Shock. Disappointment. Frustration. Anger. Pain. Healing.
Often when things don’t happen as we expect them to we find ourselves somewhere along the spectrum of the feelings listed above. I cycled through many of them in the during and after the days following the Special Session of General Conference in St. Louis, Missouri in February. I highlighted some of them in my last blog I wrote while at General Conference last week, so I won’t revisit them here. I will say, however, that the reasons for many of the emotions I felt last week were not for some of the same reasons as a great number of my colleagues and friends.
I watched as colleagues who traveled from all around the country paced impatiently, and held their heads in their hands with anticipation of results in favor of the One Church plan. I witnessed hands clutched in prayer as the seconds counted down toward the revealing of the voting percentages. And I prayed.
Many of the my LGBTQ family and allies were initially shocked and disappointed by the voting results for the Traditional Plan and against the One Church plan, respectively, but I was not. What I sensed prior to my arrival, was confirmed in a jam-packed Rathskeller Room of the Courtyard Marriott, and made more evident as each day drew to a close: this was not going to end with singing and dancing but weeping and gnashing of teeth! However, to what end was yet to be revealed.
As the time of the Conference dwindled to an end, and feelings of frustration, anger, and defeat filled the stadium like a thick cloud, it became more obvious to me that this thing was about to get ugly. Protests began. Boos and snarls toward the delegates on the floor rang out from the stands. Love, peace, and unity was no more. Only bursts of emotions.
Anger. Bewilderment. Pain. Defeat. Joy. Relief. Happiness. Triumph.
My dad, a conservative Baptist, called me on the final night of Conference. While sitting in our hotel room, we talked about what would be the outcome. With a moderate level of calm, I explained to him that there were two parties going on: “one filled with tears, the other filled with beers.” He understood completely. He knew what I did. What I had learned in the last two years serving as a “progressively moderate liberal” black pastor in a predominately white conservative rural area. We both knew that liberal and conservative Christians didn’t truly understand each other. We knew this because we had been striving to understand each other for years. We knew because we both have attended meetings, bible studies, and worship services centered around discrediting the other with “biblical evidence and cultural logic.” We knew because we live in America.
The Rev. Dr. Joe Daniels, pastor of Emory Fellowship UMC in Washington, D.C. reminded a group of One Church Plan supporters in that jam-packed Courtyard Marriott room that what we are embarking on is a microcosm of our current political climate in the United States. Dr. Daniels emphasized that if we are going to redeem the church we must stand EQUALLY for justice and against any forms of division that may creep in among us.
When a prophet speaks it behooves one to listen…
He couldn’t have been more right! We should not be swayed by our political and ideological leanings. Fortunately for the Church, we are submitted to a God who is moved not by legislation and votes but by the Spirit and those called out peculiar people who will worship in spirit and truth. Unfortunately for us, the people called [United] Methodist, we missed that opportunity. There was singing but little worship. There was preaching but little conviction. There was prayer but much doubt and worry. The conservative groups feel vindicated against wrath of the liberal, while the liberal feels enraged and disheartened by the conservative vote for the Traditional Plan.
Now, you mad! (I know “you’re” is grammatically correct but doesn’t hold the same weight in my mind. Consult a black friend!)
I get it. It’s natural to be upset. Anger is a natural part of our humanity. Yet when we allow our anger and frustration to classify our brothers and sisters who have differences in opinion, theology, and biblical understanding as something other than children of God, we have missed the mark. There is solid ground we can stand on that does not prompt us to hurl insults like rocks at people who, for what ever reason, choose to think, live, and believe differently than we do. That solid ground is love!
Yea, love. That life-changing, plan-altering action that prompts us to be considerate of the other, stand in solidarity with the oppressed, pray for those that despise us, and worship with those we disagree with. LOVE.
When I was in St. Louis, I didn’t witness love. I didn’t see it, and I didn’t feel it. I saw people with banners with love written on it but I didn’t see many of them display it. I hoped and prayed for a movement of love to be displayed in radical and courageous acts of generosity and kindness, understanding and compassion… but to no avail. My 11-year old son held me as I wept with a broken spirit at the sight that was before me. I wept like Jesus did overlooking Jerusalem in preparation for what would be his last Passover with his disciples:
“If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace….because you did not recognize the time of your visitation [from God].” (Luke 19:42a;44b)
And even days removed from General Conference, righteous indignation and self-righteousness trumpet loud from either side the aisle. Statements of solidarity and outrage are being written and distributed to this minute. Conversations of victory and triumph over those “non-biblical” folks are being shared over meals and bible studies each day.
Snarls and smiles. Winners and losers. Triumph and defeat.
Truth is there shouldn’t be any snarls and smiles. No one won or lost. No victory or defeat. There is only brokenness and separation. The Gates of Hades seemingly prevailing.
There should only be praying and repenting. Prayer that our hearts would be broken for one another to behold one another as God does. Repenting for our own agendas taking priority over God’s command to love our neighbors as we love ourselves… even those we disagree with. Prayer for our Church to turn her face back toward God with eager longing for God’s Spirit to be poured out on us anew, and our passion reinvigorated for peace and unity. We must repent for our selfishness and shortsightedness, our willful blind eye to one another, and our pushing out of the Holy Spirit.
“…if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14)
We have time to get it right. Not the right that is each our minds, but the right God has for God’s world (Proverbs 14:12). The world is watching, and recording, and transcribing…
What will be their report?
(Photo taken from UMC.org)