One Church

It’s no secret I consider myself a progressive when it comes to my faith, theology, and my politics. It is also no secret where I stand on the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, and queer persons and my passion for their full inclusion in the United Methodist Church. I confess prior to Thursday, August 16, 2018 while I believed I could exist as a clergy in my beloved UMC if the One Church Model being proposed at the Special Called General Conference in February passes, I was not a big fan of the plan. I was not a big fan because it doesn’t go far enough for full inclusion. The plan, while it gives local control to clergy, churches, and Annual Conferences, it still allows clergy, churches, and Annual Conferences to discriminate against LGBTQ persons. I still unwaveringly believe that is wrong.

I had the opportunity to attend an informational meeting with Rev. Mark Holland and MainstreamUMC for a presentation on the One Church Model. After an hour and a half of solid biblical interpretation and political analysis of the upcoming vote in February regarding the role and place of LGBTQ persons in our church I came away convinced the One Church Model, though I still believe does not take us far enough, is the only model with a chance of passage that holds to true Wesleyan roots and belief as well as the Gospel of grace and love.
There are so many references and stories in our biblical texts speaking to unity, grace, inclusion, and love it is difficult to focus on just one. However, as I consider the state of our denomination I find myself pondering Paul’s letter to the Romans. A community of churches deep in conflict not only among its own, but in the culture and society in which it existed. And here are some of the words and encouragements he shares,
“Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying. Consider everyone as equal, and don’t think that you’re better than anyone else. Instead, associate with people who have no status. Don’t think that you’re so smart. Don’t pay back anyone for their evil actions with evil actions, but show respect for what everyone else believes is good. If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people.”

 

These are words of challenge and admonition to remain in unity with those the church disagrees with. Welcome strangers. Bless people who harass you don’t curse them. Don’t think yourself so smart. Show respect for what everyone else believes is good. And…my favorite/least favorite…If possible, to the best of your ability, live at peace with all people… in other words it’s up to you….me.
I guess, as I ponder these words of Paul and as I reflect on the consequences of the vote to come in February…the consequences that each plan, and which ones stand the best chance of passing it really boils down to two, in my opinion. The Traditionalist Model, and the One Church Model approved by nearly two-thirds of the Council of Bishops. And when I think of these two models it once again boils down to two things. The Traditionalist Model is based on exclusionary language, divide and conquer, so to speak. Clergy, bishops, churches, and Annual Conferences must certify they will not disagree with and will uphold this plan or will be invited to leave the denomination. And the One Church Model is based on inclusionary language, taking a step to recreate the Broad Tent Denomination we used to be. A community faith that made room for difference, that thrived on tension, and made the table wider and longer and deeper, and more welcoming rather than building walls of separation and forced agreement.
This One Church Model seems to me to not only be the one grounded in the Gospel of Jesus Christ but grounded in and echoes the theology and faith of our founder John Wesley in his sermon “Catholic Spirit” and the words, “Is your heart is as my heart,” do you love God and all mankind, I ask no more: Give me your hand.”
All this being said, while I will continue to be passionate and work for full inclusion of my LGBTQ sisters and brothers in our beloved United Methodist Church, if I am a true progressive, truly inclusive, I must be willing to extend my hand across the aisle, to better understand where those who disagree with me are and what and why they believe, I pray others will give me the same grace and inclusive stance.
I cannot support a plan and policy that is specifically designed to exclude and separate. I can only support a plan that includes and welcomes… even those with whom I disagree.
As a progressive United Methodist, I too must love those with whom I disagree, I too must be a promoter of that Big Tent denomination I so remember of my youth, and embrace my Wesleyan heritage more robustly by extending my hand in peace and hope.
To practice what I preach every Sunday morning, to…
Love One Another.
Every. Single. Other.
Until there are no others, only one beloved community of all.
May it be so. May it be soon.
Rev. Kent H. Little

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