A Word from Our Pastor 2012 Feburary Reconciling Ministry

Reconciling Ministry

Happy New Year! Yes, it is almost February, but many of us are still getting used to the idea of 2012. . . and the new faith journey that we are embarking upon together as a church community. Last month, I wrote about our new Vision and Mission statements. Our Vision (purpose): “Changing lives, transforming communities and renewing the church;” and our Mission (how we will realize our vision): “Joyfully sing God’s love to all, diligently work for peace and justice, and lovingly uplift each other.” Along with these new statements, we have 5 core values, which will guide our decisions and planning:
1. We preserve and honor the memories and traditions of our Japanese-American founders, as we celebrate our multi-cultural present;
2. We serve families and all persons in deepening their relationships with God, by our Christian commitment to knowing, loving and serving God.
3. We believe in creating a community of unconditional acceptance.
4. We serve our community and the world by extending peace and justice beyond our walls.
5. We experience and share God’s presence through creative expression.

I want to address number 3:

“We believe in creating a community of unconditional acceptance.”

This statement, I believe, grows out of our Japanese-American historical experience. Like the earlier Chinese, Japanese immigrants faced racial prejudice when they first arrived, although in many places in California and the West, Japanese were favored over the Chinese. Of course, the most virulent expression of this was the illegal wartime internment. As a result, our community has a special sensitivity to stereotyping, racial profiling, oppression and any kind of race-based prejudice, especially when it may be enacted into law or social customs.

Therefore, when Arab Americans (or people who looked as if they have Arabic descent) were the targets of both legal and social discrimination after September 11, our church did what we could to reach out to express solidarity with these communities. We felt we could understand, on some level, what Arab Americans and Muslims (not all of whom are Arab peoples) were facing, and we wanted to offer comfort and support. In addition, our trip last year to Israel was part of our ongoing effort to understand the issues of Palestinians, and to express our solidarity in their struggles. By doing these things, we were expressing our value of unconditional acceptance, and (number 4) attempting to “extend peace and justice beyond our walls.”

Going forward, how do we continue to be true to these values?

Our churches, as well as secular institutions, have been challenged in the last few years to confront our attitudes and laws regarding the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered) community. Last year, our church adopted an official policy, “BMUC welcomes people of all ethnicities, all economic circumstances, all sexual orientations and gender identities.”

In addition to adopting this statement, we became part of the “Reconciling Ministries” network of the United Methodist Church. This network was begun in 1983 to encourage congregations to publicly support LGBT people and to welcome then to full participation in the life of the church.

The most important word here is “WELCOME INTO FULL PARTICIPATION.”

We have declared that we welcome the LGBT community, but have we done anything about it? Some might say, “If anyone comes in our door, of course we welcome them. ” But it is more complicated than that. We may say or do things – even without knowing it – that may be off-putting or even offensive to LGBT people when we meet them.

To be truly welcoming, we should be making efforts to educate ourselves on how to provide a place where LGBT people feel comfortable and accepted. As one simple example, the way we TALK about marriage and life partnering, or our assumptions about what a “family” is may or may not exclude LGBT people. Even more sensitive is the issue of transgender. If a transgendered child were to be part of our community, would we know how to help that child feel loved and accepted, to listen sensitively to their concerns, even though that child doesn’t feel at home in his or her own body?

We may think we know what to say, and that we don’t have any prejudice, but there is always more to learn about these things. (It reminds me of a childhood friend who, even after years of knowing each other, could not understand that there was a difference between Chinese and Japanese people. She used to tell me, “You’re all the same.”) We’re not all the same. None of us.

Creating a community of acceptance involves understanding the differences and working not just to accept, but to celebrate them. We understand that regarding race, no one is truly “colorblind.” Similarly, most of us, including myself, can always learn more about other kinds of difference. Just as we do not want to forget or hide our Japanese-American heritage, LGBT people do not want to be invisible. We want to honor our Japanese-American identity, and LGBT also want to honor that aspect of their identity.

Perhaps in getting to know Eric Eide, you learned about the particular challenges and prejudice faced by little people. Perhaps you didn’t know that the term “dwarf” is offensive to many people, for example. If we want to unconditionally accept people, and extend peace and justice, we have to be willing to build relationships with people who are different than ourselves, and learn about their concerns. We have “talked the talk” and now we should be ready to “walk the talk.”

For those of you who are ready to “walk the talk,” I hope you will attend the upcoming conference, which will be held at our church on February 18, 2012, beginning at 10 a.m. It is being co-sponsored by the four – and there are only four – Asian/Pacific Islander churches who are reconciling congregations: Aldersgate UMC, BMUC, Buena Vista, Pine and the Network on Religion and Justice for Asian/Pacific Islander LGBTQs. (“Q” stands for “queer.”) The conference is called, “Who Wants to be an Ally?” Even the title of the event emphasizes the importance of being welcoming enough to be an ally. I hope to see you there!

Rev Naomi