“I have squandered my existence for a pocket full of mumbles, such are promises.” – Paul Simon.
There is plenty of clamor and chatter in the blogosphere about the United Methodist General Conference. And rightly so, since the UMC represents the largest mainline Protestant denomination in the United States and is currently debating one of the hottest topics in our culture today. The problem with the noise and shouting is that much of it misses the point of the major mistake that the United Methodist church is making.
I want to be clear here; I am not a theologian, but I worked as the Director of Youth Ministries at a United Methodist Church for years and was the Lay Delegate to our own Annual Conference last year. I have my own opinions and positions about much of what the church is voting on this year. I happen to believe that the issue of justice for same sex couples is a civil rights issue, not a matter of sin, redemption, and salvation. Also, having spent a great deal of time with the youth of our Church, I recognize that the issue of homosexuality has a short shelf life. If you ask a question about same sex couples in the adult Sunday school class, you will get a heated debate. If you ask the same question in the youth Sunday school class, you will get a quizzical look and a lot of shoulder shrugs. It is not an issue for those who will inherit the church in the next two generations. We are investing an awful lot of time in debating an issue that, in fact, will be resolved in time by attrition. But that particular waste of time is not the major mistake.
The mistake is that the UMC is debating about, and apparently upholding, language that is divisive, rather than looking to find ways to make our relationship with the world one of reconciliation and redemption. The history of slavery in the UMC should teach us a little something about that language, as the General Conferences of the 18th and 19th Centuries were “plagued with abolitionists.” As I believe this is a civil rights issue, I can see a direct correlation to the language that we use to define any citizen as a second class citizen, and that is not what this movement, The United Methodist movement, is about. We are debating at General Conference the language that decides who is “in” God’s grace and who is “out of” God’s grace, and that is not something that we, as a body of faith, are at all empowered to do. That is the grave mistake. We are using the Book of Discipline, our foundational text of doctrine and polity, to determine for all the interpretation of scripture. This does not embrace our differences as United Methodists, but in contrast dictates a degree of uniformity in belief that we are all supposed to adhere to. This is not about homosexuality as an issue now, it is about the rule of law in the UMC, wielded as a tool to institute a brand of Christianity to be bought rather than a witness of divine grace to be experienced. We strive for unity. We are delivered uniformity, and we reject it.
The next generations will inherit this church, and I am afraid they will inherit a church that does not reflect the kind of inclusion and hope for humanity that they are seeking in order to understand their relationship with God. The elders of the church will have failed them, and, in turn, will have left them with a broken and bankrupt inheritance. There is little promise of a New Day in this kind of divisive display of partisan faith and bigoted leadership.