Wednesday, May 08, 2019

A Non-Confirmation Affirmation

A young woman decided not to join the United Methodist Church last Sunday.

In one sense that’s rather unremarkable. After all, every Sunday there are millions of people who don’t join the United Methodist Church.

But the young woman’s decision was noteworthy, and I want you to know about it. She gave me permission to tell her story.

She attended confirmation classes for weeks, learning about the church, the theology and history of Methodism, and about what it means to be a member. And those classes were happening during a significant, tumultuous season for the denomination.

In February the General Conference met and tightened our restrictions on participation of LGBTQIA persons in the denomination. That decision was then upheld by the Judicial Council at the end of April. And then Confirmation Sunday was May 5th.

And because the young woman does not want to be a part of a church that excludes people, she decided not to become a member. Her decision did not make headlines; her story will not go viral. That’s not why she made her decision.

She made her decision because she doesn’t want to be a part of the United Methodist Church as long as gay people are only conditionally accepted here. “You are welcome up to this line, but not beyond” is not her theology, nor does it represent her understanding of who God is, nor does it reflect her interpretation of the Bible.

She is a young woman of principle, of courage, and of high integrity. I have the utmost respect for her and for her decision.  It was not an easy decision, and she made it with much prayer and discernment. Nor did her decision take any of the joy away from the other nine who decided to be confirmed and join the church; no judgments here, on anyone’s part.

A part of why she gave me permission to share her story was to help people recognize the writing on the wall for the UMC. This is the future of the denomination, as it has come to be.
We have not shattered in one explosive Thanos snap moment. Rather, the United Methodist Church is gradually disintegrating, just steadily eroding, one decision at a time. And no conference resolution, petition, or piece of legislation can even begin to reverse that slow yet unrelenting decline.

A young woman did not join the United Methodist Church last Sunday. Do you see her? Do you hear her? Will you affirm her story?

I baptized her a year ago; she professed her faith in Jesus Christ, made her baptismal vows, and was affirmed by the church surrounding her in that moment. So she is a disciple, but not a member. Which is wonderful of course, and at the same time heartbreaking.

A young woman made a decision to not join the church last week. And we need to hear her voice, respect her integrity, and affirm her story. And then we need to go to work so that no young person makes that decision ever again.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Easter Baptisms

There was a teenage girl who is on the autism spectrum who told me how much she loves Jesus and that she wanted to be baptized. Just because of where she happened to be standing, she bravely went first, her parents right there beside her.

There was a 39 year old man who asked me if I was going to carry him around the sanctuary like I did with the babies, smiling at me as I sprinkled water into his thick head of hair. Some of it dripped down onto his long bushy beard.

There was a mother and daughter kneeling side-by-side, their husband/dad standing behind them with tears running down his face as I baptized first his little girl, then his wife. They all held hands during the prayer.

There was a baby boy in a beautiful all white baptism outfit, bright eyes shining, smiling at me when I took him from his mom. The water must have been a little bit cold because when I put it on his head he caught his breath and shivered like babies do.

There was another baby boy who is an actual super hero, living with spinal muscular atrophy and rocking his Easter morning bow tie right alongside the medical equipment he’s connected to. He didn’t care for all the jostling, and frowned at me. (We’re good, though. He smiled at me later.)

There was a fifth grade girl who had asked me not to get her hair bow wet. I tried, but failed. So after I baptized her I whispered, “I’m sorry I think I got your bow wet” and she indignantly replied, “Oh come on!” with a twinkle in her beautiful eyes.

So that was Easter Sunday. Not bad, huh?

Because my call to ministry happened during a baptism (Jessica Sparks, 20 years ago, First Presbyterian Church, Galesburg, Illinois), baptism has always a very meaningful part of what I do as a pastor. But I think Easter Sunday of 2019 will be particularly special, and I will recall it with great joy for years to come. Not just because there were seven baptisms, which is pretty groovy in and of itself. But because of each of the seven unique and miraculous lives that were changed in those moments.

Baptism is the beginning of a new relationship. Easter is the beginning of a new season. In two months will be a beginning of a new chapter of ministry for me. God really is continually doing a new thing, within us and among us and all around us, in every moment and every place, forever and ever. The energy of Easter, the power of Baptism, along with the ongoing grace of Holy Communion: these spiritual realities equip us for every new beginning we face, in every moment of our lives.

