After the morning after: Taylor Swift, United Methodists, and West Coast Heartbreak

After the morning after: Taylor Swift, United Methodists, and West Coast Heartbreak July 16, 2016


Sometimes I realize that I have underestimated the impact that my parents’ divorce has had on my view of the world, particularly regarding relationships. Studies show that children of divorce are prone to one of two extremes: they become obsessed with the rules and commitments governing a relationship, or they become very nonchalant about commitments—when the relationship doesn’t work, it just doesn’t work, so let’s move on.

I must admit, I am the former. Relationships are important to me. I don’t call people friends (which is why I hate that whole Facebook notion of friends) quickly. Friendship, real friendship, is enduring, grace-filled, and covenant-based. If I am your girl, I am your girl—I have your back. I will forgive you as I expect you to forgive me. I expect you to seek my best as I will seek yours. If I say I love you, I love you, for love endures.

Wow. Yep, a very childlike idea. I admit it. Trust me; my heart has been broken more than once by friends who easily walked away, even after a decade of friendship, as if there were no memories, pictures, or prayers. Like my children, I still believe people when they say it is forever—regardless of context or circumstances.

When news of Karen Oliveto’s election a bishop in the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church finally reached Dallas, it was as if I was re-living my parents’ divorce. After all, her election, organizationally,  would signal that the long-anticipated schism was truly underway, and the Western Jurisdiction was saying it no longer wanted to be in a relationship with the rest of the connection. The papers were filed. They were moving their stuff out.

Let me be clear about a few things: I honestly believe that being gay or lesbian does not preclude one from being a minister of Jesus Christ. I am an active and vocal ally. I know I have colleagues who believe that that position is biblically unsound and against God’s will, but having traveled the road from there to here, I simply am at a different place in my understanding. When I stood before my colleagues of the North Texas clergy session in 2014, I believed these things. But–and this is a huge ‘but’–I was then, and I remain willing now, to follow the polity of the United Methodist Church. If I wanted change, I would use the mechanisms for change as outlined in the Discipline; I would preach inclusion; I would vote for General Conference candidates who believe as I do; I would work to hear and be heard by those on another side—recognizing they are not evil, not sinful, just working out their salvation and walk with Christ a little differently than I am.

That said, here is what I am truly struggling with, and it is the only question I want to be answered from my clergy friends who are celebrating Rev. Oliveto’s election Friday night : Did you mean it? 

When the Bishop asked you in front of your future colleagues:

Do you know the General Rules of our Church?

Will you keep them?

Have you studied the doctrines of The United Methodist Church?

After full examination, do you believe that our doctrines are in harmony with the Holy Scriptures?

Will you preach and maintain them?

Have you studied our form of Church discipline and polity?

Do you approve our Church government and polity?

Will you support and maintain them?

And if you said yes: Did you mean it or were your fingers crossed?

See–and maybe I am wrong–when you said yes, you were saying yes to a historical connection and covenant among Methodist clergy that, in one form or another, has linked us since our founding. It hasn’t been pretty. It hasn’t been easy. No relationship ever is. But if you said yes when the bishop asked those questions, you were saying you were in it to stay, warts and all. You were saying that you knew the terms and agreements associated with your employment.

“But Maria,” you argue, “I have changed my mind. I can’t stand the original agreement. I think it is wrong. I believe that the Discipline and our polity suck. Our system excludes talented people, and as a means of social justice, we should disobey it.”

An interesting point, but that is not the way covenant relationships work. No matter how crazy Abraham got, God didn’t change their relationship. It took decades for it to be made manifest but the bond was never broken. Generation after generation,that bond remains. However, in our culture today, commitments are flexible and convenient. We change political parties, jobs, and baseball teams with the wind. Sadly, our culture has had the same impact on covenantal relationships. Nothing is forever; relationships have conditions and time limits.

Before you start lumping me with  any certain group, don’t go there. You don’t know my scars, my walk, or my experience. And frankly, I refuse to take a litmus test of equality. I have fought for full inclusion. I believed with all my heart that we could and would have changed the Discipline at a General Conference because there were those of us who decided to work one delegate and delegation at a time. As one African delegate said to me, “Maria, we will not let this issue destroy the connection of the Church—it is that connection that is most sacred.” General Conference was an effort to hold the connection together—it was inelegant, it was anti-climactic, but it was the first real effort that our denomination had made to confess, “We are broken.”

But rather than embrace the opportunity for working on our relationship, it has become painfully clear that our Western Jurisdiction clergy colleagues no longer want to be in a relationship with us. Sadly, I realized this morning that no compromise, no polity, no General Conference can keep a connection or a relationship together when people don’t want to be in a relationship anymore. So rather than show up at the counselor’s office, they (and several other congregations and conferences) have chosen to go directly to the lawyer’s office.

But like Brexit, I believe my colleagues will find the next steps of the revolution are the most difficult. A breakup of this magnitude will destroy not only our connection but will also have bureaucratic implications for the foreseeable future.The problem as I see it is that everybody hates bureaucracy, i.e. the Discipline and our polity, until their pension checks don’t show up on time or the fund goes insolvent. Everybody decries the system until our jobs and grants at seminaries are lost. Everybody thinks Methodism stinks until the ministries and initiatives that could only be sustained through the connection evaporate when the connection is dissolved.

I sound bitter, don’t I? No, I am just someone who got dumped the other night when I thought we had agreed to see a therapist. I am someone who knows that you can’t preach reconciliation when you are taking every step in the book to break a relationship apart. I am someone who knows that in a world that is torn apart, where up is down and down is up, that the clergy of the United Methodist Church have abdicated their witness that those on two sides of an issue can come together as one through the power of the Holy Spirit. I am someone who knows that damn it Taylor Swift IS a prophet because we are never ever getting back together.  we can still be friends….right?

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