Yesterday was a painful day. I was following the events of General Conference, that world wide gathering of United Methodism which takes place every four years. It is a time of holy conferencing and communion of the Wesleyan faithful from all over the earth. I was once blessed to attend the gathering in 2008 in Fort Worth, Texas with my mother. It was an experience I will never forget and always treasure, so I was devastated to read the news reports and accounts on social media yesterday which relayed the extreme strain and real possibility of a potential break in the denomination.
I love this Church. It is mine, and that of millions of Methodists. It is the church of my birth, my childhood, my youth, my adulthood, and my pastorate. I have joined it with all that I am, and served it with all that I have. I have made great sacrifices personally to be Methodist clergy, and I expect to give much more during the course of my life. Just the thought of it being rended caused me great agony, emotionally and spiritually. So much so that I was overwhelmed, and I cried.
I cried tears the likes of which had not fallen since my first marriage failed, and my family dissipated from the promise made during the worship of Holy Matrimony. I cried as if I was once more confronted with a brokenness that would never be fully healed in this lifetime, a failure from which no restoration would come. I cried as if the feelings of betrayal that destroyed my family were once more tangible in the possibility of the loss of my beloved United Methodist Church. There have been times in my life when the only thing I had was God, and God was readily available in the United Methodist Church. No denominational break can take God from me, but I fear that this may not be the case for all. What might the loss of United Methodism mean for others?
There are many who feel loss right now about their place in the United Methodist Church. They wonder if their identification as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, or Queer means that they are denied God’s grace or the love of Christ’s Church. They wonder if they can be welcomed into worship and the fullness of church life their heterosexual counterparts enjoy. They have experiences of pain, suffering, rejection, and persecution. They fight for inclusion. Many of my beloved family and friends count themselves in these numbers.
Others feel like they are being portrayed as monsters for their understanding of Scripture, and their faithfulness to the current doctrine of the Church. They feel villainized and unfairly depicted. Labeled hate mongers and cast as the Judas of this drama, they feel as if they too are misunderstood. They have loved this Church, tried to be faithful to the Bible, and just to the doctrine. They have their own tales of struggle and suffering around this issue. They are the counterpart to the first perspective, and no less in pain.
I cried for both sides. I also cried for my own: another stuck between the two. I thought the Church was where all can come before God, no matter their sin or state of being, and encounter grace. I thought we all fell short of the glory of God, and were looking to grow beyond ourselves into reflections of Christ who died because we all sin. The sins may differ, but the consequences are all the same: brokenness. As one whose life was forever changed because of sinful heterosexual sex, I cried that my family of faith was threatened with its own form of divorce. No one person, perspective, or side is right. I suspect that there is truth to be cultivated from all sides. There is no simple truth, no ready fix, no easy path. However, I believe that the path will be dictated by the desire to walk together or away from one another.
I cannot change the events of General Conference, or the hearts and minds of those elected to represent me and the Annual Conference I serve. So I turn to prayer. I pray for God to overwhelm us all with grace, hope, and truth. I pray that every United Methodist recall the pledge to the Body of Christ in our membership, not just our vision for the Church. I pray we can hold fast to one another, no matter the side we hold to be righteous. I pray for the leaders of our Church, both clergy and laity, to endeavor to model Christ as the denomination and the world outside of it look on with bated breath. Many marriages like my own have failed because one party was all too wiling to walk away. I pray that we recall our covenant before God to endure until we are parted by death. There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God. No sin can either. In our collective imperfection, let us model perfect unity. Let us love in spite of our differences in expression, identity, and perspective on any issue. May God turn my tears of fear and sorrow into tears of joy, that the United Methodist Church will persist despite all obstacles and present trials.
I have no answers. I have only prayers, and this incredible faith that God can do all things. May God’s will be done in and through the United Methodist Church. Amen.