Rick Saylor on General Conference

Rick Saylor shared some reflections on the 2018 General Conference, titled With his permission, I’m sharing them with you.

I’ve Never Had This Kind of Heartburn Before by Rick Saylor

Yesterday was a historic moment in the United Methodist Church as General Conference reinforced it’s restriction (read discrimination) against LGBTQ persons regarding weddings and  clergy status. Not to mention General Conference legislation  once again voted to state the practices of our  LGBTQ friends is sinful and incompatible with scripture. 

Since that event yesterday my heart is burning in a new way.  I so much hurt about this decision which only passed by 50 some votes.  I hurt for LGBTQ friends who so hoped, with so many more United Methodists that justice and full inclusion would finally be decided. I hurt for the 47% minority who have been working, advocating and voting faithfully for inclusion for years, and who thought this was the year (We’ve only been fighting about this in the UMC since 1972).

I hurt for conservatives in our church (aligned as the WCA, Wesley Covenant Association) who are trapped by a narrow view of scripture and legalism which prevents them from being relevant in today’s cultural context. Not to mention how they disregard the great commandment of Jesus to love one another. Obviously they love their Bible and Book of Discipline more than people.  And I hurt for my United Methodist Church which I have served for more than 45 years. For we are now reaching a new moment of incivility towards each other as we are at irreconcilable differences.

Today my heartburn is full of anger, despair, grief and anxiety.  I’m angry how a coalition of conservatives in the US along with African delegates hold us hostage by claiming biblical authority as their argument for their decision. I’m angry that conservatives and traditionalists dismiss we progressives and centrists as having a “low” or no view of scripture. Which is totally a false narrative. I love the bible and my life, ministry and preaching has been formed by it. How dare they assume my interpretations are wrong!!

I’m angry by the fact that 2/3s of US delegates supported an amicable way forward that moved towards LGBTQ inclusion while providing for honoring individual conscience – and that this plan was defeated.  And I’m angry that this proposal which was created by a diverse, world wide task force was hijacked by a few bishops in collaboration with WCA.  Yes I’m angry as my heart burns.

Today I also have felt a new type of despair about the United Methodist Church. I have always believed the day would come when full inclusiveness would arrive as our standard. But now I have given up hope that it will ever happen. I’m truly despairing for a church I’ve served, loved and argued with for 67 years. But in truth today my heavy heart is ready to give up. But where do I go?  Give up on institutional church entirely?  Change to a more inclusive denomination?  Give effort to creating a kinder, gentler denomination as the UMC dies and splits. I am guarding against reactivity and sudden decision making.

My heart grieves today. I truly believe the United Methodist Church died yesterday. Oh yes it will take time until it’s last gasping breathe as it splits or morphs into a church of the old order which is kicking and screaming as it dies. And  as was said yesterday, approving this traditional plan would put a virus into our system that will make us all sick. I grieve that it will die more quickly now in irrelevance as  younger generations not to mention LGBTQ people say why would I consider a United Methodist faith community.  I grieve that the best of the church which I have known in the past may disappear as the lack of inclusiveness becomes the central issue taking our time and energy as a denomination.

And I admit my heart burn includes anxiety because of all the uncertainties and unknowns ahead of us, ahead of me. But my spirit calls me to remember I have walked through a wilderness of anxiety before, and by grace and a beloved community found my way through. 

So my heart burns. And in the midst of it I wait for healing and emergence of hope. For in the best sense of mystery and belief, the church is of God and will continue to emerge in various forms, movements and expressions.  So let it be!!