No Way Forward in Sight

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. 

Comments (67)

  • We were not always called “united” methodists; it was added as a way to include the United Brethren when the 2 denominations became one. We seem less “united” now following the General Conference. I’m feeling less of a need to be united, and long to be simply “Open.”

    No one should react in haste. It is comforting to know that 70% in this hemisphere voted for the changes to promote hope and charity. May our season of Lent reinforce our resolve to be truly inclusive.

  • I am a United Methodist and firmly believe God loves us ALL
    If each person that does not believe that gay people are worthwhile in our Lords eyes then I want to tell you that many years ago I would have agreed with you but I want to tell you that each of you should have a son or a daughter, niece or nephew that you love with all your heart
    My grandson Josh was among others precious. One day he ask to talk to me and explained he was gay. With all my heart I told him I loved him no matter what type of life he chose
    I accepted him
    I loved him before I knew he was gay and I loved him after he told me. My relation with Josh was cemented by my knowing that God still loved him. was wonderful
    If each person had a child, that was or is gay, how could you not love him
    Josh is with God in heaven now. I loved him and believe God loved him gay or not.

  • My prediction is that very little will change because of this. Most who sit in privilege (heterosexual, cisgender) will stay in their churches. They’ll claim they are staying to try to change the system from within, but their time and their money will continue to support an institution that seeks to harm the LGBTQ community. Because the global UMC continues to receive financial support from all churches, no change will ever come about.

    The ONLY support that can be given to the LGBTQ community at this point is for those who claim to be allies to leave the UMC. Anyone who stays, given the situation at hand, is as guilty as those who actively seek to harm us in the LGTBQ community. It’s time for you to start practicing what you preach.

  • Also, it’s ridiculous that much of the African laity and pastors had their travel and expenses financed by right wing groups in the U. S. They were told to meet and make sure everyone voted in a block. Reminds me of the shenanigans of the U. S. Congressional Freedom Caucus, “vote with us or we will pull our financial support and make sure you’re not here next time.”

  • Elaine, thank you for representing us and God’s expansive love faithfully. We, the people of Open Hearts, Open Minds and Open Doors, need a miracle today, one that allows our church to be its best self. I hope and pray for that miracle today. And if today doesn’t bring a miracle, then I’ll continue the fight for LGBTQ+ justice tomorrow. I will keep breaking until the LGBTQ+ community knows and feels acceptance and equality in my church, with or without the Methodist name.

  • Famiglia de Lieze-Adams

    As a life long member of the United Methodist Church family I hope the love and grace of our savior will help all realize that my family should be accepted as all families should be accepted – with open arms.

  • Change is slow, dreadfully slow. If the UMC can move just a tiny bit towards more acceptance, then there is hope in the long term. We have two wonderful same sex couples in our Sunday school class, one female, one male. The female couple has/is doing a great job raising 4 children and the male couple is planning to be married this fall. Physiology, physiology, and not choice.

  • I am saddened that people can hold fast to certain lesser things. The greatest and last commandment is to love the Lord your God with all your might and love your neighbor as Christ loves us. It doesnt say pass judgements on sins, it says LOVE ALL! Every sin is equal and it’s not for us to judge. We are to love and accept all people. Anything less is not Christianity!

  • I’m not sure how adhering to Biblical standards will diminish the church. Perhaps the Bishop can explain her theology for us. There were no false claims made by the UMC – only failed enforcement of our rules and deception by those trying to bypass and undermine them.

    • If you feel inclined to Biblical adherence, what do you do with all the Biblical laws you break each and every day? Dietary laws, cleanliness laws? Let’s not be ridiculous and say “this is the one issue that defines biblical adherence”.

    • You are probably not in favor of enforcing the other literalist statements in the Bible such as women not speaking in church or holding leadership positions over men, or bringing children to the gate to be stoned, or abstaining from pork, catfish, shrimp, or exclusion of divorced persons, and remarried divorced persons, and the menstruation instructions in the Bible. Yet you pick this one thing due to your own prejudices. Using the African countries to turn back the clock may work in the short run, but when the progressive churches leave, then Africa will soon have the majority and perhaps they will vote not to ordain women, to exclude divorced people, and no telling what else. So good luck with that. As usual, hardliners do not think things through.

  • Thank you for your words Bishop Elaine! I keep my eyes up knowing our help comes from the Lord. I have hope we will find a way forward. Though my heart is sad and my soul is hurting, my prayers continue for you all, for strength, for perseverance, for energy, for wisdom and clarity, and most of all, that everyone at the conference have their hearts and minds open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Thank you again for your updates and your words.

