Reflections on the 2019 Called General Conference of the United Methodist Church
It has been a couple of days since the General Conference (GC) has voted to pass the “Traditional Plan” for the Way Forward for the United Methodist Church. I was deeply disappointed and saddened by the outcome. Initially I was angered, but at the same time astonished at the naivete of the Churches leadership. How did they ever think the One Church Plan could prevail with (1) the history of the UMC over the past decades, (2) the heavy hand of the Wesley Covenant Association (WCA) and (3) the strong homophobic culture existent in so many African countries where so many of the votes would come from?
The UMC has a long history of kicking this can down the road. This is despite its membership losing ground with most of our future generations believing that discrimination against LGBTQI persons is archaic and flat wrong. It is just one more reason for them to steer away from the Christian church.
When I think of evil I think of any actions, behaviors or thought propositions that limit the potential fullness of humanity for any individual including self. Organizations such as the WCA thrust a one-way biblical interpretation with a certainty and fervor that is nothing short of evil. I am saddened by this insistence on limiting the potential fullness of the humanity our God created for us. This evil projects to our LGBTQI brothers and sisters. But it also projects to any Christian who considers themselves progressive. It may frighten people to consider progressive Christian thinking when they have been reared with traditional church doctrines. It may cause resistance and fear among clergy who have preached popular traditional Christian dogma. It is easier to hide in the past. It is easier to practice safe teaching, often with little relevance to our times and our lives. When one thinks about the multiple dimensions of meaning in Scripture and speaks to a meaning relevant to informing us about how to live, they could end up crucified like the one who did twenty centuries ago. Perhaps our clergy are to blame for the formation of Christian thinking among the laity that too often is stagnant and stale. But there is also responsibility that lies with the laity. Where is their desire to think rather than merely follow? What can be a future for Christianity when the pulpit lacks courage and the pew lacks curiosity?
Cultures clearly differ in stages of development. It is not that one culture is superior in all respects or even nearly all respects. But some cultures have a superior dimension appropriate to lead humanity into the future. But leadership is not coercion and we don’t always know which direction is the superior one. Leadership is stepping out with new ideas that can lead us closer to Jesus’ ideal community. One solution applied to all cultures is inappropriate and will not work. Part of our faith is that right will prevail, even though not as rapidly as we would sometimes like. For that reason, we must allow diverse thinking and solutions to persist. Coercive certainty will only stagnate and stifle humanity. At GC 2019 cultural similarities unfortunately coalesced to stifle the heartfelt initiatives of progressive United Methodists.
My immediate quandary after the vote was, “what to do,” “what to do.” Can I support a church that continues down this discriminatory road? Can I abide by a church that effectively says my understanding of Scripture is flawed and perhaps incompatible with Christian orthodoxy? Can I tolerate a church that treats the most profound and insightful volumes ever written as a literal book of rules? Can I sit idly by and ignore all this as though it never happened, or that it doesn’t concern me, or that it is irrelevant for our local church? Perhaps I could decades ago when I was consumed with children, marriage and career. But now it is too late to put things like this into a box of “someday activities.” So, “what to do,” “what to do.” I am encouraged by recent statements by the Western Jurisdiction’s leadership. I am grateful for them not waffling and for taking this matter to heart and hopefully to action. I pray that their naiveite surrounding GC 2019 will transform into hardened resolve. For now, I will wait to see what develops over the next several weeks. But like many I feel emboldened to express the depth of my convictions on this issue and not be pummeled by traditionalists promulgating a reading of Scripture that in my view projects ignorance and intolerance. I further keep in mind that many UMC churches are not a microcosm of the outcome of GC 2019 and that our church is my faith family and each of us needs to do our best to make it a reflection of God’s love and a place of spiritual enrichment for all of our fellow travelers.
March 1, 2019
Sam is a member of
Mountain View United Methodist Church
Woodland Park, Colorado