If I were still writing my newspaper column, I’d be writing, this week, about the special session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, which met over the past several days to make decisions about church doctrine regarding human sexuality. As of today, the General Conference has decided to continue to deny “the ordination of self-avowed, practicing homosexuals,” and that “United Methodist clergy are not permitted to conduct same-sex weddings on their church property.”
There’s much more to the decision, but that’s the gist. Here are my initial thoughts. I continue to struggle with expressing how I feel, and what I’m thinking–but here goes.
Church has always been a complicated place for me. It strikes me, today especially, that I love the United Methodist Church, and the individual churches to which I’ve belonged, as I love family. And we all know how we love family: sometimes freely, sometimes painfully, joyously and in spite of ourselves. We love family, even and impossibly, when family hurts us, when they abuse our trust. It is a never-ending conundrum. But love is like that. It’s why, I think, love is so like faith.
I’m a lay-person, a parishioner. A church member, no Biblical or Methodist scholar, and certainly nowhere near an expert on church doctrine. I was raised in the United Methodist Church, attended Sunday School, sang in church choir, performed in church plays, played church basketball, participated in youth fellowship. I have participated in the rituals of the Methodist Church: baptism, confirmation, communion, the celebrations of holy days, marriage and more. I found my way back to church after navigating a labyrinth of personal and religious history, after navigating the inherent patriarchy of the Christian religion in general … and, quite honestly, after going against my own intellect. I found my way back after deciding no church to which I’d ever belong would ever be perfect, because it is made up of humans.
I came back to the church in adulthood, by and large because of my children. Growing up, my church was a second home, peopled by folks who knew my name, who hugged and loved me. Who taught me in Sunday School and coached my basketball teams, who supported me at school events, who clapped when I graduated from high school and college, and who embraced me on the day of my wedding. Who made me feel an unaccountable, joyous welcome. The God and Jesus, and the church I knew as a child was kind, benevolent, comfortable. Because of this, I have always felt in my deepest of souls a personal, spirit-filling connection with the Divine.
But I’ve always questioned, even as a child. Once, round about age 12, I was asked to leave my Sunday School classroom because I asked too many of those questions. This was rare—the only time, for me, it ever happened at church. The teacher of the class was a man hired to run our youth programs, and, thankfully, the powers that be decided quickly he wasn’t for us or for our church. Because the truth is, I’m always going to have questions. I don’t understand people who don’t. But that’s for me to contend with.
This is a touch—just a smidge—of my own experience of Methodism. And I don’t know why, but today and this weekend as the special session of the General Conference convened, I had hope my church would find a way forward which embraced the “sacred worth” of all of us. That it would stand up and say, All are welcome. We don’t know everything. But we do know the only way forward is with love.
To my friends deeply rooted in what they see as the traditions of the church—in traditions they see as Biblically planted—I love you. I don’t understand you at times, and I worry you’re being led by fear. But I love you.
To my friends hurt by the church, Methodist or otherwise—friends who have been told, in more ways than one, that their souls are dirty, that they are unworthy: I see you. You are of sacred worth. God loves you.
GOD LOVES YOU.
The older I grow, the less of which I am certain. Details are fuzzy. History is varied and complicated and strange. People are wonderful and horrible. No church doctrine will ever tell me how to love and value my friends or family. No church doctrine will ever determine the sacred worth of my gay, lesbian, or transgender brothers and sisters. After all, there are and have always been, as Dr. King said, just and unjust laws.
I fully believe the decision by the General Conference to reject changes that would make the church more open to all people is unjust law. The decision does not reflect my faith. I firmly believe it does not reflect the divinity and Light and Mystery of God.
This is an ongoing conversation. And if I’m certain of anything, it’s that I don’t know much. It is difficult for me to understand why the modern church would ever close its doors to any of us. It seems to me, always but perhaps now more than ever, Earth is in peril, in more ways than one. That there’s a battle raging for our collective souls. If someone wants to get in the fight, if they are ready to open their mind and heart to the Mystery of God, how can we ever turn them away?
How can the United Methodist Church faithfully and in good conscience continue to use this tagline: “Open minds. Open hearts. Open doors.”
We can’t. After today, we don’t mean them.
I cannot imagine ever questioning the humanity and divinity and downright dignity of another human being. How can we be so arrogant, so compassionless, so fear-driven, to ever deny any human being the anointing grace of God? How can we ever deny any human being participation in the process of Christian life?
Here is where my faith comforts me: because we cannot ever deny, across the wild masterpiece that is time, anyone their sacred worth. It is not up to us, no matter how many people at a conference stand up and say otherwise.
Just like secular law, church law is made by humans: fallible, fallen, mistake-ridden human beings. We hope, quite literally, it is inspired by God. We try, God help us, to do our best. We fail, time and again.
But I have hope, and I have faith, though my hope and my faith may look very different from yours. More than anything else, I want to believe.
Here are a few things I do believe:
We are, every one of us, children of God.
Today my church did not speak for me.
The only way forward for the church in the world is through love.