On May 4, 1956, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church afforded full clergy rights to women.
Sometimes I read things that are considered milestones in the history of this or that church, and it occurs to me that the big news is only “big news” to people in the church. What does it matter to the rest of the world?
The United Methodist Church is going to meet in General Conference again, beginning on May 10. It happens every four years. For as long as I have been a United Methodist Pastor, the major reason the Conference gets any media attention has to do with the status of LGBTQ persons – can they be married in the church? Can they be ordained in the church? And as the issue roils around the conference hall I wonder: Does anyone else care?
Well, yes. Folks DO care. Whether it’s buying and selling wedding cakes or deciding who gets to use what bathroom, we continue to be embroiled in heated debates – sometimes hateful debates – about the status, civil liberties and spiritual health of our gay and transgender neighbors.
I have long hoped that there would be a “third way” – a way that allows for conflicting opinions that are deeply and sincerely held by well-meaning people, and that these opinions would be shared respectfully. But the opinions and feelings run too deep, with a current so strong such that grooves and gorges form in our thinking that we just can’t jump out of.
One of the signs that things might have to change is when opinion becomes hate. When something about a person or a group becomes so distasteful to us that we rationalize and then institutionalize systems which victimize and abuse them, it’s long past time to realize that we don’t have an “opinion” problem; we have a heart problem. Whether it’s the comments about Caitlyn Jenner or using “Jesus Loves Me” to shut people up, in far too many places and circumstances, people in the LGBTQ community don’t only need to be accepted; they need to be protected.
I don’t claim any more to know “the will of God” with the same certainty I used to have. I firmly believe that the “arc of Scripture” leans inevitably toward full inclusion and the essence of the Gospel of Christ is that the grace we are so desperately in need of us fully available – to everyone. We enter the Christian covenant when we accept that grace. Saying any more about this won’t convince people who disagree with me, and I accept that. I would love to see our General Conference, in the spirit of inclusion that finally admitted women were equally called by God as men to pastoral ministry, offer the same to our LGBTQ sisters and brothers.
Today – May 5 – is the Feast of the Ascension. When his disciples asked Jesus if he was going to restore Israel’s kingdom, he told them: “It’s not for you to know the times the Father has set.” There was the promise of the coming Spirit; but they had to get comfortable with “not knowing”. And for the moment, they were left there, looking up.
I don’t know the “times” for the return of Jesus. I do believe with all my heart it is long past time for United Methodists to put more actual stock in the catch phrase – ‘Open Hearts; Open Minds; Open Doors”.
For our mothers and sisters in the faith, for the people of color in our churches, for the LGBTQ folks who are our neighbors and co-workers for the cause of Christ – Thank you for not giving up. You inspire me to keep looking up.