I join Hispanic/Latinx United Methodists in calling for ACTION following three more mass shootings in America. God calls us to protect the innocent, and yet we permit people who are driven by racial hatred, mental illness and demons that are sometimes impossible to discern, to own and use weapons of mass murder to kill unsuspecting, undeserving innocent people. The two-month old baby who survived in El Paso because her parents sacrificed their lives to protect her has become a prayer icon as I grieve and look for a better way.
Taken together, conditions in the United
States of American today are explosive:
an embedded culture of white privilege (read White Fragility, by Robin Diangelo),
a sense of white disenfranchisement (read Alienated America, by Timothy P. Carney),
Prayers after the fact won’t reduce the risk of another attack.
The stones cry out and so do the people. “DO SOMETHING!” Pray! Yes. Light a candle! Yes. Weep! Yes. If we are not weeping, we have lost our love for our neighbors. Gather with your neighbors to bear witness to the goodness and kindness of human communities that embrace cultural difference and respond to people in need! yes.
But also SHOUT OUT! to protect the innocent and vulnerable. Write your congress persons, advocating humane immigration and refugee policies. Speak to gun merchants in your neighborhood, asking about what weapons they sell, and what their safety practices are. Let them know your concerns. When you vote, consider the poor, tired huddled who travel to our borders seeking safety, liberty, opportunity. Use social media to let your voice be heard and shared and spread.
Fellow followers of Jesus: BE the Church! ACT YOUR FAITH! Bring the good news that God loves you to everyone in your community. Find ways to connect with disaffected, isolated white men on the margins. Build bridges between newly arrived immigrants and members of your community who have lived here their whole lives. Learn about opioid addiction and how to help people out of its grip.
Christians and other thoughtful, compassionate people need find a way to advocate for policies that protect the public safety in the face of violence that is out of control. We can’t let ourselves become complacent as gun violence becomes normal. The debate about gun rights and gun control generates more heat than light. As people of open minds, it’s time to test our knowledge and our values about guns, gun rights and gun control against the teachings of Jesus. Gun rights and mass shootings are not ALL-or-NOTHING matters. The right to bear arms was only guaranteed by the Supreme Court in 2008. Before that it was never absolute, it was always limited and subject to interpretation.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by anxiety on so many fronts at the same time. That’s why we pray to get in touch with the power of the Creator of the Universe, who is working in and through, and in spite of us to care for all the children of the world. I know we can’t all do everything that needs to be done. But we can each do something.
Rich men using and trafficking vulnerable girls and women as instruments of sexual gratification.
Suicide and drug overdose rates soaring, especially among rural white men.
Children continue to be separated from their parents and held at the border, sometimes without adequate food, water, medical care or a place to sleep.
Growing numbers of people sleeping under bridges, in green belts and their cars due to gentrification and a crisis in affordable housing in many urban centers.
Nationalism and racism have found a public voice in America again and anew. “Go back where you came from” is a taunt that comes of un-addressed white privilege and supremacy.
These are not merely partisan political issues. These are signs of spiritual and identity disease in the human family. Jesus never heard of Republicans or Democrats. But he was a careful observer of people and human communities, and an unfailing teacher of what healthy community life looks like.
This week, let’s remember Jesus teaching and example. The Bible offers more than 60 passages about widows, orphans, aliens, the poor and the outcast (you can google that). They remind the reader that God’s love extends especially to people who live under duress, who are overlooked, taken advantage of, kept on the outskirts of civil society.
Jesus calls people like you and me to live in ways that invite people into “beloved community.” People of faith should encourage just public policy that heals the dis-eases that cast shadows on people on the margins.
Pray this Sunday, and during the week ahead, that out of the neglect, abuse, blame and hate that seems to run rampant in our world right now, God will work through us, and in spite of us, to cultivate “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and yes, self-control”(Galatians 5: 22).
Educate yourself and resource others by visiting the websites of our United Methodist general agencies who help us put Jesus principles into practice:
Ask yourself how you are helping God give life to the people around you. Make a plan to intentionally cultivate God’s kin-dom. Keep a list of the actions you take. to build God’s kin-dom.
