Clear Eyes, Full Hearts....Can Lose?
It is a storied time to be an American right now. Today, was especially a hard day for a lot of people. Many woke up with a heavy heart and then had to endure seven hours of congressional testimony on every major network depicting almost every deplorable characteristic of humanity, causing any person paying attention to almost go numb in weariness from the whole ordeal. There is just so much that is broken right now, that the disorientation located in every direction, leaves anyone feeling lost, confused and worse left with nowhere to go and no one to turn to. And, then there are the Methodists.
Yesterday, the governing body of the United Methodist church voted again by a wide majority to continue its practice of not allowing LGBTQ members to serve as ordained pastors nor allow currently serving pastors to marry LGBTQ members, a decision that creates the very real possibility for the church to split into two different entities, one recognizing LGBTQ individuals and members as equals and thereby allowing LGBTQ people to serve the church in the fullest capacity and receive the same marriage treatment as straight community members, and one that does not. This very issue has already created a split in the Episcopalian Church and in truth has been an issue in the entire Christian religion and other religions as well worldwide. Now, the policy decision made by the governing body of the United Methodist Church, presiding bishops and representative delegates, mainly men I might add, threatens to do the same. First though, here some full disclosures about the church and me.
I have been raised in the church my whole life, attending almost every Christian denomination you can think of. I was baptized, received all sacraments, was married by friend who serves as an ordained United Methodist pasture, and served the church myself as the Youth Music Director of First United Methodist Church of Denton, Texas. I have said before and I will say again, that to this day it is the best job I have ever been lucky to have in my life. My faith journey, like any person, has experienced peaks and valleys, and right now it is in the deepest valley it has ever been in. This is because of many factors, but mainly because of the church and mainly foulable men serving in leadership positions.
Every Christian denomination, meaning every denomination with a core set of theological guidelines and literagy, along with a governing body, is in absolute disarray and chaos right now. Just look at the Catholic Church, the largest denomination. It has been one big immoral mess for decades. Expose after expose uncovered the glaring sexual abuse amongst priests, the apparent conduits to God according to Catholic beliefs, for decades. And, this has translated to some staggering consequences. According to Gallup, the entirety of the U.S. Catholics has greatly diminished from 75 percent in 1955 to 39 percent today. And, while these Catholic numbers may only be the result of all of the sex scandal business, the truth is that the Catholic denomination, is not the only Christian denomination immune to the staggering drop in membership.
Every major protestant religion has seen a drop in attendance and membership. Whether it is the Southern Baptists, uncovering a sexual abuse scandal of their own, Methodists consistently going against its mantra of, open hearts, open minds, and open doors, or just an aging population that is not replaced by new membership, the protestant churches are all in trouble, and worse yet, it does not seem that they are addressing the issues in a progressive manner and instead digressing, unable to adapt to the changing times, changing environment, and changing populous with changing attitudes. To put it simply, these church denominations are making things worse, not better.
In full disclosure, God, the church, and I have not been on speaking terms lately. Aside from some recent, very traumatic family experiences, the Christian church has been involved in one atrocity after another. While I still subscribe to the testimony and theology of Jesus, multiple sex scandals across multiple denominations accompanied by the vileness of hateful rhetoric coming from many evangelicals and the consistent and constant disappointment of the Methodist Church, has left my faith in a rather rocky place. This is not to say that all faith journeys go through rocky patches and low valleys. However, I have to say this current time in my life is different and I suspect for many Christians the feeling is mutual. Meaning, looking at the broader picture of changing dynamics in society, whether it be the changes in education, economy, job sectors, entertainment, media, and yes religion, is it too late for the Christian church to change? Because, just like any dying industry, there is a pivotal moment that is reached when no emergency declaration, aid, plan, or action can save the institution. It just is left to slip away and become part of the history and story of the adapting society around itself.
To be clear, I do not think we are here quite yet, but we are close, and statistics do not lie, especially those concerning denomination population numbers and finances. And, believe me, this is the root of the problem with the Methodist church. It is a global church, and through that connection is a complicated web of financial commitments that makes it very hard for the church to move forward in a progressive manner concerning the LGBTQ community. I recently read that 44 percent of American Methodists identify as traditional or conservative. Add in World Methodists and you have yourself quite a pickle. Because, a split would almost certainly doom many churches that rely on the globalized financial structure the Methodist Church currently subscribes to. Collectively churches would die. Individually, pay and benefits are at risk. Does this mean the progressives in the Methodist church cannot move forward? Absolutely not!
The issues at hand are complicated, but the singular issue of attracting younger, diverse congregations has never seen an opportunity like this ever before in history. As a life-long learner, there is something to learn here and all we need to do is turn our attention to what is happening in our country and take our lead from the youth that are taking charge and shaping our collective future. The biggest example of this concerns the students of Parkland High School in Florida. After such a tragedy, this thirty-five-year-old would be in a comatose state, unable to do anything, let alone get initiated in the issue of gun violence and motivated to make change happen on a national scale. Think about this for a second. These kids, the ones that were shot, the ones that had to bury their own, immediately took action after such a tragedy and created a national movement culminating in the national March for Our Lives protest, that involved millions of people not just around the country but around the world. Whatever your stance on guns, any person that objectively thinks about this accomplishment must assuredly be impressed. And, by the way, they are not finished. Just a day ago, the House of Representatives passed sweeping gun legislation that at the very least addressed background checks.
This legislation owes a debt to motivated school kids. These kids care about progressive issues, especially LGBTQ rights, so now is not the time to dismay or backdown. Now is the time for real courage and vision and for God sake’s action. It is time for progressive Methodists to solve two problems simultaneously by engaging with these youth and others where they are and partner with them in their progressive vision of the future. At the very least, a conversation will take place, a dialogue that encourages new ideas, not old, inspiring language, not tired, and motivated, positive change, not resignation. These kinds of conversations are invitations, the ones that usually take place before deeper conversations take place, such as those about God.
So, it is time to get to work. It is time for protest and for progressive Methodists to take to the streets to make their voices heard, because the reality is, they are the minority on the outside looking in, and no minority movement in history was ever realized without protest and movement on a large and mobile scale. Take your lead from the youth. They are smarter, faster, more motivated and more unified than ever before. And, they are younger, with a passion for big thinking and big dreaming to solve big problems. This is an enormous problem that requires this type of immediate reaction. Otherwise, it is simply time to take down the open hearts, open minds, open doors, slogan. Because, to not do so, is simply lying.