Initiated into Christ’s holy church – Incorporated into God’s might acts of salvation – Given new birth through water and the Spirit. And ALL of it is God’s gift, offered to us without price. The thought of it really should blow us away; it is almost too much to perceive!

Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia, amen.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Post Mortem for the Via Media

The Via Media is dead.

The post-mortem of the Middle Way includes such examinations as General Conference 2019, 21st century politics, seminary recruitment plans, and Christian evangelism.

At General Conference 2019 a via media was offered by marriage equality advocates and a few who favor traditional marriage. It was strongly rejected by just over half of the delegates.

In 21st century politics, a via media platform would never get enough support from a party’s base to be nominated in the first place, and so the candidates presented for election tend to represent extremes.

In seminary recruitment, rigorous theological debate among a variety of diverse viewpoints has been replaced by ideologically driven “orthodoxy” training, which has become a primary consideration for potential students.

In terms of evangelism, individual Christians are drifting toward congregations that are more uniformly aligned with their own theology rather than doing the hard and uncomfortable work of living together with diverse perspectives.

(Yes, these are generalities; Yes, I am aware of their limitations.)

I am a “via media liberal.” I have “mediated” my sermons here at Campbell for the sake of honoring the middle way. In doing so, I hear from liberals in the congregation disappointed that I have not been more forthright. When I am more forthright about my personal perspective, I hear from conservatives in the congregation disappointed that I have been too political. Both liberals and conservatives have left Campbell in the past few months to connect with congregations to which they feel more aligned theologically. More via media post-mortem examination.

And so it goes. (I hear similar stories from “via media conservative” colleagues, by the way.)

And still I continue to believe that the middle way is the best way. I continue to believe that we need each other. As much as I value my personal relationship with Jesus, as highly as I regard my perspective of who he is and who he wants me to be, I know that my glimpse is only one small glimpse of the infinite entirety of Christ. I know that I need other glimpses, connected together with mine, in order to get a fuller picture of who God is.

We need each other. And so…

We need the via media.

Yet the via media is dead.

Is it dead for a season? Is it winter for the middle way, with a spring somewhere on the horizon? Has the via media been crucified, meaning resurrection is just around the corner?

And if so, what do we do? What can we do?

And on a personal level, what do I do? Shall I veer left theologically, mediating less and being stronger with my own personal perspective? Would that be selling out, capitulating to prevailing winds of the day? Or shall I continue to advocate for compromise, diversity of thought, and the middle way? Would that just be an exhausting, fruitless tilting at windmills that would do nothing but wear me out spiritually?

As of now, I remain committed to the middle way. I value diversity. I enjoy hearing different perspectives, when they are offered with generosity and civility. It just seems like it is harder and harder to walk the via media in this season. More and more people seem to be seeking like-mindedness instead of engaging the difficult, vulnerable, and risky search for truth together.

Maybe it’s that Saturday in between Good Friday and Easter for the middle way, and all we can do is sit by the tomb, in silent vigil, grief stricken, not knowing, not understanding. Wondering what comes next.

Hoping for Easter.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

What Do You Mean By That?

The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers it to be incompatible with Christian teaching.

That’s the sentence at the heart of it all. This sentence in the United Methodist “Book of Discipline,” was added in 1972 via a last minute amendment offered by lay delegate Don Hand at that year’s General Conference. This sentence is why the UMC has adopted our discriminatory policies, denying same-sex couples the right to be married in United Methodist church buildings, denying United Methodist pastors the right to marry same-sex couples, and denying people who are gay the right to be ordained to serve in the church.

That sentence is why we had the sound and fury that was General Conference 2019.

So let’s take a minute with that sentence, and dig into it to think about what we really mean. Let’s parse that sentence in the most Methodist way possible, using Scripture as the primary source, illuminated by tradition, reason, and experience. Let’s just see what we mean by that.

For this project, I’ll unpack four individual phrases in the sentence.
- “…does not condone…”
- “…the practice of homosexuality…”
- “…incompatible with…”
- “…Christian teaching…”

1) “Does not condone”
“Does not condone” is a flaky phrase. What does it mean to “not condone” something? Well, it isn’t quite neutral, right? To say that I condone something is to say that I will allow it to continue, to sanction it, to approve of it. So to “not condone” something is to “not allow it to continue.” It’s just phrased a bit awkwardly, and not as clearly as it could be.

