From the Outside Looking In

By Bill Mefford

It is indeed a strange time for people who call (or called until recently) themselves United Methodist. Ever since the fundamentalists completed their takeover of the United Methodist Church at the Special Session of General Conference earlier this year many people within and outside the church have wrestled where they stand in relation to the denomination that so many of us called home for most or all of our lives.

I see so many of my LGBTQ friends continue on in the ordination process and I honestly am blown away. Individually and collectively, LGBTQ people in the church have been told they are not wanted; that they are wrong for being who God created them to be and yet they remain. Yet they serve and do so faithfully and lovingly. That in itself so resembles the life and ministry of Jesus. So many friends and members of the LGBTQ community in the church have been and continue to be brought up on charges by a coordinated hate-attack from the very same fundamentalist groups in the church - like the IRD, Good News, Wesleyan Covenant Association and others - who have taken over the church. The fundamentalist groups, claiming to follow Jesus, have shown a character that is the opposite of the life and teachings of Jesus. The contrast is striking. Yet, my LGBTQ siblings in Christ nevertheless persist.

I am also greatly encouraged to see various groups begin the process of birthing a new expression of Methodism that is, in some ways, far more open than the fundamentalist UMC is now. Though I have yet to see or hear a much-needed vision for ecclesial reform. It is the current corporate structure that is at the heart of repression and oppression in the United Methodist Church. The current structure promotes hierarchy, largely unchecked capitalism, a lack of accountability, and an unbiblical dependence on upward mobility as the primary avenue towards change, which is antithetical to the kind of change Jesus teaches us. There really can be no reform until the basic structure of the church is addressed and radically revisioned and I just have not seen or heard this yet.

I am most drawn to what is now known as Our Movement Forward. OMF recently met in Minneapolis and from what I have heard, it was a powerful and liberating experience. They are now in the process of collecting signatures for a statement of who OMF is and where they are going. They have passed 1,000 signatures and I have just signed it as well. I hope you will too!

One part of the statement I especially appreciated was this: “We must do ourselves what neither the Judicial Council, nor Council of Bishops, nor any part of the institution would do: We declare the full liberation of PoC+Q+T Christians as the only way forward.” Amen and amen. The failure of leadership in the church for years if not generations has finally birthed the rise of new leaders. OMF has obviously heard and faithfully responded to that call.

And yet, if I am going to be fully honest, as much as I have joy at the rise of a truly liberationist movement within the UMC, I remain on the outside looking in. And in so many ways, there is where I am supposed to be. For years, people who looked like me - a white, straight, cis-gender male, not to mention, southern, evangelical (or former evangelical), progressive - ran the UMC. Now, I would immediately separate myself from those who ran it because even when I worked in the hierarchy I was working for the eventual downfall of the hierarchy which always comes when grassroots movements are effectively built.

Still, when I was in the hierarchy, I did not do enough. I was kind of a radical, relative when compared with so many others who were stiflingly committed to institutional maintenance that I encountered daily. But I was happy to have my comfortable job and urge moderate progress towards full inclusion and affirmation of LGBTQ people. I urged progress, not liberation. I was a progressive, not a liberationist. It was easy and it was comfortable. And I was wrong. I missed it. I was not faithful.

But I am striving to be a liberationist now. Striving and struggling. And while I love to be in the middle of movements - connecting folks, pouring into people, encouraging leaders, and cheering long and loud the steps towards justice and freedom for all people, especially those on the margins; I remain outside this one and it is because first and foremost this is where I belong. This is not my movement in that this is not principally about my liberation.

But this is also where I belong because I came late to the liberationist party. I did not do what I should have when I should have done it. I did not call out marginalization. I did not cry out for justice. I urged progress and patience. They say that all actions have consequences and I believe that. But so do inactions. Sins of omission are just as harmful as are sins of commission. I think I am living with that; accepting and acknowledging it and trying to be better.

But I will be honest, I am tired of recounting my failures in the struggles for justice. In fact, I am starting to feel like being an “ally” has become trendy; as has the words associated with fighting for liberation. I despise the inauthenticity that I am sensing has started to creep in to the movement for full LGBTQ affirmation in the church. At the same time, I cringe when I see people slamming others - particularly moderates - for not using the right words associated with liberation. There is something particularly harmful when a movement becomes so focused on purity that to be a part of it you have to prove yourself worthy to join it.

Movements for justice are hard, but the challenges should come from what we oppose, not from those standing alongside us.

So, it is a strange time for me to navigate this. Everything in me wants to jump into the fray, but the Spirit is checking me and my privilege, which is good, but really, really annoying. I struggle to listen and understand. I make mistakes, even with the language of liberation at times. But I move forward all of the time because God is gracious and good.

And my joy is seeing something new being birthed. I love it. Even not knowing where or even who I am in relation to the new birthing of a movement. Just being outside and watching it is thrilling for me. Watching and waiting, ready to act.

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