Welcome to March, Reader. I am that much closer to finishing my degree!
In case you missed it rebounding through the news that loves to cover the Church in crisis, my denomination is a bit on fire at the moment. The United Methodist Church held a conference this past week to talk to itself at the highest level of representation about what we believe in regards to sexuality, and what we’re going to do if we disagree about that. I went, and I’m glad that I did because I have so many stories of community built on Ghiradelli squares and snarky commentary, stories of support and of sorrow, stories of parsing through the seemingly labyrinthine legislation and of trying to find the Spirit in the machinations of factions quietly politicking around each other in the name of the Holy. It was a beautiful, ugly, extraordinarily human few days.
The end result is that the more conservative faction within the UMC (made up mainly of delegates from a corner of the American South, parts of Africa, and pieces of Eurasia like Russia and Kazakhstan) pushed through some legislation that doubles down on the idea that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” It also insists that any pastor who officiates or otherwise supports homosexual relationships should be punished by the Church, up to and including being defrocked. And anyone falling under the term “homosexual” (which was broadened to catch other folks in the LGBTQ [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning] community) cannot be ordained as long as they hold to that identity.
This breaks my heart, Reader, for many reasons. Most personally, it breaks my heart because it catches me. You see, I am bisexual. But I am also United Methodist, Christian, a lefty, a poet, a white woman, a Trekkie, a cat person, an amateur calligrapher, a friend, a decent baker, a preacher, a chaplain, a daughter of God. I have absolutely no difficulty holding all of these identities together at any given time. I do not find them to be incompatible with each other at all, and given all of these pieces of me I find that I am still called to ministry. If you’ve been around this blog for a minute, Reader, you can see that I fought that call for as long as I could; I didn’t make up the idea that I should be ordained, that I in all of these identities have been asked to be part of God’s Church in this way. So for my denomination’s conference to tell me that people like me are abominations, that we cannot be called to ministry if we continue in our sinful ways—that simply doesn’t match my experience, and it baffles me.
The reasons so many folks focus on anything other than heterosexuality as the focus of sexual sin doesn’t baffle me. During the conference, several amendments were offered to similarly strengthen the penalties around acceptance and ordination of those who are divorced, or those in polygamous relationships, or those who are not celibate outside of marriage, or those who are adulterous—all of which have plenty of Scriptural grounding as sexual sins. None of them passed, because this isn’t actually about sexual purity. I’m not here to have the argument about the verses or the interpretation or whether homosexuality is a sin; if you’re curious about my take on that, ask me, but I am not going to sermonize about that here. I am going to point out that this is a narrow definition of sexual purity and leave at that.
I’m also going to point out the fear of losing relevance. At this conference, I listened to delegate after delegate speak from the Congo, from West Africa, from Central Russia, all mentioning that in their home countries they were losing ground to Islam. If we give up on this issue, the delegates threatened, we as a Church would no longer be acceptable to those looking for a worship home and people would go be Muslim instead.
This line of thinking makes me curious, because either we believe that Jesus is the Lord of all or we don’t. If accepting gay folk can dilute the power of Christ’s sacrifice and resurrection, we need to seriously rethink the idea that God’s word “shall not return to Me empty. Instead, it does what I want, and accomplishes what I intend” (Isaiah 55:11, CEB). Do we believe that we carry the message that will transform the world or don’t we? I get that that doesn’t answer the question of sin around sexuality, but that’s because it tosses it away. God is an unstoppable force, and if we truly believe in the power of this good news that we are loved enough for the Creator of the universe to take on human form, eat with friends, heal the sick, speak to the outcast, be betrayed, die gruesomely, and defeat death through the resurrection triumphant, then nothing we do can derail that news. God doesn’t need us for shit, which is one of the reasons that I love Christianity so much. God doesn’t need us, but God wants us, God invites us, God calls every single one of us to this grand design even though every single one of us has sins for days. If we’re going to bend ourselves around this one thing called sinful (through some weird, twisty readings of Scripture) in order to hold Islam at bay, we are both thinking that we are the guardians of God and we are not trusting that God is already upholding us through the other things we are doing that can be called sinful.
In moving forward, the UMC has lots of challenges. There are ethics violations, constitutional questions, and hosts of problems with the legislation that was just rammed through the process. We as a denomination need your prayer while we untangle this mess, especially since it’s entirely possible that none of what just happened will stick after all of the inquiries and lawsuits. We of The United Methodist Church are not united but divided, and that sucks all around. I do not like fighting with my family, even if a goodly portion of them seem to love fighting with me. So please, pray for us as we discern how to proceed. For my part, I will keep working within this denomination that I love, in this ministry to which I am called, for this God Who knows me inside and out and says a willing heart is what is needed.
“I know that you can do all things;
no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
You asked, ‘Who is this that obscures my plans without knowledge?’
Surely I spoke of things I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me to know.” (Job 42:2-3, NIV)