This morning I awoke heartbroken. To be honest, I went to sleep last night heart broken and hopeless. Yesterday, by a vote of 438 to 384 The special called General Conference pushed through The Traditionalist Plan regarding human sexuality. Reverend Adam Hamilton spoke of the is plan as a “regressive traditional plan with teeth.” Essentially it shows the world, as it was on a public stage, the United Methodist Church finds spiritual incompatibility with homosexuality. Or rather, they united to mandate one interpretation of scripture regarding sexuality. So you are welcome as a “self-avowed homosexual” to enter the church’s “Open Doors” and be guided from the pulpit into salvation, grace, and repentance. But you are forbidden from that same pulpit to live those lessons in a call to ministry…or marriage…or equality. The “teeth” of this plan is that it takes compliance a step further with a requirement of all pastors, regardless of sexuality, to commit to follow the rules or they will be encouraged to find a new church home…and forfeit their pensions. Not addressed in this same plan, the body as a whole’s ability to interpret divorce, adultery, slavery, and women in ministry with a more favorable contextually global view. Thus, making interpretative exceptions on all but the LGBTQAI community. This singling out of those who identify as LGBQTAI reveals a fear of something not understand…or perhaps something unwilling to be admitted to the world. Today reflects a hurt to thousands of people who comprise the United Methodist Church.
February 27th’s, Common Prayer, has an exert which is fitting for today. It reads:
Clement, an early Bishop of Rome, wrote, “When the heathen hear the words of God from our lips, they marvel at them as something beautiful and great. however, when they find out that our deeds are unworthy of the words we speak, they turn from this to blasphemy. They say it is a myth and a delusion.”
Through the actions of the conference it feels as if this is a battle we still wage. I find myself asking how can a denomination committed to serving the Least, the Last, and the Lost take actionable steps to alienate those who are some of the most marginalized members of society, worldwide. This decision shares the message that our deeds and intentions are unworthy of the words we speak and falls short of the social justice warriors the UMC claim to be. What is this doing to our witness and transforming of the world?
Of the 12 million methodist worldwide, approximately 40% live outside the United States and are committed to a more conservative view of scripture. It has been said this is a U.S. issue and not a church wide issue. In this I must disagree. For those who view the church through global eyes, I refer to the working of a body. As the church is compared to a body, my question lies in how you treat that body. If your arm is broken, do you not use your other arm to help stabilize the injured one, and does that arm not pull more weight until the hurt arm is healed? And if your eyes are blinded, do your hands and feet not serve to be paths of vision and understanding? How is it a celebrated unity of body can not find compassion for a suffering part of the whole? LGBTQAI treatment and rights will only spread in the years to come. Instead of moving forward to allow what could be a guide or precedent of introducing these members of our congregations, lay leaders, and clergy to God’s love in leadership and equality, the arm of the body has been cut off, leaving fewer persons to fill the void and work of what was many. This is by no means, just a U.S. issue, it will reverberate to the world.
So where does that leave us, the moderate, the progressive, those of us with an interpretation of scripture which reveals a widening of the tent and not exclusionary intentions. Well, it leaves us in the same boat as the conservative, the African or Russian, the traditionalist. As celebrated pastor Nadia Boltz Weaver said in a round table in which I was fortunate to participate, “It takes the right wing and the left wing to fly a plane.” I offer no scriptural reference on the outcome of the past four days. The internet will be swollen with scriptural responses on the decisions made, and in this, the same flexibility of meaning could be debated. But the next steps will be calculated and hopefully filled with the Holy Spirit. This plan still must go before the Judicial Council (the UMC Supreme Court) to determine if it is constitutional, which it was not prior approving the petitions.
As Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey said in her address at the 2017 Louisiana Conference, “Hold nothing sacred but the mission.” When our structures of missions and notions of work crumbled during our time in Mozambique, we leaned on her words to find our calling not by an organization nor a denomination, but a calling to follow God. In that we found strength and purpose. We are to hold tight to God’s mission now, as a wounded denomination struggling to define the next few months and years. What this will look like, I don’t know. But I do know the commitment to “Make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” looks like an inclusive, loving movement with space for all.
And so we wait, and we pray, and we find those opportunities to be in conversation and what God is doing in God’s United Methodist Church. Our diversity is what gives us strength, and though at this moment I am not hopeful, I remain faithful. In the shadow of a looming lent, I ask you to make no decisions about next steps. Join me in a period of discernment through fasting, prayer, and love. I pray the Holy Spirit brings glory to God through our sufferings and our deep hurt.
During Lent I will be sharing reflections and paths of discernment as we walk this road together. Lent starts March 6th.
Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike?John Wesley
*Cover photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS