Today is the deadline for submitting legislation to be considered by the 2020 General Conference. The most important legislation will focus on the future of the United Methodist Church. General Conference will meet in Minneapolis for ten days next May to consider hundreds of petitions and pieces of legislation that will have been submitted by the end of the day today. Some will be perfected in committee, and then brought to all 800+ delegates for a vote. The hope is that some of this legislation will resolve the current impasse in the denomination concerning the church’s ministry with LGBTQ persons and their families.
I’m grateful for the legislation crafters. That’s not my gift, but I appreciate those who have worked tirelessly on this, and I look forward to reading the proposed legislation. What I’d like to offer here is not a look at the legislation but a vision of the United Methodism I hope to serve during the final decade of my full-time ministry.
In this post I’ll not describe the broader hopes I have for the UMC—those related to mission, discipleship, evangelism, social justice, reaching new generations, and more. Instead my focus is narrower: What do I hope the United Methodist Church looks like following the 2020 General Conference with regard to its ministry with LGBTQ persons and their families? This narrower focus does, however, have significant implications for the broader visions.
So, here’s what I hope for the United Methodist Church following the 2020 General conference:
I hope that the UMC will no longer say to LGBTQ persons who attend our churches that their marriages and families are incompatible with Christian teaching.
I hope that gay, lesbian, and transgender children who grow up in the United Methodist Church will no longer feel that they have to choose between faith in Christ and marrying and having a family of their own.
At least a dozen families at Resurrection know the pain of having had an LGBTQ child who took their own life. Many of these children felt alienated, picked on or bullied in school and neighborhoods, and the one place where they should have felt safe, understood, and welcomed was the church. Sadly, this is not the case in many churches. I pray for a United Methodist Church where LGBTQ persons and their families feel safe, welcomed, and loved.
I hope for a United Methodist Church where my children’s generation (millennials) and my granddaughter’s generation no longer shake their heads wondering how a church whose central ethic is love continues to practice what they perceive as bigotry and discrimination against their LGBTQ friends.
I look forward to a United Methodist Church where LGBTQ Christians who wish to be married can easily find a United Methodist pastor who will celebrate their marriage, and that the pastor may do their wedding without fear of being brought up on charges, suspended without pay, or defrocked.
I hope for the day when gifted United Methodists who feel called to ministry will be judged by their devotion to Christ, their giftedness for ministry, and their theological, pastoral, and spiritual fitness rather than their sexual orientation.
I want to stop there, but there is one more thing that I hope for, and it is that thing, in part, that defines a centrist position.
I hope for a church that, having eliminated the anti-LGBTQ language and policies of the Discipline, makes room for those who earnestly want to welcome LGBTQ persons, but who are not yet, and may never be, where progressives are in their interpretation of scripture on same-gender marriage. They do not wish to leave the UMC to create a new expression of Methodism formed primarily around its opposition to same-sex marriage. They understand how some reach different conclusions about same-gender marriage, and they wish to remain in the same church with them, despite their differences. They would agree with most but not all of the hopes and dreams I articulated above – wanting to create communities where LGBTQ persons are welcomed. But they are still working through the questions. Some in the church suggest that United Methodists must make a binary choice – you are either traditional or progressive – and we should divide the denomination and our churches along these lines. But there are thousands of churches whose members are divided, who stand somewhere between these two choices, leaning one way or another. The United Methodist Church I hope for includes them. Most United Methodists seem to agree.
In 2004 when Bill Hinson mentioned “amicable separation” at a Good News breakfast at General Conference, the General Conference delegates voted 869-41 opposing such an idea and supporting, instead, a unity proposal. Ten years later a group of 80 United Methodist pastors and leaders, most connected to the Confessing Movement and Good News, once again issued a call for an “amicable separation.” In response, United Methodist Communications commissioned a survey of United Methodists across the US. They found that less than 5% of conservatives and under 7% of progressives felt the church should split over “same-sex marriage.” A half dozen surveys of more than 2,000 United Methodists in the US over the last two years reached a similar conclusion. Most United Methodists in the US believe we can live together and be the church despite our differences.
Undergirding this ability to live together is an understanding of the church as a redemptive community of broken people trying to work out our salvation. We all “see through a glass dimly.” We are all in process of sanctification, and that sanctification includes our understanding of Scripture and of God’s will for his LGBTQ children. If my understanding is defective, I count on the ongoing work of the Spirit in and through the church to continue to transform and sanctify my heart and mind. Likewise, if my compassionate and faithful traditionalist friends have misunderstood God’s heart for LGBTQ persons, I trust the same Spirit will sanctify them. I believe it is that trust, along with a measure of grace and humility, that might allow conservatives, centrists, and progressives to remain in one church despite our differences.
Some have said that they cannot remain in a church where these differences are permitted, and they have proposed a process by which they can leave to birth new expressions of Methodism. There is widespread support for this “gracious exit” for persons and churches on both the left and the right.
My hope is that the next United Methodism removes the language and policies that exclude, harm, or alienate LGBTQ persons and their friends and families. And I pray that we make room for faithful, thoughtful, compassionate, and caring United Methodists who may disagree, drawing upon the spirit of Wesley who said, “though we can not think alike, may we not love alike? ... Without all doubt we may,” trusting in the sanctifying work of the Spirit to guide each of us and God’s church in the years ahead.