  • Susan Grettenberger

    Heart broken. 62 years in a church that continues to happily ask for and get my money, my leadership, my time but rejects me and my family as less than, as unworthy. It has always been clear to me where God’s heart is. God loves me as I am. God called me to paths the church blocked, yet God provided new paths for ministry. I had such hope for so long. Now, I am heart broken for a broken church. My hope is in God who will provide a new path forward, for those of us willing to take it. We must find the lost and the hurt, and make for them a place of belonging and love.

  • All have sinned a fall short of the glory of God. Sin is not graded by type or kind, it is sin. Jesus love is grace in action. We have been fooled by satan to believe that a sexual attraction becomes our identity. Jesus always spoke the truth in love. Go and sin more. There are only two genders, male and female he created in His image. The sin of Adam and Eve brought imperfection into God’s creation, God did not make anyone other than male and female. Open arms and deep love, not judgement are what we need. We stopped calling sin out, and by doing so we have injured many people. If anyone is in Christ they are a new creation, the old is gone. The new has come. We must stand in love and healing with our brothers and sisters, but we cannot forget TRUTH IN LOVE. The truth will set us free.

    • The problem is that you see their existence as sin. That’s wrong. We now know that epilepsy is not demon possession and that gay children are born gay and are not sinful. Biblical literalism is ridiculous.

  • Thank you Bishop Elaine. Out hearts are sad, but we are praying for everyone. Lord help us please.
    Thank you for all you are doing Bishop.

  • I can appreciate your perspective. I can love all people but not all people should have the opportunity to teach me or my family unless they believe the Bible as God’s Holy Inspired word.

    • So I assume you don’t want divorced people or those who have been divorced and happily remarried teaching your children either? Are you speaking out against them and bringing that to a vote as well? I assume since you believe the Bible that you would not want a woman to lead men in prayer or be a minister or teach Sunday School to men? Do you speak out against women ministers as well? Or do you just cherry pick the Bible according to your own feelings and prejudice?

    • The Bible was written by men who wanted to demean and control others. Throw out the book. Practice love. Practice peace. Practice faith.

  • Michael Jerome Hennessey

    I am Glad That the Traditional Way has possibly been accepted. I see nothing wrong with the Book of Discipline statement which simply says the Bible does not recognize a lifestyle. It does not say to hate anyone.
    Also interesting You use a figure of 70% and a person on the floor uses a figure of 45 %. I never received a questionnaire by phone or mail asking my view so would love to see where these numbers came from.

    • The numbers come from the reputable non-partisan Pew Research Center, as well as other reputable polling. Numbers from Pew are usually accepted as valid by both sides. The 70 percent is all Americans. By the way, you might consider what else will be voted in after the progressive churches leave and Africa has a majority. You may not be having shrimp dip at the church potluck any more, and that will be the least of your worries.

    • Sherman Hesselgrave

      In Genesis, when (according to the narrative) God realizes it is not good that Adam is alone, God creates a series of creatures and presents them to the man, but none of them were deemed “a suitable companion.” Until Eve. As Ross Perot would say, “Here’s the deal: it was ADAM who got to decide who was a suitable companion, not God.” So, Michael Jerome Hennessey, why do you think the CHURCH should be telling people who is a suitable companion, when GOD was unwilling to do so??

      • Michael Jerome Hennessey

        Sir, I respectively point out the whole of Genesis. Genesis 1:26 God creates everything. Genesis 2:18 thru 2:24 God created everything and brought it to Adam for naming. when God decided that Adam needed a counterpart he took from Man to make a counterpart. Adam (Man) called it Woman (Female) and it was good.

        There for Man will leave his parents and take a wife (female) to be one flesh.

        Again the Book of Discipline merely refers to the Bibles recognition of Homosexuality without condemning. it does say a person can not become a leader which makes sense seeing it is against the Bible as we know it today.

        I will repeat anyone is welcome in the Pews, not everyone is accepted to the higher calling of overseer in the church.

        I have not heard one leader say The Bible is wrong. They say the Lord could not have meant to exclude. i do not know what the lord meant so must go by what the Bible says.

        God Bless

  • I will be withdrawing my menership from the Methodist church. I can no longer stand by and listen to hypocrisy. You want to only obey the laws you choose. Here you are talking about pensions when it’s clear you are not to store up your treasures. You eat cheeseburgers. You don’t stone your children to death when they revel against you. You choose to interpret scripture as God’s word yet you disobey must of the laws but ONE! James clearly states if you break but one law you have broken them all. You are no better than the people you call sinners. I’m done with Methodist.

  • The most insightful comment made in my opinion was the one regarding how addressing gender orientation issues every 4 years masks the underlying issue of UMC’s view on authority of all Scripture vs some being interpreted with less authority (person posting used better or more scholarly words).

    Even at this deeper level I do not expect unity.

    I wonder if everyone could go on to do what they believe is the right interpretation of God’s Word AND keep their pensions and church buildings and other resources, what would they do?

    I think the answer is already determined.

