I have a confession. Although my husband is a United Methodist minister who regularly refers me to articles about The UMC’s action and inaction toward offering full inclusion to all God’s children in the life of the church, I rarely find the strength to read those articles. I have been hurt, and hopeful, and heartbroken, and angry, and ready to walk away, and exhausted, and in tears, and wearily agreeing to fight again too often before.
And so my confession is that I maintain a self-protective light attachment to all but my local church, the one that has loved and embraced me fully, the one that reaches out beyond its doors to ensure that people of all sexual orientations, gender expressions, and sexual identities know that this church will be blessed by their presence.
While I believe that all of us who audaciously refer to ourselves as the body of Christ should be heartbroken when The UMC draws distinctions that make clear its belief that not all are welcome into full participation in the life of the church, I also have a clearly personal response to the exclusionary policy and language because I am a bisexual woman.
As a bisexual woman in a marriage with a man, I am offered easy and automatic acceptance by clergy who feel very strongly that ordination and marriage rites are meant only for straight people. Perhaps these people would be as gracious face-to-face with openly gay people, preferring a sort of benevolent oppression to any impoliteness of interaction. But their easy acceptance of me, trusting their assumptions about where I fit in their sexual orientation categories, reminds me of the almost coin toss nature of whether I am offered full inclusion in The United Methodist church. I have fallen in love with and married a man; therefore I am fully accepted. Any attempts to apply the Book of Discipline to my bisexual orientation leave me puzzled. I am a self-avowed practicing bisexual woman in a married heterosexual relationship.
But today, watching the finches at my feeder in the morning light, I was feeling peaceful and hopeful, and I read the statement from the Council of Bishops concerning human sexuality, the statement carefully crafted over “several executive sessions.” In its entirety it reads:
“As bishops of The United Methodist Church, our hearts break because of the divisions that exist within the church. We have been in constant prayer and conversation and affirm our consecration vow “to guard the faith, to seek the unity and to exercise the discipline of the whole church.” We recognize that we are one church in a variety of contexts around the world and that bishops and the church are not of one mind about human sexuality. Despite our differences, we are united in our commitment to be in ministry for and with all people. We are also united in our resolve to lead the church together to fulfill its mandate—to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. As we do so, we call on all United Methodists to pray for us and for one another.”
And my heart broke, too.
I do pray for the bishops and The United Methodist Church. And I pray for the people the church hurts, for the children who more and more will walk away from the community of church because the church so clearly chooses to guard the faith and exercise the Discipline of the church rather than to exercise the divinely human privilege of loving its neighbor.
I find it unsettling that the opening sentence of this statement appears to say that the hearts of the bishops are broken more by the church’s division—the inability to be of one mind about human sexuality—than by the fact that some of God’s children are still not welcome at the table.
I find it unsettling that the bishops are praying, apparently so long and so earnestly, for discernment about how to treat the people of God with fairness and love. I pray for the day that our bishops look into their church and see the marginalized, and not only feel their hearts breaking but feel called into action to bring those people in from the margins.
I’m tired of all the talk, frankly. I’m angered by the pretense that the radical inclusive love so needed in the church today may come from a process of discernment.
And so, I will attempt to take my cues from Jesus, who not only threw over the tables in the temple when the sacrifices of the marginalized were used for commercial gain, but who also patiently answered the lawyer’s question, “Who is my neighbor” with the parable of the good Samaritan, saying, “Go and do likewise.”