Orphaned or Exiled?
This will not be long. I have been avoiding adding to the verbiage surrounding the United Methodist Special General Conference in St. Louis. Perhaps I know too much, or is it too little? I awoke this morning considering the actions taken yesterday by the United Methodists gathered in St. Louis. It is certainly one of the most painful days in my more than fifty years of ordained ministry. Whatever, I was even more painfully aware of the ways my many LGBTQI friends have been spiritually brutalized by the language and actions of this gathering.
I saw it coming… and I understood what it will likely mean for the future. As the conference voted to continue to exclude gay and lesbian folks from the full ministry of the church and to punish anyone who would join in seeking a more open church, I found myself wondering what has happened to the denomination I joined as a young man. Yes, I felt orphaned by mother church… or, perhaps it is that I felt exiled.
Let’s just say that as an elected delegate to four General Conferences in the past, I have been in the room and seen the “sausage made.” The result is our guidebook, the Book of Discipline. However, words are insufficient to capture the whole human story and the ways God keeps leading the faithful forward. This is, after all, evidenced in the unfolding story of our scriptures. God’s people learn and learn again of God’s faithfulness and love.
More to the point, I have seen the ways we United Methodists have struggled to live our lives together over the past fifty years. The intrigues, the deceits, the political distortions — yes. I have also seen the affection and generosity of persons who come together from many places geographically and theologically to seek to discover what God had in store for a church that was willing to take risks — to be a messy church on the behalf of sharing the transforming love of Christ in the world.
John Wesley suggested that Methodists should begin and end our work with a “watching over one another in love.” Let me recommend a fine sermon by Dr. Robert Hill that looked at what is called the Wesleyan Quadrilateral (Scripture, Tradition, Reason and Experience) as our way to know God’s will. (see http://www.fumcsd.org)
N.T. Wright suggests that the church is merely the scaffolding for God’s Kin-dom work in our world. This helps. But not much this morning. I confess to feeling orphaned in the face of decisions being made by this “special general conference” in St. Louis this week. Or, perhaps it is an exiling that is underway. This is a more helpful image — from scripture. What shall I do? — well, it is time to listen, watch and look for new connections with old friends. I think of the dozens, make that hundreds of churches where a Methodism of the heart and mind continue to be practiced. I think of places like Wesley United Methodist Church in Urbana, Illinois or… the list goes on, by the hundreds it goes on, in the U.S. and around the world. Here gather people who are not afraid to think AND pray. To welcome and include. To be open to changes they need to make rather than seeking to make other fit into their categories. Maybe there will be a gathering-of-orphans — or exiles — that will become the next chapter in our faith journey. Would that I could stay in the familiar world of mother church. Sometimes, however, we must leave home (or be pushed out) to grow in ways God would desire.