In January, I was privileged to witness a baptism at The United Methodist church I attend in Athens, Georgia. As I always do, I fell in love again with the beauty and importance of our baptismal liturgy, and by the time we finished singing "God Claims You," I confess I was in tears, although I did not know the baby being baptized. I participated in the liturgy, recognizing that the promises I make as a part of the congregation are vows that apply not just in that place and to that baby, but in whatever church I find myself and in relationship to all baptized persons. I reflected on the significance of a community of faith who promises to love and pray for and forgive and nurture this new person in its midst. I remembered my own baptism--not because I can recall the application of water on my infant head in 1985--but because I grew up in a congregation that took very seriously its vows to love and pray for and forgive and nurture me in the faith. In The United Methodist tradition, we believe that in baptism God acts and people respond. I'm grateful not only for God's miraculous acts of inclusion in my baptism but also for a congregation's lifelong and enduring response.
As we approach General Conference, I think about the universality of baptism. The 1,000 voting delegates to General Conference are a part of the congregation that made those promises at my baptism, though surely none of them were in that particular congregation on that particular day in 1985. I wonder--with both moderated hope and a degree of realistic pessimism--whether that body will keep the baptismal covenant I read in January, the baptismal covenant a congregation in Ohio read in 1985, and the baptismal covenants read at each of their baptisms.
To what degree will the actions of General Conference, by commission and omission, affirm or deny the truth of the vows they took and the hymn we sang, particularly for LGBTQ United Methodists?: "We this day do all agree a child of God you'll always be."
Leland G. Spencer IV is a PhD student in the department of communication studies at the University of Georgia, where he researches religious rhetoric as it intersects with gender and sexuality. A 2007 graduate of Mount Union College, he served as a part-time local pastor at Mapleton United Methodist Church in the East Ohio Conference for two years, when he withdrew from the candidacy process because of The United Methodist Church's exclusive position about the ordination of LGBT persons.