Reflections on GC2019: Pain All Around

Posted: 2019/03/11 in Uncategorized

General Conference 2019 effectively did almost nothing.  If all of its elected petitions go into effect (which is uncertain at this time due to issues of constitutionality to be determined by the Judicial Council), then the only significant changes will be a more robust punishment for violating The Discipline‘s prohibitions regarding homosexuals in clergy and marriage, and a sort-of graceful process of separation from the UMC.  In other words, since the language and basic stance of the UMC regarding homosexuality and marriage remains unchanged, GC2019 did almost nothing.

What GC2019 did do was expose, surface, and exercise divisions in the church in a way that parallel the way we are divided and the ways we express our divisions outside the church.  For a GC that did almost nothing with policy and governance in the church, it did manage to hurt–even traumatize–a lot of people.

LGBTQIA persons have taken the UMC’s decision to retain the position that “homosexual practice is incompatible with Christian teaching” and its related prohibitions on ordination of LGBTQIA persons and the ban on same-gender marriage as a declaration that only cis-gendered, heterosexual persons are fully accepted by the UMC.  LGBTQIA persons feel disenfranchised and outcast, regardless of declarations that we of the UMC love all persons, including those among LGBTQIA.  How else can one interpret the mixed language we now use that says, “We love you and welcome you, but you have this characteristic that precludes you from full participation in the life of our church, even though we have yet to effectively justify our doctrinal position with a critical, compelling, and comprehensive argument.”  In other words, we of the UMC have now taken that stand that the LGBTQIA persons we say we love are sinful in such a way that makes them unworthy of the UMC.  While this surely sounds hyperbolically critical to my fellow UMs, I have tried to look at this from the perspective of someone outside the UMC where our mission field as a church lies.

LGBTQIAs are not the only ones hurting.  As GC2019’s decision to adopt the Traditional Plan has created ripples throughout the UMC, those who supported this plan are breathing easier that the UMC chose to retain its long-held doctrine and polity.  Their fears that the UMC would break from centuries of orthodoxy to accommodate liberal shifts in American and Western European culture were allayed.  Unfortunately, traditionalists are now being criticized, even attacked, as being ignorant, intolerant, bigots.  Traditionalist colleagues and lay UMs are being vilified as if their faithful and thoughtful interpretation of scripture and their love of the church and its traditions has made them monsters.  They, especially in a conference such as the Michigan Conference, feel disenfranchised and outcast, regardless of the majority declaration of their position at GC2019.

It is most disconcerting, and painful, that the UMC–my church–which should be a model of the Kingdom of God in order to show the world a more excellent way, has taken the model of division, partisanship, and emotional violence of our world as its own.  If we UMs are truly committed to following Christ and being a people of the Bible, then we should remember these commitments and do better.

“We’ve a story to tell to the nations . . .” . . . or do we?

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