by Rev. John P. Feagins and Rev. Raquel C. Feagins
Beloved in Christ,
Over the past few days, several members of our La Trinidad community have been attending the 2019 Called General Conference in St. Louis, Missouri. Around 850 delegates gathered from across the global church, with slightly more than half of these delegates being from the United States. Our lay leader, Minerva Briones, and associate pastor, Raquel Feagins, attended as Rio Texas Conference reserve delegates, although neither was granted an opportunity to participate on the floor with voice or vote.
The purpose of this Called General Conference was to consider competing plans relating to the status of LGBTQ persons within the United Methodist Church. The One Church Plan, favored by most U.S. delegates and the Council of Bishops would have allowed for greater freedom in pastoral ministry with LGBTQ persons. The General Conference rejected the One Church Plan by a 55/45 percent vote margin.
By a 53/47 margin, the General Conference adopted the Traditional Plan that expands negative language and punitive measures against LGBTQ persons, families, allies, dissenting clergy, and non-conforming bishops and conferences, including measures intended to remove individuals, churches, and entire conferences from the United Methodist Church. The majority adopted The Traditional Plan knowing that 60% of its provisions had been ruled in conflict with the church’s constitution and may never be implemented.
As would be expected at such an intersection of culture, bias, power, suffering and advocacy, the gathering was marked with anxiety, despair, and protest. Although we found many blessed opportunities for networking, new friendships, worship and conversation, we were deeply grieved to witness the majority take legislative measures to intentionally divide the church against the minority, alienating LGBTQ persons together with progressive, centrist, moderate, and academic United Methodists. Especially disturbing was hearing the rhetoric of religious fanatics protesting outside the convention center echoed in speeches from the floor of General Conference.
Whenever vulnerable persons or populations are targeted with bullying, harassment, defamation, discrimination, or violence, these forms of persecution are immoral even when the antagonist appeals to scripture, religious authority, or doctrine.
Within the United Methodist Church, we can agree upon many traditional values. We cherish Jesus the Way, the Truth, and the Life and seek to follow his example of love and mercy. We value faith, humility, honesty, learning, maturity, hospitality, generosity, civility, modesty, and decency. We respect the sanctity of families and children. We honor the boundaries of intimacy and privacy. We value service, sacrifice, and solidarity with the poor and the oppressed. We value each other.
Through these shared values, the Holy Spirit empowers us to experience unity within our diversity.
We also must also recognize that no human ecclesial structure will ever be perfect, permanent, or free of corruption.
Over its 143 year history, La Trinidad UMC has participated in three denominations (MECS, MC, UMC) and at least five annual conferences (West Texas, Mexico Border Mission, Texas Mexican, Rio Grande, Rio Texas). Within each of these organizations, this congregation has stood as a testimony to religious freedom, opportunity, representation, dignity, equality, and justice for all.
Our first denomination, the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, was plagued with the evils of prejudice and racism. When presiding elders were told to fill out reports on local church membership, the forms had two columns: “Members” and “Colored Members.” The earliest presiding elders serving the Mexican Border Mission Conference marked through the “Colored Members” column and regarded everyone equally as members.
We will continue to regard each other equally.
We encourage you to respond with compassion toward those who are alienated and suffering as a result of the 2019 Called General Conference. Let us continue to place our faith and hope in the Lord Jesus, the true Head of the Church.
With much love and appreciation, we are…
Your servants in Christ,
Rev. John P. Feagins
Rev. Raquel C. Feagins