The General Conference of the United Methodist Church is over for another four years. It left unresolved the question of what to do about sexuality in the denomination. The conference voted instead to appoint a committee to look at solutions. It’s not clear that we’ll agree at the end of another two years of conversation.
Despite its importance as an issue in America, sexuality is not the most urgent problem faced by United Methodists around the world, who are subject to mass tribal violence in parts of Africa, and religious persecution in some Asian countries. Unfortunately, even a worldwide Christian denomination can do little more than raise awareness and make statements.
So our denomination still cannot affirm the call of a gay man to be a pastor, of two women to marry one another, and we haven’t even begun with gender identity. You may wonder why I stay United Methodist. Apart from pension, insurance, and salary, there’s the covenant I entered, to receive the appointments I was given, to be under orders rather than to work for my own interest. Within the denomination, I can continue to be one of the people who continue to stand up and speak for full inclusion. I have a loyalty to work within this denomination, my community.
Against all that, consider my loyalty to the many good and faithful people who are excluded from ordination, and even from public church marriage, by the position of my denomination. Does my remaining a United Methodist betray them? Am I insulting or lessening them if I continue to represent the United Methodist Church?
Conflicting loyalties tear at all of us who love our church and also love people of all kinds. How can I give a full commitment to love all people, and remain committed to the Church that does not? These are the questions that tear us apart, that divide Christians from one another.
Christians have always been good at finding things to fight about. The Orthodox and Catholic split over when Easter should be. The earliest Church split over whether non-Jews had to follow the Jewish law when they became Christians. The list could easily go on. I don’t intend to follow the age-old habit of drawing lines that separate people according to whether we agree. We need to practice what all people are bad at: getting along, and seeing the beauty in one another. Who knows: if we get good at this, we may eventually learn to accept all people into full participation in the life of the Church.