On Tuesday, February 26th, the UMC made a decision to go with what was titled the “Traditional Plan” in regards to the ongoing conversation regarding the church’s approach to those among us who are LGBTQ+. 

The challenge has been for us, as an international denomination, to approach this question of ministry and ordination in a manner that embraces the whole of who we are.  There could not have been a final decision that would have been applauded by all involved.  No matter what was decided, there would have been people feeling misrepresented.  

Although 71% of those attending the General Conference in February, by one account, reported that they felt heard, still the final decision (by just over 50% of delegates) left many dismayed. 
I heard from many people about the vote, as I was traveling internationally. Even those who agreed with the position theologically, still did not feel right about it pastorally. 
As one colleague wrote,

“I feel sad– how does one feel excited about what seems to be an oncoming divorce.  We have lost sight of every person in this — of every person as a person of sacred worth, and value, a person for whom Jesus died.” 

He also wrote of a member of the African delegation had said they felt “pressured by Western politics and had been told their vote shouldn’t matter because they could not contribute financially to the denomination.” He commented, “That was not a proud moment for me as an American.”  
Some wrote that there will now be an attempt to purge from the UMC all the of more liberal theological positions. But then where would that stop? And we’d lose the breadth of theology that is a gift to this denomination.
A week prior to the vote, a conservative GC member from Oklahoma had told me that he believed if the “One Church” position passed, that those “liberals” would seek to purge the church of those like him with more conservative theological views.
Both “sides” believing the same of the other. And some admitting that, actually, we need everyone. Yesterday, at a gathering where the decision was discussed, how those here recognize that we need all voices in the church was stated multiple times.
Historically the church has encountered rifts in theology and practice. Paul split from his ministry partner Barnabas (see Acts 15:39 and surrounding context) and went his separate way. There have been major and minor rifts over the centuries and it seems the church goes through major upheaval about every 500 years (first observed by Phyllis Tickle in her book The Great Emergence). 
Interesting enough we are at such a crossroads. 
In the last one, the Reformation in the 1500s, the various sides took up weapons against one another. People seem to get that passionate about such disagreements. Let’s not do that, this time, ok?  
Yet, the language from some has been militant, speaking of a fundamentalist takeover. Or of an army rising up against the decision. And the very way in which the vote was taken was filled with caustic, mean-spirited, “we are right, you are wrong,” language.
Others have written of the grief they feel and the uncertainty on how to speak. Others have written of how many nuanced voices there are in this arena of sexuality. And others have spoken as if it is simply a matter of sin and obedience. One brother contrasted obedience with compassion. He wrote:

“The two conflicting strands of the Judeo-Christian tradition are still at war. One places obedience above compassion and the other places compassion above obedience. Obedience has won the day, as it usually does, because it is more power than gospel. Compassion has lost the day, but then it always loses the day. I do not participate in the way of the compassionate gospel because I expect to win, I participate in it because I expect to lose.”

I happen to love how he said this, while knowing it might wholly summarize what is happening– it does lean in that direction.

Jesus was the one who was theologically liberal in his day– he was the progressive. He was avant-garde, out there, challenging the rule-keepers of his day. Those who held most tightly to rules were the Pharisees. They “knew their bibles,” (so to speak) and were caught up in obedience to the law. Yet, Jesus called us into a hyper-obedience of heart not just drawing lines in the sand around behavior. Every time I read something communicating a really tight stance to “keeping the law” I think we have forgotten that we don’t want to align ourselves with rule-keeping. Yet that’s where we feel safest– within our safe constructs.

Yet Jesus keeps challenging those barriers. He invites us to take and eat the grain on the Sabbath, to drop our stones, to rebuke the wind, to cast out demons, to raise the dead, to touch the leper, to bring sight to the blind, to speak peace to the house, to follow. Jesus does not invite us to be safe behind our biblical texts and closed doors.

And Jesus does not invite us to sort ourselves into factions, and to thus position ourselves alongside those we feel are our allies, in order to shoot at the “enemies.”

Those who view Jesus and life through a different lens are not the enemy, they are not even a “they.” They are us.

The moment we imagine this is about “us and them” we have already lost. We all belong to one another.

There is an enemy who loves to get the church positioned against itself. Paul wrote of this, stating, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers, against the authorities of this dark world…” (Eph 6:10-20).

When we create factions, next we will use words to dehumanize those “enemies.”

As I write above, some of that caustic, dehumanizing language was already used at the GC against our LGBTQ+ and conservative friends.

That was not the Gospel. That was and is sorting.

We need to ask two questions – “Lord, what are you up to?” And “How would you have me respond?”

When traveling in England my good brother David and I arrived at the St. Pancras Station to see our train to Nottingham listed on the departures board with the word “cancelled” across from it.

We made our way to an agent and were told to take a train departing within a few minutes of our original train and change at the East Midlands Station.

When this train arrived, we and what looked like a hundred others from our cancelled train, made our way toward the cars. The body of people ahead of us was immense as two trainloads of people tried to get on this single new train.

“Brian, let’s get in here!” David said beside me, pointing to the door of a first class carriage. I had just been wondering about taking a first class seat, otherwise my 86-year-old friend would be standing for the next two hours.

We got on and sat in the first class seats. “If this costs us more,” David said, patting his pocket, “I have my Visa card.”

When the ticket conductor arrived to check our tickets, David began to tell her how we had coach tickets and he was prepared to pay the difference, then she surprised us saying, “Oh no need to pay more, dear, this car has been declassified.”

We marveled at this for the entire ride. No need to pay extra. In this car all classes of folk are leveled out. All were the same.

We were able to extend the blessing to others, for them to take the seats near us.

This is the Gospel provision — no “us and them” but only an us. And all are a people for whom One died to declassify the differences, to cleanse us from sin, to free us into relationship with God and others, to bring heaven to earth, to make us a people marked by love not arguments.

He did this so all could be welcomed into the presence of the One who actually knows us best and loved and loves us most. The ground is Level at the foot of the Cross.

Missionary Adoniram Judson (1788-1850) wrote: “The future is as bright as the promises of God.”

I believe it. God is the basis of the future!

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