The opposite of “condone” is “condemn.” A more direct, clearer statement would be, “The United Methodist Church condemns…” It begs the question: Why was that stronger language not chosen in 1972 when this phrase was added? Did it seem kind of un-Methodist to actually “condemn” something? Was it theological, in that only God can condemn, not us? Was it perhaps an attempt to soften the harm that the author of the phrase inherently knew would obviously be done by adding it?

Of course, one can only speculate. Suffice it to say that there was something about the word “condemn” that did not appeal to the author of the phrase way back when. When the idea is placed in context, however, it becomes clear that “condemn” is exactly what is meant here. The real life implications of this statement are ample evidence that condemnation is intended.

So in this case, “does not condone” means “condemns,” and I will use the clearer language in the remainder of this project.

2) “The practice of homosexuality”
The United Methodist Church does not condemn homosexuality directly. It is really important to realize that same-sex sexual orientation itself is not condemned by the denominational statement. The big deal about that is that The United Methodist Church acknowledges that sexual orientation is a real thing.

Many people still do not believe the science behind sexual orientation. Many people still think that being gay is a choice. You can tell when somebody thinks this way because they use phrases like “that lifestyle.” However, the United Methodist Church has, since 1972, affirmed that homosexual orientation is a real thing. Any United Methodist who thinks being gay is a choice is technically therefore in violation of the Book of Discipline.

It is “the practice” of that one particular sexual orientation that is in question here. So what does that mean? Well, since I am straight I try to think about in terms of my own orientation. What does it look like for me to “practice” my heterosexuality?

Every morning I give my wife a kiss. We send text messages during the day that say, “Could you pick up some milk?” and stuff like that. We hold hands sometimes. When we can finagle a babysitter we might occasionally go out on a … what are those called?  … oh yeah, a date. We have sex sometimes. We give each other hugs a lot. We sit on the couch and watch TV shows together. We argue about bills. We worry about our kids. And so forth, and so on.

This is what it looks like for me to “practice” my romantic attraction to my wife, to “practice” my heterosexuality.

And so, these public (and private) displays of affection are condemned by the United Methodist Church if you are romantically attracted to someone who is the same gender as you. In other words, The United Methodist Church does not condemn your orientation, it just condemns your expressing it in any way. The United Methodist Church officially believes that you have to stay in the closet if you are gay. You have to repress any expression of romantic attraction you might feel for someone. You do not have to deny who you are, but you have to deny any outward appearance of who you are.

This statement says nothing specifically about marriage, by the way. However, marriage is clearly one way that one “practices” their sexual orientation. And so later in the Book of Discipline, when marriage is specifically forbidden, it refers to this particular sentence to do so. The word "practice" also plays a part in ordination discrimination. In our wonky policy language, we say that "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" are forbidden from being ordained. Again, it isn't the orientation that is condemned but rather the practice thereof.

Now, some will say that the statement is really about sex only. Some will say that the intent of the sentence is to apply only to actual sex with someone of the same gender. And often tangled with this interpretation is a thought that the sole purpose of marriage is sex, or procreation. Again, any thought about the author’s original meaning is only speculation. The plain truth is that the statement doesn’t condemn only sex; it condemns “the practice,” which includes much more.

In fact, the word "practice" appears twice in the sentence, which reinforces the idea that romantic attraction to someone of the same gender is acknowledged and not condemned, but merely the various expressions of said romantic attraction.

3) “Incompatible With”
Actually I’m going to come back to this one, and do the last one next. So…

3) “Christian Teaching”
This phrase could mean a lot of different things. In the original motion the phrase was "Christian doctrine;" it was changed to "teaching" via a friendly amendment. At its simplest, “Christian teaching” is the teaching of Christ. So that would mean that somewhere in the things Jesus said we should find a teaching about a person expressing their love for someone of the same gender.

