Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.
On Monday the United Methodist Council of Bishops announced the formation of a special “Commission on a Way Forward” and named the thirty-two members they had appointed.
"After three months of diligent and prayerful discernment, we have selected 8 bishops, 11 laity, 11 elders and 2 deacons to serve on the Commission," said Bishop Bruce R. Ough, president of the Council of Bishops.
Although I am hopeful that the commission really can find a way forward, there are huge problems.
Ough said the commission "is representative of our theological diversity." That is a good thing and I take him at his word that the Council of Bishops has tried to get a fair representation of the spectrum of theological positions within the UMC. But the underlying problem is not just that we have theological differences, though those differences are real. The greater issue is that some of us can accept those differences and others cannot.
And the commission has only two self-identified LGBT persons.
The Commission's mission, as mandated by the General Conference this spring, is to "bring together persons deeply committed to the future(s) of The United Methodist Church, with an openness to developing new relationships with each other and exploring the potential future(s) of our denomination in light of General Conference and subsequent annual, jurisdictional and central conference actions."
The language explicitly states that we may be looking at more than one “future.” The commission is not necessarily looking for a united future. And some of those appointed to the commission have already indicated that they are in favor of schism.
The press release states that, “The 2016 General Conference gave a specific mandate to the Council of Bishops to lead The United Methodist Church in discerning and proposing a way forward through the present impasse related to human sexuality and the consequent questions about unity and covenant.”
There are questions about unity and covenant, but by describing our conflict as “related to human sexuality,” the press release makes it sound as if this were an academic discussion of theological perspectives.
A group of “United Methodist Queer Clergy” responded firmly:
“We demand that the Special Commission on a way Forward named yesterday speak the truth about its business: it is not talking about ‘the present impasse related to human sexuality;’ rather, it is talking about us, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and Intersex children of God, and about whether or not the denomination we serve will continue its 44 year discrimination against us. We feel erased and disappeared in the mission statement of the Commission.”It is not about theology.
It is not about biblical authority.
It is not about doctrine.
It is about human beings.
Will the United Methodist Church continue to exclude LGBTQ persons from full participation in the life of the church? Will we continue to oppress LGBTQ persons?
We do not have to agree on theology, biblical authority, or doctrine. We do have to agree that no one will be excluded because of who they are.
I will not presume to speak for others. I clearly cannot speak for my LGBTQ colleagues and friends. But I do not believe that every United Methodist pastor should be required to officiate at same sex weddings, or that every United Methodist church should be willing to accept a gay pastor.
We need to find a way forward. This will not be the final word. We need to keep our eyes on the prize.
As Bill Coffin said in the closing paragraph of his autobiography, "I am hopeful. By this, I mean that hope, as opposed to cynicism and despair, is the sole precondition for a new and better life. Realism demands pessimism. But hope demands that we take a dark view of the present only because we hold a bright view of the future, and hope arouses, as nothing else can arouse, a passion for the possible."
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