Divisions and Hope

The United Methodist Church held a special General Conference this week to provide clarity around the issue of homosexuality, gay clergy  and same sex marriages. Many of us had hoped that we would finally be able to recognize that sexual orientation is a matter of  inborn identity and not choice. From the first vote though, it was clear that a plan carefully worked on for the past two years would not have the required votes.

I doubt any minds were changed, although there were many passionate speeches. Delegates for the most part, came with minds made up. As I tuned into the live feed during the sessions, it was also clear to me that the United Methodist Church where I live has vastly different needs than churches in nations where homosexuality is criminalized.   Being a global church, with an increasing percentage of people in Africa,  has limited the ability of the United Methodist Church in the US to be more inclusive.

Instead of a more gracious response,  today’s decisions created greater restrictions which include  mandated punishment for pastors who officiate at gay marriages and bishops who ordain people in same sex marriages.

One group of people headed home satisfied. Others were in tears. As I look at Facebook posts tonight I see my clergy friends responding to the decision using terms like:

“Feeling lost.”
“Deeply saddened.”

On a disappointing day, a glimmer of hope came from  our Western Jurisdiction Conferences.  Several years ago, they  made a decision to be an inclusive church. Today, they announced they intend to remain so and invited others to be in conversation with them.    I’ve been reminded of Edwin Markam’s poem:

“He drew a circle that shut me out–
Heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!”
Edwin Markam