My facebook wall has been filled with responses to General Conference - responses which range from disappointment to outrage, from the uncertainty of whether people can continue inside this polarized and broken denomination to deep sorrow because the bigotry of the general church is at odds with and doesn't reflect the love and welcome people have personally experienced in their local congregations. A number of these posts have been made by young adults and others who tuned in or attended General Conference for the first time this year. Others have been slogging through the debate on human sexuality quadrennium after quadrennium and they despair of any motion toward inclusion.
To be honest, I am more heartbroken over how other people have been hurt by General Conference than I am directly wounded by it. If I weren't somewhat inured to the issue by now, I would have left this denomination a long time ago. And, trust me, I've thought about it. Long and hard, I've thought about it. Today, however, I feel freed from the marginalization of the church (well, most of the time I do). A while ago, I decided to be honest about who I am, what I believe, and what I'm called to do; if the United Methodist Church provides a place for me at the table, so be it. If not, so be it. I don't say this flippantly. You see, my family is a generationally Methodist one. Not one, but two of my ancestors were Circuit Riders back in the early days of the movement. I can trace my family back to the very beginning of the Church of England. The Anglican way is part of me. The Wesleyan movement has left indelible marks on me. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral, Wesley's sermons, our hymnody, the idea of itinerating clergy, free will, prevenient grace, practical divinity - these are all deeply rooted in how I experience God and how I mediate God to others. However, I do not bow down to The United Methodist Church; I bow before God, and none other (at least that is to what I aspire). So, when I see this glorious movement, this wonderful heritage, wasted in worthless acts of evil and oppression, I hurt. When I hear young adults wonder how their church as a global body can differ so much from their local congregation, my heart breaks. When clergy who haven't been able to leave their closets come to me and cry in uncertainty about their place in this denomination, I cry with them.
There are those who like to quote scripture - five to seven specific scriptures - about how homosexuality is against human nature and God's plan for humankind. And, I don't want to parse those scriptures here. I'm willing to say, "Okay. Let's say that's right. So what?" That usually throws people off. They expect me to try an explain those scriptures away or to step into church apologetics, to get my "revisionist exegesis" on. I certainly can do that because the scriptures trotted out and put on display have absolutely nothing to do with homosexuality, but I very often choose not to do that because arguing won't change people's minds. Rather, I have found that I have to step away from the debate, not because I am afraid of "losing" or because I can't match them scripture for scripture (I can), but because experience (one of the four components of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral) has taught me that debate and argument do not equal holy conferencing; they do not change anyone's mind. And so, I reply with the question, "So what?" There are no biblical literalists. There aren't. There are biblical fundamentalists, Evangelicals, charismatics, and so forth, but there aren't literalists. The Bible is always interpreted. We have made many decisions over the past two millennia about our relationship with scripture. It is our holy book. It is our story. It is God's Word. It is not something to take literally, not if we take it seriously. My question of "so what" is not a challenge to scripture; it is a challenge to the person abusing it. I simply call them on their arbitrary use of God's word, which I believe is a violation of the first three of the 10 Commandments, which leads all too often to the violation of the sixth and ninth commandments.
Instead of arguing, I pray for the salvation of those who say unspeakable things about me. I pray for those who enliken me to someone engaged in bestiality, pedophilia, murder, rape, and torture (all of which have been used in comparisons directly to me). At General Conference in 2000, an African delegate actually said that homosexuality results from a witch's curse, to which American delegates in opposition to homosexuality nodded in agreement and applauded. I had no choice except to believe that a significant portion of the Southern delegates believe in witchcraft or they were willing to use an African delegate to promote their own political aims. I left and prayed for them all. The narrowness of their heart must be a burden. I have come to believe in something I once deeply resisted for both theological and linguistic reasons: I have become a prayer warrior.
The United Methodist Church failed to live into something better, something more humane, something more Godly. It decided to stay locked in a pattern of fear, scapegoating, and namecalling. What it - what WE - did this General Conference was to contribute to the death of every LGBTQI person who commits suicide. Their blood is on our house. Every time religious language is lifted as a club used to spiritually bludgeon a beautiful child of God who wants to live fully the way in which God has created them to be, it steals something of their soul until too many hurting and soul-weary people take their own lives or live in fear, or they hide in dark and cold closets (a form of living suicides). We - The United Methodist Church - have decided through debate and democracy to participate in aiding their deaths.
In response to our decision, I feel the need to state here in public what many already know about me. But let this be a clear statement of what I think, who I am, and how I intend to minister: To LBGTQI people and those who love them, the church is wrong. You are beautiful and wonderfully made. You are a child of God. This pastor will baptize you, confirm you, commune with you, perform your weddings, bury you, and invite you into positions of leadership. I will continue to lift my voice and offer my body as a witness to God's radical welcome. To delegates feeling dejected, thank you for all you have done for me. I am reminded that the central image in our faith is a cross, a symbol of systematized pain used to shame and humiliate. In order to love, Jesus gave up power. I choose to continue to love and walk the way of the cross with him.