Frustrated? If you kept up with General Conference that just wrapped up in Portland over the last few weeks, you probably are just that … frustrated. It doesn’t matter if you are a Progressive, Conservative, Centrist, or just following on Twitter, the once every 4 year legislative event for the United Methodist Church left many with a bad taste in their mouth regarding our denomination.
As usual at General Conference, the topic of human sexuality was the main topic of debate. Questions of how our church responds to human sexuality has brought our denomination to the very edge of schism. I watched with great anxiety the live streams of legislation, and followed with much horror the conversations on the Twitter feed. When the Bishops stepped forward to offer up a several year pause to the war drums, so that a special commission could look at how to move our Church forward, the response was pure shock from everyone, including me.
I’ve read many reactions to the Bishops’ response, with virtually all articles and tweets indicating that people think this only stalls the inevitable. I’ve talked with many more pastors who are disappointed with our Bishops for not letting our deeply rooted division finally and dramatically play out. Initially, I too was in that camp. I believed that we should stop talking and vote. Perhaps in the voting we might move on from this singular issue in which our denomination has come to be defined. I confess, I’ve spent a lot of time over General Conference wrestling with frustration and confusion about a denomination that I love.
Yet it has been through that wrestling I have come to a new understanding of our situation.
You see, after much prayer in each Annual Conference, delegates were voted upon and sent to represent the global United Methodist Church. Bishops were selected in a similar fashion over the course of many years. At General Conference, much prayer was engaged in as the Spirit was requested to guide the delegates as they made important decisions and voted their conscious.
After the vote, we ended up here.
Or perhaps not.
As a United Methodist, I believe in free will. I believe that none of us are predestined to any particular action or circumstance. But as a United Methodist, I am a bigger believer in the power of prayer and how God uses prayer to guide our hearts. At General Conference, I watched as our Bishops called for long interludes of prayer (costly as they were). I watched as our delegates prayed around the voting tables. I joined with the Twittershere as we all prayed for our Church.
Much prayer was lifted to the Living God to shed some light and to send the Holy Spirit to move us.
The votes came in. And we are now “kicking” the preverbal “can” down the road for a few more years as we will spend more time discussing this issue.
Many of us call it “being stuck,” but perhaps “stuck” is right in the will of God.
Perhaps God did show up. Perhaps right now we are precisely where God wants us. Is it inconceivable that God answered our prayers in an unconventional way that brings various sides to the Table yet again? Perhaps there is Kingdom work left to be done together before we are split apart. Perhaps all sides need to be exhausted before God does something to move our Church forward beyond our stalemate.
I’m reminded of the lyrics from the late Rich Mullins:
I can’t see how You’re leading me unless You’ve led me here
Where I’m lost enough to let myself be led…
Maybe stuck is exactly where we need to be.
To stay bitter about General Conference, either we were praying our side would “win” and didn’t, or we had a limited view of what God’s options were for people called Methodist. Our Church took an unforeseen turn in Portland, and yet we doubt that God had a hand in it?
Now it is undeniable that our Church is anything but perfect. (Which is ironic for a denomination that believes we are all moving on towards perfection.) There are still lots of problems, disputes and polity related questions that have to be resolved over these next few years.
But maybe in the midst of our fighting, the Spirit said, “Stop…” at least for a little while longer.
I’m not as upset as I was before. (Some of that is due to my checking United Methodist Twitter hashtags less. Why do some people think that you can win an argument over social media?) I’m not as upset because I have been reminded that God is still on the Throne, that Jesus has a lot of work left for the United Methodist Church to do, and that the Spirit is still alive and active in our world and in our churches. We may disagree over human sexuality. In fact, we have completely different paradigms we are operating under. We will have to figure that out. But for the time being, God has held us together.
Through the prayers of the saints, God has held us together.
Reflect on that…