For more than two hours, about 30 United Methodists gathered in protest Thursday around the Communion table at the center of the General Conference and sang, “What does the Lord require of you?” The answer seemed simple and so they sang it interwoven with their prayers: “to seek justice, and love kindness and walk humbly with our God.”
But they also seemed to believe that the Lord wants more — that God wants the church to formally agree that its members disagree on homosexuality. I suspect they also believe that God would like the church to truly act as if all people were created, and deserved to be treated, as beloved children of God. But for the moment, they just wanted to believe that justice, kindness, and simple and authentic acceptance would be offered to them by their church. They were disappointed.
The protest sprung from a vote earlier in the morning. The Revs. Adam Hamilton of Kansas and Mike Slaughter of Ohio, two of the church’s superstar pastors, put forth a resolution, to be included in para. 161F of the Book of Discipline, which acknowledges the church’s official stance while clarifying that United Methodists disagree on whether homosexual practice is contrary to the will of God and urging unity and respect among people with differing theologies and viewpoints.
Ralph Williams and Jen Ihlo, lay delegates from the Baltimore-Washington Conference spoke with passion about the pain the church inflicts when it discriminates against LGBT people.
Others, like the Rev. Maxie Dunham of Kentucky, spoke against the statement. “It leaves out good teaching.” There is no reason at all to state we disagree, because we disagree about almost everything, he said. Another delegate from Africa spoke against the statement in much harsher terms – naming homosexuality as sin and intolerable. The majority of the delegates agreed with them.
In the past, I’ve often reveled in the vast diversity of ideas that sprung from the faith of United Methodists. We seemed to come in all kinds of flavors – but beneath the surface we were united in Christ – United Methodists.
Today, I felt like, if this is “united,” I don’t ever want to see fractured. Part of my discomfort came from a sense of finality.
The African delegates, to my eye, vote in a bloc with the church’s more orthodox members. Statistics indicate that, in future years, they will have a clear majority at General Conference – able to easily cast a conservative approach upon almost any issue.
While the African church is growing at an amazing and enviable rate, it is still financially fragile and is subsidized by United Methodists in the United States. The cost of the approximately $5,000 it takes for each African to attend General Conference, is paid for, in a large proportion, by Americans. I confess it troubles me that I am now paying to bring people to General Conference so that they can hurt people I love.
I know there are probably bigger pictures, but for now, I have a difficult time seeing beyond the pain of the people gathered around the Communion table. My hearts aches for them and for the many others who drifted out of the Convention Center who are asking, “what does the Lord require of us” and are not sure we’re coming up with the right answers.