*NOTE: What follows is a frank, unvarnished exploration of this pastor’s view of the results of the General Conference 2019 proceedings and decision. Proceed with caution…
I grew up in one of those small towns where everyone knew everything about everyone else.
And so it was no surprise that we all heard some version of the story of the day Mrs. Stanfield (not her real name) had what we called back in the day, “a nervous breakdown.”
One April afternoon, just after school had been dismissed, Mrs. Stanfield snapped. She began screaming horrible things at her children, threatening them with violence, and then threw them all out of the house.
As a long time member of the United Methodist Church and an ordained United Methodist pastor, I now feel I have firsthand knowledge of how Mrs. Stanfield’s children felt that day.
These days I feel as if my mother-in-Christ – the United Methodist Church – has suffered a similar kind of nervous breakdown.
On February 26 of this year, under the dome of the Edward Jones Center in St. Louis, Missouri, MUM (Mother United Methodist) lost her marbles completely. That day I felt exactly like my mother had thrown me out of her house, yelling, “NEVER COME BACK HERE AGAIN!”
February 26 was the day the group of global delegates to the special called session of the General Conference voted 438 to 384 to adopt the so-called Traditional Plan… a plan that strengthens the church’s stance of exclusion toward LGBTQ+ people.
I held out hope that MUM would regain her senses… that the church’s Judicial Council would meet and rule that this plan violated not only the denomination’s Book of Discipline but also the spirit of grace on which the church was founded.
And then we would all wake up and realize it was all a bad dream and it was time to get back to making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
But that didn’t happen. Yes, the Judicial Council did meet. Yes, they did find certain parts of the Traditional Plan (and the plan of disaffiliation that went along with it) unconstitutional. But in a decision announced just last week, we learned that the very worst parts of the Traditional Plan remain untouched.
The difficult truth I now have to face is that my mother – the United Methodist Church – is officially bigoted and homophobic.
Other people in the community now look at our family with caring, yet pitying eyes… unsure of what to say or how to relate to us.
MUM used to be so different. It was at her knee that I learned all about the guiding principle of grace.
She is the one who carefully instructed me to see complex issues from a “both/and” instead of “either/or” perspective. (“It’s not EITHER the heart or the head, but both,” she said. ”It’s not EITHER social holiness or personal holiness, but both. It’s not science or faith, but both.”)
Her heart was always so big and open… eternally reaching out in creative, loving ways to the very people everyone else had turned their backs on.
She taught us her unique, four-fold approach for discerning truth.
But then… one day something happened to MUM… something that caused some internal spring to snap, resulting in this historic fit of absurd behavior.
Yes, of course, I still love her, but my mother has become utterly unrecognizable to me. I seriously doubt her father, John Wesley, would even recognize her in her current state.
Like Mrs. Stanfield back in my hometown, I suspect MUM’s breakdown has been brewing inside her for a long time. Years and years of accumulated stress finally reached the boiling point until… POW!
Those of us in this family are now faced with the difficult decision of what to do with MUM. There is no question that we will continue to love her because that’s what families do.
And yet it is also understandable that some of us will also choose to take this moment to walk away from her, believing her illness to be irreversible. It will be a difficult decision, but no one will condemn them for making it.
Those who choose to stay with her will be in for a long and painful journey. They will need to make sure she gets the kind of professional help she needs. They need to be ready to face the very real possibility that she will never recover.
Regardless of which way anyone chooses to respond, it is a good time to remember that we serve a Risen Savior…
… not a flawed and failing institution.