A Special Session of the General (i.e., global) Conference of the United Methodist Church concluded February 26 in such a way as to create “winners” and “losers” on the question of the full inclusion of non-heterosexual people in the life of the United Methodist Church. The “Traditional Plan” (retaining the phrase in our Discipline’s Social Principles that “we find the practice of homosexuality to be incompatible with Christian teaching”) passed by a vote of 438 to 384, a 53-47% split vote. The “losers” – those who wanted their Church to move toward full-inclusion (by way of the “One Church Plan”) – were devastated, evidencing the continuing hurtful division within our denomination over this issue.
More than 2/3 of the U.S. Church voted against this outcome, but the vote of the non-U.S. Church (now composing more than one-third of the denomination) – based largely on cultural, but sometimes legal differences – proved decisive. I don’t know, but I would guess that our congregation roughly mirrors the vote of the U.S. Church at last week’s General Conference.
When such a large number of our fellow members differ in their understanding of where God is leading the Church, it is incumbent on the Church to respond in a way other than how we have.
My own desire was to see our Church pass the “One Church Plan”, which may have kept our Church together until such time as God might grant us wisdom (James 1:5) greater than trying to move forward on the basis a 53-47 vote – which is just patently unwise. When such a large number of our fellow members differ in their understanding of where God is leading the Church, it is incumbent on the Church to respond in a way other than how we have. The “One Church Plan” would have also given us the opportunity to remain together while putting into practice changes which, in the words of the Apostle Paul’s eminent teacher, Gamaliel, will either succeed or fail depending on whether or not they prove to be “from God”, ensuring that we are not found ultimately to be “fighting against God” (Acts 5:39).
All persons are of sacred worth shall be eligible to attend [our church’s] worship services, participate in [our] programs, receive the sacraments [and] upon baptism be admitted as baptized members, and upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith, become professing members in any local church in the connection.
My commitment going forward – and I believe the commitment on the part of everyone at St. Matthew – is to fulfill our Disciplinary mandate to acknowledge that “all persons are of sacred worth [and] shall be eligible to attend [our church’s] worship services, participate in [our] programs, receive the sacraments [and] upon baptism be admitted as baptized members, and upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith, become professing members in any local church in the connection” (Article IV of the Constitution of the United Methodist Church).
Until there is some further resolution of this issue among us, it seems to me that we who are the real, everyday “local” church – versus the administrative superstructure we are a part of – can, and should, continue to be a church which welcomes all people. It is important to remember that the superstructure does immeasurably more good than harm, in Jesus’ name, around the world every day. But what those who have been wounded by the denomination need are strong local churches which genuinely welcome and embrace everybody.
The best way, i.e., for us who are St. Matthew Church to support those who have now been further alienated from the Church (capital “C”) is to remain as vital a part of the Body of Christ as we possibly can as a local church (lower case “c”). I invite all who read this to join us in this effort.
Randy Smith Pastor