Greetings in the Grace and Peace of Jesus Christ:
First and foremost, let me thank all of you who volunteered so unselfishly in hosting the 2016 General Conference of our United Methodist Church. The one constant in the ups and downs of this General Conference was the extraordinary hospitality our volunteers embodied. I received so many positive comments about the sense of joyous welcome and helpfulness that you all exhibited. Thank you so much for showing the love of Christ in your actions!There is an object lesson in this concept alone. If we can keep the main thing the main thing, and not be distracted by so many competing needs and objectives, think of the great things we can accomplish. What if this coming year, we focused only on extraordinary hospitality, and put aside all of the planning and action items of our “church busyness?” It is something for all of us to consider.
For many, this was a tough General Conference to experience, but no more difficult than in previous years. As a delegate myself since 1996, we have had more difficult and challenging years than this one. As a positive, the one thing that I think our General Conference delegates are realizing is that we cannot legislate our way out of the adaptive challenges that we face as a church. Something must change in the way we do General Conference. I realize that the traditional forces at General Conference do not want things to change, but a divine wind is blowing, and change will be forced on all of us whether we like it or not.
Many in the West were disappointed with no action being taken to move toward full inclusion of LGBTQI persons in the life of the church. I feel your frustration and even anger on this point. I do want you to know that we here in the Greater Northwest will continue to work for full inclusion in our church, even as the general church lags behind on this issue. The recent statement by the Pacific Northwest Conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry acknowledging that they do not consider one’s sexuality as an indicator of ministerial effectiveness is truly indicative of our practice in this episcopal area.
The complexity of this issue is heightened as we continue to move toward a global church. Our biggest membership growth is in Africa and the Philippines, and that will continue on into the future. If we want to become a global church, we will have to realize that we in the U.S. will have less influence and clout when it comes to church policy. In most of Africa and the Philippines, homosexuality is the ultimate taboo, and this comes directly from our own past missionaries who taught this intolerance. This is not going to change soon overseas. We are going to have to find creative ways to parcel out church polity on a regional basis if we continue to be a global church. This is part of the realization we have to deal with being a global entity, and there are few technical fixes to address this adaptive challenge.
The ultimate main thing for us as a church is to remain faithful to God, and God alone. This is the only thing that is required of us. Our reaction to General Conference might be to be discouraged, depressed, or doubtful, but that is to react to a very human institution we call The United Methodist Church. God calls us to a higher allegiance and purpose. We are to be faithful to God alone!
As we go forward, the future of our United Methodist Church is uncertain, but I am perfectly okay with that. My faith does not rest on our institution, but on God alone, and I believe that God is leading us into a new tomorrow. There will be twists and turns, but as the “People on the Way” that has always been our journey. If we remain faithful to God, we will find the pillar of cloud and fire that will lead us forward. Our ultimate hope does not lay in our United Methodist Church, or any church for that matter. Our ultimate hope is in the God who “makes all things new.”
Just as God will not abandon us, neither will our Greater Northwest leadership. We are committed to see this through, and whatever our earthly circumstances, we will deal with them with faith and courage.
In closing, let me echo Paul’s words:
But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies. 11 For while we live, we are always being given up to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may be made visible in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.
–2 Corinthians 4: 7-12