A Word from Our Pastor 2012 June Reconciling Ministries

Reconciling Ministries
A Word from Our Pastor

Last month, the United Methodist Church held its quadrennial world-wide meeting, the General Conference. This GC was one of the most controversial in recent memory, because our “body” was so painfully divided. One of the most wide-reaching proposals was to downsize and reorganize our church so that it would be structured in a more “corporate” style. While this proposal was at first approved by the General Conference, after review by the Judicial Council (our version of the Supreme Court), it was declared “Irreparably unconstitutional,” because our UMC constitution intends to balance the authority of the church between several bodies, and the new proposal advocated for a “top-down” structure.

The bitterness and intensity of the discussions about this and other issues was a battle for the heart of our church: who should “run” our church, and what direction should we go? The urgency was also fueled by our continuing decline in numbers in the U.S. (from 11 to 8 million members in the past 30 years or so, with the rate of decline significantly increasing), and the hard facts that if we do not change, we will continue to decline, and perhaps even die. . . What should we do to “save” our church?

The issue that is most divisive, and in many minds is responsible for some of the decline in numbers, is homosexuality. The first time our church debated this issue was in 1972, and since that time, the General Conference put several policies in place, all of which might be seen as “anti-Gay.” Specifically, our “Book of Discipline” states that although gays and lesbians are persons of “sacred worth, “ “homosexual practice” is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Last month, the General Conference rejected proposals to change these policies and also rejected a proposal that stated “we agree to disagree” on this matter! Even though the vote to retain the “incompatible” statement won by about 20 per cent, this is a smaller margin than in previous years. Each time (since 1972) that the issue has been raised, it has passed by a smaller percentage. Even though there is hope that in the future the General Conference will change this policy, after this action was taken in May, 2012, several families resigned from Trinity UMC in Berkeley, and other pastors in the area felt they might face similar reactions from their members.
In 2011, we at Berkeley Methodist Church made adopted a statement that contradicts the General Conference: “As part of our mission, we welcome people of all ethnicities, all economic circumstances, all sexual orientations and gender differences.

In addition, we joined the network of “Reconciling Congregations,” United Methodist churches that have taken a similar stance. So, we are definitely not alone. 80 members of Napa UMC published an open letter in the local paper, the “Napa Valley Register.” It says, in part:
“We find the decision of the General Conference contrary to the loving acceptance taught by Jesus Christ and contrary to current scientific knowledge. We now express to the general public and to the United Methodist Church leadership our agreement with other United Methodists who stand for unconditional love, mercy and respect for all people.

At Napa First United Methodist Church, we welcome all people as they are, whatever their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

It is clearly a time of fear for our church – our United Methodist denomination, and to a lesser degree, for our little BMUC congregation. There is a strong desire to find the path that will bring us new members. At BMUC, even though we take in members every year, in most years, we lose one or two more members to death. We have not – so far – lost any members because of UMC policies regarding sexuality. Even so, we are in truly challenging times. I believe that our path of faithfulness calls us to hold fast to what we believe is right and true, and not give ourselves to whatever we think will make us “popular.” If we demonstrate to our community – the community OUTSIDE the walls of our church – that we stand for God’s love, acceptance, peace, joy – then others will join us. But we have to get that message out, by doing and saying the message of healing in Jesus Christ to those who are “outside!”

–Rev. Naomi