So far at this conference I’ve been given a few nicknames.
I feel called to be United Methodist and I have always felt called to hang out in the middle and help various sides hear one another.
Maybe that is why my subcommittee experience was so powerful.
We connected across cultures.
We shared from our contexts.
We listened more than we talked.
And maybe that is why today has been so terribly hard.
Yesterday evening, word started spreading about conversations between the Council of Bishops and various caucuses. They are trying to help us find a way forward and viable separation was on the table. As Bishop Ough said this morning (and this is a paraphrase): we risked being vulnerable enough to go there.
Last night was full of denial and shock.
We began worship with the room buzzing and a whole host of ecumenical guests.
Unity. Oneness. Unity. Oneness.
Oh, and an absolutely incredible and challenging sermon by Ivan Abrahams of the World Methodist Council.
I wept through most of worship.
My heart was broken.
The bridges seemed to be disintegrating.
And yet we were singing “I need you to survive.”
Bishop Ough came to the mic after worship and shared with us a letter from the Bishops. A word that they were committed to unity. And yet, it felt to me like they were also saying… whatever you decide to do, we’ll help you navigate through.
Except, we don’t know what to do.
Friends, our conflict is not about the lives of LGBTQI people. At this moment, their value, calls, and relationships are at the center of our conflict, but the church needs to grow up and say to our children: it is not your fault that we are so divided and torn.
My siblings are not issues and they are not the cause of our pain… although we are causing them pain.
Our conflict is that we have radically different ways of understanding what it means to be United Methodist. Across the connection, we view the primacy of scripture differently. Some of us see the Discipline as gospel and some of us see it as a living breathing document that helps us adapt to changing context. Some of our conferences are lay led, others clergy, other focus their power in the episcopacy. Some of us are in cultures that have forgotten the Christian tradition, others in places where the way of Jesus is barely taking root and trying to create space for Christianity. Some of are studying liberation theology and some of us can’t see our privilege when we look at ourselves in the mirror. Some of us have the freedom to make choices and others face scrutiny from their governments. Some of us are worried about kids spending too much time and energy on soccer camp and others are just praying for their five year old not to die from malaria.
We’ve found a way together before.
What I love about our tradition is that we hold together all sorts of both/ands… personal piety AND social holiness… making disciples AND transforming the world… potlucks AND fasting…
So I came to General Conference committed to finding a way forward… together.
I have to admit, however, that I need the church to change. Yes, to be more inclusive. Yes, to end the pain upon our LGBTQI siblings. But even more, I need the church to change because the Holy Spirit is calling and pushing and challenging us to step to the margins and let go of our rules and power and privilege and actually go do the things Jesus freaking asked us to do!
If the church refuses to change and adapt… well… I have started to feel like maybe we can each be more faithful on our own.
Watching us celebrate the 200th anniversary of the AME Church, we lifted up how they thrived a part from us. We pushed out our siblings (in horrendous acts of racism) and they are fine. God continues to move and work in both of our traditions. God is bigger than our denominations and conflicts. God can unite us even if we have different names for our churches.
So, friends, tomorrow we start the conversation again.
The Bishops might come back with a proposal. We might discuss it.
Only God knows what our future holds.
And tomorrow, having heard the pain and frustration, I don’t know where we’ll end up.
All I know is that I’m letting go of any desire to stay together at all cost, any stubborn clinging to unity in name only.
There is a way forward but I no longer pretend to have a “right answer.”
Lord, put us to what thou wilt… let us be employed for thee or laid aside for thee… let us have all things, let us have nothing… thy will be done.