Guest commentary by George Love
I want to share a word to my Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) family as we stand by our United Methodist siblings in the wake of their General Conference from one who was present as an observer. Their February gathering in St. Louis affirmed a “Traditional Plan” for the polity of their church. This plan does not provide for a polity that would allow ordination of LGBTQ+ persons or same-sex marriages. It is hard to overstate the amount of pain that emanated from those city blocks in St. Louis on Tuesday, February 26. I fear the fallout will be great. There is the specific pain of the LGBTQ+ community within and beyond the United Methodist Church, the pain of those within the church who desired a more inclusive way forward and the pain of a church divided nearly in half in their vote (53 to 47 percent). Much of the pain is simply bound up in the deep and foundational passion of our United Methodist brothers and sisters for their church in this moment of deep division.
I am married to a United Methodist pastor. I know lots of United Methodists and spend a good bit of time at their gatherings. They are a fiercely faithful and fiercely proud bunch who largely are not United Methodist by accident. They love their church and their Wesleyan heritage. They love their global church. The global nature of the church is central to what is happening. If one was to pull out the vote of the delegates representing conferences in the United States, it is estimated that the margin would have been about two-thirds in favor of the “One Church Plan,”which would (this is oversimplified) have created the space for inclusion based on context. The majority of the United Methodist Church folks in the United States hold a minority position within their global church. There is much complexity and there are many moving parts. A great source of the pain of this moment in the UMC in the United States is, I think, caused by this desire to be inclusive and at the same time keep the relationships internationally that are a part of their DNA.
I believe it is as likely that you could go to a United Methodist church in the United States and find welcome as an LGBTQ+ person as if you were to go to a PC(USA) church. This is praise and indictment of both. Institutional regulations do not define the people in a church building on a Sunday morning. The PC(USA) stumbled haltingly towards an institutional position of full inclusion, living through a great deal of pain as something new was birthed –and in practice is still being birthed –around us. Perhaps our best witness is to share with those who are hurting that we know that pain and we pray along with them as they live with it heavily in their midst.
Personally, I am moved by the dedication and perseverance I have seen my wife live as a member of the UMC’s Commission on a Way Forward. While its work may seem not to have been the solution in these few days of General Conference 2019, these few days are in no way the story of the work of that group. That story continues. To have had a seat nearby is to know the countless hours my wife and all the Commission members put into a process for the church and the God they love. The process they lived is a model for the body of Christ, a model of diversity, of valuing all voices, of inclusion, of caring for the child of God that is each person, of building relationships as the bedrock of who we are as people of faith.
Finally, I am drawn back time and again to Holy Saturday —that space between death and resurrection. It is hard to live in that space where what was no longer is and where what will be has not yet come into view. But my faith tells me that what comes into view has great potential of being worth waiting for.
I pray, as I prayed as an observerin St. Louis, a prayer I heard lifted many times in those few days: Come Holy Spirit!
I believe in this truth: God is love and love wins.
GEORGE LOVE is the pastor of Hebron Presbyterian Church in Shepherdsville, Kentucky. He is a husband, father, sports fan, comic book collector and enjoyer of pop culture who loves discovering God in all of it.