By Bill Mefford
I am a straight, white, southern (formerly) evangelical, cis-gender male and I hate what happened this past week with the United Methodist Church when, at it’s General Conference Special Session in 2019, the church decided to not only maintain it’s harsh language naming non-hetero sexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching” but they also added mandatory minimum sentences for those who come out as LGBTQ who are ordained or for those who conduct same-sex weddings. The church has official language calling for the advocacy against all mandatory minimum sentencing in the U.S. criminal justice system, but now, as it advocates against those mandatory minimum sentences it will be handing down these exact same kinds of sentences as part of its polity.
This is the utter idiocy that has been brought about by the fundamentalist takeover of the church. And the hurt and harm that has been caused has sickened me, infuriated me, and most of all, saddened me. It is a deep kind of anguish as I watch the most faithful members of the United Methodist Church - my LGBTQ friends - be shut out and told they do not have dignity and worth. My LGBTQ friends in the United Methodist Church are leaders, pastors, prophets, teachers, servers and I can honestly say they love the United Methodist Church more than I ever have or ever could. It just baffles me that a church that is experiencing such steep decline and irrelevancy is turning its institutional back on those who love her the most. Mystifying.
Before I continue, I want to share a couple of things. First, I am a doer. I am not contemplative in the way I am nurtured or worship or the way I express my Christian faith. I do. I move. I act. That is just who I am. The night donald trump was elected, even before the results were finally in, I was texting and emailing people about getting started in the resistance. I wrote a blog post and had about fifteen phone or online conversations with people before ten o’clock the next morning. This is what I do when I am angry or passionate. I move. I do not do so so that I can take charge and be out in front. I genuinely do not like to be the guy leading the charge. That is not who I am. I am content to connect and help make sure that the charge is actually charging. Behind the scenes, off to the side, but moving forward and achieving real change is my only goal.
Second, I am no longer a United Methodist. My family and I removed our membership a couple of years ago partly because of the continued marginalization of LGBTQ people and partly because I could no longer pledge to give resources to a church structure that is singly purposed to support its own behemoth and detached existence over and above the more vital and transformative work of local churches. I still love many United Methodist friends (although by leaving, some friends have had enough of me it seems), and I still believe in the work of MANY United Methodist local churches. I feel I still could attend a local United Methodist church. I just can’t give financially to any fund that would be diverted to support the institution. I am forever done with the heirarchy.
So, with those things said, immediately after General Conference ended - seriously, like the minute ended - I was ready to go. This is the way I express my love of Jesus and his Body. I move. I connect. I dream. I urge. I prod. I annoy. I do. I was ready to start building the next expression of God’s Kin-dom on earth.
But this is why I am wrestling and why I am terribly uncomfortable right now. I am not moving or urging or prodding or doing (I am dreaming - can’t stop that, and I know as sure as my heart is beating that I am also annoying). Again, I have no desire to be front and center or to lead the work for birthing something new. That just isn’t really me. But I am a doer and a connector. However, I strongly sense that me doing and moving and connecting and prodding and all the rest is not what is needed right now. Not at all, at least for the present time.
Thus, I am incredibly restless. Whatever is next for any kind of Methodist rebirth HAS to come from those directly impacted by the injustices committed at this General Conference and that means the amazing LGBTQ leaders who led the charge at General Conference for health and wholeness for the church universal. Sadly, they were rejected and that is why they need to lead whoever wants to follow next. My struggle right now is how to be an ally. To follow and faithfully respond. And as to how to do that, I really do not know.
Let’s be honest, as a middle-aged white guy - as liberal as I might be - I am not a natural ally. I wasn’t raised to be an ally. I was raised to run the world. I also understand that I have not been trained to be an ally. I have been trained to organize, to lead (yes, out in front), and to study the Bible, to write, to preach, and all the rest. But I never was trained in seminary on how to be an ally and now, as I am experiencing this discomfort in full force, I wonder why I wasn’t. I wish I did know what to do, but I do not.
I hate to add to the long list of things LGBTQ United Methodists are doing, in addition to just surviving the violence that has increased against them now, they have lives to lead, ministries to lead, and a new terrain of church-sponsored terror to navigate. So, I am far down the list, but I sure would appreciate some help. What do I do when I am so used to doing and moving and connecting and agitating but most likely the last thing that is needed is me doing any of that? I am clueless as to what I should do and God knows I really want to do something - anything. But I am sensing that, for now, I should wait. I think. There is so much grief and so much trauma and people are physically and spiritually exhausted. My usual whirlwind will probably only add to the trauma and exhaustion.
Waiting is not my thing. Being gentle isn’t really my thing either (sounds horrible, but it is true). Maybe there will be a time for me to move, connect, urge, prod, annoy, and publicly dream, but it sure doesn’t feel like it is now. I am in a new and awkward place and I honestly do not like it. But I know I mainly need to try and be a faithful ally; that is more important than me being comfortable so for now I am wrestling and waiting. My heart is running on fire, but the rest of me is standing still and being (somewhat) quiet.
I will fail as an ally, as sure as night follows day so I am open to direction.
More than anything, I am here. Itching to move, but being still right now. Just ready.