Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. – Hebrews 13:1 – 2 (NIV)
Yesterday, the Special Session of the General Conference voted to maintain the language of LGBTQI marriage and ordination within The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church by passing “The Traditional Plan.” This vote does not mean that those who identify as LGBTQI are barred from our churches, but does have the following implications:
- A broader definition of “self-avowed practicing homosexual” to include persons living in a same-sex marriage or civil union or persons who publicly state that they are practicing homosexuals.
- Clergy who identify as LGBTQI will not be considered for ordination and if already ordained will be encouraged to join a “autonomous, affiliated or concordat church” or surrender their credentials.
- Clergy who perform LGBTQI weddings will receive a warning and a year suspension without pay for a first offense, and a second offense will result in surrendering credentials.
- Churches who believe that they cannot uphold the discipline, can now vote to leave the denomination and keep their property.
There are still some questions as to whether sections of this plan will pass judicial standards without further amendments, but it has been voted in through the General Conference.
This was a divisive vote for our church. Some of us are angry, some of us are relieved. Some of us believe we are standing for biblical authority, some of us believe it is a matter of justice for themselves or someone they love. It has been a hard journey and it is still not over. There is a very real possibility that there are churches and pastors on both sides who feel that in order to be faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ, they must leave the denomination. We must continue to pray for our church and the people we care about and love. I am asking that those who have been hurt by this vote to know that we love you and will continue to love you – please don’t give up on us as your church family.
Like many of you in this time of change, I have been reflecting on my own experience as a member of the United Methodist Church. Many of you know that my parents were divorced when I was seven. Several years later after my dad remarried, we moved to a small town which didn’t have a Presbyterian Church, so we ended up going to Ashland City United Methodist Church in Ashland City, TN. My dad would drag me there every Sunday hoping to instill some religion in me. As a new kid in this small town where everyone had known everyone since they were in kindergarten, at first I felt out of place since I was only there on the weekends. I didn’t know anyone, I was different. But then something happened… I was welcomed. I was made to feel that I belonged. I made friends that I still love today. That church became a haven for me, a safe space where I could grow in God’s love and grace.
To me that is what being a Methodist Church is. A place where folks that feel like they don’t belong are shown that they do. A place where we actually make room for one another’s voice and show respect for everyone as beautiful children of God. A place that lives out kindness and caring in such abundance that it transforms us all.
Asbury was founded in that same spirit of evangelism and many of you remember the hospitality you received when you were welcomed into this community of faith. I can imagine those folks meeting in a roller-skating rink, who reached out to people where they were, creating a spiritual space that would lead people to God. That spirit of community is what led this church to be one of the fastest growing churches in the Conference.
The future of the church may be facing a turbulent time, but if we, like in Hebrews 13:1-2 focus on welcoming the stranger, no matter who they are or where they come from, we can know we are following the call of Christ. We may not agree with one another on the decision made by the General Conference, but we can remember Jesus ministered to everyone, showed hospitality to everyone, and broke bread with everyone, which led to new life for all who believed.
As the journey continues, Asbury will resume having discussions around human sexuality and the bible in a way that is respectful and caring. If we band together in this spirit of hospitality and openess, what an incredible witness that will be to our world that is in desperate need of God’s love and grace.
Pastor Tracy Mooney
For the latest information on the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference, please visit https://www.umnews.org/en/