It was a huge, sprawling, and beautiful apricot tree in the backyard of the parsonage at the church I was serving at the time. This particular year it was loaded with blossoms, so much so that one just needed to pass by the house or open a window to be enveloped in the intoxicating fragrance of apricot blossoms. It was absolutely beautiful.
As a result the tree produced more fruit than I had ever seen on the tree in the years we had lived there. I even announced at church one morning for people to please come and help themselves as the branches were beginning to bend clear to the ground under the heavy burden of fruit. Unfortunately we did not respond quickly enough. One morning I stepped out the side door of the parsonage to see the weighted down and burdened tree split right down the middle, through the very center of the trunk, clear to the soil. It was a sad sight to see this once tall and fruitful tree sprawled out on the ground with no hope of repair.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading and pondering in preparation for our Love in Action Great Plains Reconciling Ministries Network Conference scheduled to begin this coming Friday evening. There are a lot of blogs, theories, scenarios, and “ways” out there regarding our current conflict in the United Methodist Church around how we are in ministry with, or not, our lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgendered friends, brothers, and sisters, and members.
Before I continue on I want to be upfront and honest about where I am in regards to theology and perspective regarding inclusion of LGBTQ persons in our United Methodist Church. I am what one may consider a progressive Christian and work for the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the full life of the church including marriage, membership, ordination, and service. I want to name that because even though as much as I try to consider the current conversation with a balanced eye, I am biased; I believe we are all biased even at our best attempts not to be.
My struggle, and the reason I felt moved to write about this again, anyone who follows my blog even semi-regularly knows I have written about LGBTQ inclusion often, is my perception of the blogs and theories that I see being put forth.
It seems to me, in my experience, those with what would be considered the more progressive view point have been willing to live in this tension of conflicted Disciplinary language ever since the restrictive language was placed over forty years ago, at least have been willing to live in that tension until recently. Recently, in a movement known as Biblical Obedience and others, there have been those who have participated in ecclesial disobedience in order to live out faithfully their call and ministry, not only individuals but conferences and even a whole jurisdiction. There have been some consequences, albeit according to some not near enough consequences.
Recently, and I attribute that to our upcoming General Conference in 2016, there has been much talk and publication about the pros and cons of a split in the UMC. Some groups are suggesting an amicable separation and others are less amicable; some are saying schism is not the way, and still others have been trying to strike a balance between the two.
As I read though, and I admit I am sure I have not read all blogs, publications, proposals, etc., there is for me a striking difference between those who would consider themselves progressive, supporting the removal of the restrictive language regarding LGBTQ persons in our Discipline, and those who are conservative, supporting the current restrictive language in our Discipline.
It has appeared to me that those who claim the progressive, full inclusion perspective are not promoting a split or schism but rather would rather find a way to live together with our differences, and those who would claim the conservative, supporting the current Disciplinary language have proposed split either by their leaving or inviting the more progressive churches and clergy to leave.
The conversation can be seen as burdensome and divisive and when the focus becomes on those who can stay and those who can leave and before we know it this once fruit laden denomination may find itself sprawled out on the ground with no hope of repair.
That being said I realize there are probably numerous variations of this observation, I have no doubt there are those who are progressive that would just rather split and there are those who are conservative who would rather find a way to stay together. I am simply expressing the majority of what I have read and listened.
I do not believe schism is the Way. As one who embraces the more progressive theology and stance that we should remove the restrictive language and make open our Discipline to fully include in all aspects of our church regardless of sexual orientation or identity, I believe, to quote a colleague of mine, “there is room under the broad tent of United Methodism for all of us,” and I am not going anywhere. It would appear to me that the loudest of the voices I read and hear from the more conservative of our UM church do not hold such a view and do not believe our “tent” to be broad enough. I believe such a stance is lamentable and the wrong direction for this church I love. I believe there is room for us if we are willing open our hands and honor that notion of Wesley that our hearts are not that dissimilar, we have hearts made for love, love of God and love of one another. Perhaps it is too little too late, perhaps, or perhaps we find a way to live together with our differences where all … gay, straight, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgendered; better yet simply all God’s children can find welcome, inclusion, appreciation, and live their faith fulfilling calls to ministry in the church on all sides of the table. May it be so. May it be soon.