“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In recent days the news has spread that at a Special Session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church that took place in St. Louis, Missouri the United Methodist Church voted to double down on the antipathy that some members hold toward the LGBTQ community. While the Commission on a Way Forward that has been studying the issue for two years drafted three different plans, it was the Traditionalists Plan that won the day. It is an astounding kick in the teeth to progressive Methodists and LGBTQ clergy and communities they support, the TP is essentially an instruction to supporters of an inclusive, diverse, Church to pack up and get out, or knuckle under. What a sad, sad, day for God’s beloved people.
One of the things that I found most spurious, as I read numerous accounts of the proceedings at the General Conference, was the astounding effrontery of some supporters of the Traditional Plan as they proclaimed such love for their LGBTQ sisters and brothers while seeking to punish them and push them out of the Church. Attempts were made to characterize this rout as an act of compassion and caring. The hypocrisy was jaw-dropping. It certainly appears to be a sign of the times in which we are living right now, however. After decades of achingly difficult progress made toward broader human inclusivity, the backlash – inside and outside of the Church – has been gleeful, punitive, and phobic.
The plan was very much a minority plan promulgated by a small association of ultra-conservative churches who have regularly withheld their apportionments and just as regularly threatened to leave the denomination if their demands weren’t met. Apparently, the threat of financial losses to the denomination (many of the breakaway churches are mega churches that represent an enormous amount of money) won the day. LGBTQ clergy and supportive bishops, institutions, or congregations are welcome to sit quietly in the corner or simply go away.
There are however a number of judicatories that are unbowed by this disappointing turn of events. The Western Jurisdiction of the UMC, which covers pretty much the entire western 30% of the USA is still very much committed to inclusion and diversity, and I suspect that no one is going to go peacefully unless they were already determined to do so. No doubt this will be terribly chaotic for a time, as individuals and church communities determine how to proceed and what is possible just now. It is troubling and heart-breaking for sure, and I urge all of us, maybe especially those of us who are neither Methodist nor exclusive in our theology, to hold the whole church in our hearts and be good companions to our friends inside the UMC circle.