Read the newspaper, social media or watch TV prayerfully.
Speak kind words to people you encounter day by day.
Write your elected official.
Write a letter to your local newspaper.
Post a good word on social media.
Join (or organize) a public witness.
Initiate or sponsor a public forum to promote deeper understanding and engagement in solutions.
The best remedy I know of to all of this bad news is hope grounded in prayer, discernment and deliberate action with others. When we respond to injustice, especially as we do so in community, we can break free from the shackles of despair and find new life where once there was only fear and death. This, my friends, is the good news!
People fleeing violence in their homelands, meet violence at the border of the United States: rejection, separation, incarceration, neglect and death. It’s easy to feel the revulsion when it’s innocent children. Our faith reminds us that every migrant arriving at the southern border is a beloved child in God’s eyes, equally worthy of the care, dignity, and respect that we would afford to our children or grandchildren.
I am asking each local church and faith community in the Greater Northwest Area to prayerfully join me and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) in observing a ‘Sunday of Solidarity for Suffering Children’ on Sunday, June 30.
Below you’ll find UMCOR’s encouragement toward prayer, action, and generosity on behalf of all of God’s Children. Let’s take action to respond with open hearts and minds this week to embody God’s love and make a difference.
Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. And your neighbor as yourself. Do this and you will live.
Elaine JW Stanovsky Resident Bishop
UMCOR: A Sunday of Solidarity for Suffering Children | Sunday, June 30
In light of the recent news about children in U.S. government holding facilities along the U.S.-Mexico border, the United Methodist Committee on Relief has received numerous requests to respond. We have heard the plea for action from the church. Unfortunately, the facilities in question are managed in such a way that precludes even UMCOR’s assistance. Access to these government facilities is extremely limited.
As the arm of The United Methodist Church mandated to cultivate and promote mission, the General Board of Global Ministries seeks to equip your church with tools to use as you confront the frustration and helplessness that this situation evokes. While this particular case is in the U.S., we recognize that migration is a global issue and the breadth and depth of our Global Migration programming at UMCOR and Global Ministries reflects that fact.
As a church that is united on the need to care for children, we can be in mission together.
This Sunday, June 30, Global Ministries encourages you to take part in A Sunday of Solidarity for Suffering Children in three ways:
PRAY – We encourage you to pray for children. Below, you will find a prayer to use this Sunday. You might choose to dedicate a service to suffering children everywhere or conduct a prayer vigil in your community for the children suffering along the border.
ACT – We encourage you to act on behalf of children. While we cannot take UMCOR hygiene kits to the U.S. government holding centers, we are distributing UMCOR hygiene kits at transitional shelters all along the US-Mexico border. In the last three months, UMCOR delivered 46,128 hygiene kits to six church-run transitional shelters. Instructions on how to make and send these kits are available here.
You can also act by calling your U.S. elected officials. This link to the General Board of Church and Society, our sister United Methodist agency responsible for advocacy, will give you some suggestions on issues to raise with these officials.
GIVE – Finally, we encourage you to give on behalf of children. Through the Global Migration Advance, UMCOR provides grants to organizations along the U.S. border and elsewhere around the world that are working to fill gaps in the needs and rights of migrants.
Jesus implored his disciples to welcome the children. This is our mission: to make sure the children are welcomed. Thank you for your prayers, your actions and your gifts.
God of All Children Everywhere, Our hearts are bruised when we see children suffering alone Our hearts are torn when we are unable to help. Our hearts are broken when we have some complicity in the matter. For all the times we were too busy and shooed a curious child away, forgive us, oh God. For all the times we failed to get down on their level and look eye to eye with a child, forgive us, oh God. For all the times we did not share when we saw a hungry child somewhere in the world, forgive us, oh God. For all the times we thought about calling elected officials to demand change, but did not, forgive us, oh God. For all the times we thought that caring for the children of this world was someone else’s responsibility, forgive us, oh God. With Your grace, heal our hearts. With Your grace, unite us in action. With Your grace, repair our government. With Your grace, help us to find a way to welcome all children everywhere, That they may know that Jesus loves them, Not just because “the Bible tells them so,” But because they have known Your love in real and tangible ways, And they know that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate them from Your love. Amen.
