by Brett Opalinski, Christ Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida
Christ Church family and friends,
The special General Conference of the United Methodist Church, in St. Louis, has concluded. As a wise person said to me on Saturday night at our special prayer service for General Conference, “whatever happens, on Wednesday the sun will rise and God will be God!” It is so true, but there is still what remains in the wake of the gathering.
Some at Christ Church today are celebrating that the Traditional Plan was passed, others are grieving that the One Church Plan failed. I am among those who are grieving. I supported the One Church plan because I believe in maintaining unity in the church by providing a way for traditional and progressive Christians to authentically be church together. I also support the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the life of the church, as a way of recognizing how the Holy Spirit has already been at work in and through them, much like Peter realized with Cornelius and the Gentiles in Acts 10.
Wherever you come down on this, though, we must all reject the oversimplifications. We must not assume that people who supported the Traditional Plan hate LGBTQ persons or don’t want them in church. At the same time, we must not assume that people who supported the One Church Plan do not care about holiness or the Bible. Rather, may we reject oversimplifications and claim Christian empathy and compassion going forward, even if it is difficult.
In response, I drafted and sent a pastoral letter to our LGBTQ members, family and friends here at Christ Church United Methodist. I share that letter with you below. They are a vital and important part of our church family and there is tremendous pain amongst LGBTQ persons and supporters right now. I wanted to extend a word of empathy, acknowledging and recognizing their pain. I also wanted to make sure they know they know who they are in God and in our Christ Church family. While you may not agree with where God has led me or others on issues of human sexuality, I know our hearts can and will be compassionate towards those who are hurting, even in disagreement.
May we live faithfully into God’s future.
An Pastoral Letter to LGBTQ Family and Friends of Christ Church United Methodist
LGBTQ Brothers and Sisters, Family and friends at Christ Church,
I write you today as a United Methodist pastor, as your pastor. As you probably know by now, the special General Conference of the United Methodist Church rejected the One Church Plan and adopted the Traditional Plan. The One Church Plan would have provided a way for traditional and progressive United Methodist to live together. It would have made a way for greater inclusion for LGBTQ persons in the life of the church by allowing United Methodist pastors to officiate at weddings, making a way for ordination of LGBTQ persons, and removing some of the language from the Social Principles that describes homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching.” The vote was very close, revealing just how diverse the United Methodist Church is related to these issues.
I cannot imagine what it must feel like to give yourself so faithfully to the church through worship, prayer, serving, and bringing others to Christ and then be told that who you are as a person is “incompatible with Christian teaching” or to have your most loving and committed relationship denied by the church. I cannot imagine the pain of being told your family is not a true family or you are somehow not worthy for ordination, even though you commit to live by the same standards of fidelity as heterosexual candidates for ministry. As a friend who has left Church said to me not long ago, “the Church has no idea how much harm it has caused to LGBTQ persons.” I fear that the decisions of the 2019 General Conference have only increased that harm.
I want you to hear today that you are a person of sacred worth, created in the image of God. You have value. As our Bishop here in Florida, Ken Carter, said, “You are of sacred worth. You are not the problem. You are not out there. You have been in every church I have ever served. You have blessed me and our family. Your gifts strengthen the church.” I also want to affirm that I have seen the Holy Spirit alive and at work in and through you. I see it in the ways you seek Jesus and strive to be a part of His Church. I see it in the ways you serve Christ Church faithfully week after week. I see it in the courage of you who make yourselves vulnerable by trying church one more time, even though church has rejected and hurt you time and again. I see it in the ways you care for and love your children and one another. I am humbled by your Christian faith, hope, and love.
As a pastor, I want you to feel claimed and loved by Jesus, even if the United Methodist Church has not made that abundantly clear. I don’t know what all of this means for the future, but I want you to know that as long as I am your pastor, you will have a friend that strives for your full inclusion in the life of the church. You and your family will be valued for who you are. I also believe our Christ Church United Methodist community is a loving and caring people, even when we disagree, and you will always be a vital and important part of our church family.
As I write, words feel somewhat inadequate for the moment. I write these words with tears in my eyes and a heaviness in my heart, but this much I can promise: you are beloved children of God and God has purpose for you; you are disciples of Jesus Christ; God is present and bringing healing-even in the midst of this pain; and though we are all broken we are in the hands of a great and loving redeemer; we worship a God of resurrection who brings life out of death…and this God is always faithful.
May God’s peace and grace surround you!
Together we are the hands and feet of Jesus,