I have always felt that as followers of Jesus we should be guided by the final words of Jesus in Acts 1:8 when he said to his disciples, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” A mentor of mine told me long ago that Jerusalem was the closest connections…our church, family, and local neighborhood; Judea was our broader regions…our country; Samaria was the “out of bounds place” – the place where “those we see as other than ourselves dwell…they live and move outside our safe walls”; then, the ends of the earth….well, that speaks for itself. The key line to me has always been, “you will be my witnesses”. In order to be a witness for Jesus, we must begin with our own identity…we must receive the Good News about ourselves before we can share the Good News in the world. We are salt and we are light because God, whose children we are, is committed to making the world something new. I truly believe the way we engage in disagreeing with each other is one of our most powerful witnesses. As we articulate our differences…we must continually ask, “are we salt…are we light…are we bearing witness to the love of God, neighbor, and self.” We begin with scripture. Jesus calls his followers to be his witnesses.
On Tuesday, February 26, 2019, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church voted once again on the definition of marriage. The Traditional Plan was adopted by a vote of 438-384 (53% – 47%: out of 870 delegates representing 12 million members). The Traditional Plan maintains the current position of the United Methodist Church which defines marriage as between a man and woman. The plan also added more punitive accountability measures against those who break church law for reasons of conscience. The Traditional Plan passing means clergy still cannot officiate same-sex marriages. Churches still cannot host same-sex weddings. LGBTQ+ persons are still ineligible for ordination. And the statement, “Homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” remains in place.
I have read many articles from United Methodist pastors telling their people “nothing has changed” and “everything remains the same”. Honestly, we have to acknowledge that this General Conference in St. Louis changed a lot. It changed the way people see and understand the United Methodist Church. There are Methodists in our family who are glad to see this decision upholding traditional views. There are also many Methodists in our family who are deeply hurt and grieving. Chapelwood has LGBTQ+ members and friends who feel as though their denomination has told them or their family members “you don’t belong…you are not loved…your life is not valued”. The fact that some of our members feel this way breaks my heart beyond words. I apologize for the hurt you are feeling by our denomination. While neither Chapelwood nor I were involved in this decision, I want you to hear me say I am sorry for the pain you feel. For those of you who are more traditional in your belief, please know I would say the same thing to you had the decision gone the other way. I love each and every member of Chapelwood.
Chapelwood is a very special church. It has changed me in more ways than I can articulate over the past five years. I know this church. Chapelwood has been and will continue to be a church that “embodies God’s grace as we receive it to those who need it…and everyone needs it”…including me. For 70 years, we have strived to welcome and love those who felt unloved in our community. Those who know Chapelwood, know this to be true.
Let me share just a few thoughts to guide us in our prayers and reflections:
- How will Chapelwood communicate our belief that God loves everyone in a way that our world knows we mean it? Unfortunately, the Christian Church has a terrible history of segregating people with disastrous long-term consequences. At Chapelwood, we have a high value of Scripture. That high value of Scripture compels us to study the life of Jesus, obey the teachings he gave us, and live as Christ lived. It compels us to radically open our doors to welcome everyone to God’s table. It also sends us into the world where people live to share the Gospel of Christ with them. The creation of our many, differing worship communities points to this passion. It feels that we will have to work harder than ever to let the world know that when we say everyone is 100% loved by God and by us…we mean it with all our heart.
- I also want to ask us all to prayerfully consider our words and actions around this decision and this topic. Our General Rules state that we are to ‘do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God’. I know harm has been done to people we love. I hope each one of us will measure our words with gentleness and kindness. LGBTQ+ persons are some of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters right now. They are constantly attacked, criticized, bullied, picked on, and excluded. They need our love and their families need our love. I don’t want any of our words to do anything that would lead others to attack or harm them.
- The vote was extremely close and divisive…53%-47% (50 votes separating the decision in a denomination of 12 million). Just like our country, our denomination is deeply divided over this and many other issues. I point us back to Acts 1:8…how we will be a witness in the world in our disagreements?
A few other reflections:
- This difficult conversation is not over with this vote. This conversation is going to continue. Much of the Traditional Plan is unconstitutional according to our Book of Discipline and other parts will most definitely be challenged. There is currently no way for a local congregation to leave the denomination if they disagree with this decision. Pastors who choose to break the church law will be charged and there will be church trials. There will also be another General Conference in May 2020 to go through this all again. Delegates for that conference will be voted on at our Texas Annual Conference in May 2019. I am praying about how to be more involved in this process going forward. Pray for me, please.
- The United Methodist Church is a connectional church. Chapelwood is a part of that connection. I, and our pastors, will be faithful to the polity (rules) of our denomination, while at the same time doing everything we can to let everyone know they are 100% loved.
- Chapelwood is a family. And as a family, we need to support and love each other. I still believe in Jesus’ prayer for unity and Paul’s definition of the church as a body of Christ with many different members. You can’t do away with a part of the body easily or painlessly. Each and every member of Chapelwood is my family and member of the body of Christ.
This Sunday, March 3, 2019, I will host two information sessions about the General Conference in the Chapel at 9:45 and 11:10. I invite you to join me for more details, to ask questions, and share a time of prayer. I am also glad to meet with any members of our family to pray and talk together…you may also contact me or any of our Chapelwood pastors if you have questions.
Our mission has not changed, and our God has not changed. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever! Pray for Chapelwood, pray for our country, and pray for our denomination.
I love you John, and appreciate you more than you know.
I have definitely been praying over you, our church staff, and pastors.
I deeply feel grief for our LGBTQ+ persons in our family, and all around us.
This vote makes me sad.
As an outsider looking in, I appreciate your sensitive handling of this matter. However, the hate that has been demonstrated toward me and those like me by the United Methodist Church can no longer be handled sensitively. You either fully support LGBTQ inclusion in the denomination or you believe that exclusion is OK. There is no “centrist” position on this matter. The UMC deserves to be ripped apart and broken by this backward vote. A church that can get past its support for slavery and get past the Biblical edicts barring women from speaking in church should not be making the decision to exclude anyone in the 21st Century.
However, the damage is done. I am now an ex-Christian (not just an ex-Methodist) because I’ve had more than I can take from the “Christians” of this world. Even if there were such a thing as a god, any god that would exclude LGBTQ persons for being who they were made to be is not a god I could possibly worship, respect, or even acknowledge. Luckily, I have the sense to know the difference between mythology and reality, so I no longer have to worry about what my former fellow churchgoers think of me.