I just returned from two gatherings that I believe will shape the future of Methodism for years to come. Taken together, they could mark a turn toward LGBTQ+ persons being fully recognized, included and honored in Methodism in the future, whatever form it takes. More than 900 people participated in one or both of the two events, including leaders from the Greater Northwest.
As you know, the actions of General Conference 2019 stirred up deep distress within The United Methodist Church. Many are asking: how do we live in a church that has adopted values and rules that we believe are not Christian? Do we stay and try to change the Church? Or is Jesus, who makes all things new, leading us to create a new expression of Methodism that is more faithful to the gospel? It feels like we are in a great season of sorting out how much diversity can remain united, and what are the limits beyond which some may have to leave.
The first gathering, Our Way FORWARD brought together justice-seeking communities to hear one another, recognize their shared oppression, and speak their call and commitment to a new Methodist movement that will act for justice inside the Church and in the world. As intended, people of color and LGBTQ+ United Methodists organized and led the event, with a deep commitment to creating a Church in “radical solidarity” with oppressed people.
Around 350 persons attended this event, with 19 of our fellow United Methodists present from the Greater Northwest Area. I was the only bishop present. Here’s what I experienced.
This gathering was church. It was church in the way it intentionally included many voices in the planning and leadership, and in the way it made space for people to be present in the fullness of their beings. It was church in the way the host congregation prepared, welcomed, fed, honored and protected participants. It was church in the depth, passion and beauty of worship. It was church in the prophetic proclamation of the liberating love of Jesus Christ, in the midst of misrepresentation, rejection and agony. It was church through shared sorrow and grief, the bold claim of baptism, the celebration of the goodness and fragility of God’s creation and gathering at the table of grace.
Many wore T-shirts bearing the baptismal promise of all United Methodists everywhere to: resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.
In contrast to the fervent voices of some presenters, around tables I heard people saying:
I want to be in the Church my parents attend in their conservative town. I don’t agree with them, but I want to be in the same Church.
Even if I left the UMC, I would not be free of it. It is the community of my people. It made me who I am.
I want gay babies born today to have a church that embraces and nurtures them. If I leave, they are still at risk.
Black Methodists stayed in the Church through segregation, even when they were treated as second-class citizens. There can be strength in resistance.
As I left the gathering, I was deeply grateful for the honesty, urgency, and generosity of the community. And I felt confident that the leaders at this gathering and across our Church are ready and able to lead the Church into the future.
The second gathering, UMC NEXT gathered “centrists,” who were outraged at the actions of General Conference, together with progressives longing for real change. This broad coalition of United Methodists denounced the Traditional Plan and vowed to work toward a Church that stands and strives for justice and full inclusion.
But there was concern held by some leading up to this gathering.
I had my own questions about how participants were selected, and whether it would be a truly participatory process.
Nearly 30 people came from the Greater Northwest. Some are respected leaders. Others are newer and not as widely known. Some attended both events to ensure that UMC NEXT would benefit from the conversations and perspectives from FORWARD.
Together, participants helped craft a vision for a new, hopeful, inclusive, just Methodist movement based on four core commitments:
To be passionate followers of Jesus Christ, committed to a Wesleyan vision of Christianity that is anchored in scripture and informed by tradition, reason and experience as we live a life of personal piety and social holiness.
To resist evil, injustice and oppression in all forms and toward all people, and to build a church which affirms the full participation of all ages, nations, races, classes, cultures, gender identities, sexual orientations and abilities.
To reject the Traditional Plan approved at General Conference 2019 as inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ and resist its implementation.
To work to eliminate discriminatory language and the restrictions and penalties in the Book of Discipline regarding LGBTQ individuals. We affirm the sacred worth of LGBTQ persons, celebrate their gifts, and commit to being in ministry together.