    “Do two can walk together unless they have agreed?” Amos 3:3.

    The schism exists for most. This is just about the stuff.

  • Christianity, once more, proves itself un-related to the life of Christ and out of touch with reality and with the needs of LGBTQ people. The tragedy is that it’s failure to see it has so much to learn from the LGBTQ community and that their perspectives might be the only thing that can save the church. How sad and how shameful!

    • I agree with you.
      I am now an old Methodist and I do not recognize the onslaught of condemnation towards the gay community. I will not join in any such action. I am happy to be a heterosexual, but I see no cause to condemn anyone who is not. I think people condemning are not demonstrating a Christian heart. Not a Methodist i would expect to see. As I see this, if we are trying in our small way to emulate Christ, we need to remember his admonishment to love one another.

  • Thank you, Bishop Elaine, for your realism and your hope. Two phrases come to mind. “And let us not be weary in well-doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” from Galatians. This is our promise and our hope. As the old Bishop’s Hymn reminded us, “it doth no yet appear what we shall be.” But for the moment, we continue to move forward in fear and trembling following Luther’s charge: “Love God and sin boldly. My mother, that great theologian, reminded me when disappointment with churchmen and the church overwhelmed me, “Paul was not Jesus, and the church is not God.”

    • I find comfort in the words of our former EUB and UM Bishop Maynard Sparks shared in 1972: “To wonder we need the mind of God. To serve we must manage the gifts of God.”

  • Thank you Bishop;I am truly saddened by the Conference attitude so far. I pray that today all will be enlightened by better acceptance all all of God’s people.

  • Hi Bishop Elaine,

    May you and the rest of the delegation feel God’s grace and love through these days. My reaction to this dark news is to ask the question, what will our resistance look like in the coming days and years? I do believe we are called to persist in our work to make God’s love visible and active in all people. From your vantage point at GC that may seem hard to imagine. For those of us back home, we realize we aren’t going through the same agony that you all are. But that is the blessing of Church. None of us can do this alone, but as the body of Christ we will always have some body parts that have the energy and passion to pick up the cross and carry it a bit further down the road.

    So thank you for carrying the cross this far. It is humbling to think of all the amazing work all our delegates and you have done. Please know that, when you come home and have a chance to rest and grieve, we will be here, ready to persist for the sake of Christ. Hang in there, until then!

  • Bishop Elaine, Thank you, so much, for your openness, I know this is hard. I only hope that there is a plan in place for what happens when the schism breaks. I see no way out. If the traditional plan is chosen, people will leave. If any of the other paths are chosen, people will leave. I no longer see “United” in the UMC, but by name only. I’m hopeful, but also realistic. Decisions have already been made. **SIGH** Praying hard for you, and all the delegates this week.

  • Our church is one of the larger Reconciling Ministries churches. We received 19 new members yesterday as well as baptizing a baby. When asked about what made out church different, most people agreed, is the fact that they felt immediately welcome. It is time to consider the roots of Methodism, welcoming all to the love and grace of Jesus. We grow by sharing love, not erecting barriers.

  • A dark night of the soul. However, I’m guessing there are many ways forward, and perhaps hope to be found in ways outside 4 ways. “There are many ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” ~Rumi. Some, of course, might not be through traditional, institutional polity. Some may emerge from broken hopes. Some may be via a remnant. Some may be completely out of this particular hoped-for solution. Perhaps there is a humbling process going on here. I’m grateful that the United Methodist church is filled to the brim with good people, loving people, with different perspectives, who want to do what God is calling them to do. There is no doubt a still, small voice just needing some quiet contemplation to be heard, now or after. I value your care for “all means all” people, Bishop. You are a role model. There is a way forward.

  • Thank you so much for your observations and assessment. It still strikes me that while this ongoing struggle is doing harm to our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters, our need as an institution to keep working on the issue of human sexuality every four years simply masks a couple underlying problems: as a denomination we do not agree on what we mean about Scriptural Authority, Inspired verses dictated and room for interpretation verses “The Bible says it, I believe it and that settles it for me.” The other issue that we need to resolve is whether we really can truly function as a global church or not. So many former Methodist and United Methodist conferences are now autonomous. Perhaps it’s time to allow the conferences outside the US to be so as well while still offering support as do for Methodists in Cuba, Bolivia and other autonomous conferences.

    • You are correct that it is, or should be, an issue of Biblical literalism. There is no way that all scriptures can be taken literally and there is no honesty in allowing divorced persons to teach and be remarried without allowing LGBT to do the same. In fact, while divorced persons chose to divorce, LGBT did not choose their orientation. We now know epilepsy is not demon possession, and that there is no reason why women should have to stay quiet in church. Biblical literalism is ridiculous and this should be addressed in stead if cherry picking.

