While it’s not official (and the group that put it together knows it’s not official), a protocol to separate the United Methodist Church into the LGBTQ+-affirming UMC and a new or group of new LGBTQ+-harming denominations has been assembled for presentation at the 2020 United Methodist General Conference. The goal of the protocol is to provide a way for “traditionalist” congregations and conferences to separate from the UMC with as little anger and damage done as is feasible, to avoid a gut-wrenching and excruciating battle between Methodists of different positions. It hopes to be the path for the breaking of the church that causes the least amount of harm. For that, I know I’m grateful to the mediation team that put the protocol together, for it was a team of people from different “camps” working with a professional mediator to draw up what they consider to be the best possible scenario for all involved.
And yet, I can’t help but grieve. I know what the United Methodist Church is going through. My church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, a church body born in 1987 (the year after I was born), the dream of two of the three major Lutheran bodies in the United States joined with a third, lasted just 13 years before its first major divisions. The Lutheran Congregations in Mission for Christ broke away from the ELCA in 2001 at the urging of the WordAlone organization in opposition to working with the Episcopal Church. A decade later, the Lutheran CORE organization formed the North American Lutheran Church to oppose the decision of the ELCA to recognize that God calls those of us in the LGBTQ+ community to ordained ministry. There were other, minor schisms, but those were the biggest.
The pain of those schisms lingers still. The LGBTQ+ community in the ELCA is regularly sacrificed as a scapegoat for the sake of preserving the remaining unity of the church; and, more importantly, the flow of income and members. Even though the LCMC and NALC have separated from the ELCA, both churches routinely attack the ELCA and continue to campaign for other congregations to leave the ELCA. A decade after the passing of the social statement Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust, the church still wrestles with the expectations of not only that document, but the community it most obviously impacts, often failing to live up to those expectations.
We’re not the only ones who’ve experienced this. Some of our partners–TEC, Presbyterian Church (USA), and the United Church of Christ–have experienced this same struggle, this same pain. In each of these churches, taking a stand to welcome and affirm people like me has broken the unity of the church and created rifts that might never heal. Separation is always painful, no matter how cleanly it is made.
And so, while I have hope that what remains of the UMC will be a church that LGBTQ+ Methodists can finally call home, I still grieve. This is going to hurt. There’s no way around it. It hurt me when it happened to my church, and it hurt my friends and family when it happened in theirs. The pain will linger long after the schism is officially “over”.
If you can, my Methodist siblings in Christ, remember that you’re not alone.We may not be able to make the pain less, or take it away. I can’t promise that it will be better. I can’t say it’ll all be okay. I can just promise our presence. We can walk alongside you in your grief and support you. We “Confess Our Faith Together”, as our full communion agreement states, and that means living in the tough times together. We will cry with you. We will pray with you. We will walk alongside you in your suffering and face the consequences together. It’s the least we can do.
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may move every human heart; that the barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; and that, with our divisions healed, we might live in justice and peace; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
ELW Pastoral Care – “Prayer for Broken Relationships”