The problem is, it’s not there. Sometimes marriage traditionalists cite Matthew 19 to claim that Jesus did, in fact, say something about same-sex marriage. However, Matthew 19 is not about same-sex marriage. It is about heterosexual marriage, opposite-sex marriage if you will. He is asked a direct question about a man divorcing his wife, and he answers that question. It is an interpretive leap to claim that this Christian teaching is about same-sex marriage. It is directly connected to opposite-sex marriage, clearly.

(As a side note, the church has not taken Matthew 19 seriously for years. Divorced pastors are numerous; divorced Christians are welcomed into full inclusion of the church without question. To actually take Matthew 19 as seriously as many marriage traditionalists say we should would decimate our church membership rolls.)

And if we’re talking about Matthew 19, we should talk about a bit later in Matthew 19, when Jesus says something that could quite easily be interpreted as actually affirming a gender non-binary, non-heteronormative perspective: “There are eunuchs who have been so from birth” (NRSV). And, it should be noted, such are not condemned by Jesus.

Okay, so if we’re not talking about the actual teachings of Jesus himself, we could be talking about the New Testament, right?  The New Testament is often called the “Christian Scriptures” to distinguish from the Old Testament, referred to as the “Hebrew Bible.” The books of the Bible from Matthew to Revelation, therefore, are distinctly “Christian teaching.” And since we have already eliminated the words of Jesus himself, we are actually talking about the books of Acts to Revelation.

What about the Hebrew Bible though? Sure, you could make the case that the entire Bible is “Christian teaching,” however the Old Testament books are also “Jewish teaching.” This would be referred to as “Judeo-Christian teaching,” if anything. But the Book of Discipline says only “Christian teaching,” and to also include the Old Testament in that category would require an interpretive step away from what the text actually says. Which is fine, but needs to be said aloud.

And further, nothing in the Hebrew Bible speaks directly to same-sex marriage or homosexuality anyway. Genesis 2 is about two straight people whom God joins together as life partners. Genesis 19 is about gang rape. And the Levitical laws are about national purity and idolatry, not to mention the whole “pick and choose” aspect of citing those 2 mentions and leaving out others.

However, “Christian teaching” could also include the teachings of the church, right? The doctrines of the church over time comprise “Christian teaching” on a second tier down from the Bible, but are nonetheless “Christian teachings.”

The problem here is that there in not one, clear doctrine of the church to refer to. Which version of church doctrine would be meant here? Which era of history? Arranged marriages? Wives submit to husbands? And which region of the world? The Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church? The Southeastern Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church?

Marriage traditionalists would say the doctrine in play is the “one man, one woman” definition of marriage. But the actual doctrines of the church around marriage have changed over time, are different in different places, and are much broader and more diverse today than ever before. One can pick and choose various church doctrines based upon one’s preconceived belief. If we go to church doctrine to define “Christian teaching,” it becomes more complicated, not less.

So maybe we stick to the New Testament as what comprises “Christian teaching.”

So, to recap, we know this – The United Methodist Church condemns expressing your romantic attraction for someone you love if that someone is the same gender as you, and this condemnation is based on something found in the books of Acts through Revelation in the New Testament. With that, let’s think about the final phrase.

4) “Incompatible With”
For two things to be “incompatible” means that they are so opposed to each other that they are incapable of occupying the same space. If software is incompatible with your computer, it won’t run. One just doesn’t work with the other.

So the United Methodist Church thinks that it is impossible to both express romantic love for someone of the same gender and also ascribe to the teachings contained in the New Testament.

It is impossible to do so. Incompatible. If expressing romantic love for someone of the same gender is software, it won’t run on Christian computers. It simply cannot be.

Except of course, it is. There are a whole lot of Christians who are gay and who express their love for their significant others every single day.

Incompatible? Here Inigo Montoya might say, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” It is obviously not “incompatible” to both be gay and also follow Jesus. People do. I mean, just look around.

And secondly, to make such a claim is a pretty bold move. It is blunt, it is direct, it leaves no wiggle room. There must be multiple overwhelmingly compelling passages somewhere in there that make it abundantly clear. Surely it says over and over in there that expressing your romantic attraction to someone of the same gender is a bad thing. In order to make a claim such as this, the evidence has to be pretty overwhelming, right?

Romans 1. 1 Corinthians 7. 1 Timothy 1.

Only three places. Hm.

But still, those three places must be crystal clear in their condemnation, in order to support a statement indicating such a direct and unequivocal incompatibility. Right?

