To any and all who may be questioning if there’s a place for you at Walnut Grove: You are welcome here!
Following the United Methodist Church’s recent General Conference, many people are wondering if they are welcome in the UMC and here’s why: On Tuesday, February 26, 2019, The Special Session of the General Conference of United Methodist Church approved “The Traditional Plan” 53%-47%.
The background to what this means: Our global church’s legislation upheld the language added in 1972, in both the Social Principles and the Polity of the UM Book of Discipline, which simultaneously expresses (paraphrased) that we hold all human beings to be of sacred worth, while at the same time find the practice of homosexuality incompatible with Scriptural teaching. Also, there are prohibitions against clergy conducting same-sex unions and against the ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals. This was contested in 1972 and every quadrennium at General Conference through 2016. Not unlike the nature of divisiveness we experience in the larger society on a host of issues, United Methodists have experienced a disunity in this one area to the degree that General Conference delegates have been willing to not only consider, but threaten and make plans to divide the denomination. In 2016, the UM Church established “The Commission on a Way Forward” to prayerfully consider and propose ways to keep our diverse, global denomination together. A special, called session of the General Conference would hear the recommendations and vote on the best way forward.
One of the most hopeful and promising statements shared out of this Commission’s sacred and non-legislative work among a powerfully diverse people (age, race, gender, nationality, theological stance) came from a two-person interview. The two people were the current chairperson of the Confessing movement within the UMC and the former chairperson of the Reconciling movement of the UMC (as polar opposites on the issue as one might imagine). They affirmed two powerful realizations reached as a result of 18 months of shared life - praying together, eating together, talking together. 1) We can disagree without being disagreeable. It’s not only possible, it’s a holy space. 2) While neither person changed the other’s opinion on “the issues” at all, they reached such a place of genuine love and affection for one another, they could not conceive of doing church / doing life without the other.
Sadly and embarrassingly, that holy appreciation was not the nature, perspective or operating system among many of the delegates to Special Session of General Conference as evidenced by the hostility and divisiveness throughout the session.
What adoption of the Traditional Plan means: The language in the book of discipline remains the same, with the addition of mandated repercussions/punitive action against those who would violate the prohibitions of same-gender marriage and ordination of anyone outside the descriptions of heterosexual marriage or celibacy. There remain many questions as to the constitutionality of this plan, which are being reviewed by the judicial council of the denomination. These will be addressed in Annual Conferences held in June and again in the regular session of General Conference to be held in April, 2020.
What the adoption of the Traditional Plan does not mean: It does not mean that people who identify as LGBTQ+ are unwelcome in the United Methodist Church or any of its local congregations (though it is highly understandable why this denominational decision may feel very unwelcoming).
What this means for me, a Pastor of UM congregations for 29 years and Pastor of Walnut Grove UMC for the last 4 years: The global denomination which for the vast majority of my lifetime has championed pluralism regardless of our legislative parameters is still a Church which affirms we don’t have to always agree to be able to love one another and pursue the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. In spite of the reckless polarization evidenced in our legislative process, the nature of the larger United Methodist Church I have experienced is that we freely confess, “now we see dimly ...” (1 Corinthians 13:12). That is to say, at the end of the day, we know we are imperfect and that our personal convictions can easily divide the Body of Christ which is woven together only through the unity of the Holy Spirit and not our doctrine.
What this further means for me and the beautiful congregation I serve at Walnut Grove: Nothing shall separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:39). Therefore, nothing shall separate the love of God in me from loving you, whoever you are. No denominational policy, no sexual or gender identity differences, no political slant, no theological slant, no record of behavior, no difficult thoughts or words ... NOTHING shall separate you from the love of Christ Jesus our Lord as it comes through me or any other imperfect yet beloved child of God at Walnut Grove UMC. We strive to practice Agape: God’s unmerited love freely offered as a blessing to any who would join us in the journey of a shared life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
If you are considering whether or not you would be welcome at Walnut Grove, I eagerly encourage you to reach out; you will find a gracious environment to ask tough questions and get honest, open answers, as well as a genuine invitation to “come and see.” (919-741-3706 - please leave a message if I can’t answer immediately.)
Whoever you are, you are loved by God and we pray that will always be our witness in thought, word and deed.
Helping to heal the broken-hearted,
Pastor Hunter H. Preston