Updates From Upstairs - July

Updates From Upstairs

This is the section of our newsletter where I (Pastor JJ) will try to keep you informed on some of the denominational kerfuffles going on at the district and global levels. These are very important conversations, but do not necessarily affect the day-to-day work of church life.

Here are a few main points to recap the conversation so far:

-As a denomination, we are voting on denominational policies, we are NOT voting on whether or not we love one another.

-A good rule of thumb to keep love a priority in these conversations is to imagine that your words are being heard by all sides.

-The UMC is CURRENTLY a “traditionalist” denomination, and the Global Methodist Church is seeking to carry on that legacy. The social policies of the Global Methodist Church will be almost identical to the CURRENT policies of the United Methodist Church.

-The Book of Discipline in the UMC states, “We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.” A disagreement on sexual ethics is not a rejection of an entire person.

In early June there was a gathering called Annual Conference in Traverse City – where 1,600 clergy and lay delegates gather to do the business of the church. It was our first in-person meeting in a few years and it went fairly well. However, afterwards I noticed a lot of clergy and lay people took to social media to attack people from the “other” side. There were posts from conservatives claiming that people who want to stay in the UMC don’t really believe in the bible. There were posts from progressives claiming that people who want to leave the UMC must hate gay people and are very unwelcoming. Neither extreme is actually true. Social media has never been great for nuanced discussion, but what I hope you can realize is that the internet is designed to amplify the loudest voices, not the majority voices. Often the fringes and the extremes of every conversation are the loudest voices. The actual truth is that the majority of people fill a middle space on most issues. We are not as black and white as some people believe. It’s important to keep this in mind when we are tempted to view people who disagree with us as an enemy.

There is actually a very simple way to counteract this problem: Focus on people, not platforms. Our church is full of both people who identify as progressive and people who identify as conservative (and a whole bunch more in the middle who line up with different perspectives depending on the topic). So when you hear something negative about one group or the other, ask yourself – does this line up with the actual person in my life who I know and love? Is this description real world, or is it a boogeyman from the fringes designed to get an extreme reaction out of me? Whatever label might come up (LGBTQ, institutionalist, traditionalist, conservative, progressive, whatever) – remember that there is a real human being attached to that label. Focus on people, not platforms. It is a challenging thing, but the truth is that these conversations can be done respectfully and even in disagreements, we are able to put aside our differences and focus on the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ.

Trying to keep up with all the updates at the moment is a little bit like trying to write instructions on an Etch-A-Sketch during an earthquake. There are so many moving parts and so many things changing all the time. At this time it appears that any movement towards the Global Methodist Church will come with a disaffiliation cost. Most of the negotiations and alternative paths have been closed. There will be a Town Hall Meeting for our church on September 18th where we will present an impact report to the entire body of the church (how the decision will impact the church one way or the other) and take a survey to get a better understanding of the will of the congregation.

The last thing I want to mention is that this conversation, while important, will not be a magic silver bullet that solves all the problems in the Church. Neither staying in the UMC, nor moving over to the GMC will create a revival in our church. The boots on the ground reality is that church growth is tough and getting tougher. Focusing on our process of knowing Christ, following Christ and sharing Christ is what will bring healthy change and growth to our church – no matter what happens upstairs.