Dear Lovers Lane Family,
As we respond to the Special Called Session of General Conference, I want to invite you to participate in several upcoming events. As we have already stated through social media, LLUMC remains committed to our mission of “Loving ALL people into relationship with Jesus Christ.” We are the same church today as we were before the gathering in St. Louis. Additionally, our North Texas Conference and Bishop McKee share our commitment to making room at the Table for ALL. (See more of my thoughts below).
We need each other now more than ever. For many weeks, we have been planning to gather in one combined worship on this Sunday, March 3, at 10:30 a.m. in the Sanctuary. We will join together in body and spirit as an eclectic mix of God’s children, and through uniting around the Cross and Gospel of Christ, we can remember that God’s mission for our church is bigger than a meeting in St. Louis. We will begin a season of celebrating all that God has been doing through LLUMC for 75 years, and we will begin dreaming together what God has in store in the next 75. I can’t wait to see you there this Sunday.
I also want to invite you to a Town Hall meeting with me and some of our pastors, to talk about General Conference and to share our further thoughts. Please join us at 6:00 p.m. in Asbury Hall on Sunday, March 3rd. This is a time for questions and discussion.
You’re also invited to join us for a Night of Prayer and Worship tonight, Thursday, February 28th at 7:00 p.m. in Shipp Chapel.
You are loved,
REBUILDING OUR BURNED DOWN HOME
It’s the day after the monumental “fiery”decision by United Methodist delegates in St. Louis at the General Conference to adopt the Traditional Plan. The Traditional Plan retains the current language regarding our United Methodist Church and inclusion of LGBTQ persons and has built in punitive measures for those who disobey the Book of Discipline mandates. The mandates are largely about clergy performing same-sex weddings on church property and bishops ordaining gay and lesbian people. In the US, a strong majority of delegates did NOT support this plan, but the vast majority of our global sisters and brothers did, and by a margin of 25 votes it passed. And the “United Methodist Church connectional home, as we knew it, burned to the ground”, as a clergy friend of mine described it.
For those of us who hoped to have the One Church Plan adopted, a plan that a decisive majority of our Bishops supported and a Commission on a Way Forward proposed, it is a disappointment to say the least. This plan did away with the “negative” language regarding LGBTQ inclusion that we have been arguing about since 1972 when we started adding language to the Discipline.
Whereas the One Church Plan did not force any church, or clergy member, or bishop to do anything against convictions, it named the reality that we have different mission fields in our 12.7 million member global denomination and different approaches of ministry. It gave freedom in the United States to churches and Conferences to address these matters of inclusion as they saw fit and did NOT force any of our global United Methodists to change anything regarding their practices. Those of us who supported the plan so hoped that we could acknowledge the reality of our “large tent” denomination with great cultural, theological, and congregational differences and we would agree that granting more local autonomy would be something a majority of us could accept.
The One Church Plan did NOT satisfy the most traditional delegates who could not accept being in a denomination where some churches, clergy and bishops in some parts of the connection would follow their convictions allowing different practices. The One Church Plan did not completely satisfy the most progressive delegates, though most of them supported it (some reluctantly), because it did not force all churches to see LGBTQ inclusion as more of a justice matter that we should ALL embrace. The One Church Plan reached out to the wide center of our church in hopes that we could see that “a one-sized missional approach does NOT fit all” and we are better equipped to make these prayerful decisions about practice in our local congregations.
At the end of the day, our work was political and the more conservative, and much better staffed and funded coalition i.e. Good News, Wesley Covenant Association, The Confessing Movement, and Institute on Religion and Democracy, who have been at this work for decades won the day. They secured a solid “block vote” of largely African Conference delegates. This has been their successful strategy for years and it again has proven to be nearly impenetrable. The politics is as hardcore as it comes and before we say that politics has NO place in the church the reality is that this is the way General Conference operates.
Very few come to General Conference without having been lobbied by one side or the other, and without having their minds made up and their hearts set, but the Holy Spirit still moves among all of us. There were moments, if we let ourselves go there, where the Holy Spirit was undeniably reminding us of what we have together. Our hymns and choruses, our Wesleyan theological center, our sacramental worship, our love for all people is a lot.
