Wednesday, February 27, 2019

General Conference Follow Up: What Now?

I have had a practice of blogging every night following General Conference sessions so that folks have something to read the following day. Last night, I just couldn't do it. I needed to be with friends and colleagues who are family to me, as we grieved and processed and supported one another and cussed a little bit (maybe that was just me).

I have received more texts and emails and Facebook messages than I can count. If I have not been able to get back to you, it is because the volume is just too high. Please accept my apology. Everyone wants to know what to do now. It's a really good question. Here's how I am processing all we've been through in the last few days, and what I plan to do.

1. Pray. This is always my first response, and it is not a pat answer. Pray for the church, pray for our divisions, pray especially for those who have been hurt in the last week, particularly LGBTQ people. We've done real damage as a church. If you don't see it, you aren't looking hard enough.
2. Go on a news fast. Stay away from secular media. For one thing, secular media always does a terrible job of interpreting the nuance of religious life. For another thing, we're getting creamed in the media (and mostly deservedly so). I joke sometimes about the church down the street that has to put on its sign, "We're not like those other Baptists." I never dreamed I'd have to put on our sign "We're not like those other United Methodists."
3. Cry. No matter where you fall on the spectrum of beliefs about human sexuality, if you aren't in deep pain about the state of our denomination, you need to check your pulse. Our congregations are strong. Our way of doing church at the denominational level is deeply broken. I have already lost members this week who cannot abide to be within the United Methodist Church any longer. I wish I had taken a video of what was happening in the room in the moments following the passage of the (deeply flawed, mostly unconstitutional) Traditionalist plan. As LGBTQ delegates and observers cried out in pain, some people simply ignored them, some delegations danced, others laughed. I watched American delegates make cash payments to multiple delegates from the central conferences, presumably to secure votes. In all of this, I was reminded of the words of Amos 5, in which God says something pretty stark about all of this: "I hate your religious festivals. Your assemblies are a stench to me."
4. Wait. Wait to see what comes out of the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church. Because the traditionalists knew they did not have enough time to push through enough amendments to the pre-vetted legislation to make it constitutional, they just passed what they had, knowing much of it would be ruled out of order by the judicial council (essentially the UMC Supreme Court). I struggle to see how pushing the passage of something so already-declared-unconstitutional is a faithful witness (or how one could vote for something like it with integrity), but the good news for those of us in favor of full inclusion of LGBTQ people is that most of it will not stand.
5. Don't wait. Don't wait to advocate for your siblings in Christ. The fate of the United Methodist Church is at stake. Yesterday, with all its hoopla, felt a little bit like the funeral for a church. Don't let it be. For one thing, our LGBTQ family need to know we love them despite the harmful actions of the church. For another thing, if we don't get this right, we'll lose the next generation of Christians, straight and otherwise. Younger people, by and large, do not want to be a part of anything that reeks of homophobia. Count me among them.
6. Celebrate. Celebrate that for all its pain, General Conference cannot take away your joy in Jesus. It's counter-cultural, I know, but it's a great witness. I will tell you what I am celebrating. Full inclusion of LGBTQ people is no longer a leftist position. It is decidedly centrist. Over 70% of US delegates voted for the One Church Plan, which would have allowed for contextual differences. Nearly 60% of US delegates voted for the Simple Plan, which would have allowed for a complete erasure of all language in the Book of Discipline that speaks against our LGBTQ siblings. That's huge. Progressives and centrists (and count me in the latter camp, for what it is worth) banded together this week like I've never seen before.
7. Rest. Be good to yourself.  I know for many faithful United Methodists, this has been a draining week. I heard that something like 30,000 people we watching on livestream! Remember that taking sabbath is a command from God, not a suggestion. And the reason you need to rest is that we have serious work to do, friends.  I'm more energized than I have ever been, and I am through slow walking. If God is for us, who can be against us? Rest up. It's about time to giddy up.
8. Run. General Conference 2020 is around the corner. To my North Georgia friends, you only have a few days to self-nominate. Do it here. We must have a strong slate of leaders. Please, please consider running. I'm running. You should, too. Do it. (Clergy, you have to sign into data services in order to self-nominate).

I'll have more to say. I need to finish packing and get the heck out of St. Louis. I do love the United Methodist Church. I have hope for the United Methodist Church. But we have miles to go before we sleep. For now let me just say that it has been such an honor to represent the church this week and to have been elected to this place by my colleagues. I may wish to forget this last week because it was so awful! But I'll never forget the honor of having been elected in the first place, particularly that my colleagues were willing to trust someone so young. I'll carry that honor with me the rest of my life. Thank you.


  1. I'm curious about the following:
    "I watched American delegates make cash payments to multiple delegates from the central conferences, presumably to secure votes." I saw this behavior mentioned by others. Do you know if the Ethics Committee has any teeth to impact the outcome of GC if these allegations are proven?

    1. There is nothing that the ethics committee can do to impact the outcome.