And that’s a choice.
I’m a Taurus (in fact– shameless plug for well wishes– my birthday is tomorrow). If you believe anything at all about astrology, that should tell you that I am stubborn. Perhaps my decision yet again to remain United Methodist in the wake of the past two weeks is simply a manifestation of my inner bullish nature.
I hope it’s more than that.
I wrote a while back about why I’ve remained United Methodist so far, and most of those reasons remain. However, of the four points I listed, two were challenged: our understanding of grace came up for a vote and passed by a measly 53%, and our use of interpretive lenses (the “quadrilateral”) was scheduled for a vote and never made it to the floor. A third point has been significantly diminished: by removing guaranteed appointment, the church eliminates a safeguard that has protected women and persons of color in ministry for years.
The theology I love about United Methodism remains, for now. Prevenient grace. Unconditional love. Personal and social holiness. The structure that allows for our ministry remains, for now. General Boards and Agencies that equip local churches. Democratic organization. Lifting many voices.
But what also remains, and can never fully be expunged, is the tremendous harm the UMC does to people at the margins, most especially in this time and place, to persons in the GLBTQ community. This isn’t a political conversation or an issue to debate. These are my friends, people as close to me as family. These are names and faces, arms that hold me when I weep broken-hearted onto their shoulders and laps when it’s really them who deserve to be weeping. Tears I have shared and dried when they let the safety walls down for a minute. Hands I have held, sweaty-palmed, while votes were cast. Laughter and hope I have shared in small miracles, or as a way to chase away the shadows of sorrow.
At some point, one wonders, when does my continued engagement in a body that can be so abusive signal my complicity with that abuse?
Some of you are bold enough to ask me that (and know that I can hear it and love you and trust in your love for me, still). Some of you haven’t asked but wonder, maybe, if I think it. I do.
So why am I still here?
Not theologically, but personally.
I could be UCC. I’ve got a lot of friends in that denomination, and I bet they’d help me get in. I’d even get some control over how often I move. I could join the voices calling for churches, or conferences, or jurisdictions to declare themselves independent. We could be the United Methodist Church of New England. Or the Northern Methodist Church.
But I’m still here.
I’m giving it one more try, in part because of the hope I named. There are two reasons:
1. Because I can. That’s not meant to be flip; I’m deadly serious. For many of my friends, remaining is not an option. When the abuse is lobbed at you personally, it comes to the point when it may be time to go. But since it’s not me, I can stay and fight for inclusion. And because I can, I kind of feel that I should.
2. I’m not leaving anyone behind if I can help it. If I get out, my church, my conference, my jurisdiction, where does that leave my congregants, my colleagues around the connection, my friends in the Southeast Jurisdiction? As one aforementioned tear-bedecked dear one reminded me, I’m staying around to be there for the GLBT babies straight Methodists keep having, to baptize them, teach them, serve them communion, and doggone it marry them.
If we can find a way to stay connected, to be the church I love, to find and articulate those thing that are essential, where we seek unity, maybe we can all give each other the freedom to live and serve as one diverse body. And that’s better for everybody, I hope.
So maybe this one last time, I’m giving my all for a church that practices the grace we say we believe in, and that orders itself with love and compassion around Wesley’s rule to do no harm and do all the good we can, and I hope we can someday live into his invitation: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”