General Conference Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?

Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?
By Randall Miller

 

I have to confess that even if we had not just commemorated what would have been Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 90th birthday, his persistent question about the future would still be very much on my mind. Few people realize that King wrote his book of the same name at a moment when despite all of the gains that had been previously, he believed that his nonviolent movement for social change had faltered. On his left, King was challenged by the outbreak of liberation groups all over Africa, Asia, and South and Central America. And on his right, King struggled with the same moderates, both white and black, who urged that he proceed slowly and with caution, if at all.

Randall Miller
Randall Miller
(photo courtesy of cnumc.org)
Where do we go from here: Chaos or Community? This likely will never be the announced theme of any United Methodist General Conference, but it should be. After forty-seven years of struggle for full LGBTQ inclusion – of inching forward and being pushed back – we arrived at a showdown of sorts. Under the threat of schism, the Church called on its bishops who created a Commission to recommend a way forward. Like so much in the Church, the process was messy, and the results were imperfect. At the same time, a group of increasingly intolerant conservatives under the leadership of several hardline bishops have announced that as far as the Church is concerned it's their way or the highway and so they've fashioned a plan that would, if implemented, give the Wesleyan Covenant Association, Good News, IRD, and other conservative groups unprecedented control over church life at every level, while allowing those of us who disagree to pursue a "gracious" exit.

In less than thirty days some 860+ delegates will be gathered in St. Louis. Up until the Judicial Council struck much of the Traditionalist Plan down on constitutional grounds, its supporters have sounded quite triumphalist. But thirty days out, they sound a bit like folks who've backed themselves into a corner and can't find their way out. Meanwhile, the tenor of General Conference is soundly increasingly global. The voices and leadership from Africa and the Philippines are making their voices heard and wrestling openly with their treatment as second-class citizens and with the legacy of colonialism that persists in the United Methodist Church. Meanwhile back in the U.S., progressives, moderates, and conservatives each acknowledge that we can no longer limp along the path we've been on for decades.

Where do we go from here: Chaos or Community? Having been to every General Conference as either a witness or a delegate for the past thirty years, I know that there will come at least one point when I'm so entangled in legislative strategies and the dreary transnationalism that passes for Christian Conferences when I will no longer be able to see the stars, i.e., the higher purposes and guiding principles that brought me to St. Louis in the first place. But I'll still know what they are: the liberation of LGBTQ people and "home." In the face of pressures to dissolve the United Methodist Church or embrace a false unity, my commitment is to alleviate the suffering of LGBTQ people in all the places where the United Methodist Church is present – and I will take any reasonable and principled path to reach that destination.

The other guiding star is "home." In this is a perspective I share with many people of color in the Church and others who have been "in the struggle" for a while. My great grandparents, grandparents, and parents have struggled mightily to make the United Methodist Church and its predecessors "home" and for forty-three years, I've attempted to 3pay forward the gift of membership at the deepest levels that was passed on to me. There may come a time, when Jesus says it's alright to beat the dust off my sandals and to find some other place to worship and be of service, but (excuse my French!) I'll be damned if I'll be put out or leave this place in which my family and I have been transformed by the presence of Christ and the love of friends.

Every day, I hear of LGBTQ people, including pastors and mostly younger folks, whose gifts are neither celebrated nor are they welcomed into the Church as they should be. When some of these folks make their final decision to leave the Church, I'm both saddened by their departures and elated about the possibility that they will now be able to focus their considerable gifts and talents on more than just survival. In other instances, where new and longtime friends, both LGBTQ and heterosexual allies step into their suffering and decide to live whole and full lives, despite their persecution, I'm deeply awed and renewed in the struggle to make the Church a place where all are welcome and included, and no one is lonely or isolated. For me, this begins with matters of sexual orientation and race and leads me into solidarity with the struggle for women, people of developing nations, and others.

So that's it. That's all I know, "queer liberation" and "home." And you, my friend? Where do we go from here: Chaos or Community?

As MFSA has stated, we are prioritizing people over plans at General Conference. Read our full statement here.

Join us in our work by making a gift today. You can give online here, on Facebook, or by check (make checks payable to MFSA and write GC in the memo. Please note our address below in Detroit).

Share