A good friend of mine asked me a very pertinent question the other day regarding our United Methodist Church in the wake of another one of our prophets facing charges for presiding at the wedding of his son and his partner, “When will UMC leadership finally “get” that this issue is about civil rights? How many more good pastors will have to be sacrificed on the altar of the Judicial Counsel before the Book of Discipline is changed?”
It is a good question. It is a question that I have myself asked as I read the reports from our last General Conference. It is a question I ask myself again as the news spreads across our denomination and our country. It is a question that brings me to echo the Psalmist cry, “How long O Lord?” How long will we continue to exclude and reject some of God’s children because of our clinging to what I believe to be antiquated understandings and continued bigotry?
I read so many publications, leadership articles and books, blogs and ponderings and hear us asking, “Where are the young people in our churches,” and we wonder why our churches are declining. I believe a significant part of the answer is in two parts. One is our own conflicted nature in our Disciplinary language, we say all persons are welcome to participate in our church and are of sacred worth to God….except if you happen to be gay, lesbian, trans-gendered, or bi-sexual, if you are a part of those children of God you can only participate partially.
For most young people I visit with, the idea that the church continues to say we support equal civil and human rights for the GLBT community, and then proceed to deny them equal rights in the church is at best double speak and at worse hypocrisy. Why would they want to be a part of our church when we cannot even agree to disagree, when we say come to our church but you will only be allowed to sit in the pew and listen, we don’t want you to lead, to be married, or to preside at table and follow your God given call into ordained ministry?
How long will it take? I don’t know. Will it split our church? I do not believe it will split our church any more than it already has. I do not believe that because I believe this is not an either or conversation. In my opinion the United Methodist Church will finally come to its senses and remove the restrictive and unjust language of its Discipline regarding same gender relations, or it will die. Do we really believe we can continue to invite disciples in order to transform the world and invite our GLBT members be satisfied with only partial inclusion or to be asked to leave altogether? Is that what we really want? I know it certainly is not in my image and vision of the Kindom of the God of Love.
This is a human rights issue. This is a civil rights issue. This is a justice issue. That is why I continue the fight and run the race; I love my church too much to let it die. But I must admit as I read these stories I believe as long as we continue to cling to the letter of the law and disregard its Spirit, compassion, inclusion, grace, and love I am pessimistic at best. So I will remain steadfast at the side of my gay and lesbian friends and community until the day they are welcome on both sides of God’s table. Because until that day we are none of us really fully welcome.