Not this. The Judicial Council ruling, unsurprisingly, enshrined much of the actions of General Conference 2019. I, along with pretty much every United Methodist I know, say “not this.”
This is not the United Methodist church that I signed up for.
Our earlier position of not allowing “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” into the ranks of the clergy was problematic enough, but now we have removed the protection of the word “self-avowed.” Social media postings or living situations are now fair game for anyone who wants to formally out someone else. “Practicing” is no longer a protection either, removing the (not fantastic, but I know folks who have chosen it) option of remaining celibate. Nope, if you’re gay, or if someone suspects you are, you’re out of here.
Performing same-sex weddings now has mandatory and harsh consequences. Let me be clear about the import of this action. I could have sex on the chancel of my church with someone other than my husband while rolling around in the Sunday offering that I had absconded with, and there would be no mandatory penalties. (Just to clarify, I have never done any of those things, separately or all at once, nor will I.) But if I perform a wedding for two people in love, I face an automatic one-year, unpaid suspension, and the second offense would result in the removal of my credentials. Neither the Bishop, the Board of Ordained Ministry, or the Annual Conference would have any discretion in the matter.
So I join with many, many other United Methodists in saying “not this.” This is no longer my denomination. If not this, then what? What’s next?
One conversation suggests bringing about change by resistance. In a meeting I was in earlier this week, one person made me smile when she said, “The WCA (the group representing social conservatives) is like the dog that has caught the car.” I’m not sure they really thought they would win, and they are likely wondering what to do now. The WCA went into General Conference with articles of incorporation for their new denomination and a meeting date in April to constitute their new entity. When they won the UMC instead, they set aside their planned meeting. Now, however, they have custody of a church in schism. It appears that both progressives and a large number of moderates will be heading for the door, leaving the WCA with a fragment of the US churches and most of the churches beyond the US, including Africa for whom the UMC provides the bulk of the financial support.
Many statements and actions of resistance are flooding our denomination already, and perhaps they will provide the WCA an excuse to revert to their original plans to leave the church. It’s hard to believe that will happen, though, when Bishop Scott Jones has announced that if 100 clergy in his Annual Conference perform same-sex unions, there will be 100 charges filed and 100 church trials held. It seemed like hyperbole when he said that before General Conference, but now it sounds like his description of reality. One person’s “act of resistance” is another person’s “simply doing the right thing,” so resistance will continue regardless.
Another conversation is being led by Adam Hamilton. He is working methodically and with great intention to create a new something, based on the best of our Wesleyan heritage and responsive to the needs of 21st century Christians. (You can read more about it here.) I find his words and actions very hopeful. A new church could bring new opportunities to reach new generations with the love of Christ.
After the Judicial Council ruling, someone asked, “So, can progressives leave now?” While I respect the right of everyone to make their own best decision, I plan to hang around for a while. It’s just getting interesting and, one way or another, I believe we’ll end up with something a lot better than what we have now. I know it’s not this, and I can’t wait to be a part of that which God is bringing about.