Real conversations on topics that are difficult, or uncomfortable, or divisive are hard to have. Avoidance is so much easier than real discussion, Partly because we are afraid of how the conversation itself will affect our community. Partly because we know some topics are so complex that there is no one answer that satisfies everyone, therefore it feels risky to talk about it because unless we all bring our “A Game” and listen well and choose our words perfectly, someone’s going to feel unheard. Someone’s going to be upset. People begin to feel like there is a right and a wrong and start seeing who’s on “their side” and who is not. I get it. Avoidance seems much the healthier option in some cases.
However, very soon,our denomination, the United Methodist Church, will have an excruciatingly difficult conversation on the topic of human sexuality. Specifically, whether or not the church will ordain people who are gay, lesbian and LBGTQ+, whether ordained clergy can perform same sex weddings, etc.
We’ve supposedly been having a conversation as a denomination every four years at our General Conference since 1972 when language was introduced into the polity of the United Methodist Church (The Book of Discipline which is our book of order and organization). Over the years, it has become increasingly difficult and painful for our denomination to discuss this globally.. In 2016, it looked like our United Methodist delegates and representatives from across the globe were going to have the same conversation in the same ugly and divisive way, but this time we called a time out. We asked our leadership to help us find a different way to try to make decisions about the complex topic of human sexuality honoring perspectives spanning multiple continents with many cultural contexts and different interpretations of Holy Scripture.
As a result, our denomination is having a specially called General Conference next year (February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis, MO) to discuss only this one topic. At the request of our 2016 General Conference, our Bishops called for a Commission on A Way Forward to look at this request and find a different way for our denomination to respond to it compared to our sister mainline denominations that have all divided over this topic. United Methodism is the last remaining “umbrella” denomination that holds multiple perspectives all together. Our Episcopal, Presbyterian, Lutheran brothers and sisters and several others have had this difficult conversation and ended up dividing in some way or another. Because this is a very difficult conversation.
Honestly, to say the issues simply include the ordination of men and women who are LGBTQ+, whether our clergy can perform same sex weddings and whether churches can have same sex weddings on their grounds is a simplification of complex theological and social debate with deeply, honestly held points of view on all sides.
The Commission on a Way Forward is recommending 2 Plans for consideration for our denomination and our Council of Bishops added a third option for General Conference to consider. These are 3 different ways that the church can consider as a global response to how our denomination might move forward talking about human sexuality and our church. They are the One Church Plan, The Connectional Conference Plan, and the Traditionalist Plan.
Some churches have been talking about and preparing for this conversation for a while now. Most of our churches in Western North Carolina are just now learning about what is around the corner. Boone UMC falls into this latter category. That is because this is hard for us to talk about. Our churches are not all in agreement about the best way forward. And yet our denomination is at a crossroads in which we are being asked to make some decisions and consider some possibilities that are forcing our churches to have a conversation most would rather avoid. And the truth is, no one knows how this will go in February. No one.
So at Boone UMC we are going to have 2 opportunities to have some conversation and to learn about the three proposed plans the General Conference will be considering in February. Join us on either Sunday, November 11 from 2-4 PM or Wednesday, November 14 from 6-8 PM in the Family Life Center as we practice having difficult conversations with one another and as we learn about what is going to happen next February.
I will close by saying that my prayer these past several months is that Boone UMC would be a place where we can have these difficult conversations with one another and we can go into them knowing that we will not all agree with one another on this complex topic, but that somehow we can be ok with that variety of perspectives. It is ok to disagree. How we live into that disagreement, and what it looks like may very well matter more. I pray that we can remember that our ultimate purpose is to be about God’s Kingdom work and that our mission is to Love our Community and Invite All to Discover Life in Christ. That dividing ourselves over this one topic weakens our church, not strengthens it. That before we were in any position to have to decide on one plan or another, we have worked well loving God and loving our neighbor in spite of having different perspectives within. Can we not find a way to continue to do so together. That is my fervent prayer. We will not all agree with one another. But we all love Jesus. We all love one another. And we long for community where all are welcomed because ALL of us need Jesus in our lives for a multitude of reasons.
A girl can dream. A girl can hope. A girl can pray.
Grace and Peace,