Confirmation class, gender identity, Gospel, hope, human sexuality, Jesus, LGBTQI inclusion, poets and prophets, same-sex marriage, sexual ethics, sexual orientation, Traditional Plan, United Methodist Church
“They can cut all the flowers, but they cannot stop spring from coming.”
~ Pablo Neruda
Poets tend to tell the truth more than others. It is the poet’s intent to dig up the soil of our collective unconscious and expose what we all know to be true. Prophets do this work too. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once said, “I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
Growing up in the Midwest I think I learned neutrality and silence quite well. It was important not to butt into other peoples’ business, and not to confront anyone. Then I went to seminary to learn to be a pastor and trained in counseling and conflict resolution skills in order to become an active listener and a non-anxious presence in the churches I would serve. These are good and useful skills, but not in every situation. Sometimes, as Jesus himself demonstrated, it’s necessary to turn some tables over and get peoples’ attention!
The Special Called General Conference held in February dealt a serious blow to progressive and centrist United Methodists who believe that God works through many expressions of faithfulness. Traditionalists won the day with their plan to reinforce the bans on ordaining openly gay persons to pastoral ministry and marrying same-sex couples. It seems that traditionalists are unable to get beyond their certainty that human sexuality is a gift from God only for straight people.
So here we are at this moment of truth! For many, the United Methodist Church – as wonderful of a witness as it has been in the world for global missions, humanitarian relief, and a merging of personal and social holiness – is no longer able to hold together the vast differences embodied in a worldwide church. Systemic change will be required, and this will likely mean an entirely new expression of inclusive Methodism able to welcome and accept the richness of humanity in its life and ministry.
The Judicial Council rulings last week were not unexpected. They found parts of the Traditional Plan to be constitutional (per the Book of Discipline) and parts to be unconstitutional. There were few surprises, but what remained when all was said and done, was the pain of betrayal and exclusion. Betrayal, because if you baptize a child and claim her as a child of God and then later tell her that she is living outside God’s will because of her sexual orientation, you are betraying her. Exclusion, because by trying to have it both ways – saying you welcome someone but only if he gives up his God-given gender identity – you are excluding him. This is where we are. This is the truth!
Eight young people were recently to be confirmed at First United Methodist Church of Omaha, Nebraska. These youth love their local church and its expressions of inclusion. But they collectively chose not to join the United Methodist Church until they see how their church responds to the denomination’s unjust and immoral policies on LGBTQ+ clergy and same sex marriage. They powerfully state: “We are not standing just for ourselves, we are standing for every single member of the LGBTQ+ community who is hurting right now. Because we were raised in this church, we believe that if we all stand together as a whole, we can make a difference.” They are choosing to take sides, to not remain neutral or silent! Spring is coming, and no one can stop it!
In Springtime Hope,
Words by Mark Lloyd Richardson (C) 2019