I've struggled for the last several weeks trying not only to put into words my feelings about the decision of the Special Session of General Conference, but also pondering a possible way forward for our congregation.
Of course, the hope of the Special Session was that we would create a way forward with space for all people to live into our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The reality is that delegates from throughout the world reaffirmed, by a slim margin of 438-384, the "Traditional Plan," which would keep all of the wording regarding homosexuality in our Book of Discipline intact ("homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching") and thus would continue to ban the ordination of gay clergy and continue to ban clergy from performing same-sex marriages.
The truth is that it doesn't matter which side of the aisle you are on, or I am on. A strong message has now been sent to our communities and to the entire nation that the United Methodist Church no longer has "open hearts, open minds, and open doors," and that our congregations will now be screening and judging all who walk through our doors. Yes, I've actually heard that comment. No, of course it is not true.
We must focus on the fact that although General Conference is the law-making body of our denomination, it is not the church. WE are the church. And St. John's will continue to be the same church we've always been. We will continue to be open and welcoming to all people regardless of age, race, gender, theological stance, and - YES - sexual orientation. We will continue to have the same open hearts, open minds, and open doors that we've always had. And we will take steps to make sure everyone is aware of that. Our congregation has never been known to treat anyone, or any group of people, as second-class citizens, and we will continue to be a bright light to our community.
As Bishop Easterling from the Baltimore-Washington Conference stated, "law and God's grace often find themselves at odds." He also said that "the resounding justification offered by those who would not support the One Church Plan (which would have removed the phrase "homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching," and therefore change the restrictions on clergy) is that they could not be affiliated with a denomination that condones what they believe to be sin. As I have said repeatedly, well-regarded biblical scholars and theologians disagree on the interpretation of the scriptures used to support that understanding ... and to say that you cannot remain in relationship with "sinners" is to deny the reality that our denomination, as is the case with any denomination, is filled with persons living in ways some would define as sin. Our current disciplinary language simply elevates one perceived sin above all others and castigates some to the exclusion of others."
We as a congregation are called to be in deep prayer at this time. I do not know what the ultimate outcome of this decision will be - it is still very possible that could be looking at some form of denominational split or schism in the future. But we have to remember that God is in control, even when we see chaos all around us - and so we pray that God will make a way when there seems to be no way. And until then, we commit ourselves to live in the uncertainty, to remain faithful, to pray unceasingly, and to continue worshiping and working together for peace, truth and justice for all.