Help me out here, United Methodist friends. In the ongoing conversations about the future of our denomination, one of the questions is essentially, "Two or three?"
As in, will there be two different systems (one traditional and one progressive), or three systems (one traditional, one centrist, and one progressive). Yes, I know it is way more complicated than that, and the language and labels are different among different "plans" and such. And I'm assuming we are all resigned to the idea that staying one system and trying to make that system more just is no longer an option, as February 2019 made clear to so many of us.
So, a core question to wrestle with remains, "Two or three?"
And here's where I need some help. I fail to see how there are three options. It seems to me that there is either "status quo" or "change." Either we allow same-sex weddings or we don't. Either we ordain LGBTQ+ people or we don't.
There is nuance, of course. Some people are in favor of ordination but not marriage. Some would favor marriage as a legal relationship but not a spiritual one. And so it goes. Yes, it is nuanced.
But ... let's do some practical theology, ok?
A young gay person comes to their pastor and says, "God has called me to be ordained in the United Methodist Church." That pastor either says "Yes" or "No." That pastor cannot say, "Either."
A same-sex couple comes to their church and says they want to get married. Their church either says "Yes" or "No." That church cannot say, "We are divided on that question."
In fact, if that pastor says "either" or if that church says "we are divided" are they not in fact saying "No?"
It seems to me that if we end up with three systems and one of those is labelled "centrist," the "centrist" system is in practice "traditionalist" if weddings and ordinations are still prohibited. And it is in practice "progressive" if weddings and ordinations are allowed.
So, in practice, either "status quo" or "change."
Many clergy colleagues have expressed some trepidation about making their congregation choose. There is significant anxiety about the tone of the conversation, and the potential for conflict. "It would split the congregation in two," some have said. I get that. I feel that.
Nevertheless, I disagree. What better place to have the conversation than in a community of people who worship together, serve together, learn together, and love each other as members of one another in the Body of Christ? Surely there's no better place to have potentially difficult conversations than in the local church. It's certainly a far better place to have them than on the floor of General Conference, isn't it?
Look, it is naive for anyone to think that no LGBTQ+ people in their congregation will ever be called into ordained ministry, or want to be married in their own church building. And so, we probably ought to go ahead and have the conversation, so that we can respond in a Christlike way when (not if) it happens. Otherwise the urgency of the moment will prevent effective communication, and the conflict will be harder to navigate.
Right this moment, though my mind is open, I like the "UMCNext Plan," mainly because it presents a clear answer to the question of "Two or Three." The UMCNext answer is "Two." The UMCNext Plan basically says, "We would like to change the status quo in the UMC. If you don't like that change, we are going to create a respectful way for you to leave and form your own Wesleyan church, where you can have policies that prohibit marriage and ordination if you want."
I like it because it is a choice between two things. Clearly articulated. One is fully inclusive; one is conditionally inclusive. You can pick. You have to pick. It is time to pick. Have the conversation. Choose.
Help me. How is having a "centrist" system not choosing one or the other?
Sanctuary--Pentecost + 11, August 25, 2019
2 months ago