My belief is that no one should really succumb to a belief that any of our United Methodist groups are without love. Perhaps our “understanding” is at greatly different places, but the love of Christ that loves through us and beyond us, is perfect and we pray for it to be perfected in us. To the outsiders and to some insiders, this can appear to be actions of “non-love” on the part of the “right” for LGBTQ and “non-love” on the part of the “left” for those who seem to be hardened in their strongly, held, convictions. I did not see the convention hall break out into celebrating by the “winners”, and I did see “losers” having their tears dried by someone who voted differently, (of course there’s always a few less gracious). We left St. Louis in the in the quiet, stilled, spirit of recognizing that we are ultimately broken.
One of my new convictions is that it is naive to believe that we could be a United Methodist Church of the large tent, sing Oh For A Thousand Tongues to Sing, accept our diversity, grant some local autonomy and be a transformative agent in a world of divisions. Whereas this reality saddens me, it does not defeat my spirit of being a great Wesleyan expression of God’s prevenient, justifying and sanctifying grace with a heart bent toward those in need. I still believe in living out vision of “making disciples of Jesus and transforming the world” is God breathed. Though it looks like the world has transformed us to be a people of division, the Author of Division, which is not flesh and blood but powers and principalities, never gets the last word.
If in fact, General Conference burned down the United Methodist connection as we know it and it will never be the same, what are we to do? The question is whether or not the fire was hot enough to damage our foundation beyond repair and just needs to be razed, or can we build on what is left? I still may be naive, but I pray and hope that the power brokers of US United Methodist politics will see that what we were trying to create through either the One Church or the Traditional Plans is not our way forward. If there is to be a United Methodist connection we do not see it yet. It is certainly NOT the Traditional Plan, which is likely still unconstitutional, too punitive, and unenforceable. It will only increase the volume of our discontent and will spawn disobedience like we have never seen even before 2020 when we meet again. I do believe even those who fought so hard for its passage, recognize its fatal flaws regarding our connection.
Where do we go from here? I am going to follow my Bishop Mike McKee’s example. I was with a pastor friend last night in St. Louis who had hosted our Bishop McKee in his home recently. My clergy friend has a gay son and our Bishop met him. My fellow United Methodist pastor friend said, “And on the stage of General Conference on Tuesday when the vote to accept the Traditional Plan was taken our Bishop Mike McKee texted the young man to comfort him. He didn’t have to do that but wow, what a statement that made to my kid. And me, my wife and our family.” And knowing how we preachers are, I bet it makes it to a sermon or two on Sunday. We have to ALL keep loving and keep allowing the Holy Spirit to lead us to love with an “I might be wrong” bold admission. I have reached out to power brokers with whom I have had disagreements and colleagues with whom I have been less than loving and extended the hand of Christian fellowship.
As the ashes of our connection are still smoldering and warm, I pray that we will give up, and let God take us to a new place with as many of us—United Methodist sisters and brothers as possible—as we dare to envision a new United Methodist church. The foundation of this new church will have a long, wide table that the Lord has set, and we will invite the world to join us there. We will grow like never before as we sing, “He breaks power of cancelled sin, he sets the prisoner free, his blood can make the foulest clean, his blood availed for me.”
To Lovers Lane United Methodist Church: your pastor is back with a word of hope to share and I’m not empty of tears to cry with you who are most broken. We will continue to be God’s great mosaic of people of different hues and cultures, LGBTQ and straight, recovering, and those still being perfected. Remember Lovers Lane “we were born to be up a tree and out on a limb.” Won’t you cry with your pastor, and when we have wept enough, we will pull ourselves together and dry our tears. We will stand to our feet, roll up our sleeves, climb the tree, get out on that limb and rebuild our denomination. You, Lovers Lane, are an example of our hope. I am most blessed to be your pastor.
For more thoughts from Pastor Stan visit: facebook.com/pastorstan59