In late February, I am heading to St. Louis for General Conference. For those unfamiliar with the United Methodist Church, General Conference is a gathering of elected representatives for the global United Methodist Church. Although, I’m not one of those elected representatives, I love our church and want to be there. The session was called to address the church’s stance on human sexuality. They will be deciding on whether the church will ordain practicing homosexuals and allow same-sex marriages in our churches. They will consider three options for moving the church forward. There is much more to learn about General Conference than I have time to cover in this post. Learn more here.
I have asked myself, “Why am I going?” For one, I have never been to General Conference and I’d like to see one as monumental as this one. Another reason is that I want to be where the action is. A friend told me a while back that if you want to become a good theological journalist, go to the action. Be in the room where it happens. But as I have thought more about it, the deeper reason is that I need to go where the pain is. Several people have told me not to go because I’ll see the worst of the church. My hope is that in the midst of the pain, I’ll be moved with mercy.
As I remember the story of the good Samaritan from Luke 10, I recall that the Samaritan was moved to mercy because he came near the hurt of the bleeding man on the roadside. The issue of homosexuality has torn apart my beloved church. It feels like she’s in the ditch on the roadside bleeding. I want to come near where her pain is. Many view the only way to heal the wound is to split. But as I remember the story of the good Samaritan, I remember how he poured on the healing ointment, bandaged the wound and after a few days of rest, the healing took place. My hope and prayer for the church is that there is enough healing ointment left in the bottle.
Like most people, I have wrestled with how I feel about these issues. If I had written this post 5 years ago, I would have taken a traditional stance as much as that would have pained me. I found it hard back then to interpret the scriptures in a way that condoned same-sex marriages and the ordination of homosexuals. Since that time, I have changed my mind. I have re-read those scriptures and I do find other interpretations compelling. For instance, was the story of Sodom and Gomorrah from Genesis 19 about the evils of homosexuality or the evils of rape? I think it’s about rape.
More than anything, my heart has been moved by the great pain and doubt I have witnessed in many family and friends who are gay. They have struggled with their identity, their worth, their place in the church. I can’t bear to see it, nor do I think the God I have known all my life can either.
As I read the gospels, I read about the Jesus who said ‘woe to you experts of the law…because you have hindered those who were entering’ (Luke 11:52). I guess, what I mean is Jesus was hardest on the people who were sure they understood the teachings of the law and used those teachings to exclude. Jesus told them plainly they were wrong and needed to rethink who God included into the kingdom. Jesus would show throughout the gospel how expansive his heart was towards those pushed to the margins.
I have great faith that friends and loved ones who disagree with me (and I know there are many) do so out out of a love for the scriptures and a love for God. I pray you would extend the same sentiment towards me. I have changed my mind. I find today that changing your mind can come across as weak. But the more I read the scriptures, the more I see God changing people’s mind, like Paul who changed from being the great persecutor of the church to the great evangelist of the faith (Acts 9). Peter had his world rocked when God told him he could eat what the law had prohibited. (Acts 10).
I’m looking forward to heading out to St. Louis. My prayer is the Holy Spirit will guide us. Whether people agree with me or not, I send an olive branch to you and say we can still be part of the same United Methodist Church we love. Whatever change may or may not happen, may we all abide in love for God and each other. May the healing ointment pour freely.