The UMC Waiting Game
I am so done talking about schism. It seems like every Methodist guy with a blog is talking about it instead of working up ideas to avoid it or compromise, they are so intent on ripping apart other people’s ideas. In the midst of this capitalizing on the unrest within the UMC I found a blog article that brought me a little bit of hope written by my friend Morgan Guyton about how the Virginia Annual Conference was talking about human sexuality. Human sexuality is mostly a term used to talk about “the gays” and how they are inconveniencing the church with their demands for “justice” and “inclusion”; very rarely are other issues about sexuality (namely heterosexuality...which is just another example of heterosexism) discussed. The article gave me hope that the Virginia Annual Conference was going to get something done, that the faithful Methodists of that conference were going to reach across aisles and really explore the complicated polity and past decisions of our denomination together and I admit I wish that they would have at the very least decided to do something. The VAUMC did do something, it voted to wait another year. Yes, 42 years of discussion have not been enough; they need another set of 365 days to decide whether or not God really loves LGBT people and wants them to be fully included in the Church. Let us examine other times when the UMC has needed more time to follow Christ example of loving our neighbor. In 1845 the Methodist Episcopal Church split in twain, the MEC and the MEC-South formed along political lines over the issue of slavery. In 1939 the MEC and MEC-South came back together about 76 years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed the slaves, 74 years after Junteenth (the last group of slaves to be notified they were free). But not yet ready to worship with Black people, a Central Conference was created that overlapped with US jurisdictions, this central conference was only for Black Methodists a ecclesial way of keeping Black people “separate from but equal to” their White Methodists brothers and sisters. 29 years later Black churches were absorbed into the new United Methodist Church, adding all of that up together, it took Methodists 105 years to follow John Wesley’s advice and simply love Black people as fellow humans and siblings in Christ. For those calling for more time in “discussing” the “issue” of LGBT inclusion, how many decades or centuries do you need?
There are many problems with waiting to be obedient to God and love our LGBT neighbors as Christ loves them. The first problem is the most obvious, harm is being done. Over 25% of LGBT teenagers in the United States are homeless, between 30%-40% of LGBT youth have attempted suicide, 25% of LGBT students and university workers claim to have been harassed whilst at their schools. The United Methodist Church despite promising to fight equality within its own church structure, vowed to fight inequality in the civil arena (see Book of Discipline section on the Social Community). The UMC has failed to fulfill its promise, the UMC has done nothing to stop the oppression of LGBT people in the legal realm, just as it has done nothing to help the LGBT homeless teens, just as it has done nothing to tell the youth it claims have “sacred worth” from taking their own lives. It is impossible for any denomination or even any Christian individual to work for legal equality of LGBT people without seeing the need for spiritual equality as well.
Another problem with waiting is that no actual conversations will be held. I am all for people talking out their differences, but we know good and well that this is just another way of brushing the skeletons out of the living room and back into the closet. And while these people are “conversing” more and more LGBT youth will die, and will be kicked out of their homes, and the church will still be doing nothing about it. This call for more time would be laudable if actual conversations that bring about fruit do occur, but I’ve seen Methodist history, and I highly doubt the present will bring about a new reality.
Another major issue with this inaction is that it still excludes LGBT Methodists. It is very easy to think of this as an “issue” when the actual people the decision made most effect are excluded from the conversation. The human faces are replaced with preconference reports, the voices of LGBT people are replaced with more White heterosexual cisgender middle-class men who write “all you need to know” about this “issue”. Waiting is easy for straight people, they are fully loved and embraced by the UMC, it is always easy to ignore minority groups – the church has proved that it can go 105 years ignoring one and it’s only 42 years into the abuse of LGBT people.
The answer to division within the UMC may not be Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter's "A Way Forward" but I can promise you this, sitting around and waiting for the problem to go away is not a better solution. I may be a bit too pessimistic, perhaps the VAUMC will indeed have a year of conversation and next year will finally be able to get to work. Perhaps the UMC will stop doing harm in 2016 instead of 2077; perhaps the Church will start reflecting Jesus faster than it has in times past; perhaps the UMC will begin to act on its promises made in the Book of Discipline to fight for justice for the least of these. One can only hope that our church starts acting like Christ even when it comes to an “issue” like this. One can only hope and pray that 365 days does not turn into another 105 years.