These commitments are consistent with statements and actions taken by our Greater Northwest annual conferences for many years. I embrace these commitments and find them helpful as I lead United Methodists in the Northwest. I believe that inclusive community is the Jesus way and that it is the future of our Church.
At the same time, I intend to continue to honor all lay and clergy members and churches in the area I serve, whether they support or reject the actions of the recent General Conference. Over 23 years in Conference leadership, I have never discriminated against clergy or laity, based upon their theology. To the best of their ability, my cabinets have placed clergy in settings where their gifts and graces, as well as their theological perspectives, serve the needs of the community and congregation. I pledge to continue to lead in this way. I will also continue to try to keep you informed of possibilities and plans as they develop.
How will these gatherings affect you? Us? Participants from the Greater Northwest met yesterday before leaving Kansas City, to begin to plan together. There are no concrete plans at this time but these gatherings, and the coalitions that are being built, will help us in shaping what comes next. Before and during annual conferences we are considering conducting surveys or polls to get a “sense” of how United Methodists in Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest view the future of Methodism. Policies to guide processes of disaffiliation are being developed for churches that feel they must leave the denomination. In the next few weeks, the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Annual Conference sessions will give us a chance to learn more, and to think and pray together about our future in the Northwest.
In this CrossOver year, we are finding our way, and making the road, by walking. Almighty God continues to find the goodness in each created being. Companion, Christ, walks with us, as guide and savior. The Holy Spirit continues to breathe life into each one of us moment by moment, with grace in every breath.
I’m grateful for each of you who has participated in Table Talks, held information sessions in your church, sought out and read information about all the many conversations that are unfolding across the church. I hope you are talking with people in your families, your home church, in nearby churches, and outside the church, about the critical challenge we face. I hope you are talking to people whose life experience is different from yours. Where two or three are gathered, God is present.
“I pray that… Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” – Matthew 18:20 NRSV
I ask for your prayers for those of us from the Greater NW Area who will attend two significant conversations on the future of The United Methodist Church in the aftermath of the 2019 Special Session of General Conference.
The first event, UM Forward, will take place in Minneapolis, Minnesota May 17-18. Organizers have designed the gathering to center voices too often marginalized including people of color, and persons from the LGBTQI+ community. As they prepare for this event, some persons from the GNW Area expressed these thoughts:
The spirit before us, our creator behind us, and Jesus alongside us we continue a march toward liberation. The justice of God will continue to set us free to be church we are meant to be! – Esteban Galan, lay, Boise ID
Our way forward must empower those who are most impacted by the harm the church and world have caused. Only then, can we be the church. – Joseph Lopez, lay, Seattle WA
Wherever the church ends up I am sure of one thing, if it does not fully embrace LGBTQIA+ people it will not stand. – Ryan Scott, clergy, Toledo OR
I’m hoping to make connections and learn from other people who are passionate about the future of our denomination and our movement towards full inclusion. – Emily Wright, lay, Seattle WA
A second event, UMC Next, is being held at the Church of the Resurrection near Kansas City on May 20-22. This gathering will bring together over 600 United Methodists with groups of 10 from each Annual Conference in the United States. Of this event, some who will attend from our area have offered these hopes:
We must move beyond old prejudices and entrenched patterns and be as committed to the life and well-being of others as we are to ourselves and our own preferences. – Mary Huycke, clergy, Yakima WA
My hope is we name the reality—including what is at stake, what we lose in remaining/exiting—then tell the story that enlivens our movement. – Jeremy Smith, clergy from Oregon-Idaho Conference, Seattle WA
My hope for the UMC Next gathering is that progressives, centrists and conservative compatibilists would be able to find enough common ground on which to raise a new expression of Methodism, built on the foundation of faith, mission, grace, inclusion, equality, justice, and mercy. – Carlo Rapanut, clergy, Anchorage, AK
Business as usual is over; now we are given the opportunity to step into our call toward radical love. I hope we can be brave. – Nica Sy, lay, Seattle, WA
In this trying time, we need to follow Christ’s example and prove that Christians can show love to the world as well as to each other. – Teri Watanabe, lay, Monroe OR
As United Methodists striving to live faithfully and serve missionally in the Greater Northwest, we are a diverse group of lay and clergy who expect to listen and speak from our context. And we expect the Holy Spirit to be among us as promised. Please keep us, and all who gather, in prayer during this time.
