Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Why I'm a Uniting Methodist

Yesterday a new group was unveiled. Uniting Methodists is a group that will be working to a united way forward in our ongoing controversy about LGBTQ marriage, ordination, and inclusion. Without giving a specific plan, they have proposed six principles for moving forward as a denomination. I hope you'll visit the website and prayerfully consider signing on.

And I would understand if you don't. You may be someone who supports the current positions of the United Methodist Church. Or you may believe that the proposal from Uniting Methodists doesn't go far enough. It is "inclusion lite" at best, giving clergy the option of officiating same-sex weddings and giving conferences the option of allowing LGBT ordination but not requiring either. If you believe it does not go far enough I hope you'll read the rest of this post, because I'm with you - and I have signed on. I want you to know why.

1. I signed because I needed a church that "agreed to disagree."

In 1996 I was a 23 year old lay delegate to General Conference. Up to that moment in my life I'd spent very little time even thinking about human sexuality outside of my stereotyped images. I wasn't "against" people who were different from me. I loved them, and believed that God loved them too. If pushed, I would have said something like "I believe that God's best for a person is heterosexual marriage. There are people who don't recognize that for themselves yet, maybe because there is a bigger issue for them to work through first." I considered myself to be open, loving, and just. And if there were two United Methodist churches, one dominated by the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) and one dominated by Reconciling Ministries, I would have been with the WCA. I never would have experienced a tremendous number of influential people in my life, including a man about my age who sat behind my chair in my General Conference subcommittee who helped me start to understand a world that was bigger than I was aware of.

I want a United Methodist Church that can do for someone else what this one did for me in 1996. And the journey that began for me then continued for at least 10 years. Maybe in some ways it still continues. We need a Church that can give space for people like me to continue to process thoughts. And I also understand that there are some who cannot sign because they need a space where they know people will agree.

2. I signed because I can.

I'm a centrist in all kinds of ways. I spent time as a registered Independent, I always vote a split ticket, I try to preach sermons that invite people to consider multiple sides to issues rather than sticking with what they already believe, and I'm a Royals fan who can tolerate Yankees fans. I have heard from some who have been fighting this battle for more than 40 years. I have deep respect for them. I don't know if I could do that. And so I have no animosity towards those who now say "I can't do this anymore." You need to know that I haven't been fighting for 40 years. I've been fighting in earnest for maybe 8 years. You also need to know that I have friends of every theological stripe. I can work with them, even as I disagree with them. I'm convinced that we are better together whenever we can be together. UMCOR's response to the recent hurricanes is evidence of that. So because I can work with people across the spectrum I plan to continue doing just that.

3. I signed because I believe a United church is a faithful witness to the world "for such a time as this." 

If you don't know that our nation is divided you have closed off every sense organ you possess. Polarization is at an all time high. In fact, when I hear people say, "We shouldn't be following culture - we should be leading culture" I say, "I agree. But instead of following culture with LGBT rights I say we're following culture by dividing and conquering. We're following the cultural norm of dehumanization and polarization." The reality is the places in the United States where public opinion is opposed to same sex marriage are precisely the places where the UMC witness is strongest against it (and vice-versa.) If the times were different, I might come out in a different place. But at this time, and in this place, the need for us to find commonalities with others is critical. I believe that part of our witness to the world is to proclaim that we can be united through diversity. Which also means rejecting the notion of the WCA that a big-tent Methodism is a bad idea.

4. I signed because I understand that this is not the end of the story.

2019 will not be the last time that the question of human sexuality comes up or that other controversial questions come up. I've argued previously that a WCA dominated church will debate (not necessarily pass, but almost certainly debate) whether or not women should be ordained. I suspect that a denomination dominated by progressives will debate (not necessarily pass) theological questions of salvation and the divinity of Christ. And I imagine that a Uniting Methodist dominated church will continue to debate matters of human sexuality. The reality of our situation is that none of us are finished products and the Church will be imperfect until Christ comes again. So to those who cannot be part of this proposal because it continues to exclude, I hear you. It is not perfect. Not by a long shot. And I promise that if this picture of the future comes to fruition I will be among those who continue to work for change from the inside. I deeply respect those who feel they can no longer do the same.

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