the chimes can ring without first being struck by the clapper, demonstrating how scripture is the foundation of all we do, informs every decision we make, and how we walk through life as Christians and members of The United Methodist Church.

For John Wesley, scripture was the first authority and he felt, contains the only measure by which all other truth is examined and tested. Here in the California-Pacific Conference, and the Western Jurisdiction of which we are a part, we live out these beliefs of our founder.

As the theological guidelines in the Book of Discipline state, “While we acknowledge the primacy of Scripture in theological reflection, our attempts to grasp its meaning always involve tradition, experience, and reason. Like Scripture, these may become creative vehicles of the Holy Spirit as they function within the Church. They quicken our faith, open our eyes to the wonder of God’s love, and clarify our understanding.”

It is through these beliefs that we are able to affirm all people as beloved children of God, “fearfully and wonderfully made,” [Psalm. 139:14, NRSV] which means that we live out these values by welcoming all through our doors, and to our tables. We believe that there is none for whom the message of the Gospel does not apply.

Just as Jesus taught and modeled, we strive to “…welcome each other, in the same way that Christ also welcomed you, for God’s glory” [Romans 15:7, CSB.] We do not always get it right, we are a work in progress, yet we are dedicated and committed to ensuring that each of our churches is a place Where Love Lives.

My work as our Cal-Pac LGBTQIA+ Advocacy Coordinator has taken on many different forms over the last eighteen months, from group sessions on “working with LGBTQ youth,” to assisting churches as they explore the reconciling process. Last year, we held over sixty listening posts across the conference where attendees from local churches had an opportunity to have their voices heard and to express where they saw the major problems within the UMC, and to offer ways of starting to work at resolutions to those issues. None of this work can be completed without standing it firmly on scripture and using it to guide and shape us as we work.

This year I am working on providing training on “Difficult conversations,” and “Diversity,” as we navigate the places where we differ and strive to learn how to live together in full relationship. Our guiding scripture for this year and these projects is “Put aside all bitterness, losing your temper, anger, shouting, and slander, along with every other evil. Be kind, compassionate, and forgiving to each other, in the same way God forgave you in Christ.” [Ephesians 4:31-32, CEB]

When we follow Wesley’s lead, using scripture as the foundation of all we do, together we can produce amazing results and create places where we truly live out the greatest commandment:

“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands. [Matt 22:37-40, CSB]”