Sacred Customer Service, Healthy Feet, and The United Methodist Church

Sacred Customer Service, Healthy Feet, and The United Methodist Church November 3, 2017

And I still think that without an actual apology, a move to sacred customer service, we may as well be upfront and say, “We are writing off the next generation of thinking and caring Jesus-followers.”

Sacred Customer Service would never do that to me.
Sacred Customer Service would not insist I walk in something that is wrong for me.

As some of my readers know, I finally decided to get my feet fixed. I had only put this off for over 50 years. The damage was fairly extensive.

Surgery one is over. Next Wednesday, I will be given the go-ahead to put on a real shoe for the first time in ten weeks and start preparing for the next surgery.

The problem: where on earth am I going to find a shoe in any retailer that will fit my still very swollen, extremely tender, and sensitive foot? Those kinds of extra-extra wide, extra-extra comfort shoes generally demand special ordering.

Sacred Customer Service

I thought I had found a solution through an online shop called Healthy Feet Store and ordered a pair. Unfortunately, through a complex set of circumstances, they did not ship, and the store neglected to inform me they were not shipping.

It left me in a tough spot. I was more than frustrated with what happened–the lack of communication, etc. and ended up in a lengthy correspondence with them.

They offered a genuine apology and asked for another chance to help.

One of their customer service reps scoured their warehouse this morning, found four possibilities in the size I needed and offered to expedite the shipping if I would phone her right away and place the order.

We got on the phone, discussed it, and I placed the order. We chatted a while about what had happened and she thanked me for trusting them again.

The Healthy Feet Store has found a customer for life in me. Even after both corrective surgeries heal (at least a year-long process), I will need to be forever careful to get good, well-fitting footwear. This will be my go-to place.

The Power of the Apology

Winning me back was not that hard. They had blown it. They owned it. They apologized and worked hard to set it right. I am genuinely grateful.

Now, let’s extrapolate this to The United Methodist Church. Everyone who knows anything about the politics of the giant conflict over human sexuality knows that this great institution is on the verge of a sad, acrimonious, and probably disastrous, split.

Our Book of Discipline, which functions to us as the US Constitution does to the US, contains some discriminatory language about those who don’t fit the “normal” gender binary. However, the BOD is not an immutable or inerrant document. In fact, it is amended every four years.

These particular statements were put in the BOD in 1972. It was a mistake. The church was wrong to do this. But efforts to remove them have been stymied at every quadrennial General Conference, the only time that changes can be made.

A wide and leaky tent or a narrow and tight one?

The UMC has long been known as a “wide tent,” perhaps a bit leaky but still one that opened doors to all and provided a haven for those whose theology was developing and maturing.

Since 1972, it has slowly morphed into a smaller and tighter tent, putting higher boundaries between those who are in and those who are out. The pressure to shrink comes from both sides of the divide, but the group with the votes are the conservative, “there is only one way to see this” club, offering no accommodation to the GLBTQI community.

I watched this play out with the Southern Baptist Convention in the late 1980’s. Then an amazingly broad place theologically was taken over by similar thinking: that there was one, and only one, way to interpret Scripture.

Those who led the take-over also co-opted the authority. They proclaimed themselves the only ones who could know and could state that authoritative interpretation. And the SBC is now shrinking mightily.

Many of us in the UMC have discovered over the years that our understanding of the biblical texts that appear to demonize and condemn those in the GLBTIQ community represents a flawed theology and imperils the witness of the church. We have sought to work within the system to eliminate that language. We have also sought to live faithfully from the statement that we are a church with open doors, open hearts, and open minds.

However, the “closed minds,” in this case those for continued exclusion, have the votes to win, mainly because of a large number of African delegates to General Conference. Some prognostications suggest that those of us who advocate for full inclusion will find ourselves excluded–yes, kicked out–of the United Methodist tent in 2020.

The Uniting Methodists proposal

This past Wednesday, I attended a well-done and highly informative meeting about an alternative possibility called “Uniting Methodists.” I encourage you to look at their website and see how graciously they offer to rebuild that big tent.

I especially encourage you to view the video at the top of this page. The speakers offer a winsome, sad and yet hopeful message that suggests we really might have a future as a church that embraces our polarities.

I’m tempted to become a part of this. I like what the Uniting Methodist are doing. But I’m aware of one big area where it falls short: it does not offer the sincere apology due to the LGBTQI community for the years of exclusion, the years of wrongful theology, the hurt, sometimes to the point of suicide, we brought upon innocents.

Under the Uniting Methodist proposal, which again, I did like generally, those who are not cis-gender will still have to fight for their legitimacy. Or, we might go to a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” spot, an untenable position for those who are placed there. In other words, we still do harm.