  • I fear for our denomination which seems intent on cutting off one of its own hands to spite its ear. Draw the circle wider welcome all.who come with open loving hearts and accept the gifts of God s children who are created in God’s image just as assuredly the most traditional member there

  • May the fullness of God’s Love and God’s Grace be upon us all as a flood of epiphany. May hearts be opened and minds lighted in ways we have never experienced. May we give and receive forgiveness and BE Christ to each other. Amen.

  • Many years ago when I went to work for a particular company it was explained to me the importance of “people” first. I practiced and learned to say, “people who are deaf”, “people who are blind”, “people who have developmental disabilities”, and so on, because we are people first. Rarely do I see this with LGBTQ. Though not quite the same, I feel it could make a difference to acknowledge everyone as people first rather than as a label first.
    Thank you.

    • The words you use make absolutely no difference. The only thing that matters is your action. Changing what you call me, while continuing to support an institution that harms me, does not help me. In fact, diminishing my identity by trying to lump everyone together can be harmful in and of itself, because it makes me feel that you find something about being LGBTQ distasteful or embarrassing.

  • Bishop Elaine. Thank you for your vision and your work to that end. Sobering, sad…..Blessings to you and all as this work continues. Bill Ready.

  • Thank you for your articulate witness, Bishop. I see openness and hospitality in our UMC in northern Michigan. I pray we will expand our way forward, regardless of what occurs at the GC.

    • Thank you, Chris, for sharing your thoughts about going forward – your leadership provides a glimmer of light to follow out of these times…

  • We have a lot of saints to guide us. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was just about the only voice to defend unconverted Jews, even in the Confessing Church (and he suffered for at at the hands of other Christians). Because he was too young (24) to be ordained when he completed his doctorate he went to Union Seminary where he became involved in the black churches in Harlem, where he was completely changed. Repentance happens.

  • As part of my morning prayer, I use prayer beads and one of t he prayers I use with them are Mary’s prayer at the annunciation: “Here am I, the servant of the Lord, let it be with me according to your word.” This morning that prayer took on a new meaning for me. It has often spoken to me in a time of limbo (like when I’ve been waiting to hear about an appointment.) Today it speaks to me as I await word about the future of the UMC and my role in it. I pray that also for those of you at GC and especially for my LGBTQ siblings.

  • I awake weeping, for those who are there, for the church we have loved and served in common, for the likely broken way forward. As lament is prayer, I pray for God’s presence with us all, and especially, today, for those of you who bear this pain in the midst of it happening. Be surrounded by sustaining love and truth.

  • It is that exclusive mindset of many denominations that have caused me, a white hetero female, to walk away from “organized religion.” When a Church, any church, fails to heed the directive of Christ to LOVE, then it is more damaging than redeeming. I am saddened and conflicted, and look forward cautiously to updates.

    • I’m right there with you, Kat. As a white hetero female, I cannot abide giving my time, talents, gifts, and service to an organization so willing to actively do harm to our LGBTQIA brothers and sisters.

      If my church is not for everyone, then it certainly is no longer for me.

  • Morning Bishop Elaine, I’m reminded of the words of our loved Bishop Jack Tuell as noted in his book From Law to Grace; pages 152-53 re. REASON.

    • I invite all of us to share in the understanding of a dedicated compassionate Bishop. Words on pg. 152-53 from Law to Grace written by Bishop Jack M. Tuell, 2004 are powerful! “I must ask is it reasonable to believe that God would create some with an orientation toward the same gender, put within them the same strong drive of sexuality which is present in heterosexual persons, and then decree that such a drive is to be absolutely repressed and denied?
      This not only defies reason, but is cruel, unfeeling and arbitrary–qualities foreign to God as we know Him in Jesus Christ. Reason supports a belief that God is in the process of doing a new thing.” A few sentences on Bishop Tuell states: “Whatever our beliefs are about homosexuality, can we as Christians do any less than to affirm the committed relationships of our sisters and brothers in Christ?”

      • This from Jack Tuell is helpful to me in my mood of near despair. It reminds me of who I thought the church was inn the past. It will be 66 years the end of March that I have been a Methodist, and I am not leaving that faith or promise behind. I hope many of us will move on united in faith, but not divided over the worth of fellow congregants. I cannot consider going on without so many wonderful people…

      • Janey, it is unreasonable that God would create some as you describe and then when they act on those strong desires, then call homosexuality an abomination as He does in Lev 18:22, and destroy the city of Sodom and Gomorrah because of their wickedness. Yes, God is LOVE but HE is a jealous God who demands obedience! And HIS Word is truth!

        • That’s not why Sodom and Gamorrah were destroyed, that’s been incorrectly interpreted. Ezekiel tells us it was because of the lack of hospitality to strangers (very inhospitable to want to rape them). Hospitality was crucial back in the time when there were no roads or public accommodations in the desert.

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