What kind of a dork spends three days (and a whole box of Kleenex) watching the livestream of a denominational conference for a Church he doesn’t even attend, you ask? Well, the answer is THIS kind of dork. As I wrote about HERE, the United Methodist Church had a Special Session of their General Conference this week, with the goal of hopefully finding a way the Church could move forward, despite varying views on human sexuality… Especially with regard to inclusion of LGBTQIA members. The UMC’s leadership promoted a plan (the “One Church Plan”) which would allow different conferences, congregations, and pastors to make different decisions regarding LGBTQIA inclusion. Instead, the delegates voted to adopt an exclusionary plan (the “Traditional Plan”), doubling down on the current restrictive and marginalizing language in the Book of Discipline regarding people who are LGBTQIA, and deciding to punish Clergy who disobey even more harshly than before.
I have been thinking about this non-stop for four full days. Now the General Conference is closed, the delegates have had their say, and the UMC has chosen a direction. And for all of my friends — both my friends within the UMC, and my friends looking on from outside of the church… both my friends who are straight, and my friends who are queer… both my friends who call yourselves “Christians,” and my friends who now see that word as a synonym for the worst kind of hatred and bigotry and hypocrisy the world has to offer — I have some things I’d like for you to consider…
FIRST — This General Conference was heartbreaking to watch… I can assure you. And as hard as it was for me to watch from the outside, I can’t even imagine how hard it was for those who call the United Methodist Church their HOME. Still, as difficult as it must have been for those inside the UMC to see your church home split before your eyes, as you are mourning this process, please, PLEASE consider how Hard… How Harmful… How HUMILIATING it must have been for the LGBTQIA members of the UMC to sit and watch as others discussed whether or not they are welcome. Consider the heartbreaking, soul-crushing humiliation of having to wait on a VOTE to find out whether or not the people in your denomination recognize your full humanity and worth. Consider the fact that there are certainly closeted members among you, looking for an actual welcoming and affirming community with which they can speak their truth. And THEN consider how it must have felt, over and over again, to have a majority of those they call brothers and sisters say with their vote: “NO. You are not welcome… Not as you are… Not without changing your sexuality.” Because that is what they were saying. Which brings me to my second point…
SECOND — You cannot claim to be “welcoming” while excluding LGBTQIA people from full membership within the Body of Christ. That is not welcoming… That is HARMING. “We’ll accept your tithes, but we won’t accept your orientation” is NOT “welcoming.” It is a three fifths vote. It is the stuff of “Reparative Therapy.” It is the stuff of self-harm. It is the reason why the suicide rate for LGBTQIA kids in non-affirming families is EIGHT TIMES the rate for kids in affirming families. This whole “Love the sinner; hate the sin” thing is such obvious bullshit. Yes, we all struggle with selfishness and fear and disfunction and brokenness and “sin.” But for people to describe a same-sex couple’s committed, life-giving, Christ-centered marriage as SIN… Can you not understand how utterly cruel that is? To equate an honest, loving relationship with LYING or STEALING or ADULTERY?!? Jesus never said ONE THING about homosexuality. He said quite a bit about divorce, though… And there are a lot of divorced people in positions of leadership.
Honestly, even this discussion is an act of violence. How utterly degrading to make people wait while you discuss whether they are worthy of being full members of a Church who is supposedly called to LOVE THEIR ENEMIES. There are calls for patience. There are calls for people to “hold the tension.” But as William E. Gladstone once said, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” And while our LGBTQIA brothers and sisters are waiting, people are literally dying… A truth so poignantly depicted in this amazing cartoon by David Hayward (The Naked Pastor):
THIRD — I don’t want to get all “Not All Methodists” on you, but please know there are MANY people within the United Methodist Church who are heartbroken over this… Not because of the end of an idea of “unity,” but because they are deeply and passionately allied with the LGBTQIA community who is being excluded. They wanted NONE of this. When there were people at the General Conference who spoke in favor of inclusion, the applause and cheering overwhelmed the microphones. That being said, this can’t be explained away because of votes by the African or Central Asian delegates… There were many people from the American UMC who campaigned hard against anything other than the Traditional Plan. This disaster cannot simply be blamed on the cultural differences in Africa and Central Asia… There is plenty of bigotry to go around in America as well. And just like in this nation, there are people in the the UMC who are acting out of fear, and there are people in the UMC who are acting out of Love. And though it seems that fear won this battle, Love Wins in the end.
