As I left this year’s General Conference in Portland, Oregon, I was not sure if it really was “time.” I had changed my profile picture to the “It’s Time” overlay prior to leaving for Portland. I had gone on Twitter and used hashtag after hashtag declaring #ItsTime, dealing with vicious trolls who snapped back and declared equally vigorously that it was not. I had written an article on the reality of being queer, black and United Methodist, at the end espousing that it was indeed, “time” for The United Methodist Church to move beyond its discriminatory stance on LGBTQ people. I had participated in demonstrations, protests, worship services – all actions to loudly proclaim that indeed, it was time.
Yet, at the end of the ten day physical, spiritual and emotional roller-coaster that is General Conference, there was fear and doubt in my spirit. What had we actually accomplished? Had we just “kicked the can down the road” (a sentiment echoed by many veterans in the fight for LGBTQ affirmation and inclusion), and delayed the inevitable? Or perhaps worse – had we accomplished nothing to expand access to the Spirit, and in fact, only accelerated the church towards schism? In short, was it really “time?” Would it ever be “time?” I chalked up my unsettled feelings to exhaustion and tried to dedicate my energy to the rest of the summer, but in the back of my mind, these questions continued to lurk.
These fears began to materialize as I saw my own Baltimore-Washington conference, at first seemingly take concrete steps to do what is right and consider candidates for ministry based only on their calling and ability to serve God, rather than preventing the movement of the Spirit in those with sexual orientations that are deemed “incompatible with Christian teaching” by the Book of Discipline – but then, I watched my conference renege and reject a candidate based on those same discriminatory grounds. As an openly queer person looking to be ordained in The UMC one day, my hope (which admittedly had been a house built on sand after General Conference anyway), washed away as the rain fell.
The battle – and it is a battle – continued across the United States, and with every victory, every non-conformity, every new Reconciling community, it seemed like there was always a push back, a commitment to stay staunch in harmful teaching, a church trial with a date still pending.
Then, Reverend (now, Bishop) Karen Oliveto was elected bishop in the Western Jurisdiction. I have never met Bishop Oliveto. I was told of her dynamic spirit, passion for inclusion, and prophetic voice by friends I made in the midst of the struggle at General Conference. When one voice spoke her name, a chorus of voices sang her praises. As the news spread of her miraculous achievement, I felt a sense of stability begin to take hold in my spirit.
My hope, formerly unstable and built like a house on the sand, began to build a foundation on the rock. The rock, of course, is Jesus Christ, and his teachings, among those, the most important – to love your neighbor as yourself.
So, is it really time? Certainly. It is time and it has been time for full affirmation and inclusion of LGBTQ people in doctrine and praxis in The United Methodist Church. The election of Bishop Karen Oliveto represents the future of the Church – a future ripe with the potential to reconcile with the estranged, reach untapped communities, and on a personal level, a future that includes people like me. With the election of Bishop Oliveto, The UMC is moving one step closer to the kindom of God – a kindom which produces “good fruit” as extolled by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, and recognizes LGBTQ siblings as the wheat and not the weeds.
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