It’s often the case that I write blogs because I can’t go to sleep since my mind is restlessly wordsmithing something in my head. That’s what happened last night regarding a resolution before the Virginia annual conference to recommend rescinding the trust clause for churches who want to ditch United Methodism without losing their physical property if they disagree with whatever ruling comes out of the February 2019 General Conference. I have no idea whether the Virginia conference will even address this resolution today or if I’ll make it to the microphone to say any of this, but I had to write this blog post so I could go to sleep.
For the past four years, I have been the co-pastor of the NOLA Wesley campus ministry, one of maybe 3 or 4 officially Reconciling campus ministries in the Deep South. During that time, we have seen 10 students come to know Christ, 7 of whom have been LGBTQ. Our most spiritually vital ministry is our LGBTQ small group Prism.
I have had some amazing conversations with our students about sexual holiness. Since our LGBTQ students do not know that the United Methodist Church officially condemns them, I can tell them that God says their bodies are temples where the Holy Spirit lives as a declaration of their belovedness and empowerment rather than a means of shaming them for immorality.
Because I start from a place of unconditional inclusion and acceptance, I have earned the trust over time to talk about the way that sex can be so much more than a means of receiving pleasure. It has the power to be a sacred vocation through which two people can experience the absolute healing and safety of God’s grace in each other’s bodies.
I have been able to tell my students that putting a lifelong covenant on our love is actually the ultimate form of intentionality and consent (two buzzwords in today’s woke generation). In my experience, it has absolutely not been the case that LGBTQ inclusion somehow undermines the pursuit of the holiness that has always been the Wesleyan way.
One of God’s most beautiful surprises this year has been the way that members of the most conservative congregation in our district have become some of our greatest supporters because one of our students went to their church and told them she is gay and she loves reading the Bible to get to know Jesus. It was an Acts 11 type of story, much like when the apostle Peter reported to the Jerusalem church that the Gentiles had received the Holy Spirit just like they did. Just like the Jerusalem church, we rejoiced at the revelation of God’s glory in our midst.
On a practical level, if we make it easy for congregations to pull out of the United Methodist Church, then campus ministries which depend on apportionment dollars will evaporate quickly. It doesn’t seem invalid for me to ask whether it’s selfish and myopic to throw the discipleship of college students under the bus for the sake of personal conscience. At the very least, it would be irresponsible of me as a campus minister not to exhort others to consider the fate of our connectional ministries as part of their discernment.
The much more important reason we shouldn’t make it easy for people to take their toys and go home is because we would be disallowing the Holy Spirit to surprise us with the foolishly marvelous ways that God confounds our us and them categories. Those Acts 11 stories can happen in every direction. God’s glory has blown up in my face when conservatives have surprised me and shattered my caricatures.
It’s good for my discipleship to share a church with people whose views and behaviors contradict my personal conscience. It means that I have to accept my lack of control and trust the Holy Spirit. It means that I’m confronted by the humbling possibility that I might be wrong. It invites me to wonder rather than to judge. It invites me to be curious rather than self-righteous.
I’m a better person in a theologically diverse church because God often evangelizes me through people I think are wrong. I can understand the idea that it’s gracious to let people leave if they’re convinced they can’t stay rather than have a nasty legal battle over buildings. What I can’t understand is the mentality that you must abandon a covenant if your side can’t control it.
I continue to hope that the Holy Spirit will keep surprising us with Acts 11 moments that undermine our self-certainty and replace it with amazement at the glory of God.
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