We’ll do our best to bring you into the conversation after we return.
Elaine JW Stanovsky | Resident Bishop, Greater Northwest Area
Click here for a list of persons attending from the GNW Area. Let us know if we have missed anyone!
This week the Council of Bishops met and issued a public statement that aspired to be pastoral and prophetic. Thank you for your prayers as we met. Here are some of the reasons I am hopeful after the meeting.
bishops are keenly aware that United Methodism is in crisis. The
backlash in Europe, parts of the United States and other places around the
world to the recent General Conference, makes a unified future for the UMC appear
impossible. Some people hold out hope for a change at the 2020 General
Conference. Others anticipate schism. No-one seems to believe that United
Methodists around the world will simply implement policies that exclude and
punish LGBTQ+ people.
The bishops kept the main thing the main thing. Placing the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, at its center, we devoted 11 hours over 4 days focused on the deep fractures in our Church. We felt deeply the despair of LGBTQ+ persons, their families, and of a new generation of leaders in the United States. We also awoke to the increased risk to poor and vulnerable people caused by funds being withheld or re-directed from apportionments, The Advance, UMCOR, Africa University and other United Methodist causes.
bishops recognize that this crisis offers a rare opportunity. United
Methodism is overdue for a spiritual and practical revival to address systemic
racism, sexism, colonialism, heteronormativity, irrelevance to young people,
and a governance system that is not designed or capable of addressing our
global complexity. How can the Church use this crisis to help God give rise to
a new movement of Methodism? Don’t waste a good crisis!
The bishops see that division keeps
us distracted from mission. We’ve
had split decisions on sexuality for 45 years as a denomination. In February we
took our best shot at adopting legislation that could hold us together and
failed. Our established legislative and judicial processes are not able to heal
the breach. United Methodist spiritual practices and resources are weak. We
find ourselves adrift in turbulent waters.
The bishops began to tell the truth:
maybe not the
whole truth, but a lot of new truth. We spoke more frankly about our ministry
contexts and the conflicting demands within our areas. We challenged each other
honestly about ways our leadership may contribute to division and distrust. Some
challenged participation by bishops in caucuses and reform groups on both sides
of the divide. Some reported conservatives being blamed for the actions of the
General Conference. I recalled that the Western Jurisdiction has been fully
inclusive since before the Church prohibited ordination of LGBTQ+ people and
blessing of their relationships.
The bishops acknowledged that worldly powers and principalities are at work, intending to divide the Church and silence its prophetic voice.
In some places, bishops report that disruption in their areas was amplified by outside groups spreading accusations of influence peddling, delegate voter fraud and defamatory rumors about individuals and regions of the Church. We asked ourselves, are we just too nice to investigate and expose these actions? Should bishops identify ourselves with these groups? Should there be a standard of disclosure and transparency for any group that wants to be considered a trustworthy partner? You may have seen the photo of bishops meeting with the Reform and Renewal Coalition comprised of Good News, the Confessing Movement, the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) and The Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA), during the Council meeting. Bishops who were not there asked the other, “Why did you go to the meeting?” Bishops who attended raised strong objections to unethical and dishonest tactics of some affiliated with the coalition.
African American bishops testified to their survival in an unjust system. In a wrenching witness, African American bishops described decades of racial segregation within the Church in the United States and the faithfulness of African Americans who stayed and supported the Church, despite being marginalized. The church has never healed those wounds, and black voices are still not heard in the Church today. Some resent the outcry in support of LGBTQ+ people, when there has never been acknowledgement and advocacy for full racial inclusion. Through their pain, these colleagues offered another oppressed group encouragement to survive in structures that deny your humanity. I heard them saying – don’t leave. You can stay, despite the pain inflicted on you, because God loves you and makes you strong. The Church needs you to be whole.
