“And may we, the people of the United Methodist Church, more fully offer to the world the grace that we have received, the grace that has brought us safe thus far, and the grace that will lead us home.”
I have been distracted since Sunday, which is not my customary mode of operation. I am ordinarily a focused person, attending to the task at hand. But, as the General Conference of the United Methodist Church played livestream in my home and study, I put aside pastoral calls and tending to the daily details that usually take up my time. Perhaps this is as it should be. The gathering in St. Louis, now completed, will define our denomination to a worldwide audience, and shape what Methodism will look like for generations to come.
Delegates from across our global connection struggled to find a way forward, beyond the rancor of an issue that has troubled and divided us for more than forty years: What will be the place of LGBTQ friends and family in our leadership and congregational life?
The legislation passed retains the current statements in the Book of Discipline, which states that homosexuality is not compatible with Christian teachings, and it adds teeth to its enforcement in regard to ordination and marriage.
I acknowledge that for many, the initials LGBTQ cause consternation. What this represents seems outside Christian tradition and teachings. For others, these letters represent names and faces of those dearly loved. They are our children, grandchildren, siblings, and dearest friends. I find myself in the latter place.
My desire for a more inclusive church doesn’t mean I value the Bible any less than those who hold firm on traditional definitions. Neither am I less informed on what is written in these sacred pages; I have spent my life in prayer and study, and the Holy Spirit has led me to a different place.
I cannot abide by the statement that an individual is a sinner because he is gay or that he needs recovery like a troubled alcoholic. An individual is a sinner because, irrespective of sexual orientation, he is human like the rest of us. Through the years, I have witnessed gay and lesbian men and women live faithful Christian lives and have wanted for them the full embrace of the church. So the decision of General Conference has left me disappointed.
That said, Memorial United Methodist will continue in its ministry as it did yesterday and the day before. She will hold us like a good mother, instilling and nurturing within us our belief that our world is loved by a grace-filled God. May she continue to teach us a more perfect love toward God and neighbor.
I commend to you a prayer written by Bishop Ken Carter, the presiding Bishop of our denomination. It has been a guide for my heart.
O God whose nature and name is love:
We pray for the light that shines in the darkness, the radiant light that we see in the face of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Give us the faith to grow into his likeness, and give us the confidence to follow him.
We pray for the faithfulness of the church—that we would walk in your ways, trusting in your providence, listening for your voice.
We pray for the fruitfulness of the church—that we would make new disciples of Jesus Christ, in new places and in new ways, for the transformation of the world.
And we pray for the unity of the church—that we would live with a heart of peace and insofar as it depends on us, that we would seek to live in peace with all people.
May the work that has been done by the Commission on a Way Forward and the Council of Bishops, and is now in the hands of the General Conference, be a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to you.
And may we, the people of the United Methodist Church, more fully offer to the world the grace that we have received, the grace that has brought us safe thus far, and the grace that will lead us home.
In the name of Jesus, our teacher and healer and for the sake of his body, the church.