On Friday 28th December, the Bishops of the United Methodist Church published this letter:
To our Global LGBTQ Kin in Christ,
The Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church recognizes the ways in which the convening of the Special Session of General Conference creates a time and space of harm for you and members of your family. To be the focus of attention, discussion and debate is hurtful.
Demeaning and dehumanizing comments and attacks on LGBTQ persons in conversations related to the upcoming February Conference are a great tragedy and do violence to hearts, minds, and spirits. When you suffer, the whole body of Christ suffers. Together, we need to work to resist hate, violence, and oppression of persons. In these attitudes and actions, great harm is done throughout the community, to the offended and the offender.
As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12: We cannot say to a part of the body, “I have no need of you.” We belong to each other. In our Baptism, we are incorporated into the Church, the body of Christ, and made one in Christ. The Church pledges to every baptized member: ‘“Your joy, your pain, your gain, your loss, are ours, for you are one of us.”’ (The UMC Book of Worship, pg. 83). Our Book of Discipline clearly states that all people are of sacred worth.
As leaders of the church, we are brokenhearted by conversations that dishonor, objectify and dehumanize. We confess, as Bishops of The United Methodist Church and as we attempt to honor our convictions, that our actions and words have not always been life-giving or honoring of the LGBTQ community. Amid our sorrow, we seek to learn and grow in grace. To that end, we commit ourselves to helping people who disagree with each other to have conversations that include, honor, and respect people with different convictions. We are a diverse group of leaders—conservative, centrist, progressive—however, we are unified in our commitment to work together in ways that will give you and all God’s children strength, comfort and hope for better and more merciful tomorrows.
As the Special Session of General Conference approaches, we pray that the Holy Spirit will draw us together. May we see the image of God in one another, treat one another with tenderness, and love one another fiercely. Bearing Christ’s love in these ways, we pray to be God’s faithful witnesses.
The Leadership of Dignity and Worth will be publishing an open letter to Bishop Ken Carter in response soon, but I thought it important to welcome this initiative in the spirit in which it was sent. Too often, when LGBTQ Christians turn to their church leaders for support, we encounter a deafening silence. If support is forthcoming, it is done off-the-record, or in behind closed doors. It is very welcome to hear a recognition in this letter that the bishops understand the particular risks to LGBTQ people in holding the Special Session in a few weeks’ time.
Leadership is not about always getting it right. The bishops’ confession is an act of true courage and humility and, in itself, helps to reassure LGBTQ people of our sacred worth. But, for me, the most important aspect of this letter is its reaffirmation that we, as LGBTQ kin, are essential members of the Church of Jesus Christ and the Methodist family. I am not optimistic about the outcome of the meeting in February; whatever happens, I fear that a section of the UMC have already decided to leave and are just looking for a pretext. But, for the rest, I pray that the Spirit of wisdom and true unity will continue to work among them and within them.