You haven’t been paying attention if you don’t know our denomination is going through a tumultuous time. In fact, I’ve been pretty critical of other pastors that are not talking about the ramifications of the adoption of the “Traditional Plan” at the special called February 2019 General Conference to address “human sexuality.” Many have been confused by our cloaked language of “human sexuality.” To be clear: it’s about homosexuality. I believe we pastors have an obligation to keep the people in our congregations informed. In addition: it is important you know your own pastor’s position.
- Our denomination does not allow for openly gay persons to be ordained or for clergy to perform same-sex marriages. But this is happening – though somewhat sporadically – around the country. We have been wrestling with this issue for decades and for many years I towed the party line of what is in our Book of Discipline: “All persons are of sacred worth, but we believe homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” I can no longer affirm this as I do not believe it is a sin to be gay nor do I believe we should disqualify a person who feels called to ordained ministry solely because he or she is gay.
- To be clear: the Traditional Plan is not only about homosexuality. It’s moving us into a different direction as a denomination. The UMC will not look like it does today in 10 years (or less). But the actions in February have communicated to LGBTQ persons that they are not welcome to full participation in the denomination. Some pastors are already not allowing LGBTQ persons to participate in certain leadership roles within the local church. This, too, is not my view and I will not prohibit any person from participating or serving in our church based solely on their sexual orientation.
- I was in Kansas City 4 weeks ago at an event convened for those who do not believe they can live out ministry within the confines of the Traditional Plan: UMCNext. Ten people attended from every Annual Conference in the United States. Conversations were started, not completed. Several Annual Conferences have initiated UMCNext groups for laity and clergy to encourage one another in the process of discerning how to move forward into something new. I hope a group will soon be established in Kentucky.
- A split in the denomination is inevitable. Some are calling for the dissolution of the UMC while others are wanting to start a new, Methodist church that is more inclusive of LGBTQ people. Still others want to leave the denomination because they believe the Traditional Plan did not go far enough!
- You need to know that I DO NOT believe that if you hold a different view than me that you are a “hater.” There’s already been too much name calling and labeling. We are all over the spectrum on this issue. I’m not interested in vilifying people. We may not agree and I’m available to speak with anyone privately about how I came to my current position (which I believe is in line with the authority of Scripture).
- I can tell you that I have discovered many aren’t sure why they believe what they believe – on “both sides.” (That, in and of itself, is a topic worth discussing: Do we believe whatever it is we believe on this issue just because someone told us to believe it?).
- And I’m struggling with being labeled myself. The labels have so much baggage. Because of my views I’ve been called a “liberal.” If you know anything about liberal theology then you know that is an incorrect and hastily applied conclusion. Some, on the more conservative side of this issue (trying to avoid the baggage of that title), refer to themselves as “orthodox.” Frankly, I find that offensive. Am I not orthodox? I stand up and affirm both the Apostles' and Nicene Creed and believe it! Furthermore, I believe I am an evangelical. If you’ve heard me preach you know that is true: I want all to know and experience God’s love in Jesus Christ.
- There is much division in the UMC. People, all over the country, are leaving their church. There is a lot on anger and frustration and uncertainty. In this “Annual Conference season” 2 or 3 other Annual Conferences (hear that: not churches or districts, but Conferences) are seeking to remove themselves from the UMC. Six LGBTQ persons have been ordained or commissioned in four different Annual Conferences. Several other Conferences have pledged not to abide by the Traditional Plan and at least two Conferences outside the US are also saying they will not enforce it. Even some of our UM Colleges are exploring disaffiliation.
- A lay person in our church will be sharing in a few weeks about some things that have transpired within the leadership of our congregation. It’s important for me, as a leader, for no one to think there is anything happening in secret. There will continue to be more open forums and places for conversation, too. I encourage all to participate.
- And you need to know this: I am not singularly focused. There is much that demands our attention. I feel very strongly about this issue of inclusion for all persons. I’m nearing the end of my “third quarter” of ministry. I’ve got a little over a decade left. Most of my ministry is behind me, but I cannot be silent. This issue is important to me for sure, but we must continue to be the church 24/7. There are worship services to plan and classes to teach and pastoral care to provide. There are committees and teams assembled to do ministry. We must all stay focused in providing ministry to all people in every way possible. Simply: all the work of the church must continue as we seek to navigate through these troubled waters.
Views stated are mine and mine alone and do not reflect the views of any other local church leader, staff member or Annual Conference clergy.