Ashes of Sorrow and Resistance
To the People of God in The United Methodist Church,
“Spare your people, O LORD, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'” – Joel 2:17b
This past week, the special session of the General Conference of our church gathered in search of a way forward out of a decades-old conflict over attitudes toward homosexuals and LGBTQIA people. Rather than finding a way forward, the church chose to turn back the clock and to intensify its exclusion.
The conference did not create space for United Methodists with different perspectives to live together. Rather, the church reaffirmed its assertion that “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching,” (UM Book of Discipline, 2016, ¶ 161.G). It intensified standards and punishments for bishops who ordain and appoint gay clergy, and for clergy who perform marriages for same-sex couples. The outcome was devastating for LGBTQIA people, whose very self-worth was debated, and for all persons in the church who believe Jesus models and invites us to become a radically inclusive community of faith.
To LGBTQIA persons in our churches and other ministry settings, I say,
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ” – Philippians 1:3-6
I appeal to every pastor, member, and attendee, to be tender and merciful as you extend care to LGBTQIA persons in your care, and their families, and to continue to create opportunities to promote understanding and justice within the church and society.
I join many of you who feel abandoned by your Church home. I am ashamed that the Church has turned its back on so many people who Jesus has loved and called. I cannot abide by or enforce the new rules in conscience. My soul cries out to God, “do not make your heritage a mockery. Why should it be said among the people, ‘Where is their God?’” And I know that many of you also find yourselves adrift. I hear questions like, Is our Church redeemable? Or, is it time to leave the church that has left us and form a new expression of Church that opens doors and affirm people, rather than closing doors and denying or punishing them.
Let me offer you some reassurances. First, none of the actions of the General Conference take effect until January 1, 2020. Practices of candidacy, ordination and weddings will continue unchanged for the time being. Challenges to the constitutionality of some of the new provisions are underway that may overturn them. Regardless of how that turns out, as your bishop, I don’t intend to lead us backward. We have come too far together to turn back now.
Pastors and people from large and small churches across the United States are looking for an expression of Church that affirms LGBTQ persons and recognizes them as full members and leaders. Coalitions of individuals and groups who will not submit to the recent actions are forming to develop plans for full inclusion, either inside or outside the existing UMC. We do know that a majority of the North American delegates to the recent General Conference opposed the actions taken. If you are among them, please indicate your interest in being part of this movement at: OneChurch4All.org
At the same time, I strongly believe that the Church should and must be a place where people who love
“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6)
With trust in God, who will lead us even if the Church wanders away and loses itself.
Your bishop and friend in Christ,
Elaine JW Stanovsky
If you haven’t already seen it, please watch the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishop’s response to the actions of General Conference that you’ll find below. Please also share it with your congregation on Sunday Morning or whenever you are able.
Discussions of inclusion by the PNWC cause a serious exclusion best states by GK Chesterton.
“Tradition means giving a vote to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. . .Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.”
The attempts to change 2000 years of Christian Tradition, which was a revelation not an evolution, by claiming changes in thinking about slavery are relevant is to completely miss that marriage has always been a sacrament and slavery never was. I for one cannot dishonor those that went before and exclude their voices as though their prayers for guidance by the Holy Spirit in formulating the statement in the Book of Discipline were unanswered. I am most amazed that after so many prayers at the General Conference, so many feel the Holy Spirit did not speak to the Body. But then again, when one treats fundamentals of the faith regarding sacraments as changeable based on democratic votes and politics, then at some point we must realize we are building idols.
For the first time in a long time I wont be at R.U.M.C. today for services. I don’t accept your decision that I have less value in the eyes of God. I wont be a part of saying to any youth struggling to find/live their own sexuality, you are bad/evil/sinfull. We/I/you need to stop trying to impose our own guilt-fear-shame, ideas of sin on others. Maybe we should take the log out of our own eyes.
Nancy Gudger Raiha
Thank you. I’m so proud of our church in the Northwest for embracing inclusion.
A big, warm thank you to Bishops Stanovsky and Oliveto along with the bishops of the ten other conferences that are in Non-Conformity. It is reassuring that most of our nation supported full inclusion for our LBGTQAI family and friends. What made the vote “go off the rails” was including the 43 other nations, many of these nations are new to the Bible and therefore, take it literally.
I’m saddened that the church I grew up in has chosen exclusion over inclusion in response to a divisive issue. There are so many other similarly divisive issues – – polygamy in Africa, euthanasia, abortion, etc. The list is long, and if the response each time is to narrow the UMC, it won’t be long until there’s nothing left of it.
Beth A. Fleisher
Thank you for continuing to lead us forward.
As a parent of an LGBTQA daughter, I stand with you and am glad you stand with me! The link you provided has a place to click “Send a Message,” but the link doesn’t work, so I’m leaving this here.
Greater NW Communications
Kristen, thanks for your comment. That button should open up your email program to send a message to “email@example.com”. I just tried it and it appeared to work. Apologies for any confusion.
Henry Gina Macavoray
Thanks so much Bishop. I pray that a church that will create needed space for unity be born.