This is the place that has nurtured and taught me in the faith. I have life-long friends because of my relationship with the denomination.
I answered God's call upon my life to set apart my life in service to the people of the UMC!
Part of that service has been to serve on Oklahoma's delegations to General Conference and I throw myself into that just like I do everything. The church I love seems very divided on the issue of how we love the segment of humanity that is not in the straight majority with regards to sexuality.
I've never been short on conviction. I ask your
forgiveness if my enthusiasm has led me
to offend rather than persuade.
The majority of the leadership of the bishops in the United States comes out of the 45 percent. Our general church agencies also has leadership that resides in the 45 percent. This has created frustration for the 55 percent majority with the worship at these conferences as well as some of the teaching materials and emphasis. Now you must remember that the 55 percent majority includes a minority of churches in the United States and the majority of the churches from our Central Conferences which includes Africa, Asia and Europe. This makes for an interesting dynamic!
Our ministry with the LGBTQ community is not our strong suit. We disagree in the United States and we disagree around the world. We have disagreed at many general conferences before! Our strategy for dealing with it was to have a general conference that focused only on this issue - as if we could deal with it once and for all and then focus on other things. Unfortunately, books like Strengths Finder remind us that it is not a good idea to focus only on your greatest weakness. It is better to lean into what you are good at.
At other General Conferences, we may have the debates but we also have reports and decide on legislation on other issues where we can find common ground. These allow us to celebrate our victories and to remind us why we are together. When we take those out of the equation, we are left giving each other the stink eye! In hindsight, this was not a good idea!
It may be that the denomination as a whole is gearing up toward a metamorphosis. Whether this will be two new denominations or a variety of expressions is unknown.
I do believe that this is not something specific to our church but a reflection of a disease that is spreading around the world. In the United States, polarization is easy to see in our government. We know it is broken. But it is also affecting other governments across the world.
When we distance ourselves from others, it is easier to overlook harm. When we separate ourselves from others, it is easier to allow oppression because we do not identify with them – they are the other. Violence against others can then take root because we don’t really imagine them to be our siblings. But our faith reminds us that we see the other differently. In fact, when we have a problem showing respect, Jesus tells us in Matthew “I am the other!”
The church I serve is not theologically homogenous. It is not politically homogenous. We would not unite around a whole variety of issues. But we do unite around Jesus who commands us to love God and neighbor. That second part trips us up sometimes. When we polarize, it becomes even more difficult.
But I believe that the church serves an important function. There is no other place in our society where people voluntarily associate with others who think differently. Within the United States, we need The United Methodist Church as a place where we pledge to love one another in spite of our differences. It is a commitment and a discipline. People seem bad at both these things today maybe because we are able to have our own way so much of the time.
So if you were anxious from the General Conference we just witnessed, that is understandable. Anxiety abounded from all sides! It is uncomfortable to sit with one another and disagree. Some may be experiencing a lot of anger which is one of the stages of grief.
When I offer pastoral care to someone who has just been through an intense experience, I advise them to hold off on any major life decisions until they get a little distance from it. I think this is wise advice for any United Methodist today. We need to sit and process what just happened. We need to take some time in prayer. We need to gather in our local churches for worship.
I would advise pastors to heed this advice as well. Don't immediately lean into wrath or decision. Instead, lean into the grace of Jesus Christ. It is our strength after all. Remind your people of their faith and the story of salvation. Ultimately, this is what holds us together.
And finally, let me say that I will walk this journey with you. I am pledged to love you. This is what God has ordained me to do.
This is why I continue to declare that I love The United Methodist Church.
Even when its hard.