“By the rivers of Babylon — there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps…. How could we sing the Lord’s song as slaves in foreign land?” Psalm 137
Today, I sat on my porch nearly in tears as I read the Judicial Council’s ruling. What has become of my beloved United Methodist Church? “The United Methodist Church’s top court found much of the newly adopted Traditional Plan valid as church law, thereby strengthening enforcement bans on gay clergy and same-sex weddings. In a separate ruling, legislation to provide an exit strategy for local churches wishing to leave the denomination was upheld as well.” (umnews.org)
While we are Easter people, I must admit that today feels like Good Friday over again. Yet there is always hope. Sunday, our confirmation class is set to join the church. I will preach a sermon inspired by Howard Thurman’s three hounds of Hell: Fear, Hypocrisy and Hatred. The lectionary text includes Acts 5:29, where facing a church trial “the apostles answer: ‘We must obey God rather than any human authority.’” Right now we need you to help us shine God’s inclusive hope and gracious welcome through Belmont. Perhaps God will use us to reform a graceless system or seed a new Methodist movement.
So please know Belmont’s resolve is fixed. Our Administrative Board is deeply committed to living out our welcoming statement and God’s call for our church’s ministry to all of God’s children. The three engagement teams created by our Board to respond to the recent distressing developments in our denomination are already at work. Indeed, today’s ruling surely increases the likelihood that we may need to join with other like-minded Methodists inside a new denomination. A denominational divorce would be a painful and sad witness, but abiding silently within a graceless, punitive, and oppressive union may be the greater sin. Next month, John Pearce and I will attend a conference of progressives and centrists leaders to the discern and plan for new methodist reality. Things may yet change.
Finally, hear some Good News. On Easter Sunday, a young person spying our rainbow flag stopped and asked if they would be welcome at our church. Our greeter answered, “All are welcome at Belmont”. After the service, our new guest wept with Easter’s hope. Feeling nothing but judgement from Christians, it had been many Easters since they professed with other Christians: “Christ is Risen Indeed!” Come join us Sunday. Let us worship together as a community of Christ followers growing in love of God and all of our neighbors for “We must obey God rather than any human authority.” There is hope ahead—God has surely placed us on this corner at this time and in this place for a purpose.