by Wil Cantrell
Dear Fellow United Methodists,
In 1972, we realized we had significant differences of opinion on homosexuality within the United Methodist Church.
Thankfully, John Wesley was not naïve enough to think the people called Methodists would never experience disagreement. He taught us when scriptures seem to be in tension regarding an issue we should interpret scripture using the general tenor or main idea of the Biblical witness. Today, some Methodists see the witness of Genesis 1 in which all people are created in God’s image and pronounced to be very good as providing the main idea which overrides the notions expressed in places such as Romans 1 in which Paul declares homosexuality unnatural. Other Methodists believe the scriptural witness is consistently opposed to homosexuality.
However, unlike other areas where we allow for significant differences of opinion and practice, in this instance we decided to resolve our differences regarding homosexuality with legislation rather than ongoing conversation.
This week we passed legislation designed to force many our church members and leaders out of our denomination while giving them a path way to disaffiliation for which they did not ask.
We tell our LGBTQI+ brothers and sisters that our conversations with them about their identity are distractions to the real work of the work of the church of reaching new people. Well if the work of the church isn’t to talk about our God-given identities, what exactly is it? At my local church, we have plenty of time to talk to people about who they are while also creating new places for new people to talk about their new identity in Christ.
It may be that we cannot currently legislate our way out of this conflict which we have legislated our way into, but though I may have lost some confidence in legislation I have not given up on the power of conversation. Many times, I have LGBTQI+ people share how it took some time for them to get the courage to talk to me because they initially assumed I was not safe since I was a United Methodist Pastor. Then when we finally talk about their identity and our shared identity in Christ out of those conversations often come professions of faith, callings to ministry and beautiful friendships.
To my LGBTQI+ brothers and sisters: I’m sorry we’ve often talked about you as if you were a nuisance. I’m sorry we’ve criticized the impropriety of your protests while turning our faces away from the pain you experience. I’m sorry many of us who look at your lives and see the fruit of the spirit and who look at your witness and see evidence of calling have so often remained silent to protect our positons of power and privilege. I’m just sorry. And I’m sorry we passed the Traditional Plan.
To my fellow moderate/centrists:We can no longer coolly play the role of peacemaker between traditional and progressive voices when one side is trying to force the other out entirely – though we should not assume all conservatives want to force progressives out because the vast majority of conservatives in our local churches do not. We must now as moderates take it upon ourselves to make sure the progressive perspective on LGBTQI+ inclusion gets a thoughtful, fair Biblical articulation in our conversations inside and outside the church – even if it is not our personal viewpoint. We cannot simply allow our progressive colleagues and friends to bear the pain and sacrifice of this struggle almost entirely on their own anymore. Otherwise we will be guilty of “crying ‘Peace, peace’ where there is no peace (Jeremiah 6:14).”
To my conservative/traditionalist United Methodist brothers and sisters: I love you. I respect you. You helped make me who I am today. I will continue to try to articulate your viewpoint in progressive settings in a manner than builds respect and I will always be willing to fight for your right to follow your conscience without fear of retribution or condemnation. I simply and humbly ask you to look for ways you can extend this same gift to your progressive brothers and sisters in the United Methodist Church.
I’m thankful for each of you and for the church we inhabit together! I am more committed than ever to giving my life to help the church be a place where you all feel welcome and respected and where Christ is honored and glorified. I hope you will join me in this divine and difficult calling.