The bishops began to see that human sexuality cannot be considered as an either/or proposition to be settled by an up or down vote. If there is one new thing I am learning from the LGBTQ+ community, it is that binary options are not adequate. Either/or choices don’t take account of how fearfully and wonderfully God has made us. Making sense of LGBTQ+ requires and deserves deep conversation, biblical scholarship, ethical consideration and prayer-filled spiritual maturity. It requires the wisdom of scripture, tradition, reason and experience. People are not simply male or female, slave or free, Jew or Gentile, biblical literalists or biblical critical thinkers, rule-follower or people-lover. Binary choices cannot reveal the whole truth, because you have to ignore part of the truth to answer a complex question with a simple answer.
In the midst of the messiness of the struggle I find hopeful
signs that the Church is alive, and at work, humble, and learning. The Council
of Bishops did not propose a top-down 5-year plan. It’s not time to have a plan
yet. Most of us are so rooted within our side of the divided question, we don’t
know how complicated the questions are for someone stuck on the other side. We
have to keep listening, and searching for the whole truth that has room for
each of our particular truths.
Later this month I’ll travel to Minneapolis to participate
in the UM Forward Conference, inviting voices of Young, Queer and people of
Color to speak at the center of the conversation. From there I will travel to
Church of the Resurrection near Kansas City, where some 600 people will gather
at the invitation of Pastor Adam Hamilton, to pray and think together about the
future of the Church. I hope there will be lots of listening and truth-sharing in
both groups. I’ll check in with you after I return, as we prepare for Annual
In the meantime, by every prayer, every step, every sermon, every Bible study, every act of generosity, we are crossing over, and making the road by walking.
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:22-23, NRSV
Toward the end of her life, as my mother was withdrawing into the twilight of forgetfulness, one of the delights we shared was walking through a public garden. On a sunny spring stroll, she exclaimed, “Oh, isn’t that beautiful!?” Her eye was captivated by electric blue blossoms crouched alongside the path. We paused and marveled at the delicate blossoms broadcasting such intense color.
As we resumed our walk, not ten feet further along, her eye fell upon another patch of these same flowers, and again she exclaimed, “Look at that! Aren’t they lovely!” And so, it continued along the way. Time and again she saw these graceful flowers as if for the first time and received them as the extraordinary gifts they were—the glory of the Lord!
Her memory loss gave her the gift of fresh awareness. She wasn’t laden with a tired seen-one-seen-‘em-all attitude. Rather she was delighted to discover them time and again anew.
The disciples who had watched as Jesus suffered and died on the cross, and was lowered into a grave, weren’t expecting to meet him on the road to Emmaus. Their hearts were so downcast that their eyes were blind to the miracle of Jesus’ presence. But, just like my Mom, when they realized it was Jesus, they exclaimed with wonder, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32).
Even in the community of Christians, it’s easy to overlook the miracles God works in our lives. To simply fail to notice the extraordinary blessings that God showers on us day by day.
To forget that God lifts people out of discouragement and self-hatred time and again. That on a Sunday morning, there are people in church, or at Starbucks, or waiting for a stranger who will share breakfast with them, who are led, despite all odds, out of darkness into a marvelous light.
Even people who are swept away into the darkness; death cannot separate them from the love of God in Jesus Christ. A pastor I once knew said that if we understood it fully, death would be a beautiful as birth. It was his affirmation of faith from the depths of despair.
Though she died nearly seven years ago, my heart burns within me every time I see bright blue flowers tucked into the rocks along a garden path. Mom is very near. Jesus lives. And loves never ends.
Death has no power. Alleluia!
Elaine JW Stanovsky serves as the resident bishop of the Greater Northwest Area including the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Conferences of The United Methodist Church.