Well actually, not so much. A full reading of Romans 1 reveals that it is actually a discussion of idolatry, and the verses in question are describing what happens when people exchange faithfulness to God with the pleasures of this world. Thus Paul describes lust and impurity, degrading and shameless acts, unnatural intercourse.

In my book, none of those describe a romantic relationship, period. Same-sex OR opposite-sex. There is nothing degrading, shameless, and unnatural about the covenant of marriage. Paul is writing to tell us that succumbing to degrading, shameless, and unnatural sexual acts is the consequence of God abandoning some people who were not recognizing God’s primary place in their lives.

Simply, Romans 1 is not about being gay.

The other two New Testament passages are lists (1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Timothy 1:10). The lists in both places mention two Greek words that are very difficult to translate. Different versions use different English words, so it is actually really easy to find a version that aligns with your preconceived notions.

It is fascinating to trace the history of translation, to discover how those two passages changed over time. The word homosexual didn’t appear in there until 1946, in the Revised Standard Version. The New Revised Standard Version, published in 1989, changed it to “sodomites” with a footnote about a “pederastic” relationship – an older man paying to have sex with a young boy. In other words, child abuse.

Other words chosen to interpret this word, both in historical translations and modern ones, are numerous. Obviously, it is not clear what these words actually meant to Paul when he wrote them, much less what they should mean to us today.

All said, rather underwhelming.

In fact, none of the New Testament passages in question describe a loving, gracious, mutually respectful, covenant relationship between two people. None of the three verses in play have anything to do with expressing a romantic attraction.

I understand that not all Christians interpret the Bible the same way I do. Some interpret the Bible as affirming only heterosexual romantic relationships. My question is, given that there are alternate interpretations (like mine for example), why have they chosen the one that does harm to others?

So, back to the originating question, it seems to me that there is nothing in “Christian teaching” with which the “practice of homosexuality” is “incompatible” and therefore no reason the United Methodist Church should “not condone” it.

So what?
Discriminating against people who are gay by denying them the right to be married or ordained in the United Methodist Church is undergirded by a fatally flawed statement. The statement is neither Biblical, nor reasonable, nor aligned with real life experience, nor has any clear connection to Christian tradition.

And so, the phrase needs to go. It needs to be deleted from our Book of Discipline. And if that phrase goes, the policies connected to it need to go also. It’s time. It’s actually long past time.

As long as there is a venue in which to work for the full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people, I will work there. If that means in the current version of the United Methodist Church, I will work there. If that means in the creation of a new expression of Methodism that is fully inclusive, I will work for that creation.

Because it’s time.

Monday, March 11, 2019

New Hat

Nancy Culver came to church last Sunday, and she gave me a hat.

Not that remarkable a sentence, to be honest. Rather ordinary. Unless you know some things…

First thing - Nancy lives an hour and half away. She usually goes to Harper Chapel United Methodist Church in Osage Beach, Missouri, and so her commute to Campbell here in Springfield was pretty long, just to come to church.

Second thing - I hadn’t seen Nancy in a long time. Years, maybe. She and her husband Bill were volunteers in the youth ministry at Harper Chapel when I was a youth there. Taught Sunday School, went on float trips, showed us what it means to love people. I had seen them here and there since then, of course. But during my youth years was when they made the deepest impression on me. We’re talking thirty, thirty-five years ago!

Third thing - the hat is a St. Louis Cardinals hat. I root for the Kansas City Royals, which has been a big “thing” since I announced we are moving to St. Louis. All these Cardinals fans that I know and love have been trying to convert me. All the good-natured teasing I have received translates as loving gestures of “wish you well,” and I definitely received this gift in that same spirit. When Nancy gave me the hat, she was saying, “I am proud of you, and I love you.”

Fourth thing - the hat was Bill’s old hat. Bill died recently, and so many of us grieved his loss, remembered his laugh, and recalled the joy with which he approached the world and the love he so freely shared with the people in his life. And to think that this old hat has been perched on Bill’s head, the very head that was filled with such wonder and color and art. To wear Bill’s hat on my head is humbling and poignant and brings me a whole lot of happiness.

So yeah. Nancy Culver came to church last Sunday, and she gave me a hat. No big deal. Except it really, really was.

