Not quite 10 years ago now, during the 2009 General Convention I stopped to reflect on the arguments then current about, as I call it, making all God’s sacraments available to all God’s children; which is to say, about the fullness of life in the church of my LGBTQIA siblings. Central to my thoughts was the difference between an individualistic perspective and what I call a communitarian perspective – that is, the difference between whether an individual’s identity is understood best buy the individual, or best in the context of, and under authority of, a community. If you’d like, you can re-read that post here.
Now as I watch what is happening among our United Methodist siblings, I am very much aware of the same issue. For so many of us, especially in these United States, an individualistic perspective and an individualistic understanding of how identity happens is the source of the preference we offer for the lives and experiences of so many. Unlike the Anglican Communion, though, the United Methodist Church has continued to function with all of its various international participants as full members and one church. That is, unlike the Anglican Communion, where a new nation has the opportunity to establish a new and autonomous national church, conferences of the United Methodist Church in Africa have exactly the same participation as conferences in United States. So, many participants in this general conference come from cultures that are not individualistic, but are profoundly communitarian. In that perspective, it is perhaps illogical not to humbly, if not happily, embrace the definitions of the majority.
As in my reflections in 2009, from my observation outside it appears that no minds are actually being changed. It appears that there is little or no way forward that grants meaningful authority to the live experiences of our LGBTQIA siblings, or even of those of us who don’t fall into those communities but would support them. These are profoundly different ways of understanding how identity is established and recognized, and they are, by and large, fundamental and unreflected perspectives. And, as I have often told couples preparing for marriage, it is the unreflected assumptions that come back to cause us pain.
Pray for our United Methodist siblings, both those who wanted to support the One Church Plan and those who supported the Traditional Plan. The United Methodist church, at least in the United States, is going to fight itself restructured. This will be a very difficult task, even if it seems authentic. Remember the words of Jesus: “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Remember also our contemporary reflection: but first, it will make you miserable.