I was among those in Tampa who lobbied, demonstrated, and protested for a more inclusive church. I was among those who wept during the floor debate and subsequent failure of the Conference to make any changes in the repressive, judgmental and limited stance of the general church. While I was in Tampa I consoled myself with this mantra, “This is not reflective of my church in Portland, Oregon… nor even of the United Methodist Church in the Western Jurisdiction!”
There was at least one bright spot in the midst of this grief – the General Conference voted to expand the introduction to the Social Principles in the Book of Discipline by adding these words:
“We affirm our unity in Jesus Christ while acknowledging differences in applying our faith in different cultural contexts as we live out the gospel… (and) we stand united in declaring our faith that God’s grace is available to all – that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.”
The hope I take from this is some permission for us to continue preaching and practicing openness and inclusiveness in the United Methodist churches of the western United States. Our cultural context not only supports – but cries out for – this kind of faithful response to the Gospel, even if the cultures of Africa, the Philippines, and parts of the southeast US (where most of the support for exclusivity exists) do not.
I was touched recently by someone else’s reflections on the recent General Conference struggles, who wrote about why we stay in the church when it continues to break our hearts:
“The willingness to extend care and even to embody unity with those who are different from us seems like a challenge – but isn’t that what love is? Loving someone who is really, really different – now that’s love. So we stay in families and in churches in order to love the people who drive us nuts, the people who we believe are betraying Jesus and his love, the very ones he died for. We may not be doing it well. But we’re definitely getting a lot of practice. God help us.”
For my part, that helps to put the decision to stay into perspective. I will stay in this church to continue creating a place where Wesley’s kind of Methodism can flourish, where we can practice loving one another and extending that love into the world without restrictions. I will stay in the hopes that by our witness and through our work we may yet bring our beloved church back to its inclusive and prophetic roots.