Thank you, Sunshine.

Monday, February 25, 2019

#GC2019 Day Three Summary

"It is better to be divided in truth than united in error."

That was a sentence spoken on the floor of General Conference today, and pretty much summarizes how things went.

There is a faction in the United Methodist Church, a faction that I am certain is a minority of the denominational membership but happens to be a majority of the General Conference delegates, that considers their own belief to be truth, with no room of for disagreement. And to this faction, it is more important to claim that your own interpretation is "truth" and stick to that, even if it inflicts pain and harm on others, than it is to compromise.

The votes were consistent throughout the day, each one a litmus test for the larger question. about 53-55% to about 45-47%, give or take. The larger question, of course being "Should the United Methodist Church include gay people fully in the life of the church or not?"

The faction that currently controls General Conference does not control the future of the church, of that I am quite certain. The future is inevitably bending toward justice. It is only a question of when.

With that said, I am no longer going to try to convince people to stay. The policies of the United Methodist Church are harmful, and if you have to leave, I have nothing but respect for that decision.

I am going to stay. This is my grandfather's church, and I am going to be a part of making it better, making it right, more just. I am going to help to renew the church in a way that would make him proud, focused on Jesus and grounded in the beautiful theology of John Wesley.

I am going to stay. This is my father's church, who devoted his entire career to speaking up for those who are oppressed. I feel like I am just getting started, already thinking about what to do in 2020 to advocate for the big tent diversity that so many of us consider a core principle of Methodism.

I am going to stay. This is my church, and I'm not going to give it away to people who cannot see how their interpretations of Scripture are causing such harm to so many people, my friends, my family. People unwilling to even entertain the notion that they may actually be wrong.

I am going to stay. This is my children's church, and by the time they are my age this won't even be a question any more, thank God. And so I want to make sure there's still something of a church left for them once we get to that point. No matter what happens, I want to be able to tell them that I did my best.

And I tried today. I had my name in the pool to speak for a long time, but never got called. There were a LOT of people in the line to speak in favor of the One Church Plan when the chair decided to allow a motion to call the question. A lot, and I was one of them.

For people who value diversity, today was awful, like getting the wind knocked out of you over and over again. Tomorrow promises to be the same. We are working against a deeply entrenched 53-55% of the delegates who are unwilling to yield, unwilling to say that their opinion may be wrong, unwilling to see things from anyone else's point of view.

We are working against a faction who believes that it is better to be divided in "truth," even when what they think is "truth" is not universally accepted as "truth," than it is to be together in "error," even when what they think is "error" is really just "disagreement."

Even so, I am going to stay. Not all of you will stay with me, and that's okay. Go if you have to; I understand. I get it. But I'm going to stay.

More tomorrow ... onward!

Sunday, February 24, 2019

#GC2019 Day Two Summary

I'm tired. And I'm grumpy. So I probably shouldn't write this tonight; I should probably sleep now and write tomorrow. But I have something to say, and I want to say it now.

As I walked out of the building tonight, a bullhorn guy on the street corner saw my "One Church" pin and shouted at me, "I'm glad you lost, homo!"

As stunned as I was at his raw homophobia, I was also struck with his knowledge of what had just transpired on the floor of General Conference. I thought, "How did he know that I 'lost,' getting the word of that so quickly, much less understanding what my pin meant and the intricacies of our legislative process?"

So, let me try to explain...

It's really hard for me to equate the work of the General Conference with ... well, anything. It's a hairball. It's a gigantic entangled mess of rules and processes and motions, all of which have to be translated into multiple languages along the way.

I apologize if I ever said anything that made it seem like we would be getting a ballot that said: Gay Marriage - Check 1 for "Yes" and Check 2 for "No" and then a second similar one for ordination. Our system just doesn't work that way.

I also apologize if I ever said anything that made anyone think we would be getting a ballot that had three plans listed on it and we just checked which one was our favorite. Again, our system just doesn't work that way.

First, people submit petitions, and there are 25 or so petitions in addition to the three plans the Bishops sent us. The petitions are assigned to legislative committees, who prioritize them, discuss them, perhaps amend them, and vote to recommend them or not. Then the petitions go to the plenary (the whole group), along with the legislative committee's recommendation, at which time they can be discussed, perhaps amended, and the whole group votes on whether or not we agree with the legislative committee's recommendation, whatever that was. If the petition makes it all the way through all of that, it gets added to the Book of Discipline or Book of Resolutions, depending.

