Post Author: Bonnie McCubbin
Dear Non-Methodist Friend (who probably cares about and knows at least one United Methodist pastor or lay person),
Today I write to you as a United Methodist Church (UMC) pastor who is fighting for justice and full inclusion for all people at all levels in the lives of our churches and denomination. As you probably heard, last week the UMC held a big meeting, called a General Conference, to discern the role of LGBTQIA+ persons and allies in our body. This was a special, called meeting, held between regular quadrennial meetings, and the sole topic of this meeting was LGBTQIA+ persons (even though they weren’t mentioned by name for most of the day of prayer) which we have been debating at General Conference since 1972 – 4 years after we were established.
As you may know, the UMC is the 3rd largest denomination in the United States (behind only Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists); and we are a global denomination with 12.6 million members worldwide. Approximately 60% of our membership is in the United States. In some countries where we are in mission and ministry, it is illegal to be in a same sex relationship and is punishable by death. In other places, like the Northeast and Western US, fully welcoming LGBTQIA+ persons is a necessity to reach our communities. There is a great divide.
This divide was very evident at our Special General Conference when it was voted 53% yes, 47% no, to uphold the “Traditional” plan which would redefine same sex relationships in church law, increase penalties on clergy who break church law—including the revocation of credentials, and more. Much of this plan was deemed “unconstitutional” by the Judicial Council, which functions like the United States Supreme Court in our denomination. There are many questions about what the result of passing this piece of legislation will be. Suffice it to say, we won’t know for a while. In the meantime, all “sides” are weighing their options for staying or leaving the denomination while knowing that the conservatives will have a larger percentage of delegates at our next regularly scheduled General Conference in 2020.
This has been an exhausting week for all United Methodists who are following our General Conference. We are worn out. In the UMC, we have 3 General Rules that guide us and were given to us by our founder, John Wesley. 1) Do no harm. 2) Do good. 3) Stay in love with God. Harm has been done to our LGBTQIA+ siblings, and this is not acceptable. In the words of our baptismal vows, we must “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they may present themselves.” We have failed. We allowed evil to rear its ugly head in the way we talked to the “other” this week. Insults were thrown from all sides. This is not a good witness to our faith.
Many well-meaning people of faith have asked me what they can do to help. So I crafted this list to guide you, well-meaning person of faith in engaging with United Methodists, especially those who are grieving the actions of General Conference:
- If you already have been praying, thank you. We have felt your support surrounding us and it is carrying us through. And then, pray some more. Prayer changes things.
- Listen to your local colleagues. Take them to coffee or lunch and listen to the emotion balled up inside of them. Be outraged if that is appropriate. Hear their thoughts on what comes next in their lives and the lives of our congregations. Clergy face a daunting task trying to explain this to our churches. Seek out LGBTQIA+ persons who have been harmed by this decision and listen to their stories. Ask them how you can support them. And, do this not just once or twice, but regularly in the weeks and months ahead. Don’t forget about them.
- This is not the time to recruit clergy or laity to your denomination/church. If someone asks you about the process of transferring their membership or credentials, by all means, share. But many of us are committed to Wesleyan theology and do not feel that existing denominations could be home for us.
- A group of passionate United Methodist Young Clergywomen crafted a statement released for Transfiguration Sunday. Please share it far and wide so that these voices may be heard (less than 7% of delegates to the General Conference were under the age of 35). Dream with us about a future church where all are welcomed—no exceptions.
- If you hear about LGBTQIA+ clergy or allies who are under charges or anticipate them, there are resources available. Please connect them with those who can help. The Western Jurisdiction has already announced it is ready to help those who need it.
- We are emotionally worn out. When things come up on Facebook or Twitter or in the comments of mainstream media articles, please stand up for us. Do not make us do the emotional labor of explaining polity nuances to you, or details you missed. Trust what we say. When others ask these questions, advocate for us. Give us space to breathe.
Thank you, dear friend, for reading this far. Thank you for desiring to be our ally in a painful time. If you are wondering what’s next for the UMC, well, there are a lot of groups talking about a new Methodism. Some want to stay and fight. Others want to launch something new. Both are valid. And most of us probably want a little of both if we are honest with ourselves. This will take time to develop and we don’t know where it will go.
The apostle Paul said, “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:8). Sometimes we need a fresh start to be true and noble and right and pure and lovely and admirable. May the Spirit guide us. Let’s go! We’ve got disciples to make!
There are people harmed by the church who need to know God’s love. God is love and God loves everyone. Full stop. God loves you no matter what you’ve said or left unsaid; done or left undone. God loves you the way you are. And God doesn’t make mistakes. You are a beloved Child of God.
For those of us who aren’t ready to give up our denomination, heritage, beliefs, and theology yet, stay tuned. God is not done with us yet. Out of the pain of Good Friday Jesus rose from the tomb. This is our Good Friday. And we will rise like a phoenix from the ashes of destruction. We will rise because Christ did. We will rise.
Peace & Blessings,
The Rev. Bonnie McCubbin is an ordained elder serving Good Shepherd United Methodist Church (Baltimore, Maryland), while also serving as a Police Chaplain to the Baltimore Police Department.
When she isn’t busy watching a livestream of denominational meetings, she enjoys spending time with her clergy husband and their 1-year-old child.
Image by: Reconciling Ministries Network
Used with permission