What Does it Mean to Do a New Thing in Methodism?
The electoral victories at Annual Conference felt good. I felt relief and excitement over what we accomplished in such a short amount of time. I was blown away by the wide margin of votes between the candidates who favored inclusion and those that did not. I was not expecting a landslide victory. The general conference delegation is proof of a popular adage in my ministry context, “Direct action gets the goods.” Winning this victory has always been possible. Straight, cisgender people just finally cared enough to have conversations we should have had years ago. Delayed justice is still justice, though it admittedly comes at the cost of LGBTQ+ lives and faith journeys. We all deserved a moment to pat ourselves on the back. Now, several weeks removed from the conference, it is time for the difficult work to begin. I believe our work should start with clarifying exactly what this movement stands for so that we do not fall into the trap of the familiar.
There’s a danger in our victory at Annual Conference. We might be tempted to look at the 2019 General Conference as an aberration and decide to place our hope for justice and transformation in the General Conference in 2020. Dear siblings, putting our hopes in the General Conference, after decades of disappointment and failure, is not doing a new thing. We have to set our sights higher than that extremely low bar. We do not know what will happen in Minneapolis, and we cannot pin our hopes on an uncertain outcome any longer. I am tired of telling LGBTQ+ kin to wait for another quadrennium. The injustice and violence of the 2019 General Conference were not an aberration, they were the continuation of decades of abuse against LGBTQ+ people in this denomination. The aberrant outcome was that the whole Methodist world finally got to see what LGBTQ+ people have experienced their entire lives. Allies, imagine the pain and humiliation you felt from those three days stretched out over your entire lives. This is the feeling of being a queer person in the United Methodist Church. We must let this pain speak to us because it is testifying that the General Conference is not the solution for our church, it is part of the problem. The format of the General Conference brought us to the brink of collapse as a denomination, and we need to treat 2019 as a logical outcome, not a mistake. Our polity needs reform and reevaluation at every level. The difficult work of doing a “new thing” calls us to question everything about the polity that brought us to this point.
So what does it mean to do a “new thing” in Methodism? This is such an exciting question because it gives us an opportunity to dream about what God wants for this denomination. We have been fighting over the same question for the entire life of our church! We’ve literally never gotten beyond this point, and our public witness suffers for it. What will it look like when we win justice and can move on in our mission? What will inclusive Methodists do to combat climate change? How can we follow the Spirit into new visions for ministry? Where will God lead us to create transformation in the midst of suffering, oppression, and injustice? Where will the kin-dom be born around us? We can only begin to answer these questions when we face the reality that everything we take for granted in the UMC needs to be questioned and perfected.
A few weeks ago, the ordination class of 2019 wrote a letter with an interesting quote in it. They wrote, “We have chosen to walk into something that is dying because, at the core of our faith, we believe in resurrection.” When asking ourselves about the definition of new things, it is important to remember that there is more than one way to bring a dead thing back to life. The opposite side of resurrection is reanimation of the dead into zombies. Will our movement resurrect the church for the sake of full inclusion without reserve? Or, will we reanimate the lifeless corpse of the One Church Plan and again offer compromise to those that deny the humanity of queer people? Will we resurrect the ordination process to make it more accessible to marginalized people? Or, will we reanimate a system that prioritizes straight, white men? Will we resurrect our forms of church growth and missions? Or will we reanimate models based on white flight, gentrification, and colonialism? These are the choices before us. Virginia cannot answer these questions in a vacuum, but it is time to begin having the conversation.
Rev. Isaac Collins is the Lead Pastor of Wesley Memorial UMC, a Reconciling Church in Charlottesville.