It's sad. Just sad. So many people have been watching the United Methodist Church conference for the past few days. THE major items they’re voting on are continuing or lifting the boundary that prevents clergy from officiating same-sex weddings and LGBTQ+ people in same-sex relationships from being ordained. The preliminary vote was in favor of not removing the boundary. More than likely, the first vote foreshadows what will be decided today when the official vote occurs. People will either vote for the boundary to remain (called the traditional church plan) or for the boundary to be lifted (open church plan).
Tensions are high and as a result a few UMC leaders and non-UMC Christians have resorted to accusing each other of evil, hatred, and even causing murder. Name calling is in abundance right now (e.g. racist, bigot, etc.) The conference is global and yet a few American UMC leaders are complaining that not all of the conference is being done primarily in English. A majority of leaders from the African continent and other non-Western contexts are more conservative in their theology and are voting to keep the boundary in place. Some of the African leaders have reserved harsh words for the American sect of the UMC. The words they chose didn't earn them any influence--just the opposite. Their vocabulary hurt more people than it helped (Note: not all UMC African leaders in attendance were like this). Some social media warriors have already begun assuming that anyone who disagrees with their view are either oppressing or persecuting people. Basically, people are viewing each other as issues rather than people. Conversations surrounding LGBTQ+ and church take love, faith, and empathy from and for all involved. But right now there's little empathy and the way people are treating each other hardly resembles Jesus.
If you know me, it's no secret that I ask Christians to live in the tension of grace and truth. I'm 100% convicted that God designed sexual intimacy to be expressed in marriage between one man and one woman. I'm also 100% convinced that my theological belief on sex, marriage, relationships and intimacy doesn't dictate how well I do or don't treat people.
Didn’t Jesus prioritize loving difficult people (Matt 5:46)?
How much did Paul value being kind and pursuing peace with others (Rom 12:9-18)?
Shouldn’t we refrain from reinterpreting Scripture so it aligns with our opinions?
Isn’t it best to not assume that everyone who disagrees with us is an extremist or ignorant?
Regardless of our view, can’t we acknowledge that the “other side” might have some valid reasons for their beliefs?
This event is very emotionally charged. It appears that some in attendance and those watching from afar are allowing their emotions to be their primary leader right now. When we’re led primarily by emotion for a long period of time, we get in trouble... we can't see past our own opinions. And it's impossible to be empathetic when we can't see past ourselves. An overabundance of emotion clouds clarity and destroys empathy. The absence of empathy allows us to unintentionally say and do things that hurt others. As a result, the pain from words and actions will last a lot longer than any conference could.
FYI--- If you claim to follow Jesus, you're better than this. When you decided to follow Jesus, you surrendered your false sense of entitlement to be a gossip, slanderer, bitter, ungracious, mean, indifferent, and rude. So, what should we do?
Obviously we should treat others well and love them well, right? I think that love is the key. Paul rightly said in Romans 13:8-10, "Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery,' 'You shall not murder,' 'You shall not steal,' 'You shall not covet,' and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law."
Loving your neighbor as yourself is keeping the law. It's another way to worship God. Why? Because everyone is someone Jesus died for and God created in His image. Our harsh treatment of others is a creative way to spit on God's image. Let me say this in a different way: treating someone poorly is spitting on God and devaluing Jesus' sacrifice on the cross. Despite someone's actions, we should love them well... because loving people is another way of loving God.
At the bare minimum I'd hoped that Christians would model treating people well in the face of sharp disagreement. I guess not. Regardless of how the vote goes, there will probably be lawsuits, more hurt feelings, people leaving their churches, UMC churches that become autonomous, some churches will close, one or more new denominations will be formed, false dichotomies will grow, and it will be more uncomfortable to live in the tension of grace & truth. I’m truly broken over this. The situation is a mess and I don’t see amy healthy resolution in sight. I could be wrong. Strike that... you have NO idea how much I HOPE I'm wrong.
In addition to loving and treating people well, would you join me in praying for:
-Scripture to be highly prioritized (as it should be).
-Those are and will be hurt from the past few days.
-God to work in the midst of the chaos.
-A deep dive into how Scripture says we should live, what difficult passages on sex and intimacy mean, and how Christians need to love others no matter what.
-Healing… no one deserves to be made to feel worthless or live up to the names they’ve been called.
-UMC leaders to seek God through prayer, Bible reading and wisdom as they take their next steps.
-Courage for those choosing to live in the tension of grace and truth as it becomes less popular to do so.
-The banner "love God & love people" to be lifted up for the world to see.
Here’s some good news for the rest of your day: God loves YOU! Jesus is still coming back. The Body of Christ will never fail. Denominations and individual churches will come, go, or develop, but not even the gates of Hell will overcome THE church... THE collection of all of us who are alive and follow Jesus. One day there will be neither pain nor strife, because in the end, God wins!!!
…and one more time, God really really loves YOU!