Response to General Conference
The work of the Special Session of the United Methodist Church’s General Conference concluded a few hours ago. I watched almost all of it on a live stream. I witnessed the debates, the challenges, the worship and prayer, the attacks of one side to the other, and back again. I witnessed moments of overwhelming joy and love, and moments of heartbreaking sadness. I witnessed those who shared their faith and their journey; painful for some, and joyous for others. I saw weeping; some out of wonderment and joy, and some out of sadness and hurt. I saw the best of the church, and moments that were far from the best.
Given the last three days, not including the day of worship and prayer that preceded the deliberations, I find that it is not easy writing this article to you today. The decision was made to tighten restrictions for those of us who seek to be open in how we love one another and in who we love. Those restrictions have moved beyond performing same-sex weddings and into other areas of ministry with and for LGBTQI persons. For those that know of the four plans that were presented, it was the Traditional Plan that was accepted and will become law; a plan put forth by those who hold more conservative theological views than those of us who identify ourselves as centrists or progressives. What that means is that, to a great extent we are in a new day and there will be decisions ahead for all of us.
The pain inflicted on our LGBTQI sisters and brothers, and others just deepened. The rejection they now or will feel is real, and it will be up to us to listen, to love, to share, to hold, and to assist in gaining an understanding that not all within the greater church rejects them, the way so many seemed to reject them at this General Conference. For those of us who hoped for a different result, we will now have some significant decisions to make. It will probably begin at the Annual Conference level, but be assured, it will come to the doors of Aldersgate. Do we stay in the denomination and continue to fight this battle? Do we split, and if so, what does that mean? There are many more questions than answers right now, but I think that was to be expected. Maybe the title of Brian McLaren ‘s book rings more true today than any time in my history; “We make a road by walking.” Personally, being a Methodist began at my birth, continued through the hands of Bishop Voigt as he baptized me in South Dakota, supported me throughout my life as both a United Methodist child, youth and young adult, and adult, and now as a United Methodist serving as clergy. It feels as though that history just took a turn. It feels as though we are very literally on the cusp of now making a road that hasn’t existed before, at least in our lifetime. We now walk a road that has no distinctive instructions, few markers, and feels as though we may be walking in a time of wilderness. As challenging as that may sound, we will continue to live out our faith and express it as we have before. We will continue to follow Jesus. We know that God is still here and is continually seeking to move among and through us. We are still United Methodists and our witness enters one of the most critical times in recent history.
We need to remember that all of us, no matter what side of the equation we find ourselves, we are all still Christian sisters and brothers; we are all persons of sacred worth created by a God of overwhelming love. We are all Christians who will continue to seek transformation; transformation in this church, this community, this country and the world. God would have us do no less. We are Christians who must continue to talk with one another as we continue in a time believing that God can make all things new, all things. So let this new time continue and may we enter into it firm in our faith.
What does the future hold? Honestly, we don ‘t yet know. It will unfold in time. But be assured, there will be opportunities in the next few months where Laura and I will bring information. It will come to you as it comes to us. It will be a time of exploration that will, like our work in Reconciling, lead to a time of decisions. Our hope is that everyone will have the opportunity to be engaged as things unfold. So, as we begin this next stretch of our journey in Christ, and as we enter a time of Lenten reflection, let’s make sure we cover it all in prayer. Laura and I are here for you. I am stepping back in, as fully as health and healing allows. And be assured, that by the grace and love of God, we will have a bright future, of that I am absolutely sure.