The United Methodist Church is a battleground right now- but really, throughout history, it’s always been a battleground on many issues. The latest headlines once again have focused on the battle raging within the church on the question of human sexuality, same-gender weddings, and the question of what it means to be gay and Christian, and how the church feels about that. It is no secret that I am a 150% advocate for our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. I pray for the day that “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” will not just extend a welcome for all to be a part of the Body of Christ, but will also extend to mean that all are welcome, as baptized members, to answer God’s calling of ordination into ministry, and/or to be married in the church to the person with whom they have chosen to spend their lives.
But the battle rages on. It is a battle of the law verses the Gospel. It is a battle of how we each understand scripture. It is a battle with how we understand sexual orientation, humanity, God’s intention for each of us as God’s children. It is a battle of what godly leadership actually looks like. It is a battle to understand how we can best minister to God’s people without our “rules” getting in the way. It is a battle of how we understand covenant- is it relationship with our clergy colleagues in covenant? Is it a relationship with God who calls us to minister how we feel most effective? Or have we resulted to a covenant as a rule book?
I am constantly reminded of Jesus’ interactions and confrontations with the Pharisees. I am then looking at how the UMC is handling the church trials for ministers who have followed their morals and values to minister fully to all persons- and I can’t help but think that history is repeating itself.
Yes, the UMC is a battleground as we speak, and it will continue to be a battleground for quite some time after this. More trials are looming, more hearts will be broken, more people will feel that this is a lost cause. People from all sides are getting frustrated fighting this battle and do not see an end in sight.
Yes, there are good and wonderful things happening in the church, too- people who are having holy and respectful conversations about this, churches who are oases in the middle of the conflict, people who are being prophetic, loving, and hopeful. I love the United Methodist Church because of it’s connectionism, its roots in the teachings of John Wesley, its missional focus, its preaching of unending grace. I love the church I serve right now because it is a church that is open and loving to several gay and lesbian families- men and women who have been a family for many many years, some with children. They bring much needed life, love, and service to the church. They are a part of the family, and a vital one at that. I am proud that I serve a church that practices inclusion of all persons. I am proud that the people of this church understand what it means to love like Jesus does in this way. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
But right now, as UM pastors, many feel that they are standing in the middle of this battle wondering what to do next, asking, “Do we stay and fight? Do we stay and try to ease the pain of those who have been harmed? Do we stay and be the pastor we are already called to be, who is called to preach the Gospel of the love and radical acceptance of Christ who loved and called ALL persons?”
Or…after 40+ years and no end in sight…is it time to walk away?