This is not an easy or fun article for me to write. I’d love to talk to you about the wonder of the Incarnation, the message of Advent, the beautiful concerts we have been enjoying, our many outreach activities.
But the truth is, things are about to change. And I want you all to know what is at stake.
January 1, 2020 On January 1, 2020, the changes to the Book of Discipline made at the 2019 Special General Conference are going to take effect. You can find these changes at https://www.umofficialresources.com/updates/15/book-of-discipline-addendumand-errata-may-17-20191
Most of these changes have to do with adding punitive measures to the charge of being found a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” and/or clergy performing same gender weddings. In specific, a footnote has been added to paragraph 304.3 which reads:
1.“Self-avowed practicing homosexual” is understood to mean that a person openly acknowledges to a bishop, district superintendent, district committee of ordained ministry, Board of Ordained Ministry, or clergy session that the person is a practicing homosexual; or is living in a same-sex marriage, domestic partnership or civil union, or is a person who publicly states she or he is a practicing homosexual.
As before, LGBTQ folks are prohibited from entering the ordination process or serving as ordained elders and deacons in the church. However, language has now been added which states that bishops are prohibited from ordaining self-avowed practicing homosexuals even if they have been recommended by the Board of Ministry and approved by the clergy session of general conference. In the past, a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy has often been used when a person suspected of being LGBT has come forth for ordination. This will no longer be a possibility. If a clergy performs a same gender wedding or blessing of a same gender marriage, the punishment is now more severe than for breaking any other rule set forth in the Discipline. The first offense requires that the clergy be placed on leave without pay for one year. Subsequent offenses call for immediate removal of ordination credentials.
So what does this mean for Christ UMC? Why should we be concerned? It is quite feasible that a long-time member of the church, or a child or grandchild of a member, would wish to have a same-gender marriage performed at CUMC by me or even a former pastor of the church. With this ruling, if I perform this ceremony, I will be removed, and no longer able to pastor. To me, to have to refuse to perform a same gender ceremony for a congregant or the child or grandchild of a congregant, or one of our neighbors in West Park is a violation of my call to serve this congregation and this community and our commitment to welcome and hospitality.
Is this the church that we want? Do we want to close our doors to those who wish to celebrate their covenant with one another before God? It is also feasible that a member of this church would sense a call to ordained ministry. It has happened before – ask Ruby Cunningham! We have always encouraged and delighted in those who are called by God to serve the church. However, we would now have to ascertain whether a candidate is LGBTQ before we could recommend them for ministry.
Back when I was in high school in the early 1980s, I felt a call to ministry. I told the intern at my church, who was a student at a seminary not affiliated with the UMC. He told me that I could serve God in other ways, but not as a pastor. I believe he said this because I am a woman. It took me 14 more years to finally have the courage to answer my call, in a denomination that has ordained women since 1956. Is this the kind of church we want? Do we have the right to tell people that God’s call on their life is not legitimate because of their identity?
These are the things we need to decide as we move forward. We have options. This congregation can decide to accept the Traditional Plan and the measures outlined above. Or, we can make a statement about our resistance to the Traditional Plan, and put that statement on our website and Facebook page and make it clear to our neighborhood that our doors are open to all.
Or, the congregation can decide to do nothing right now, but as early as May of 2020, we may be required to take a vote on what “version” of the UMC we wish to be part of (see my article next month for more information).
Friends, this church is God’s church. You are God’s people. These are decisions we need to make, together.
In my next article, next month, I will tell you about the petitions coming to General Conference 2020, and how they might affect this church. What we need to understand is that each of us as individuals is going to need to decide where we stand. And this congregation is going to need to decide where it stands. We can no longer be “in the middle”.
I do not like having to bring up these contentious topics, but I do want you to be aware, and of course to always remember to