Takeaways From UMC NEXT

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I had the privilege of attending the UMC Next event this past week, held at the Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas. This was an event attended by over 600 people, at least 10 from each annual conference, to address what may be next for the UMC in the aftermath of the passage of the Traditionalist Plan. I won’t go into all of the details here since you can find more information at these links:

Planning New Directions for the Church, UM News

UM Insight: UM Next Vows to Resist Traditional Plan, Reform

What I want to share with you here, however, are my takeaways from this important time.

  1. The 4 Commitments are key to what this movement is about. This group came from many different geographical areas, held different opinions on the future of the church, came from all races, cultures, sexual orientations, gender identities, etc…yet we all were able to affirm and uphold these core beliefs and commitments at the end of the day:
  • To be passionate followers of Jesus Christ, committed to a Wesleyan vision of Christianity.
  • To resist evil, injustice and oppression in all forms and toward all people and build a church which affirms the full participation of all ages, nations, races, classes, cultures, gender identities, sexual orientations and abilities.
  • To reject the Traditional Plan approved at General Conference 2019 as inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ and resist its implementation.
  • To work to eliminate discriminatory language and the restrictions and penalties in the Book of Discipline regarding LGBTQ individuals.

2. These conversations, conflicts, and issues are grounded in the sin of racism and other “isms” in the church. This was made clear to many of us from the beginning. This isn’t just about LGBTQIA+ inclusion. This has roots in the fact that racism and white supremacy still hold power within our institutions. Just look at our history! And look at us today!!!

One of the people sitting at my table was an African American pastor. He said on several occasions that this is all about who is at the table and how has the power. Sometimes he felt that this was really just the fight of 2 white men. He’s not wrong.

The UMC is still struggling with racism, sexism, discrimination in our systems, and we haven’t done much to address it. Therefore, much of what we are dealing with now is forcing us to come to grips with the fact that we have repenting to do and reparations to begin. Reconciliation and affirmation need to be at the top of the list before we can really move forward.

3. I learned about the importance of pronouns. On the first day, whenever someone would stand up to speak, they would introduce themselves using pronouns. “Hello, I’m Jane, and my pronouns are she, her, and hers.” I’m almost ashamed to admit that I had no clue as to what this meant or why it was important. It was explained to us that we should never assume someone’s gender identity- they are who they say they are, even though “cultural norms” may say or assume something different. We were all challenged to introduce ourselves this way from that point on.

It never occurred to me that in our world where labels can do so much harm, that the pronouns we use for ourselves and for others could be part of the problem or part of a solution. This was a challenging and important takeaway for me personally as we enter into this work of the church regarding full inclusion of all persons.

4. Even though we gathered as a group of self-proclaimed “centrists, progressives, moderates, etc.” we are deeply divided. We had three options presented to us:

Negotiate for Dissolution (dissolve the denomination and rebuild, working with the “other side” to divide assets, etc)

Leave and Affiliate Together (leave the denomination and start a new movement out of churches who no longer wish to be a part of the UMC)

Stay, Build Community, Resist, Reform (stay in the UMC as it is currently and work from within to make change happen)

We took votes to determine where the group was and to see if there is a clear path in mind. There wasn’t. After a few votes, Dissolution and Stay and Resist were the top 2. For example, 329 people voted to negotiate for dissolution, 242 voted to stay, resist, reform. It was close.

At the end of the day, the consensus (if you can call if that) was that both options are something to work toward, maybe having both of these as the same path in one way or another. The point is that there was no clear path that we could chose together. Just because we all came together for a cause doesn’t mean that we all agree on what needs to happen moving forward.

5. Some final thoughts:

I was reminded of the importance of community. The fact that we all came together to have hard conversations about the church, to hear powerful testimonies from a variety of perspectives and people, and to work toward an inclusive and just church spoke volumes to what the UMC is experiencing. It gave me hope– that even in the midst of what feels like death, there is resurrection. There is the glimpse of liberation. And we are not alone.

We stand at a crossroads. Now is the time to be faithful leaders who are bold enough to go forward.

So where do we go from here?

We continue to pray, to speak out, to build community, to be a part of a new movement where diversity, equity, renewal, and inclusion for all are top priority.

We share the 4 principles with others, we connect with people of different sexual orientations, gender identities, races, cultures.

We have courageous conversations and bring people alongside.

We meet people where they are, whether they agree theologically or not.

Above all, we love people.

I am so thankful for the opportunity to be a part of this meeting. There is a lot of work to be done, but thanks be to God for doing a new thing among us.

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