I have a confession to make. As I am reading my fellow United Methodists reactions to the trial and verdict of Reverend Frank Shaefer, I feel lost.
I sat at my desk today and cried because I don’t know what to feel. I read Reverend Becca Girell’s moving words on the Courage of Couples and wept for the many men and women and their families who are torn apart. I wept because we are a broken people and our brokeness has come down to hurting each other.
I have to confess that I am struggling. I have prayed, thought and read scripture as well as people on both sides of the issue trying to understand where I should stand. I do not know.
I do not know if a similarly-gendered couple came to me and asked me to marry them, if I would have the ability to say yes. I do not know if I would have the ability to say no.
I do not know if our church law changes, if I would be able to change with it. I do not know if I would stand up to my congregation and champion it.
I do not know if I would ever be able to give a sermon that included a definition of love as including marriage for everyone. I do not know if I would ever be able to give a sermon about marriage as being between one man and one woman alone.
I sincerely do not know.
Because I am basically a coward, I really just want to focus on taking care of the people in the Philippians and Illinois who are dealing with the devastation of natural disasters, or the kids in our town who need the support and care of adults who are healthy, or the families who will not have much of a Thanksgiving feast next week.
Because I am a coward and some of the people I love and respect most as colleagues and friends feel passionately about this, I am afraid in this church and in this time to say that I don’t know but I don’t. I cannot take sides. I cannot speak out one way or another. I want to be able to, but I am not convicted one way or another.
What I do know is that I made a commitment to this church and the people who call themselves United Methodist because this is where God has called me. There is so much I want to see changed in our church. There is so much that breaks my heart.
What I do know is that there seems to be very little love outpouring or grace being shown. We are divided without the ability to have conversation or to make changes. (Please, please, please among other things, the language of the Book of Discipline around homosexuality needs to be changed even if the position of the church on marriage does not.I am ashamed of it, even as I am uncertain of the issue.) People, people who God loves deeply, are being hurt.
Maybe there is no other way. Maybe the only way to make fruitful change is to actively go against church law as it stands and change it by force. After watching General Conference proceedings last April, I can see this as a valid argument. Certainly, we have at least one Bishop who feels like it is the only way. Maybe there is no way to change our broken church and giving up credentials to move on to new ministry outside of the church is the better way to live out God’s call.
It seems that there is no room for us doubters. (I can’t be the only one!)
It strikes me that the church should be about filling the world with love. We should be about promoting the things that bring love into the world. There is so much hate. There is so much division. There are so many people who feel rejected by what they believe or don’t believe, by who they are and who they are not.
When we cannot muster up enough love for each other in the church; when we are so busy being right that we cannot find a way to listen to each other and find a way forward, imperfect though it may be; when we are bogged down by a system that requires us to choose sides with no room for confusion or questioning or uncertainty; when we are causing our own people to weep, we are not able to witness to the love of Christ who came to point the way to a place where all our tears are wiped away.
One day, I am sure I will have no choice but to stand on one side or another. I will have to stop being a coward. Maybe it will be my child that stands in front of me asking me to chose love for them over the law of the church. I can only pray that the conviction of the Holy Spirit will help me to stand where I should. For now I am committed to speaking for loving one another to the best of our abilities. I am committed to loving my brothers and sisters who are hurting. Sometimes love means pushing but sometimes it means respecting where boundaries are. Sometimes it means being committed to showing grace in words and actions to those whose life you could not or would not want to live.
John Wesley did not really think women should be ordained. He wrestled with women’s place in the leadership of the church. And yet, in 1761 he licensed Sarah Crosby to preach. I am not sure how he would feel about all the female clergy in our church today but I am so thankful that he was willing to open the doors. I am thankful that his witness was to God’s grace even when scripture and the prevailing wisdom of the world said it was better to keep women’s mouths shut in church. We are all better for the leadership of women in the church.
I suspect that anytime we err on the side of love, the church becomes stronger and fuller and the Gospel is heard more clearly. My heart hurts because it feels like some of us in our church believe that love is only genuine when it is presented the way we want it to be. It took many churches (and annual conferences) many years before they would allow women to truly live out their calling. In some places, women’s leadership is still not accepted. Changing what is is a hard and long and painful battle. Even though we know the attitude is still there today, no one in the church leadership would question a woman’s ability to be ordained simply because she is a women.
In the hardest things, we have to walk gently with love and care especially for those who passionately see differently than we do. We have to know that withholding our love and grace until the changes we want made, will only make the change harder and the brokeness deeper.
I do not know on which side to stand with regards to the church performing similar-gendered marriage services. My heart hurts because many I love and respect are feeling rejected and discouraged. I weep for a witness that is not of love and compassion. I can only pray that God will choose to step into the divide we have created and somehow bring us healing. I am not yet ready to grieve for the church I love and have pledged to serve. I have hope that we can find ways to minister with and to people for whom love comes in different forms and ways. I have assurance that grace and love will make a way even where there does not seem to be a way.