Dear Shalom family and friends,
Recently, I offered up a letter with some information regarding the Special Session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, which gathered in St. Louis, February 23-26. The General Conference was called to address issues pertaining to the marriage and ordination of LGBTQ persons in the United Methodist Church.
The outcome of the Conference was to pass what has been known as the “Traditional Plan.” This plan largely maintains the current policies in the Book of Discipline (BOD), stating that United Methodist clergy shall not officiate at same-sex weddings, and that people who openly identify as LGBTQ shall not be ordained as clergy. Some questions were raised as to the constitutionality of the new provisions and language, and these questions will be decided in the coming months by our Judicial Council. Additionally, the current language in the Discipline regarding LGBTQ persons has not changed. As the United Methodist Church, we still affirm that “all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God” (Par. 161.G of the BOD).
For many people in the Church, this was the outcome for which they worked and hoped. Others, however, are feeling deep and real pain at the decision to maintain current language and policies. I spent much of my time during the General Conference in prayer and fasting, and watching the Conference go about its work over those four days. As a lifelong member of the United Methodist Church, as someone who has answered the call to ministry that God has placed in my life, as someone who is deeply committed to better understanding the Scriptures each day, and as someone who is rooted firmly in our Wesleyan heritage, I must admit that I am disappointed at the outcome.
In our Wesleyan tradition we follow what is known as the via media, the “middle way”. A way of thinking and living that operates in the middle of extremes. Bishop Scott Jones calls this Wesleyan tradition “the extreme center” – conservative in some ways and liberal in others. As United Methodists, we stand in the tradition of balancing an evangelical zeal for proclaiming the grace of God and the salvation that comes to us through Christ with a desire to work for social justice and a better life for our fellow humans. Because of our faith in Christ, we seek to share the Good News while we tend to the needs of others. We preach the Gospel, worship, and share in the sacraments, and we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those who are sick and in prison, and work for a world where all can live the abundant life that Jesus has proclaimed.
We are a Church built on “three simple rules”: do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God. John Wesley preached these words in a sermon called “The Catholic Spirit”: “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may.” Wesley insisted doctrinal purity on the essentials – the Trinity, the divinity of Jesus, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. On all other matters he encouraged grace.
Friends, let me be clear about a few things:
First, we must acknowledge that people of good faith can have different opinions on the inclusion of LGBTQ persons. But in the midst of disagreement we must remember that we are all created in God’s image and loved by God. Many United Methodists believe that it is time to change our policies toward LGBTQ persons, and others have no desire to do so – all of this is based on how we read and understand Scripture.
Second, our desire for conformity often does more harm than good. The world around us was watching over the last week – you might have seen something on the news or in the paper about the General Conference. People were watching to see how we would handle our differences, and we disappointed. We missed the opportunity to speak a word of God’s grace to those who think differently, to show the world that Christians love one another because God first loved us. We also live in a time when young people who identify as LGBTQ are facing increasing rates of isolation, homelessness, and suicide because of the rejection they face from their family, friends, and even churches. This tragedy is something that we cannot ignore or write off because of our differences of opinion.
Third, no matter what your belief is surrounding the issues of LGBTQ inclusion in the life of the Church, know that there are people in this community of faith who agree and disagree with you. People you know and love. People who are pleased with the decision and who are disappointed and hurting. I know, because I have heard from you your thoughts and feelings.
Finally, it is not often that I share my opinions on social issues, because of the risk of alienating some in the church one way or another, but I do so for you today. As long as I am the pastor appointed to lead Shalom, everyone will be welcome in this place. No exceptions. We all are made in God’s image and are loved by God. The moment we begin to draw lines in the sand and make distinctions between “us and them” is the moment be become Pharisees who are more concerned with the appearance of righteousness than actually allowing Christ to make us righteous through his sacrifice on our behalf. Now more than ever we must work for a world and a church where God’s unconditional love is made known to all.
I trust that you will keep our whole Church in your prayers as we move forward into this new season. I want you to know that I am always available to talk – if you are struggling, if you have questions, if you disagree with me. I welcome any and all conversations we can have that help us to grow in our knowledge and love of God. And, I want you to know that God loves each and every one of you, and I strive each day to love each of you with that same unconditional love.
May we continue to seek God’s guidance in our life together; and may we remember that no matter our beliefs and opinions on any matter, we have each been created, redeemed, and called by our God to share his love and grace every day of our lives.
May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always,
Additionally, I invite you to read this letter and watch this video from Bishop Gregory Palmer, sharing his thoughts on the Special Session of General Conference: