As pastor of the United Methodist church here in El Centro I would like to add to the opinion piece in yesterday’s paper (March 6) by Celia Rivenbark (“Not even Methodists can limit God’s amazing grace”).
There were three plans submitted to the General Conference in St. Louis. The plan the Council of Bishops recommended, the One Church Plan, was defeated.
What does that mean for the United Methodist Church?
It means that, in the words of our Bishop: “By now you have probably all heard that the General Conference Special Called Session is now over, and the Traditional Plan prevailed (53 percent, 438 votes, to 47 percent, 384 votes). Although it does have repressive ramifications to our LGBTQI community, the Judicial Council has ruled much of it unconstitutional. At the same time, this decision is also symbolic in its implications because it signals a turn of the United Methodist Church to a more judgmental and political entity that is against inclusion and for exclusion.
“Put simply, the delegates voted against inclusion and for exclusion of certain people based solely on their sexual orientation. Keep in mind that, because we are a global church, the vote reflected the interpretations of scripture from very conservative members outside the United States. Sixty percent of the American delegates supported the One Church Plan that allowed for churches and conferences to make their own decisions on scriptural interpretations of Biblical language about human sexuality.
“In a way, we could be violating the decision by putting up a sign that says, ‘All Are Welcome.’”
Ok then. What does this mean for us?
Our Bishop has also made it clear that, “We must lead our people within the geographical context we find ourselves in the West. We have been open and inclusive for decades, and I don’t see why we should change that about us. We live and let live and it is totally consistent with the theology of John Wesley.”
John Wesley, the 18th Century Anglican Priest, and leader of the reform movement that became known as Methodist, once said, “Though we may not be of one mind, can we not be of one heart? As to that which does not strike at the heart of Christian teaching we (Methodists) say, ‘Think and let think.’”
Wesley’s understanding of the heart of Christian teaching is Christ’s command to love one another, and detailed in the Sermon on the Mount and Matthew 25, indeed, the whole of the New Testament.
In the coming months and even years there will be more information available, and decisions made about how we define ourselves as Methodists. One thing for certain: We are not united. Having said that I am reminded by one of our own that we just need to keep on doing what we’ve been doing, and that is to be loving, compassionate, life-giving followers of Jesus Christ as we work daily to make our community and world a better place, a place where people will know God’s love and grace.
Our hearts, minds and doors are open. To all.
The Rev. Ron Griffen is lead pastor of First United Methodist Church in El Centro.