“It’s (past) time for LGBT inclusion in the United Methodist Church”
Much has already been written, posted, tweeted, and voiced about General Conference 2016. I likely would not even add my perspective to the mix except for this - people I pastor and care for deeply have been hurt by the church, people in our community have been waiting and watching to see if the church will alter its rules and include everyone with a full welcome and full engagement, and there are mixed responses to the new plan based on the Council of Bishop's recommendation.
This was the first time I attended a General Conference. I was present in Portland for several days, not in any official capacity. I was there as a visitor and a mother.
I love the church. I even appreciate the structure of the church. Our General Boards and Agencies allow us to combine our time, talents, and gifts in Spirit-filled and life-changing ways all around the world. Our gathering for General Conference allows us to worship together, celebrate together, and plan together. Unfortunately, our structure also means that change comes slowly. We just celebrated the 60th anniversary of ordained women in the UMC and the 40th anniversary of the first women delegates for GC. I am shocked that women were so long denied these roles in the life of the church. Yet, I am gladdened and grateful for all the ways women visibly and powerfully lead today (lay and clergy female delegates and so many fabulous female bishops!) and that my 20-year-old daughter, Isabelle, was elected as a delegate to represent the Memphis Annual Conference. Change comes slowly, but it comes.
With all the good that is accomplished by and through the church, we have too long been at an impasse regarding human sexuality, specifically parts of our discipline related to LGBT persons. Which brings me back to my main reason for writing.
I have LGBT friends and LGBT allies who are considering transferring their membership out of the United Methodist Church. If you do so, know that I love you and respect you and I get it. It's time, and past time, for change. Yet I hope you do not. Selfishly I hope not because some of the folks thinking of leaving are also some of my all-time favorite people. I also hope not because your local church loves and appreciates, welcomes and needs you. And I hope not because the UMC needs you, needs your voice and talent and perspective, needs your full inclusion as families and as clergy.
To wait longer may be too much to ask. Yet I am hopeful about the way forward. The recommendation offered from the full Council of Bishops demonstrates a new willingness to focus the time and effort needed to enact significant change.
An excerpt from the Bishops' statement:
"NEXT STEPS We recommend that the General Conference defer all votes on human sexuality and refer this entire subject to a special Commission, named by the Council of Bishops, to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality. We continue to hear from many people on the debate over sexuality that our current Discipline contains language which is contradictory, unnecessarily hurtful, and inadequate for the variety of local, regional, and global contexts. We will name such a Commission to include persons from every region of our UMC, and will include representation from differing perspectives on the debate. We commit to maintain an on-going dialogue with this Commission as they do their work, including clear objectives and outcomes. Should they complete their work in time for a called General Conference, then we will call a two-to-three-day gathering before the 2020 General Conference."
Over my few days at GC I witnessed some powerful demonstrations and protests. LGBT persons and allies disrupted a plenary session with prophetic calls that "Black Lives Matter" followed by chants for justice and love. Clergy and supporters stood at the entrances to the plenary session, and later marched through, hands bound with rainbow stoles and singing "Blest Be the Tie that Binds." As powerful as these demonstrations were, I was also overcome and overjoyed to see support from others in the room. People stood. People joined in with chants and singing. People listened. That support demonstrates something stronger than the hurtful words of our discipline - that support demonstrates true community, love, and grace.
May God's love for all be proclaimed and experienced.
May we all be instruments of God's love and peace and joy.
Hopeful Blessings abound!