Dear Methodist friends,
How are you doing? I’ve been worried about you. I started praying for you last week when I heard your church was in the midst of a big vote about LGBTQ inclusion. My guess is that you are all feeling pretty beat up.
I’ve been there. My denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), went through decades of these kinds of votes. No matter which way the vote went, the whole group was wounded.
Even before the Presbyterians went through this, the United Church of Christ and Episcopal churches did the same. We all know that you aren’t feeling great this week. You are getting mauled in the press, criticized by church insiders, and judged by the denominations who haven’t yet faced this head on.
It’s about so much more than church polity. It’s about a fundamental disagreement with people that we love. It’s about a disagreement so deep that sometimes it can’t be healed and we have to part ways.
I was talking with a friend recently who told me that children whose parents have divorced learn that you often lose friends and extended family in the process. She said, “Children of divorce learn the hard way that losing people is just part of the fallout.”
Denominations splitting and churches leaving and individuals walking is its own brand of divorce.
It’s painful. You are left with the mess of dividing up property and assets. People take sides. People stop speaking. People are hurting and unable to see that others are hurting, too.
People also double-down. The Methodist church seems to be doing that. They continued their ban on same-sex marriages and the ordination of LGBTQ clergy. They also added that clergy who don’t follow the rules will be punished and even possibly defrocked. It was a clear and resounding rebuke of LGBTQ rights.
I worry most about the youth. I worry about the kids who love the Lord and also love kids of their same gender. I worry that instead of hearing that the church voted on church rules, they’ll hear that the church voted against them as beloved children of God. I worry that they will hear that they are not welcome, worthy or accepted not only by the church…but also by God.
The Presbyterian church took a different path. I’m proud that we decided to allow same-sex marriages and the ordination of LGBTQ clergy and officers. Though I agree with where we landed, many people did not. Our local congregation lost people and many regions lost whole churches.
But for those of us who are left, I’m getting the distinct vibe that we are more committed than ever. We are here because we chose to stay; we are clarifying who we are as a people.
There really is no “winning” in these scenarios. We lost some people before it all even started because we were open to voting in the first place. Every year that we voted against inclusion, we lost people. When we finally voted for inclusion, we lost even more people.
All those years of debating and voting left us bloody and battle worn. We were limping.
I’m reminded of Jacob who wrestled with God in Genesis. He asked for a blessing and received a limp. As a denomination we are walking with a limp. I think y’all are, too. As someone who is a little farther down the road, I can tell you that a limp slows you down. It makes you aware of your limitations.
A limp reminds you of your own vulnerability, both as individuals and as an institution. My denomination has less swagger now, but we have more humility perhaps and definitely more compassion.
The limping is a sign that you’ve struggled and been changed. There’s really no going back. As a denomination, the Methodist church has been altered. You will continue to lose people, but that doesn’t mean you have displeased God. It just means you are trying really hard to be faithful. It feels rotten, but this isn’t all bad news. You are doing the good and hard work of discerning who God is calling you to be.
There is real honor in the wrestling.