That is the simplest possible explanation of the work; believe me it gets way more complicated than that.

So what we did was decide that we as the whole group are going to function as the legislative committee first, and then after that function as the plenary. That was actually decided before we got here. So every petition was assigned to us, the whole group - as the legislative committee.

The next step is to prioritize the petitions, normally done by a relatively smaller group and given to the committee. But this time the prioritization process included ALL of us. We were shown a list of all the plans or petitions, and asked which we considered a high priority and which we considered a low priority, just 1 for high and 2 for low. (We considered each plan as one unit, not the individual petitions that go with each one.)

Out of the top six plans or petitions on our priority list, four of them are specific to how churches might choose to leave the denomination. One was the legislation from Wespath, our pension company. Three were particular "Disaffiliation" plans by which congregation can be relieved of financial obligations for leaving the denomination.

That means that we, as a General Conference, are more concerned about deciding how people will leave the UMC and the implications of those exits than we are about inclusion of LGBTQ people.

Of the plans themselves, the Traditional Plan got 459 top priority votes. The One Church Plan got 403 top priority votes. The Simple Plan got 153. The Connectional Conference Plan got 102.

The Traditional Plan is the second highest priority on the list, right after the Wespath legislation. The One Church Plan is the fifth highest priority.

We will consider them as the legislative committee, in order of priority, starting tomorrow. (We actually already considered the Wespath legislation, which was recommended to the plenary quite easily.)

So I say all of that to say this - it's a mess. General Conference is inherently a big clumsy mess.

And yet somehow bullhorn guy knew that the "One Church Plan" had "lost" a procedural vote today.

My deepest heartbreak is that over half of the delegates thought the Traditional Plan was a top priority, and that was devastating, disheartening news to so many in the LGBTQ community, their families, friends, and allies.

And what makes me mad is to think that a United Methodist Traditional Plan supporter may have taken the time to let bullhorn guy know what had happened, so he could add ridicule to his homophobic ranting. In fact it infuriates me.

"I'm glad you lost, homo."

I'm really sleepy now. It's midnight. I'm just going to publish this and go to sleep. What is tomorrow going to bring? Only God knows.

Thank you for praying, for watching the live stream, for sending messages of encouragement and support. Thank you. I still feel you, and I'm still working hard to do the right thing, to change our unjust policy and allow full inclusion in our church.

But now I'm just tired and grumpy, so ... good night.

#GC2019 Day One Summary

I was keenly aware of you. I was not alone, for a single minute, all day. I was aware that a great cloud of witnesses surrounded me, more so than I ever have been before.

Day one of General Conference was a longer time spent intentionally praying than I have ever experienced before, and it was really, really good. As the bishops led prayer foci from around the world, we shared moments of singing, moments of silence, moments of smaller group prayers, and it was really, really good.

I felt you, I felt my grandfather, I felt my seven generations of Methodist preachers, my five generations of General Conference delegates, I felt my friends and family in the LGBTQ community, their families, all of you who are allies. I felt you all wondering if we would do the right thing. I felt the weight of 864 people making decisions that will impact 12 million Methodists around the world. I felt all the anxiety, anger, hope, excitement.

I cried probably five different times during the day, just caught up in everything.

The heaviness of the cloud of witnesses, more fully present than I have ever felt it before.

Messages of encouragement came throughout the day, via text and social media. None were more helpful to me than my wife Erin's. In one text she said, "You are not voting on the worthiness of people. You already know their worth. You are voting in such a way that will allow for others to see it, too."

It is nonsensical to define "sacred worth" as anything less than full inclusion in the church. I am voting in such a way that allows others to see the inherent contradiction of saying every person is of "sacred worth" except for those who are "incompatible with Christian teaching."

My day 1 summary? Yield. Submit. Give way to God. Lay aside reputation, agenda, preconceived notions. Let God work. God's will, not ours, be done.

Those were day one words. We'll see today if they were just pretty words. Or if they might actually truly guide us, govern our words, our actions, and our decisions, for day two and beyond.