REV. DR. MICHELLE J. MORRIS HAS A MASTER OF DIVINITY DEGREE AND A PH.D. IN RELIGIOUS STUDIES BOTH FROM SOUTHERN METHODIST UNIVERSITY. SHE ALSO SERVES AS A UNITED METHODIST PASTOR IN ARKANSAS. SHE STARTED THIS BLOG AS A PLACE TO HAVE INTELLIGENT AND FAITHFUL REFLECTIONS ON THE BIBLE.

A Mothers' Day Liturgy in Light of Failed Amendments

Jesus loves a cognitive dissonance.  Those moments when what we say we believe and what we actually do are in conflict with each other make us have to reflect, either on what we are saying or what we are doing.  I am smack in the middle of one of those.  I just spent last weekend being trained to teach at Mission U, a United Methodist Women school for deep study on how we live out our faith. I learned about all the ways Methodist women are changing the world – saving babies and mothers from inadequate health care, fighting for farm workers’ rights, challenging sex trafficking systems, etc. You know, living out the Gospel, fully empowered to bring God’s reign to earth.  And then yesterday, I learned of the results of five constitutional amendments in my church, and the two dealing with the full inclusion of women… failed. 

And now, a woman pastor whose church has just told her yet again that she is less than, I find myself staring down a week that culminates in Mothers’ Day.  I will be preaching that day. But I am also thinking about cognitive dissonances. The Bible seems to instruct me to handle cognitive dissonances with a prophetic action.  You know, like when the Southern Kingdom was being hauled into exile and Jeremiah stopped to buy a field in the land he was being forced from – a sign that he believed he would come home someday.

So I am writing a liturgy, and offering it to all of you, as a prophetic action against this vote. Honestly, I don’t believe the Methodist Church in the U.S. generally agrees with saying that women are less than. I also very much appreciate the Bishops’ response to these results, and am thankful for my own Bishop Mueller reaching out directly to clergywomen to offer affirmation. I know, from sitting through the debates at Annual Conference last year, that these amendments got shot down because of fear that using a word such as gender without specifying male and female (which are sex characteristics and not gender anyway, but I won’t digress) would mean that transgender folks could be included (and I also thought all people were made in the image of God regardless, but again, I won’t digress), and that these debates took place at the height of the debate on bathrooms and who could go in which one.  But here is the thing – the results were released on the other side of #metoo, and the other language in the amendments seemed to make clear that one of the key things in question was whether women are fully included in our church or not. So no matter what was debated on the Conference floor, what is being said now is something very different.

If you use this liturgy, I encourage you to take Before, During, and After photos.  You can meme them, and caption with, “The Constitutional Methodist Church v. Jesus’ Methodist Church: We choose Jesus.”  Also, the presumption is that these amendments were shot down to keep gay and trans people out, so you can have them leave before everyone if you want, but I would actually encourage them to stay as long as they are eligible. I think that it will speak great volumes to have some left in the sanctuary.

A Mothers’ Day Liturgy –

(This entire liturgy can be read by one person – who will have to fit all of the protected statuses – or it can be read by multiple liturgists, each one passing off the microphone to the next one as s/he has to leave).

We read Constitutional Amendment One:

“As the Holy Scripture reveals, both men and women are made in the image of God and, therefore, men and women are of equal value in the eyes of God. The United Methodist Church recognizes it is contrary to Scripture and to logic to say that God is male or female, as maleness and femaleness are characteristics of human bodies and cultures, not characteristics of the divine. The United Methodist Church acknowledges the long history of discrimination against women and girls. The United Methodist Church shall confront and seek to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, whether in organizations or in individuals, in every facet of its life and in society at large. The United Methodist Church shall work collaboratively with others to address concerns that threaten the cause of women’s and girl's equality and well-being.”

This amendment is not supported by a two-thirds majority of Annual Conferences.  The amendment fails.

Women are not given equal status before God in our church’s constitution. We invite all the women to leave the sanctuary.

(Have the women move outside of the sanctuary to a predetermined gathering place, perhaps the narthex.  Other groups will likewise follow)

We read Constitutional Amendment Two:

“In the 2012 Book of Discipline, Division One, ¶4, Article IV, amend by deletion and addition as follows:  After ‘all persons’ delete ‘without regard to race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition’. After ‘because of race, color, national origin,’ delete ‘status,’ and add ‘ability’. At the end of the paragraph, add ‘nor shall any member be denied access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church because of race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, marital status, or economic condition.’”

 This amendment is not supported by a two-thirds majority of Annual Conferences.  The amendment fails.

Gender is not a protected status. Anyone who does not identify as a man may be excluded from worship.  We invite anyone who does not identify as a man to leave the sanctuary.  

Ability is not a protected status. Anyone who does not identify as able-bodied may be excluded from worship.  We invite anyone who does not identify as able-bodied to leave the sanctuary.

Age is not a protected status. Anyone who does not identify in the dominant age category may be excluded from worship.  According to a recent Pew Research Study, 49 is the median age of Christians in the U.S.[i] We invite anyone who is under the age of 49 to leave the sanctuary.

Marital status is not a protected status. Anyone who has not been married by the church may be excluded from worship.  We invite anyone who has not been married by the church to leave the sanctuary.

Those of us who remain are the Constitutional United Methodist Church. 

But what does Jesus say about this church?

From Matthew 19:10-12 -  His disciples said to him, "If that's the way things are between a man and his wife, then it's better not to marry." Jesus replied, "Not everybody can accept this teaching, but only those who have received the ability to accept it. For there are eunuchs who have been eunuchs from birth. And there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by other people. And there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs because of the kingdom of heaven. Those who can accept it should accept it." (Matt. 19:10-12 CEB)

We invite those who are not married by the church to return to the Sanctuary.

From Matthew 19:13-15 - Some people brought children to Jesus so that he would place his hands on them and pray. But the disciples scolded them. "Allow the children to come to me," Jesus said. "Don't forbid them, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people like these children." Then he blessed the children and went away from there. (Matt. 19:13-15 CEB)

We invite those who are younger than 49 to return to the Sanctuary.

From Matthew 9:2 - People brought to him a man who was paralyzed, lying on a cot. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man who was paralyzed, "Be encouraged, my child, your sins are forgiven." (Matt. 9:2 CEB)

We invite those who are differently-abled to return to the Sanctuary.

And to the women? What would Jesus say to the women? He said the woman at the well was not defined by her relationships, but was worthy enough to carry the message that he was the Messiah. He allowed the Syrophoenician woman to correct him. He let the hemorrhaging woman heal herself with his power and her touch. He told people to remember the woman who anointed him.  He gave the message that he was risen to women first, who then took the Gospel of the Risen Christ to the world.  Did Jesus value women? There is no question.  After all,

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. (Gal. 3:28 CEB)

Sex and gender do not matter to God. They will not matter to us.

We invite everyone else, women included, to return to the Sanctuary.

All in unison, once we have returned: This is our United Methodist Church, because this is the church Jesus calls us to be!  Thanks be to God!

 

 

[i] http://www.pewforum.org/2015/05/12/chapter-3-demographic-profiles-of-religious-groups/.  Age was the most difficult to determine.  Usually, people are discriminated due to their older age, but in the church typically it is the reverse.  You can adapt this statistic to fit your own context as well. 

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