Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Warning: Using this logo might entail more work than you think

#StayUnited reads the social media statuses of many of my United Methodist Church friends from Florida. In a time where a handful of more conservative churches are threatening to leave the denomination over same-sex marriage and the ordination of gay and lesbian persons, the image above is in the same spirit of Methodism’s founder John Wesley who is sometimes attributed as saying, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” Some posting the image have said that it means to them a commitment to the mission of the church, to make disciples, over the infighting over issues of homophobia and heterosexism.

To my colleagues in Florida United Methodism… before you post this image, beware the work that is required of you to truly make us one.

The work of staying united has little to with avoiding the schism threatened by a handful of congregations who for the most part are already non-connectional.

The real work to be done in making us one begins in asking he question: who are the people who do not feel united or one with the body today?

By posting the image above am I willing to do the individual work that might be required to examine my privilege and the even harder work of listening to the stories of those who do not feel united because of oppression I have contributed to?

As a white male heterosexual clergyperson I have always felt united and one with the United Methodist Church. For example, my call to ministry was relatively easy compared to many stories shared with me by women, people of color, and LGBTQ people. As I listen to their stories, I learn that barriers are often placed in their way to live out their baptism that were nonexistent to me because of my privilege.

I felt more nurtured and supported by the church during my divorce than most gay or lesbian couples feel seeking to be married by their pastor in their church.

If I am serious about the work of making us one I must learn to trust the experience of others facing oppression over my own experience of doors that are always open.

In the case of LGBTQ people, their discrimination is still codified within our Methodist doctrine—naming their being incompatible with Christian teaching and blocking their desire to follow a call to marriage or ordained ministry. But even in our work to make us one and end the oppression of LGBTQ people in The UMC, it cannot be done at the expense of other people experiencing oppression. 

We must get there together.

If we want to stay united we have to all get their together working at the intersections of oppression—for me that means seeing beyond my privileged full inclusion to those who are not included fully because of bigotry, racism, sexism, ableism, heterosexism, and other isms that have already divided our body.

We cannot stay united if there are groups of people who have never been fully united to begin with.

The church I attend begins every worship service with a statement the congregation spent time writing together: Holy Covenant UMC is proud to be a Reconciling Congregation. Whatever your race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, economic situation, background or belief, age or condition of ableness, whether single or partnered, you are God’s beloved and are welcome here! 

For that congregation it is a statement of who they are, and who they are still striving to be, because there is much work individually and collectively to be done to make that statement a reality. For my friends in Florida, if you are interested in doing this work as a congregation, you should contact Helen Ryde of Reconciling Ministries Network. She will help your church walk through a process of writing a welcoming statement that seeks to include all people.

So if you are going to post the image above, beware of the work that is required for true unity. Avoiding schism is the easy part—at the end of the day, our complicated constitution and money will solve that problem.

The real work in making us one and staying united is in doing the work individually and collectively to build the Beloved Community. 

I'm in. Are you?

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