-Rev Melissa Fain-
"They told me they would leave the church if I didn't vote their way," she lamented as we both wept.
"They lied," I said between deep sobs. "They lied to so many because it was what they wanted." I knew something was up when the deacons said they weren't allowed to the called board meeting. They were told only Elders were allowed. They had come anyway; sitting off to the side like unwanted clearance items. They were not only allowed, but the bi-laws said they had a vote. Welcome to church- where we want to be the mother that gives up the baby to keep it alive, but most of us are ready to hack it to pieces anyway.
There are moments in Christianity where the lines are drawn in impossible ways. Those lines lay as chords across Church's foundation. We tip toe around them, but eventually someone trips over and so many get hurt in the process. We can rip them up and take them out, but that would cause a mess. Instead, we tell people to avoid them, and punish those who try to remove it, or get caught up and tangled.
While my first illustration might be from my own experience, it's not just my experience. The faces and places might be different, but the story remains the same. Worse than that, unchecked it's cyclical. As I heard many years ago from someone I can no longer name, "The initial damage is like a scratch in a record. It just keeps playing the same song and dance, and the same scratch keeps coming back to rip through and destroy everything."
That's my problem. It's not that I was hurt. I can process my pain and move forward. It's the system that caused the problem- that murders it's prophets and crucifies scapegoats to avoid dealing with the real problems. I'm okay being alone in my pain, but when my pain is also other's pain, then we have a problem.
Here's my other problem, I love my church. We're not dealing with "easy" bad guys here. Well, let me take that back. It is easy. Take your finger and point to yourself. It's okay, I'll do the same thing with myself. The problem is systemic, or communal sin. Everyone's to blame.
I'm learning more and more that most of our problems are the result of bad communication. As a child I loathed the board member that spent twenty minutes asking questions that I assumed had obvious answers. Today I wish I could put her in every church board room across the country. Whether we agree or not, she forced conversation, and a lack of it is why the church hurts so much today.
The UMC Church- The signs of bigger problems
On February 26th the UMC General Conference met to make a groundbreaking vote. Would they marry same sex couples, and allow non-celibate gay clergy?
I went to a UMC seminary. Candler is one of the big ones in the southeast. Before the vote I assumed the answer was going to be "yes." My school was filled with many openly gay seminary students. In fact, I assumed the answer was already "yes," because of their fervor and passion. I didn't realize they were actually tip toeing over a trunk of a chord, doing the correct dance to live into their call.
This vote was about doing one of two things.
Conservative Christians Just Retook the UMC
How faithful Africans saved the UMC from accepting Gay 'marriage."
The lines had been cemented into the foundation, and this truly did rip them out. It didn't matter how they had been ripped, it was going to push out whoever was on the wrong side of the vote.
Rev Rebecca Yowler, an ordained minister and ministerial librarian had this to say on the matter before the vote went down:
I WANT the UMC to split. They can't do any good as they are and too many refuse to change. There i no longer any semblance of belief in "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors." They showed me the door 10 years ago, and I'm grateful to have locked it on the way out.
The vote went Traditional, and now we're here. We've had a few days to angerly celebrate or deeply lament. Let's now do a little processing from an outsider looking in.
A traditional critique: You have just spent decades silently allowing something you don't Biblically think is right. To now, throw down the law like it's some kind of final word is not caring for God's sheep, it's bringing them to slaughter. If you can't get the slaughterhouse analogy just realize when you pass a field of cows, they may be peacefully grazing on that grass, but they are not there to be part of the family. That is exactly what the traditional vote looks like.
A progressive critique: It was easier not to explain. I've seen it enough. Our sermons are tied to our checking account. It is better to talk love and understanding, and not rock the boat too hard. I know it was difficult. I sat in front of a group of Christians and laid out both Creation Narratives. I saw the fear on their faces as they realized Genesis was not a historical account. Those are the conversations that should have happened thirty years ago. No one can talk about those difficult passages until the foundation of Biblical Interpretation has been soundly laid and understood. No one understood your story of acceptance, because they didn't speak your language.
Prepare the Way of the Lord
Eight years ago I learned a very tough lesson: God is the employer, and the Church is the accountant. God may employ you to be a shepherd, but the Church might still choose to not pay you for that job. Who God calls, and who the church pays doesn't have to be one in the same. That was personally a tough lesson for me because the people in the church were my safety blanket. I had that blanket taken away, and I was left with only God. Basically, I used to think everyone who came to church were in it for God. We were all on a path to understand that Truth with a big 'T'. I discovered people go to church for a plethora of reasons, only one of which is to seek God. Sad as it is, I had to see the reality of Church, to discover the reality of God.
Whether you are UMC, DOC or something completely different- Church is being called to something radically different. So what if we are outside the buildings we love? God is calling you outside anyway. That's where the widow is giving away her last cent. That's where the need on Sunday morning isn't being met because we've been cloistered safely in our pews. It's where the people are because they stopped going into our sanctuaries, which stopped being sanctuaries many years before.
You are not alone. I've been here, and I am here. Prepare the way of the Lord. There's a calling out here in the wilderness.