I am glad I was in Africa while my brothers and sisters in the once united Methodist Church were cutting one another to shreds at the recent general conference in St. Louis. I am glad that I only caught glimpses of the terrible things that people representing Jesus Christ were saying about one another in the name of love and unity.
My words today are not about my feelings or my beliefs or what scripture says or doesn’t say on the divisive subject that the Methodist delegates were debating, which is just as well, because from what I read and watched through the magic of the World Wide Web — yes, the internet transmits to the middle of the African bush — scripture wasn’t a big part of what was driving the discussion anyway.
I was a Methodist, according to my mama, for nine months before I was born. I was placed on the cradle roll in the Julia A. Porter Memorial Methodist Church the first week of my life, and Methodism is my heritage and my culture. It is not, however, my faith. I do not worship John Wesley. I appreciate his teachings — particularly those on grace and on striving toward perfection. But being a Methodist, to me, is not more important than being a Christian. I am not sure that a lot of those folks who were supposed to be representing the denomination in St. Louis this week realized that.
The issue at hand — or at least the primary issue — was what has come to be known in society as the LGBTQ debate. I think I got the letters right and didn’t leave out any identity groups. If I did, I apologize, but honesty compels me to admit that I liked it better when everybody just identified as people and didn’t seem so intent on wearing labels — and when we all get to heaven I am pretty certain that’s how God will see us.
The doctrine of the United Methodist Church has always defined marriage as a permanent union between one man and one woman, has always identified homosexuality as sinful behavior — yes, I said that — and has forbidden openly practicing homosexuals from becoming ordained ministers and forbidden ordained Methodist ministers from performing marriage ceremonies in violation of these church beliefs as stated in the Book of Discipline.
I readily admit that I have known thousands and thousands and thousands of Methodists who adhered to these rules in principle and violated them gloriously in practice on a regular basis.
The Book of Discipline is a strange deal, in and of itself. I have a copy from 1886. It is 4 inches high, 3 inches wide and a half-inch thick. I bet the current Book of Discipline would be more than a thousand 8x10 pages thick if they printed it in a book.
I don’t think a single word of scripture has been added to the Holy Bible since 1886.
Society has changed, and certain groups of people within Methodism have been insisting for decades that church policy and doctrine change with the times. They have adopted the term “progressive” and have claimed that those who do not support their beliefs are basically bigots and lack the love of Christ in their hearts and are obstructing the message of the Gospel.
The group of Methodists who have wanted the doctrine to stay the same and the church laws regarding expelling deacons and bishops who violate church law enforced have been labeled “traditionalists,” and this group has come up with plenty of names to call the progressive group and it has turned into a big mess which was supposed to have come to a head at the last General Conference, but didn’t. Instead the bishops of the church were told to come up with a plan and to bring it to St. Louis in February to reach a “final solution.”
What was reached was several days of name calling and political maneuvering and posturing and political statements disguised as prayers and sermons and a vote among several plans, the outcome of which was a “victory” for the traditional plan, which was not a victory at all, satisfied few and settled nothing as the two sides of the “united” church went to their respective corners as soon as the conference concluded and prepared to do battle again in 2020.
Digesting the news of this conference I understood how Jesus felt weeping over Jerusalem. I am supposed to walk the party line and pretend that none of what I have written is the truth, but, of course, it all is.
But hear the good news, and there is good news. The majority of the rank and file of the local United Methodist churches are so far above this political fray that they are barely aware it is going on. We go to church. We worship God. We sin. We repent. We forgive. We are forgiven. We serve our fellow man. We love our neighbors, regardless of labels, just as we have our entire lives and just as we will until Jesus comes again. Therein lies the hope. I repeat. Therein lies the hope.
Darrell Huckaby is an author in Rockdale County. Email him at email@example.com.