FOURTH — This will almost certainly result in a giant schism in the UMC… In other words, the United Methodist Church will no longer be “United.” But this has been true of the UMC for a very long time… Especially with regard to human sexuality. Church splits over different views on inclusion are nothing new, and the Methodist Church is no different. Methodists parted ways over the issue of slavery… Methodists parted ways over the issue of women in positions of leadership… Now it seems people will be parting ways over the issue of LGBTQIA inclusion. And though this is certainly — and will continue to be — a difficult time for many, this is not the end of the world. I believe it is better to be divided for the right reasons than united for the wrong reasons. If there are LGBTQIA-Affirming congregations who leave the UMC because of this, I see that as a GOOD thing. It is an act of love to say to the LGBTQIA members of a congregation, “We love you and affirm who you are… So much so that we are willing to risk leaving (or getting booted from) the safety and covering of our denomination.”
“We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist.” ~ James Baldwin
FIFTH — There are those who will stay, despite deep doctrinal differences regarding same-sex marriage, LGBTQIA inclusion & equality, and what the Bible says (and doesn’t say) about human sexuality. Some will choose to stay and work to change the Church they love from the inside. Staying in the UMC is not a betrayal… But staying SILENT on this issue IS. Now is not the time for silence. Now is not the time for “riding the fence.” Now is not the time for staying away from controversy. Now is the time for bravery. Now is the time for leadership. Now is the time to stand up and risk afflicting the comfortable for the sake of comforting the afflicted. There are MANY pastors and leaders in the United Methodist Church who are very aware of what the Bible says about this issue, but they don’t preach on it, because they are afraid of losing their conservative members (and those conservative members’ money).
PREACH on this issue! LEAD on this issue!! TALK to your congregations about the fact that the word “homosexual” was not in an English Bible until 1946. TEACH them about how, when the Bible talks about “Sodomites,” that the Biblical text says Sodom’s sin wasn’t “being gay” as some have been taught, but Sodom’s sin was that “She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy” (Ezekiel 16:49). DISCUSS with them the homosexual “clobber verses” that so many people cling to… SHOW THEM how 1 Corinthians 6:9 is actually part of a larger section in Paul’s letter where he ‘s actually saying that Christians shouldn’t be suing one another — saying that it is better to be cheated and wronged than to sue… SHOW THEM that what has been translated as “homosexuality” was actually originally “abusers of themselves with mankind,” and talk about the definition of ABUSE… SHOW THEM how that term is one of a long list of examples of those who will “not inherit the Kingdom of God,” including people who are greedy, or get drunk, or are verbally abusive, or swindle others, or even being effeminate. I mean, the “effeminate” can’t inherit the Kingdom of God?!? That’s going to make it awfully hard for women! (Unless they’re super butch, I suppose)… SHOW THEM!
The main problem the Church has (and I’m talking about the WHOLE Church, not just the UMC) is that it is filled with mostly Biblically illiterate people, and led by pastors who are so afraid of people leaving that they are afraid to teach them what the Bible actually says. The thing which makes Jesus so offensive and scandalous is NOT who he keeps out… The thing which makes Jesus so offensive and scandalous is who he welcomes IN. You want to have a brave talk about “SIN” and “INCLUSION?” Talk about the fact that the Bible — from the front to the back — prohibits the practice of lending money at interest (“usury”). The Biblical text is WAY more clear about that practice being “SINFUL” than anything the Bible says about same-sex relationships… and CERTAINLY way more clear than anything it says about committed, Christ-centered, same-sex marriages (which is absolutely nothing). Ask them to imagine if we denied sacraments to all the bankers in the way so many are trying to do with people who are LGBTQIA. Ask them to imagine what would happen to the U.S. economy if all the people who called themselves “christians” stopped supporting businesses that lend money at interest.
So for those of you who feel compelled to leave, may you go with God… (Because God might actually be leaving). For those of you who decide to stay, please do not stay silent. For those of you celebrating the passage of the Traditional Plan as some sort of “win” for “biblical christianity,” I’d like to remind you that this is the result the Westboro Baptist people were hoping for. You’re on the Westboro Baptist side. Consider that, for a minute… Or longer. For those of you lucky enough to lead, please lead bravely and compassionately — challenging those you lead to practice A Holy Empathy before attempting any sort of “holiness,” and reminding them (and yourselves) often that Jesus’ words were always the most offensive to the religious folks. And most importantly, for those of you who are feeling rejected and hopeless as a result of this decision, please know that you are loved — EXACTLY AS YOU ARE — by God, and by me, and by SO MANY OTHERS… Even when the Church gets it wrong.
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