Recently The United Methodist Church’s Special General Conference Session was held in St. Louis , Missouri. There delegates from around the world voted, by a small margin, to adopt The Traditional Plan, maintaining the church’s stance on homosexuality: that it is incompatible with Christian teaching, that homosexual persons shall not be ordained, and that same sex weddings cannot be held in our churches or officiated by our clergy. Included in this plan are stronger sanctions against anyone who does not follow these mandates.
In the aftermath, many people — on both sides of the issue — are feeling pain, anger and frustration. This blog is in no way intended to minimize what people are feeling, or imply that those feelings are inappropriate, or that the feelings themselves are harmful.
This is written in hopes it might help church leaders when church members express that frustration in ways that have consequences that are possibly unanticipated and unwanted. Comments are welcome. –Ken
Withdraw Your Local Church Membership
Numerous people on social media and other public arenas have expressed their desire to withdraw their membership from their local United Methodist church. Understandably, there is anger and hurt on both sides of the divide; there is also pain for those in the middle. If you are committed to a position, removing your membership eliminates your voice and diminishes the number of delegates and, therefore, votes that might be cast when decisions are made. If you support fuller inclusion of LGBTQ people in the church, you might talk to LGBTQ people who are part of the UMC and ask them if surrendering your membership is the best way to support the cause of inclusion. You might find their response is an invitation to stay and work alongside them for doors that will open a bit wider for all God’s children.
Withhold Giving to Your Local Church
It is hard to argue with the idea that your local church is an innocent bystander in the decisions made on the floor of General Conference. Take a moment to think about the ministries that are part of your church and of the people whose lives are touched by the love expressed through mission in your local church. Would you really like to harm those people out of frustration with the General Conference’s inability to decide on a way forward that agrees with your perspective on human sexuality and is not in conflict with our constitution? Should the youth ministry, or Sunday school, or the outreach ministries in your church be penalized for what the General Conference did or didn’t do?
Withhold Apportionments/Mission Shares
Like the previous expression, this course of action hurts the wrong people. We can cause collateral damage to ministries we love when we withhold our apportionments to protest one particular aspect of denominational activity with which we disagree. Is your viewpoint closer to the progressive, more inclusive pole of this debate? Withholding apportionments causes harm to agencies of the church that work for the inclusion of people of color and provide advocacy for women. Do you identify more with the traditional perspective in the church? Not paying your mission shares cripples United Methodist seminaries, universities, and colleges, here and around the world, that open the minds of future lay and clergy leaders who will spread the gospel and meet the spiritual needs of generations that will come after us. Our global mission and evangelism and the ministries and administrative work of your annual conference cannot happen when we abandon our commitment to John Wesley’s call that we live and give connectionally.
Identify Other United Methodists as “The Enemy”
There is no longer any doubt that “United Methodists are not of one mind” when it comes to the issues of human sexuality. The vote that approved the Traditional Plan was 53 percent to 47 percent. For those who sat in The Dome in St. Louis, the divide was clear, as it was to the thousands who watched the live stream. While ballots are secret, it was clear from those who spoke for and against the proposal that many delegates from Africa and other areas beyond the U.S. joined traditionalists from the U.S. in order to reach their majority. Many sources estimated that as many as seventy percent of the delegates from the U.S. opposed the Traditional Plan and supported plans that removed language from the Book of Disciplinethat condemned homosexuality and excluded homosexual people from ordination and from being married in United Methodist churches or by a United Methodist clergyperson. Some proponents of the progressive view have used these observations to paint the African delegates (and others from central conferences) as the enemy and responsible for keeping the UMC from being more inclusive. The culture in many of the African nations where we have United Methodist churches is so different that it is hard to comprehend unless you have spent time there. As The United Methodist Church made the shift from being a U.S. church to a global church, we failed to put in place the structures to cope with cultural differences in a respectful way. Similarly, some traditionalists view areas of the U.S. – for example, the Western Jurisdiction – as the enemy. Historically, the jurisdictions were created because of cultural differences across the geography of the United States. Casting our sisters and brothers as enemies always does harm to the denomination and to the body of Christ.
Move to Isolation
There were great lessons that can be reaped from the work of The Commission on the Way Forward (which met over two years and presented the three plans to the 2019 General Conference). The Commission reminded us of the importance of hearing the perspectives of those whose opinions differ from ours. It’s easy, when we are hurting and feeling there are great chasms between what we believe and what others in the same denomination believe, to want to isolate ourselves – unfriend this person; block that person; unsubscribe from that newsletter. I will admit that what I saw in St. Louis was an extremely divided church., I went to St. Louis with the expectation that everyone would arrive at The Dome with their minds made up, yet I observed people truly listening to one another. I truly believe, from the bottom of my heart, that what Christ would want us to do in the aftermath of this recent General Conference is not to gather ourselves with like-minded people but to be more convicted to sit and listen and share in love with people who see our way forward in a way different from what we see. We’re not done. The conversation must continue.