I should be studying. But I’ve been thinking so much this week that I can’t think. I just saw a quote from Reverend Eston Williams: “At the end of the day, I’d rather be excluded for who I include than included for who I excluded.”
For those of you not wrapped up in church news—specifically, United Methodist Church news—the church’s legislative body, the General Conference, voted this week to strengthen our Book of Discipline’s language excluding non-celibate LGBTQ individuals from the clergy and punishing clergy who violate these rules or perform same-sex marriages. The decision faces judicial review, but the decision was made nonetheless.
“Open Hearts, Open Doors,” we say. Perhaps not for all.
I am hurt. I am confused. And, in the words of Reverend Williams, I really would “rather be excluded for who I include than included for who I excluded.” If we take some parts of the Bible in historical context, considering the biases of its writers, why do we exclude other passages from that process? In truth, the issue of homosexuality isn’t the most pressing division in the church today, though it’s certainly the most damaging symptom at this moment. The most pressing division is over interpretation of this book, this God-breathed scripture, that we all love. That won’t be solved by any legislative body.
However, my purpose in writing isn’t to elaborate on that intricate theological debate—I simply want to share that I’m confused, to get my words out so that I can continue with my life, and hopefully to help everyone reading put their thoughts into words as well.
Here’s the thing: two days after I turned thirteen, I made vows in front of my church (see: image with this post). Most importantly, I publicly professed my faith and desire to serve the Lord. After that, I promised to be loyal to the United Methodist Church and strengthen its ministries.
Do I stand up against this injustice at the risk of weakening the church’s other ministries? What does loyalty mean when the church’s legislative body makes a decision that, to me, violates Jesus’ greatest commandment? The consequences of a mass exodus from the UMC are grave. In South Carolina, what happens to Epworth Children’s Home, supported by churches in the conference? To Asbury Hills, which changes so many lives every summer? To the Aldersgate Special Needs Ministry? The list goes on, and around the world ministries of the United Methodist Church hang in the balance. There is no doubt that we are better equipped to do ministry when the Body of Christ is united.
The problem with Reverend Williams’ quote, as visceral as my initial reaction was, is that it fails to recognize that by excluding myself from the church to stand for the inclusion of all, I paradoxically exclude the people served by the ministries of the United Methodist Church. Would failing to tithe, transferring membership, or stepping back from the church unintentionally put more value on the lives of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters than my brothers and sisters who live at Epworth?
A similar problem with post-General Conference discussions: I think that we One Church and Simple Plan supporters have made a habit of blaming our loss on international conferences. If we truly support interpreting the Bible in the context of its writing using the lens of our present culture, can we blame people living in other cultures for having different interpretations than we do? While I fully believe that God calls for all people to be included in all aspects of His church, I have to respect the backgrounds of the delegates from all around the world. To protest that we should not be the ones that have to split off, that it should be them, we perpetuate our subconscious feelings of white American superiority that do not belong anywhere, let alone the church. Clearly, we are in the minority in this situation.
I’d rather be excluded for who I include that included for who I excluded.
But I don’t want to exclude anyone, and it seems that the structure of the Church, tainted by human sin, has created a situation with an “us” and “them.”
But thankfully, even as everything seems broken, I can differentiate the structure of the Church from the Church.
The Church is not the General Conference. The Church is not the United Methodist Church. The Church is not the Southern Baptist Church or the Episcopal Church or the Roman Catholic Church or the Greek Orthodox Church.
Where two or more gather in Jesus’ name, He is there.
The Church is praying with a friend before a meal, songs of love around a campfire, mucking out houses after a hurricane, giving immunizations to the uninsured.
We are broken, but Jesus wasn’t crucified for flawless people.
Lord, make us whole. Let Your will be done here as in heaven.
Show us the way forward.