I am posting this blog a day early. I had planned to write about the Civil War as character in my novellas and short stories, but I need to address an issue that has caused me a great deal of anxiety and heartbreak, and what I am going to do about it. Please bear with me.
I am referring to the special General Conference held by the United Methodist Church, optimistically called “A Way Forward.” For those of you unfamiliar United Methodism, the conference was called so the church could decide – once and for all, apparently – whether it would accept LGBTQ people as ordained clergy and whether or not clergy could marry same-sex couples. This debate has been raging for some 40 years, disrupting all the other things representatives from United Methodist Annual Conferences could discuss and decide at the General Conferences held every 4 years.
There were several plans offered, but two primary ones. The One Church Plan would have allowed individual churches to decide whether they would accept an LGBTQ clergyperson and permit same sex marriages. The Traditional Plan would have kept the injunctions against these things and would have tightened up the restrictions and punitive measures taken should clergy break the law.
This dispute has caused me a great deal of anxiety. Not because I am LGBTQ, but because my sister is part of that group of people. So are many of her friends, which by proxy are my friends too. I love her. I love her/my friends. And as far as I can see not one of them chose to be who they are because… well, it’s who they are. The only choice they made was to “come out.” Quite obviously, I don’t buy the “it’s a decision” argument nor do I think people can “pray away the gay.”
This afternoon (Tuesday, Feb. 26), I was trying to feel better by listening to Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber’s audio book, Pastrix. She is a recovering alcoholic, heavily tattooed, hysterically funny, and can curse like a trucker. She makes me laugh while she’s slapping me upside the head with insight. Today I heard her say something that stuck in my head and my heart.
First, I belong to God. I am God’s beloved child. No matter what any United Methodist General Conference decides, I am God’s. The church, like all the other human-created organizations out there, is a human-made and run institution (no matter what anyone tries to tell you). As such, it can be beautiful, loving, exciting, and uplifting, while simultaneously being mean-spirited, blind, pig-headed, and just plain nasty. It’s a fact. It’s real. Because people, not God, run churches and denominations – no matter what they tell you. But the people in the church are God’s.
And I am God’s, too, no matter how dumb, hurtful, mean-spirited, or pigheaded I am. And when I wander off and get into trouble, God waits for me to remember Whose I am and return. In fact, sometimes God even goes so far to come after me, tap me on the shoulder, and say, “Hey! Remember me? Let’s go hang out.”
So as things are likely to get even crazier in the UMC, I will slap my hand on my head and, like Martin Luther, shout, “I AM BAPTIZED” to remind myself to Whom I belong. And this crazy idea gives me strength and hope. Oh, yeah, It probably will freak out anyone standing near me, but at least I’ll get grounded again.
I had a realization of my own today, too, and it’s a basic tenet of my faith. Jesus died on the cross but was resurrected three days later. In short, after death there is resurrection. This may be the end of an old life, but also it is the beginning of a new one.
That said, here is where I stand on the matter of the Traditional Plan while the dust settles and while Annual Conferences and local congregations decide what to do next.
1. I am no longer a “United Methodist.” But I am a “Methodist.” That is, I no longer feel allegiance toward the human organization called the United Methodist Church. However, I am a Methodist because I continue to be someone who sees scripture, theology, mission, and life through the lens of John Wesley, the 18th century Anglican priest who unintentionally started the Methodist Church. (Gee, all he really wanted was to pump a little life into the Church of England. Funny thing about that.)
2. I am free in Christ. The large, worldwide religious conglomerate called the United Methodist Church can do what it wants; but it cannot and will not have my soul. That belongs to God. And so I kick its dust from my feet. While I bear the denomination no ill will, I’m moving on spiritually and emotionally.
3. I love the local congregation where I serve as Assistant Minister, Director of Christian Education, and Communications Director. I have spent ten and a half years with this family. Hey, they must be something special because I’ve never spent ten and a half years anywhere – except, of course, with those I love, which now includes the people of First UMC. And that is good, and I want to be with them until God calls me elsewhere.
4. I am going “full Maggie” now. My only vow is to live by Christ’s Law of Love. It’s short, sweet, and to the point: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22: 37-40, New Revised Standard Version) Like my character, Maggie Blaine Smith, I will strive to love God and love others. Hang all the other baggage.
5. Finally, I am sooo glad I never got ordained. Maybe my dislike of “jumping through hoops” was more of a God-thing than I ever imagined. I am free to respond to this in a way that my ordained friends are not.
Thanks for putting up with me, friends. I know some of you don’t give two dead flies about religion, much less United Methodism. However, this matters to me, and I needed to say something publicly.
Look for the post on the last part of “the Civil War as a Character” Friday.
Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder