Years ago, I had a young man come to me in tears. He and his wife were divorcing after 10 years of marriage with 3 children together. There was no affair or abuse: they “grew out of love”. He told me, “no one is innocent in this…she just had the guts to walk away.” It was a tragic situation. But it grew worse.
He had been teaching a youth Sunday school class at their church. He loved it. They were a couple of strong faith even in the midst of their marriage falling apart. The church he was attending was her family’s church. Her parents had been there most of their lives. The preacher visited the young man. Using the Bible, he told him, “you can’t teach our young people anymore since you are getting a divorce.” The young man tried to explain to no avail. He accepted the decision. But then, at the end of the conversation, the pastor said, “you need to leave this church. The Bible is clear: a man cannot divorce his wife. We cannot allow you to remain unless you repent and reconcile. And…her family was here first.”
The young man came to see me since we knew each other. We prayed and shed tears. It wasn’t long before he drifted out of church completely. To this day, he still won’t attend church because of the harm done. I share this not to point to the pastor, or the young man, or the wife, or her family…I share it simply to show that there are times we close the doors of the church to people. When we do, are we still the church?
Last weekend, Bishop Mande Muyombo of the North Katanga Conference in the Democratic Republic of Congo (a conference with over 2,000 churches) humbled everyone at Lover’s Lane United Methodist Church last Saturday with a radical statement about what it means to be conservative and an amazing confession. (I strongly encourage you to watch these two videos.) Following his confession, the entire colloquy gathered together to ask for forgiveness for their actions as well. He asked a question that has echoed in my heart all week: “If we are going to chase people away from the church, are we still the church?”
Bishop Muyombo is a traditionalist. He does not agree with same-sex marriage. But he is obviously wrestling with God’s Word – as many of us are – regarding exclusion of any of God’s children. African, Filipino, and other international United Methodists want to keep the church unified even though they disagree with the practice of same sex marriage (there are some who want separate the church as well). The same thing is occurring in our US United Methodist churches. The difference is this: those on each side of this issue believe the other side is radical. The choice seems binary: either leave the UMC to join a conservative Methodist Church that will exclude all LGBTQ folk; or stay in the UMC where the liberals will lead the church toward no truth, no beliefs, and no values.
This binary choice is false.
First, a new traditionalist Methodist Church does not feel they are “chasing away” LGBT folk. They will welcome anyone and everyone, but they will stand firm that LGBT lifestyle is a sin and those practices cannot be lived out, blessed, or allowed in their church. This will be a church of traditional non-compatiblists. It won’t be a church for everyone, but it will be a church centered on Jesus and God’s Word.
Second, remaining in the United Methodist Church does not mean it will become a raging, liberal, socialist (please feel free to fill in any word here that may scare you if you are a traditionalist non-compatiblist) church. On the contrary, as Bishops Muyombo and Yambasu (from Sierra Leone, who convened the recent Protocol separation plan) make clear, the UMC will remain a church with great diversity and contextual flexibility. This will be a church of traditional compatiblists, centrists, moderates, and progressive compatiblists. It won’t be a church for everyone, but it will be a church centered on Jesus and God’s Word.
It is deeply distressing that our church feels it must split, but I for one am ready to return all my focus and energy on making disciples of Jesus Christ! And I want to be part of a church that doesn’t chase anyone away.