I want to begin by recognizing that there are reasons some may choose, and may need, to leave the UMC at this time. I don’t believe that anyone should feel pressured to stay in a place that does not feel loving. Finding a place that nurtures a personal relationship with God is what is most important for each individual. For some, this place is the UMC, for others, at this time, it is not.
In light of the recent news about the church trial and suspension of Reverend Frank Schaefer and the Council of Bishops’ complaint against the actions of retired Bishop Melvin Talbert, many are questioning the United Methodist Church and its commitment to “open hearts, open minds, and open doors.” In many ways, this is warranted. From the outside looking in (or from the couch watching Good Morning America), the United Methodist Church looks less than loving right now. Less than welcoming. Less than living up to the call of the Gospel.
From the outside looking in, the United Methodist Church looks to be less than “loving our neighbors as ourselves.”
But, for many on the inside, there is hope. We see change is coming. We know the rest of the (complex) story and we cling to the good works of organizations like the Reconciling Ministries Network. We find hope in the conversations and proclamations happening all around us from living rooms to Sunday School classrooms, from Facebook to the pulpit.
Of course, with these proclamations and affirmations come the realization that the church is not of one mind on the issue of homosexuality. And when the church is not of one mind, there can be tension. Controversy, even.
In some of my recent readings for a course at Chicago Theological Seminary, I came across Saul Alinsky’s law of change on the polarity between “change” and “unity.”
“Change means movement; movement means friction; friction means heat; heat means controversy.” (Roots for Radicals, 31)
Unity is perhaps not a word to describe the UMC today, but change…change just may be our word.
While there is much not to like about the lack of unity and this most recent controversy in the UMC, and while too many have been hurt in ways that cannot be ignored, I pray that this controversy becomes a catalyst. For friction is not the only thing that causes heat. So too, does Light. And I pray that somehow the heat, the warmth, that comes from this controversy is generated by those who are the Light.
So, I will stay with the United Methodist Church because I feel the warmth despite the disunion. And I see the Light of change growing in intensity.
And somewhere in a UMC Sunday school classroom, a young person needs to see that Light.
Somewhere in the back pew of a UMC santuary, a neighbor needs to see that Light.
Somewhere in front of a computer screen of a UMC home, a searching soul needs to see that Light.
What will become of that Light be if we all leave?
I’ve often wondered, had I been alive during the height of the civil rights movement or during the years leading up to the American Civil War, if I would have stood on the right side of history. Would I have been brave enough to speak up? To be heard? To act?
Would my children and my children’s children have looked back upon their grandmother who helped bend the arc towards justice, or who remained silent?
While I feel deep down in my bones that I would have been compelled to do something, honestly, I don’t know. That was a different time and a different struggle.
And while the current struggle for equal rights and a place at the table for our LGBT brothers and sisters is unique (just as is the plight of women and immigrants and the impoverished and the differently abled and the continued plight of racial and ethnic minorities in our country), it is and will be one of the measures to which I will hold myself accountable. It is one of the measures by which others – my children and my children’s children – can and will hold me accountable.
And, I believe, it is one of the measures to which God calls me to speak. This is the reason I stay.