Our denomination began at the same time our forebears were putting together the constitution. And so our church governance parallels many of the notions of a democratic republic. We have something called the “Book of Discipline.” This book is like the constitution, only much more detailed. Like our constitution, it is difficult to change. It includes rules on how we are organized, beliefs that are central to our core values and, of course, restrictions on a variety of subjects. One subject included in the restrictions concerns openly gay and lesbian men and women in positions of leadership. The Discipline here includes some language about sexual identity that when you read it makes a lot of us wonder if the UMC of EPUMC has arrived in the 21st Century yet.
In our church governance, we also have something like an executive branch known as Bishop. We have a legislative branch known as General Conference. And we have a judicial branch known as the Judicial Council, made up of nine people. This Council hears and makes rulings, much like our Supreme Court, concerning questions about how we as United Methodists function as a denomination. In this case, the question concerns our long-standing disagreement among United Methodists concerning the ordination of gay and lesbian men and women.
As a denomination over our 235-year history, we have often disagreed. Two centuries ago we disagreed over whether or not lay people could vote. A century and a half ago we disagreed over slavery and the question of race. Until 1956, we disagreed about the rights of women to be ordained. We disagreed about civil rights. And now our biggest most public disagreement is about the definition of sexual identity and how GLBTQ persons will be accepted into leadership.
This debate, as others before it, threatens to split our denomination. This is significant for many reasons, one of which is that it affects a lot of people. The UMC is the third largest religious body in the USA; only the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist convention are larger.
Our debate for decades has been about changing the language in our “Discipline” to reflect what many of us believe is a beautiful, diverse creation. Although we have not always enforced our “rule,” we have failed to change the “letter of our law.” And so now… when some parts of our denomination push the envelope and elect and consecrate someone as a bishop who is not making a secret of her sexual identity… Others have pushed back to say you cannot do that because “The Discipline” says so.
I know this is a lot of bureaucratic mess… but it our mess, and it is a “hot mess.” We are a part of this connection. At EPUMC we have had the difficult conversation that led us to become a Reconciling Congregation. This means we believe and practice that all persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are loved and cared for by God from the moment of their birth. And further we welcome and encourage LBGTQ persons who may be called by God to the ordained ministry into leadership. It is important for EPUMC as a congregation to recognize this core value of our community.
However as the apostle Paul mentions in one of his letters to the congregation in Corinth who were disagreeing… when one member of the body suffers we all suffer. We are and will be a part of what happens next. I’m not sure what will happen next for our denomination, but I expect it will be painful. The UMC of EPUMC might not always be there.
I can say what is happening next for our congregation -- a Sunday when we will celebrate. We are calling it Reconciling Sunday. And it’s happening June 18. This is day to celebrate God’s love for all persons, and specifically God’s acceptance of GLBTQ people. It’s not a day to pat ourselves on the back…if anything, it’s a day to call ourselves to remember the hurt and suffering our lack of acceptance in the past has caused. I hope this celebration acts as a catalyst for us to move forward.
As the UMC of EPUMC asks us to choose….At EPUMC we will continue to stand on the side a gracious and loving God who loves us all for who we are…his children…who need each other.
Keep the Faith,