Front Row Seat (Reflections on a Church Conference to Disaffiliate)

As a representative leader of the UMC, I sat on the front row of a Church Conference where I heard of how the UMC is led by people who are “incompetent and immoral,” who “trade God’s Word for the secular ideology of the world,” who “abandon doctrine” in order to not offend anyone, and who want to bend our will to “pagan cultural Marxism.” It was all part of a continuing effort to build a “damning case against the UMC.”  Damn! Condemn! Declare as evil! As I listened, I could not think of any leader who deserved such hurtful and judgmental attacks, even considering isolated examples. The main speech concluded with a prayer calling for us to part ways as Paul and Barnabas did and to love one another even if from afar – familiar talking points, shared as pleas to God.

To counter this narrative, I heard grace-filled speeches calling for unity in love, even in the midst of different perspectives.  I heard of how a few isolated examples do not represent the whole. I heard of a trust in the Holy Spirit to keep us all centered, allowing us to honor perspectives that stand at the edges of theological interpretation. This is a dynamic that has always been a part of healthy congregations.   I heard much love for the UMC and for our doctrine, liturgy, mission, and ministry. I so appreciated the spirit with which these truths were shared.  

When the votes were counted, however, division won the day – by 4 votes.  It was winner-take-all! There were no provisions for those who want to remain UMC, many of whom have given of their tithes, taught Sunday School, and shared in holy communion and potlucks for years. There was no honoring of the larger church that had given pastors, provided equipping and resources and offered an opportunity to be a part of a global mission bigger than ourselves.  I thought of the person who said, after hearing of a love for our doctrine and discipline, “the videos I watched told me you would say that and that you would be lying.” That’s the spirit that won the day.   

For me, it felt as if the Spirit of God left the room, leaving the space as something other than holy.  I then looked up at the stained-glass image of Jesus, and I sensed the presence of Christ.  Knowing that Living Lord was there for all, I especially sensed his presence with those whose hearts were broken and who were fighting back tears. I want to stand with these beloved and faithful souls as well.   

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