- by Matt Berryman, Executive Director of Reconciling Ministries Network -
In a few days, Christians everywhere will listen for the vulnerable cries of Love incarnate as Christ is born. The whole church will worship and adore these newborn cries amid lights of peace, hope, joy, and love. Today, the Board of Ordained Ministry of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the UMC, the latest jury charged with deciding Rev. Frank Schaefer’s fate, attempted to extinguish these lights and silence the same voice of Love seen so powerfully in the witness and ministry of Schaefer who was defrocked for extending the ministries of the church to his own son and his son’s partner.
As this jury of clergy and, indeed, The United Methodist Church gathers to worship this Christmas Eve, the Church must confront its own very real capacity to fashion crosses rather than cribs and choruses of “crucify” rather than carols of “O come, o come Emmanuel.” As Christmas Eve worshipers process to the altar to behold the wood of the manger, a more honest pastoral invitation would invite worshipers to “behold the wood of the cross.” Perhaps the best way for The United Methodist Church to worship on this Christmas Eve is to replace the nativity scenes in all their inappropriately pristine and sanitized perfection with the scene of Christ’s crucifixion. At least in this way, the injuries and harm inflicted upon LGBTQ persons and upon the Rev. Frank Schaefer by The United Methodist Church would be honestly acknowledged. I suspect, however, that the church will opt out and merrily extend greetings of Christmas cheer without so much as a nod to the harm inflicted upon LGBTQ persons and their allies at today’s defrocking of the Rev. Frank Schaefer—without so much as half a genuflection before the cross.
Today’s announcement by this jury has made its way into the New York Times, the Washington Post, and many other news services just five days before the biggest opportunity for outreach for The United Methodist Church. This is a bizarre Christmas outreach strategy.
What’s even more bizarre is that in spite of Bishop Peggy Johnson’s statement declaring the Church’s anti-LGBTQ stance “discriminatory,” this jury still found it necessary to execute its original plan—“medieval-style.” The jury’s decision, perhaps most importantly, is emblematic of a much deeper systemic soul sickness present within The UMC. This church, certainly on the level of denomination-wide policy, is so far behind what a healthy church might offer to its members it has now become shameful and embarrassing.
While acknowledging the pain and confusion that flow from today’s announcement is necessary, it is even more necessary to acknowledge the good work of justice, love, and inclusion being done around The United Methodist Church through clergy and laypersons who have committed themselves to Biblical Obedience. The historic movement for justice within The UMC is growing and flourishing. The Reconciling Ministries Network is committed, along with Rev. Frank Schaefer, to full inclusion for LGBTQ persons at every level in the life of both the church and the world. Further, today’s decision will serve the purpose of galvanizing our movement for even greater acts of Biblical Obedience moving forward—we are only getting stronger. More and more United Methodists are signing the Altar for All—a sign that justice is being born everyday among us all.
Now is the time. The Spirit is moving within the Church and within the Reconciling movement creating new spaces of liberation and grace so that ALL people can find a welcome in The UMC. If you are wondering what you, as a United Methodist can do to serve the present age and live out the gospel, become a Reconciling United Methodist, talk to your pastor about the reconciling movement and what it might take to move your own local congregation toward a stance of greater inclusion for LGBTQ persons in The UMC. Tell the story of why you are committed to this vision of justice in The UMC where ALL people are welcome. And finally, consider supporting this growing network of individuals and communities of faith called the Reconciling Ministries Network. Now is the time to take a stand for Rev. Frank, now is the time to listen for the cries of the baby embodied in the voices of LGBTQ persons, and now is the time to behold the loving embrace extended from the wood of the manger all the way to the wood of the cross.
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