Two weeks ago, a group of representatives from across the United Methodist Church which included advocacy groups and bishops released a statement that they had come to an agreement for how to have an amicable separation of our denomination. That article from the Great Plains Annual Conference website includes links for the protocol and the FAQ and the list of those who participated.
In the relatively short amount of time since this press release was shared there have been numerous responses: some positive, some negative, many trying to figure out how this late in the game this could be accomplished (It is possible and will require a great deal of work and for the General Conference itself to be open to working toward a solution.) Having read the materials, I saw immediately this was a compromise for both sides (progressives and traditionalists) and no one group “got” everything they wanted.
I have shared numerous blog posts on the issue of inclusion in the United Methodist Church. You can find them here, here, here, and the week of the special called General Conference in February, 2019, I posted three, two before, and the one written after the One Church Plan failed and things looked bleak for full inclusion.
For my entire ministry I have wanted nothing more than for the United Methodist Church to fully embrace our LGBTQ siblings. On Facebook I posted a response from Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, one from the Pacific Northwest Conference, and one from a friend of mine David Livingston, who was a delegate in 2019 and will be a delegate in May. All of these, in my opinion, very helpful for those of us who are trying to figure out how to be the church and specifically the United Methodist Church in the future.
I shared all of this information because yesterday at the Orders and Fellowship gathering in Lincoln, Nebraska, our current Bishop Ruben Saenz, Jr announced in the spirit of the protocol he would abide by the abeyance and not proceed on any charges brought for doing same gender weddings or against gay clergy pending the outcome of General Conference. This is a HUGE!!!
Six years ago, our former bishop announced exactly the opposite. Toward the end of page three and the beginning of page four of this pdf, Bishop Scott Jones announced he would do one hundred trials if necessary for clergy who disobeyed the Discipline, regardless of the cost. Another stunning announcement which was devastating to many clergy and laity.
I am not sure how it is I tend to miss this big announcements because I am usually at everything! I missed this because I am on a one month study leave, and the last time, in January of 2014, I had left early because the local church I was serving was in crisis. Either way, I was not present in the room when these big statements were made.
There is no way to describe how delighted and thankful I am for Bishop Saenz to make this statement. I know it is not a “forever” promise, as it has a time limit. Still, it speaks to me of a hope that this General Conference may find a way through this “mess” we are in as a church.
Honestly, I am tired. I am tired of the angry tirades and the hateful posts and statements that have filled social media and sermons and blog posts. I am honest that I really do not understand why we can not live and let live. All the theological rants and ravings about biblical authority and scholarship notwithstanding, I believe underneath it all the argument is about power and money and who wins and who loses. I am tired and done with the arguments.
So, I have somewhat bowed out of the debate and chosen to live and preach and pastor what I believe: God loves you and God loves me and that the deepest power in the world is the power of love to change lives and transform communities. I serve a congregation that doesn’t agree on everything, socially and politically we have great diversity. On the issue of full inclusion, we are mostly of one mind and heart. We will continue to offer hope and faith and love to all people.
Our welcoming statement written by our youth and adopted by our church council:
First United Methodist Church will live out the love of Jesus Christ by including everyone, accepting others for who they are, treating others the way we would want to be treated, respecting all, loving all, and affirming the full participation of all regardless of nationality, race, class, culture, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability, and age.
I am grateful to our youth and to our congregation for this statement that we will continue to live into and share. I am cautiously optimistic for the future of this church I love and have loved for decades. Even though I am “tired” I am not leaving and I plan to stay to work toward a church that fully embraces all of us as beloved children of God.