Reflections post-GC2019: The Awkward and Rarefied Middle

Posted: 2019/03/15 in Uncategorized

It’s getting a bit lonely in the middle between conservatives/traditionalists (those who hold to the UMC’s stance on homosexuality since 1972) on the right and liberals/progressives (those supporting full LGBTQIA inclusion in the UMC along with same-gender marriage) on the left.  A few years ago I might have assumed that there was a silent majority traveling the via media with me, but my denomination appears increasingly, and alarmingly, to resemble the widening separations we see in American culture–social, economic, and, especially, political.  Our politics once divided the opinions of people who otherwise embraced each other as colleagues and friends, but now are the basis for distrust and even hatred of each other.  Something disturbingly similar is taking place in the UMC.

As I talk with colleagues on both sides of the conservative/liberal (traditionalist/progressive) divide I am hearing something new to my experience of United Methodism–deepening distrust.  On both sides are colleagues and friends who can no longer (in my opinion) effectively, maybe constructively, work with each other or support each other be cause they no longer trust each other to be faithful ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  And that trust ripples through how they experience the connectionalism of our church and its administration.  More than one colleague is now voicing the suspicion that their conservatism has become an impediment to advancement within the Michigan Conference and to consideration for appointments to larger, more prominent churches.  While this is hardly a new concern in our conference, it is now present with an intensity that is new.  I hope my experience is due to the passions of my closest colleagues, which are intense, but my suspicion is that this is happening around our conference and denomination.

The middle ground I inhabit feels a bit more lonely and a place.  I experienced this at a recent meeting of Michigan Area clergy with our bishop to discuss GC2019.  Following the bishop’s remarks, he opened the floor for comments and questions.  Immediately, a large group came forward and read The Michigan Statement, which declared profound disappointment in the choice of the traditional plan at GC2019 and unequivocal support for both ordination of LGBTQIA clergy and same-gender marriage, punctuated by a declaration to disobey The Discipline if conscience led otherwise.  The asked that those in sympathy rise in support.  As the statement was read, people around the room stood up.  I did not.  I also became uncomfortably aware that their action was forcing each of us to pick sides.  We either stood to support full inclusion of LGBTQIAs or we stayed seated to affirm the traditional stance that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”  It felt as if there was no middle ground.  By choosing to not be counted with those standing up for full LGBTQIA inclusion, I had to be seen as throwing my support to the other side.  Without putting too fine a point on it, I reset being put in such a position where I have to pick between two views I am unwilling to fully own.  I am also more than a little unhappy that our bishop, at the beginning of the meeting, asked that we suppress any applause as it would exacerbate tensions, he allowed the silent applause of standing during the reading of The Michigan Statement. . . same effect either way.

At present I inhabit the middle ground.  I will obey The Discipline and the covenant it represents, but I cannot just write off the full inclusion of LGBTQIA persons in the life of the church or same-gender marriage without serious and critical consideration of scriptural exegesis and the traditions of the church, which indeed have evolved over the last few millennia.  I take the Bible seriously and authoritatively, but I do not take the church’s interpretation of it slavishly.  The church evolves and grows both in the Spirit and in our continued exploration of the mind and heart of God.

I inhabit the middle ground . . . I hope it doesn’t get too lonely here.

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