I’m three days removed from the General Conference in St. Louis. It was nice to start a new month and to see signs of life in the flowers shouldering their way through the earth crumbs. But like many people in the United Methodist Church, I’m still hurting. It feels like spiritual PTSD. I’m hesitant to make this comparison in respect to those who have suffered through real war, but it’s the best I can do. St. Louis was traumatic. I had hoped the One Church Plan would pass. It didn’t.
When I came home on Wednesday afternoon, I found that I had an empty house for a few moments. I was exhausted and left my suitcase downstairs. My wonderful wife encouraged me to get some rest. I was determined to get a 15 minute nap before heading to Wednesday night activities. Then the tears began to flow. It was a cry that I could not explain, a belly cry. It was a moment that reminded me of Joseph in Genesis 45 when he encountered his brothers who had sold him into slavery.
Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. (Genesis 45:1-2).
It was one of those cries where Joseph felt the years of suppressed hurts and abandonment puncture his heart all at once. It was his cry that remembered the good nights from his boyhood sitting around a dinner table with his dad and brothers. It was a cry that remembered the day he looked up from a pit at his brothers cashing in for his life. It was a cry that remembered the voice of Potiphar’s wife falsely accusing him of an affair and the clashing of chains from being thrown into jail in a foreign land. It was a cry too of hope that maybe there could be days ahead when he could forgive these brothers for their evil and love could return.
My cry felt like that on Wednesday. It was a cry that remembered the good days of entering the ministry of my home conference and being embraced by the some of the very people for whom today I feel so much anger. It was a cry that remembered the great love of the Ugandan people with whom I shared life, struggle and joy with for 12 weeks when I was in seminary…where I was embraced and loved and changed. It was a cry of finding myself at odds with people I love. It was a cry that remembered the faces of LGBTQ persons at this conference as they shouted from their souls to be heard. It was a cry that remembered how they sung with joy even as their hopes collapsed around them as the Traditional Plan was adopted. All I could think, “God, I didn’t know the pain. God, I didn’t know.” It was a cry that I couldn’t control or understand.
Maybe for the first time, I felt a piece of the hell our LGBTQ community has felt. I cried for a minute and felt in that minute what many have felt for a lifetime. The institution that should have accepted them the most, didn’t.
Where do we go from here? I’m praying about whether to offer the olive branch or draw the sword. I imagine many of us are struggling with the same emotions. This I do know. It’s time for centrist like me to quit playing referee and get onto the field of this great struggle over human sexuality. My prayer is that our brothers and sisters from the WCA can feel the pain these actions have caused and understand that there are other ways of reading the scriptures we both love.
The good news of Joseph’s story is that it ends in reconciliation. God’s providence brought forth a future. Joseph gave over his anger. He said to his brothers,
“Don’t be afraid! I have no right to change what God has decided. 20 You tried to harm me, but God made it turn out for the best, so that he could save all these people, as he is now doing. 21 Don’t be afraid! I will take care of you and your children.” (Gen. 50:20-21).
Maybe, in the midst of this Methodist mess, God can make it turn out for the best, so that he could save all these people, as he is now doing.