In February 2019, at a special called session of the General Conference will meet in St Louis, Missouri, the United Methodist Church will try to reach a decision about the inclusion of LGBTQ+ people. This conversation has been going on within the UMC since 1972. Revd Lisa Beth White articulates well the nature of the anxiety surrounding this meeting in her blog: ‘The Hopefulness of Mission’
In so many ways, I agree with this analysis. The Church does not, in the end, belong to Christians and so, its future is not ours to decide. Anxiety is often a result of a feeling of a loss of control, but reminding ourselves that we never had it might help us through. However, I am still left a little troubled by the ability of so many commentators on this issue to become so fixated on institutional survival that they overlook those at the centre of the row - LGBTQ+ people themselves. There is a real danger, it seems to me, to judge the outcome of this process by how well the institution achieved or maintained unity rather than by how much justice and love was achieved.
I have great sympathy for those who say that sexuality and relationships are not ‘core’ to the gospel faith we share. And I would want to remind people that it wasn’t LGBTQ+ Christians who turned this into the divisive issue it has become. All we did was turn up to worship God and try to follow Jesus. Others have taken the presence of LGBTQ+ people like me in the Church to be offensive and sought to exclude, shun, forcibly convert, exorcise, or curse us. When LGBTQ+ Christians have left the Church - and many, many have - by and large, there was no schismatic ultimatum. Again and again, I have tried to fathom why this issue has become ‘the’ issue of our time for so many conservative Christians. Others better than me may have an answer.
I encourage you to follow the debate going on in the UMC up to and following the General Conference. Whilst the decisions will only affect United Methodists, the repercussions will be felt throughout the worldwide Methodist family.