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 Jesus, but don’t see eye to eye, are in fellowship, prayer, study, and conversation with one another. I don’t want to be in a church that does not welcome and honor people who hold different opinions from mine. I hope that our love of Jesus, and the people Jesus loves and asks us to love, is stronger than our differences of opinion. I believe we must stay together in charity, if we can. For, as Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus,
“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.
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky’s General Conference Blog Installment 5 | February 26, 2019
After a discouraging heart-breaking day yesterday when the General Conference chose NOT to move forward rejecting the One Church Plan in favor of the Traditional Plan to cling to the church’s policies of exclusion and marginalization of LGBTQ people.
At 8 pm last night, nearly 200 people gathered at a spontaneous gathering of people from the Western Jurisdiction and friends. It was a battered but joyful multi-colored, multi-languaged, LGBTQ-friendly community that sang the songs of the faith, prayed, shared words of encouragement. The gathering became a reminder and a foretaste of the One Church we strive to become.
God bless the grass that grows through the cracks…
Today we await the judicial council decision about the constitutionality of the Traditional Plan, and a Minority Report in support of the One Church Plan. By the end of the day all petitions before the body will have been acted on, and delegates will turn toward home as the bishops prepare to meet tomorrow.
Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ — not even the Church!
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky’s General Conference Blog Installment 4 | February 25, 2019
By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us, To give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. To guide our feet into the way of peace. Luke 1: 78-79
I’m writing to people who awaken to shadows this morning, after yesterday’s actions at the General Conference. I’ll address the rest of you another time. I care about all of you, and I have worked to ensure that there is space for a wide diversity of people in our United Methodist Church. But today, I suffer with those who suffer.
We knew yesterday that the prioritizing process would give an indication of the will of the Conference. It did. Wespath proposals for the future of pensions received highest priority, not apparently because we care more about pensions than mission, but because we can all agree that we care about pensions, but not about how we care about mission. Of the various plans put forward, more than half of the delegates indicated that the Traditional Plan is the priority that should be considered first. While it is not determinative, this likely indicates strong support for adoption of some version of the Traditional Plan, which would preserve the statement that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” and prohibitions against same-sex weddings and LGBTQ clergy.
The action to consider the Traditional Plan first was deeply harmful to LGBTQ people, and all who support their full inclusion in the Church and its ministries. It suggests that our global church is not ready to extend the recognition and blessing of the Church to LGBTQ people, or to recognize their monogamous, covenantal relationships as holy and blessed by God. Many LGBTQ clergy and laity feel betrayed by the church’s apparent willingness to use and abuse them as long as they are closeted, but not to embrace and affirm them.
General Conference will reconvene this morning in a day-long legislative session, beginning by perfecting the Traditional Plan, followed by consideration of all the other petitions that are properly before the body. Protests and lamentations will undoubtedly erupt. Common wisdom is that, while these are understood and tolerated in a North American democratic context, they are seen as disrespectful and further polarizing to delegates from other parts of the world.
So, the walls do not seem likely to come down today, though I am eager to be proven wrong!
Questions that come to my mind are:
Do delegates from around the world understand the cost of adopting the Traditional Plan—how it will weaken the church’s institutions that maintain global mission initiatives, disaster relief, educational, health, economic and agricultural initiatives?How it will weaken the credibility of the Church in America, where more than 70% of people accept homosexuality and homosexual marriage.
How should and will United Methodists around the world who have waited and worked for a step toward full inclusion of LGBTQ people react if the Traditional Plan is adopted? Will they be defeated? Defiant? Will they leave? Will they stay? Will there be more church trials? Fewer trials?
Having done its best to find a way forward, how do I, or any of us, live in, and lead the Church if all it can do is double-down on policies that have divided us for decades?
How do we continue TODAY to bear witness to the way we have seen God at work in and through the lives of Christian LGBTQ siblings? How do we stand in solidarity as they are once again told they are unworthy?
Don’t get me wrong. I am not without hope. But I am sobered. And I am keenly aware that it is possible that we will fail to move forward.