I know why: to try to reclaim the edges, it is necessary that Uniting Methodists also offer space to those who stay adamantly opposed to full inclusion. I admire the goal but am troubled by the means.

The impact of the African vote

At that meeting, one of my tablemates was a clergy person from Africa. Of course, she cannot speak for all African United Methodists, but she also made it clear: no one she knows in the African United Methodist world will go along with an option to include the ordination of any but cis-gendered people.

This article by an African clergyman also suggests there will be no compromise here. There will be no widening of their viewpoints. Period.

I would suggest that such a stance is more faithful to their cultural realities than it is to the witness of Scripture. They would likely say just the same about my stance.

But the UMC in the US, which funds 99% of the world UMC budget, should not be sacrificed because our cultural realities are different from African cultural realities.

We want to invite the coming generation under our collective wings and show them the beauty and truth of God’s redeeming grace and our passion for justice issues. But without the acknowledgment of our wrongdoing, they will stay away.

I predict, if we continue without engaging in the sincere apology necessitated by the principles of sacred customer service,  fewer and fewer younger people, who have grown up in a world of gender fluidity and cannot even conceive of this kind of theological rigidity, will align themselves with the UM world.

Rightly, in my opinion.

Are not the GLBTQI brothers and sisters equally as important?

When I first ran into my problems with the Healthy Feet Store, my first reaction was, “This is a seriously shoddy business practice.” And it was–there was a real problem with the supplier that they had not yet fixed. BUT, they recognized it, learned from it and sought to make it right. I, one who got hurt by the problem, remained important to them.

Why are our GLBTQI brothers and sisters not equally as important to the UMC? Why do they, with the value of their souls at stake, not deserve our repentance?

In my years of blogging about the church I dearly love, I’ve wavered all over the place about possible solutions. For me, the ideal is we all stay together and fully honor our differences, especially the irreconcilable ones. Again, I like the way the Uniting Methodists state this:

We believe our differences on the questions of same-sex marriage and ordination stem from differences over biblical interpretation, not biblical authority.

But I’ve also called for the entire church to be blown up and started over because our structure does make substantive change impossible. Just the other day, my husband and I faced a couple of essential home repairs. I said to him, “What if we could only make these necessary repairs every four years after every member of the family comes together to discuss, argue, comment, and finally, vote on the plans we propose to fix the problems? And what if, after we agreed on the decision, a smaller group of them could strike it down later?” Yeah, not exactly workable.

Furthermore, I am aware, as one who gardens both for the beauty of growing plants and for my spiritual health, that sometimes plants become so rootbound or overgrown that they have to be yanked up, forcibly split, and re-planted after separation.

The result is nearly always more, smaller, healthier and faster-growing plants. That is how nature works, and we can learn valuable lessons from it.

But there’s another side to consider. As a gardener, I’m also aware that abundant bio-diversity means far healthier plants. Monoculture is ultimately not good for the ground.

In the same way, being surrounded only by those who agree with us is not good for the soul. And that’s what an ecclesiastical split does: we start talking only with those who already agree with us.

So I sit here, with my new shoes on the way, and wonder where to land at this pivotal time.

I admit I’m relieved to be retired and now only taking the role of commentator about a church I love and to which I owe my adherence.

I pray for those on the front lines, all those who are speaking up and offering hope and possibilities of moving forward.

And I still think that without an actual apology, a move to sacred customer service, we may as well be upfront and say, “We are writing off the next generation of thinking and caring Jesus-followers.”

Photo Credit: ID 39660354 © Aarstudio | Dreamstime

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  • Grigori Schmidt

    Simply separate the UMC into two parts: Non-LGBTQI and LGBTQI
    Allow LGBTQI part to make their own book of discipline, where they can write that being straight man or woman is an abomination.
    Problem solved. Everyone is happy and dancing

  • Reese

    The split in the UMC is not only inevitable, it is UNDERWAY – 3 ways! #1 Homosexual weddings are being done all over – even in conservative Texas – with no penalties to the pastors. Further, a lesbian bishop continues without regard to the Book. Further, there are many openly homosexual clergy in the UMC, they even have an action committee, and that is O.K. with those sworn to protect the Book. So, the new Methodist church is forward-by-leftward and the old UMC has no desire to stand in the way. #2 The historic, only mildly conservative UMC will hang around a few more years until us old guys die off. It will have pockets in the South and Mid-West, but it is doomed… Partly because of split #3: Me. I am an example of those just tired of it all so I took my family and left. Have not joined another church yet, but we will in time. Our relationship is directly with Jesus anyway and the church is just a place to go talk about it with others. More importantly, there are already entire churches who are filing to leave and that will increase (study the Episcopal demise since 2003). There are many other denominations and the mostly conservative non-denominations and, most important to me, there is always time alone in prayer and thought and many avenues for charity to give to… Who really needs the dying UMC?