“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)
Since last Friday, I have flown roughly 2,890 miles, taken countless selfies, and fluctuated emotionally between awe, despair and hope. Throughout the last five days and two conferences, two things are clearer for me than ever: the Spirit of our living God is still with us; we are stronger together (though we will continue to explore what being together looks like). Please take these words to heart and nestle them there; hold onto this hope during the turbulence ahead.
On Friday evening, people of color (poc), trans people (t), queer folks (q), and those who live at the intersections of these identities gathered with allies at Lake Harriett UMC in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This summit (#OMFSummit) is essential to the continuing conversations of the future of Methodism because it centered the voices of marginalized peoples—the conversation was with us and not merely about us.
At this summit, we not only discussed the importance of allyship (“having our back”), but also of radical solidarity (being with marginalized groups and seeing your own personal liberation as tied to the liberation of all people—especially poc/t/q people). When we see the hurt of our poc/t/q neighbors as our own hurts, our hearts are softened and can be molded into hearts of Christ. The Rev. Dr. Jay Williams from Union UMC in Boston named a non-negotiable for the ensuing dialogues: “We cannot compromise queer liberation.” Whatever comes next, it must be a Church which liberates queer people—not one which simply allows us to participate—but one which celebrates and affirms our gifts and callings; one which lets us lead.
And inextricably tied to this queer liberation is the dismantling of white supremacy, the recognition of our racist history, and a confession of the present inequality which black and brown clergy and laity face in our United Methodist Church. This movement of liberation must also address the inequality between female clergy and their male counterparts. We must admit and commit to change the fact that many female pastors have experienced sexual harassment in our Church, that they are disrespected and devalued by many of their male clergy colleagues and male parishioners.
To be in radical solidarity means to participate in the liberation of all people.
These conversations continued as we discussed the possibilities of remaining and resisting from within, of starting something new, and of some middle ground between leaving and staying which would accommodate for the diversity found in our various contexts. This work was just the beginning of the conversation, and you can read the UM-Forward proclamation here. On Sunday evening I flew to Kansas City with representatives from every annual conference in the U.S. for the UMC Next event.
What was powerful about both of these events was the true community I experienced. Unlike General Conference, I felt no need for protest or fear; I entered a community which sought to love more boldly and center the voices of LGBTQ+ people like me, and of people of color, in the identity of our Church. I experienced the beauty and hope found in our connection. I heard stories of small reconciling communities in Alaska and Georgia which have made their unconditional welcome known by joining Reconciling Ministries Network. I heard from pastors and lay people in Mississippi, Texas and Florida who are creating safe spaces for queer people in their United Methodist churches. I heard from the Western Jurisdiction about their coordinated effort to provide “safe harbor” to queer clergy from other conferences whose credentials are threatened.
I heard United Methodists from all over the U.S. share what they are doing to build the inclusive Kin-dom of God. Together we are making a difference and saving lives not only in the U.S., but as centrist/progressive United Methodists around the world. We are stronger together, and we are reclaiming our Church together.
At UMC Next, we were placed around 78 tables with folks from other conferences and identities as we discussed several questions each day. The questions ranged from what are your hopes/fears, would you support exit plans if necessary, could you lead your people through the process of remaining and resisting? We also discussed several plans for the restructuring of the denomination and clearly affirmed together that “we will not abide by the Traditional Plan,” and that we demand the removal of discriminatory language from the Book of Discipline. This is the Church which we long for and invite all of us to create together.
No, we did not create a consensus as to whether we should stay or leave, but this is only just the beginning. This is one of the first times that progressives and centrists (who are the majority in the U.S.) came together to discuss how we can be the Church which we see God calling us to be. The Wesleyan Covenant Association sold our global siblings a lie by suggesting that the Traditional Plan would not fracture our connection or destroy the boards and agencies which support ministries around the globe. The majority of the U.S. Church will no longer stand by as discrimination runs rampant through our denomination, neither will German United Methodists abide by the discrimination against LGBTQ+ people found in our Book of Discipline.
A new thing is coming. Like never before, folks are standing up in rural churches and cities, in countries where same-sex acts are still illegal, and we are proclaiming that the year of the Lord is upon us; that justice will fall like a mighty rain and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
So, as the majority of the U.S. Church continues to discuss our strategies for creating an inclusive Church—whether that be by reforming our current denomination or by creating a new denomination—our connection to each other as centrists and progressives is essential. As of now, Church of the Resurrection (the largest UMC in the U.S.) plans to remain, resist, and reform from within our current structure, while developing plans for a new denomination. I intend to do the same.
As the plans for a new denomination are progressed through further conversations, we are not powerless. We are equally committed to continuing the decades of resistance. More churches than ever are joining Reconciling Ministries Network, more individuals are becoming reconciling individuals, and we are coming together as centrists and progressives to build a network, to say that we will not abide by the Traditional Plan, nor any discrimination against poc/t/q children of God.
You are not powerless. You have a voice in the future of what God is doing with Methodism. Encourage your church to boldly profess that you affirm and celebrate people of all sexual orientations, gender identities, races, and abilities. Share your story of why inclusion is important to you—share with your pastor/congregation, share with your conservative neighbor, share with your bishop. Resistance and reform are active processes which require all of us to act boldly together.
May God continue to inspire our imaginations; to open hearts, minds and doors; to empower us to boldly proclaim the justice and inclusion of all people—especially poc/t/q people. No matter what the future holds, I have hope because we are moving forward together. We are not alone.
And best of all, God is with us.