WHAT I AM LOOKING FOR – General Conference 2016

michelangelo davidI am not a delegate to the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, which begins on Tuesday, May 10. I will, however, be in Portland, Oregon coincidentally visiting family at that time. And so I am planning to take advantage of that wonder of synchronicity to go to the Portland Convention Center, sit in the spectator’s gallery for a couple of days, and watch some of the GC 2016 proceedings.

(Incidentally, my wife thinks this is one of the stupidest ways ever invented to spend vacation time and will not be coming with me. And I am not sure I blame her one bit.)

But the thing is… I love my church. At the same time I am worried about my church. I also know that the deliberations taking place during this quadrennial global gathering will have a profound effect on the future of this wonderful, screwed up, faithful, bureaucratic, pioneering, affirming, frightened, bunch of Christ-followers called United Methodists.

And so I will go and watch from the gallery… hopeful and apprehensive at the same time.

As a denomination we have been punting the issue of full inclusion of gay, lesbian, and transgendered people down the field for many decades. Which means, of course, our inaction has allowed Disciplinary language to stand that mandates an official church stance that says, “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

And so… by deferring action on this piece of our doctrinal heritage, the United Methodist Church has officially endorsed a form of discrimination and has blessed a form of denial of full humanness for a particular class of people.

Many are hopeful that this gathering of the global church will finally be the moment (#itistime) when our church repents of its sin and goes and sins no more. And yet there is also a formidable contingent of folks – also calling themselves United Methodists – who have an equally passionate hope that the church stick to its “godly ways” and continue to exclude any LGBTQ person from the life and ministry of United Methodism.

It is an issue that even the shrewdest of diplomats would have a hard time finding a middle ground on. Either gays get to be United Methodist pastors or they don’t. Either a United Methodist pastor can perform same-sex marriages, or they can’t.

And given the extremely volatile nature of the issue and the capacity for explosiveness it has carried with it every time it has come to the floor, I wonder if resolution is too much to even hope for. Lack of resolution – or a decision to retain the current language – means continued oppression in the name of faith. And I am not sure how or if I can live with that.

And yet, a decision to change, to become an inclusive and – in my opinion – a more loving and Christ-like global body of people likely means deep schism in the denomination.

And so I have decided that my hope is that an example for the world will emerge from the coffee-flavored atmosphere of Portland… an example of how two very disparate groups, living under the same ecclesial “roof” can engage passionate and vital dialogue on a divisive subject and do so with goodwill and clarity.

I pray that both sides will see their project in the same light that Michelangelo described his sculpting work on the famous statue of David… in which vital chisels are wielded by the hands of both the pro-inclusion and the anti-inclusion folks and where a recognition dawns that they must work together under divine guidance to uncover the masterpiece of consensus that already lives within the block of rough marble before them. And that when they finish, and the last extraneous piece has been chipped away, they can stand back together, embrace, and behold what GOD – not either of them flying solo – has wrought. Of course, in the name of justice my prayer is that this finished work of art provides a way for ALL (“all means all,” after all) people to come to the table of grace with their full humanity intact.

And just to mix in a baking metaphor for fun, the icing on the cake would be that the rest of the world takes note of what happened there in Portland and says, “You know… I bet we could do what the Methodists did, too. Let’s give it a go, shall we?”

God’s abundant blessings on each and every delegate and their families as they prepare their hearts and minds for this historic 10 days.

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