The decision made by the General Conference regarding our current language in the Discipline relating to LGBTQ persons will remain the same. It was adopted by a majority 53% to 47%; some language was added to enforce stronger penalties for those who do not follow the Discipline. Currently ordained clergy cannot perform same sex weddings nor do we ordain practicing homosexuals.
Although our culture in the United States has shifted its views over the past 30 years to becoming more open to homosexuality, our brothers and sisters in the Central Conference (which includes Methodists outside of the US: Africa, Russia, Philippines, and Korea etc…) have not. We are a global church and because of that we have a rich diversity, but that diversity around homosexuality challenges our union.
Many base their understanding of faith on the authority of scripture, as do I, but I’m afraid we stop short in our study, if we don’t consider the whole Bible, and its context, and the way we interpret scripture.
I take an example from Adam Hamilton who said: “When we were younger we had the notion that ‘If it’s in the Bible, then I believe it, and that settles it.’” I know that I used to think that way, but that kind of thinking just doesn’t work. We have to study and interpret and understand the whole of scripture. The Bible speaks of polygamy, genocide and slavery as a common practice. Certainly we see that this is not our practice today. Divorce and women speaking in church were also taboo, but we no longer think or practice like that. We read in the Bible regarding how to discipline our children by using a rod. We even have passages that tell us to kill our children if they are disrespectful to their parents. We have different views about child rearing today.
We each choose how we interpret the scripture, and for whatever reason our church culture historically has gotten stuck on a few verses regarding homosexuality. There are dozens of places where it says “do not judge” and yet we would rather judge than think more deeply about the scripture. When we read the Bible, we have to make decisions about what we think it means. We struggle constantly with trying to understand and interpret it. Our human nature is to point to others instead of searching our own souls.
It took centuries for us to rid our nation of slavery and segregation. The church even used scripture to make a case for having slavery. The church did not always shine its brightest in those conflicts. Many white churches stood by and said nothing, simply watched and waited as the world shifted. And it did change and it changed for the good.
I am a product of the Methodist church. I grew up in a parsonage home; my father was a Methodist preacher. I went to Camp Meeting; I attended Sunday school, MYF and even worked as a camp counselor at Methodist church camps; and I attended a Methodist University. I have appreciated how the church has supported and molded my life. I have been proud of the church’s emphasis on mission. We Methodists have built schools, universities and hospitals around the world. I am proud of our emphasis on grace and our Wesleyan heritage. I’m proud that we have open communion in that all who are present are invited to come to the table.
Today I am not as proud. I do not support the decision that was made at Special General Conference. I’m sure that some in this church disagree with me; I love you. I have always thought that loving one another in our disagreement was an important tenant for Methodists. It is not my intention to make the divide deeper but to say we can think differently and still love each other. I thought that the “One Church Plan” would have been the best compromise to move us forward but that plan was rejected, and even that plan had its limitation. Many people in our community and this church have been hurt by this decision. Some still feel numb.
For you that are hurting today, know that you are loved by God and by this congregation.
In Disciple last week we remembered the story of Joseph, the son of Jacob, and the coat of many colors. Hopefully you know that story. His brothers threw him into a pit and then sold him into slavery. It is a heart-wrenching tale. But that’s not the end of the story: years later there is great day of reconciliation. It is one of the most beautiful scenes when brothers embrace and are reunited and reconciled. For our LGBTQ siblings, you may feel like your brothers have thrown you into a pit and sold you into slavery. Forgive us. One day there will be reconciliation for us all.
The nation sees the church as becoming more and more irrelevant, judgmental and disconnected. I’m concerned about the aging of the church: this decision will not draw young people to the church. In May of 2020 there will be another General Conference and the conversation and the struggle will continue.
When I consider Jesus, I remember that Jesus always stood with those who were bullied, ostracized and oppressed. St John will continue to be the church in this community that tries to be like Jesus. We will continue to love one another. We will continue to lift high the cross, to proclaim Christ crucified and resurrected. We will continue to do our best to share God’s love to all, and even in our disagreements we will choose to love. My hope is in knowing that love wins; love always wins.
-Rev. Jody Alderman