I met Barry* last night while riding on the MAX railway system to my hotel from the airport. Barry is here in Portland as a volunteer for General Conference (the once every 4 year worldwide United Methodist gathering that sets the policy and direction of the entire denomination). He remembered my name from earlier at the airport when he greeted me and other delegates after our 4-hour flight from Chicago. I’m so thankful for Barry and the many others like him who are here to volunteer their time. They are serving Jesus as they serve so many including me.
We chatted about several things. Barry told me where he was from (Georgia) and that he had flown a long way to be here. I shared with him that I flew from Illinois so I didn’t travel as far as he did, but it sure felt like a long day! He was very hospitable and offered to help me get where I needed to go. (Since I’m almost always a bit over prepared, I knew exactly where I was going and how to get there, but it was kind of him to offer!) Barry mentioned that he had other travel plans since he was on this side of the continent, and we chatted about a few other things. I asked him if he brought any family along and he mentioned that he and his husband were here together.
If you’ve been paying any attention at all, you know that debates about human sexuality are high on the agenda for this General Conference. It could be the issue that blows up our entire denomination. But I want to urge everyone to grasp the reality that this is not just an “issue.” The decisions we make at General Conference, and maybe even more importantly, the way in which we make them affect real, kindhearted, good and loving people like Barry and his husband.
When it comes down to it, people will believe that homosexual practice is either an acceptable or unacceptable practice for Christians (and to be clear, I believe you can love Jesus, love Scripture and love the mission of the church and yet come to different conclusions, interpreting in different ways). I don’t think any act of General Conference will change how either “side” interprets the Bible or chooses to believe. However, we can all remember the Barrys out there and in the midst of our differences, we can treat each other with love (and if not love, then at least civility and respect). Please continue praying with me for our General Conference – that the way we go about disagreeing will actually be a testimony of God’s grace and love and not another obstacle to people finding it.
Barry, I know I changed your name for this blog, but if you ever read this and realize I’m talking about you, thank you for serving me today. Your kindness showed me your love for Jesus. I hope and pray that I can serve you at this General Conference, if not by my votes, then certainly by the respect and graciousness I offer back to you.
*I changed Barry’s name for this post.