I used to hate it when people were sore winners. You know what I mean? People that would soundly beat you at something and then rub it in, almost making the loss hurt less than the trash talk. Ugh. But sore winners aren’t the people that drive me to crazy town the most; nope, that award goes to the folks who sat on the sidelines, simply watching the contest with smug looks on their faces. These people make my blood boil. You know the ones: The people that have already played the game before, been there and done that, and think of themselves as beyond the current contest. It’s like these bystanders are there for the sport of pain; they only came to watch the bloodbath and congratulate each other on their past victories. “We’ve already done that…and man were we better,” their looks seem to say. “I’m so glad our team has already won and doesn’t have to worry about this hard work anymore…”
Yesterday, the United Methodist Church met in St. Louis for their final deliberations concerning many church-related topics. And yet, the main point of contention held homosexuality as its hostage, each side placing a well-loaded spiritual gun to the victim’s head. As the world held its breath waiting on the outcome, multiple denominations remained silent; some standing on the sidelines thinking, “I’m so glad our team has already won…”, while others stood in horror, silently judging the UMC for even THINKING about making a theological change on their stance.
We HAVE been there. In 2003, the Episcopal Church fractured after its decision to consecrate Gene Robinson as Bishop. A gay man, Bishop Robinson would come to represent a new way of thinking within the polity of the Episcopal Church of the United States. Not everyone agreed. They still don’t. But we’ve learned, as our Bishop so eloquently stated in the Oklahoman, “to live together with one another in the midst of our disagreements and our tensions — on the foundations of loving our God, loving one another and respecting the dignity of every human being.” And now we have millions of Christians—United Methodists—who need to learn how to do the same thing, to move forward. But it won’t be easy, especially given that a specific group was told they were not ‘pure’ enough to serve God at his table, or that they didn’t ‘love rightly’ enough to have the sacrament of marriage opened up to them. One difference between the UMC and the Episcopal Church is—among many—that we’ve had almost two decades to begin healing and practice reconciliation with each other, regardless of our theological beliefs. They’ve just started.
So, before we begin putting on our smug faces, proclaiming that we’ve ‘already fought that fight’ I urge caution. People are hurting within the UMC. Not everyone is so tied into their beliefs that they’re left unscathed by the events and decisions of yesterday’s meeting. How will we react? Will we, due to our National Church’s stance and our local stance, simply stand with one side and disengage with the other? Or will we talk to our Methodist friends on both sides of the aisle, offering comfort to the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable? Will we choose to re-engage into the fray, knowing that this disagreement isn’t one for a single denomination but one for the ages—one that involves people just trying to be loved because of who they are and what they believe, on both sides. It won’t be easy to sit with someone with whom we disagree and patiently hear their opposing views; it never is. But if we idly sit back and don’t offer support to those who have been left out, AND offer ourselves in LOVING WAYS to the conversation with those with whom we disagree, then we’re no better than the people smugly sitting on the sidelines. We weren’t called to watch, to wait, to be insular. We are one church. We are one body. And right now, we’re wounded. We must respond with love to those who are hurting. We must remain Christian in our response to those with whom we disagree. We will get nowhere by slinging accusations and labeling people as hate-mongers. But we will also get nowhere by halting the conversation, stamping it as ‘over’ and parting ways.
Love will win. Grace will overcome. Hope has to remain.