By Andy Adams
So far the final two days of General Conference have been rather tame. Some legislation has been passed that matters to many (ethical investing, removal of UMC participation in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, and more), but all in all, the energy has been ratcheted down about five levels now that all debate about human sexuality has been deferred in order to be worked on by a special Commission appointed by the Council of Bishops. The demonstrations have stopped. There is a (superficial?) atmosphere of calm. People are so at ease, many are even getting sleepy! This is what happens when we avoid those things that we passionately disagree about.
On the one hand, it feels much more peaceful here in Portland. Delegates are less on edge. I am certainly more relaxed! It makes me wonder if this is what it might feel like to really be unified. But then I think about my loving marriage.
I’m not sure if this is every married person’s experience. I’ve only experienced two marriages (in depth) during my lifetime. My parents and my own. With all loving respect to may parents, their marriage reminds me of our General Conference session. There were periods of major disagreement and explosion, and then long periods of what I might call “false peace” – an unspoken agreement to avoid the problems in order to get along enough to function day to day. We call it “sweeping the problems under the rug.” At least a couple things happen when we approach conflict this way. 1) Problems are not resolved – just avoided, and 2) Intimacy is sacrificed on the altar of false unity.
Given my upbringing, I came into my marriage with a VERY large broom! However, I learned (slowly and by God’s grace) that if I wanted to experience intimacy and unity (not necessarily uniformity) with my wife, that I have to put my broom away. In fact, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I’ve burned it up and taken out all the rugs in the house – metaphorically speaking of course. Now let me be real for a moment. I hate dealing with the problems. It’s painful. I get defensive. I sometimes say things I regret. Sin still dwells deep inside me. But I’ve also learned from experience that my marriage will not thrive if I run away from the conflict. I love my wife, and when we’ve worked through the problems, even if it takes weeks or months or years, in the end the result is intimacy.
It is painfully clear to me that my denomination, as evidenced by this General Conference, lacks intimacy. We have clung to a false unity for years and years – sweeping our disagreements about human sexuality under the rug. At times we have experienced a sense of peace and mission together when we set aside our differences. But that can happen for only so long. We are being pressured from inside and out to change our historically Christian understanding that homosexual practice is sin. As best I can tell, somewhere between 33-40% of our 864 delegates would like to change that position of the United Methodist Church. The other 60-66% do not. Even though I disagree with a portion of the church, I love them and out of love, I don’t want to avoid our differences in order to have a false unity. We’ve wrestled with each of the pieces of legislation in smaller groups in our legislative committees. Some of those conversations have been painful, but many have led to deeper intimacy even in an absence of agreement. And yet, for the second consecutive General Conference we as a full body have avoided voting on the vast majority of legislation about human sexuality that our committees have worked on! The ONE and ONLY body that can officially speak for the United Methodist Church (the General Conference) has once again swept it under the rug!
In a marriage, when major problems continually get swept under the rug and go unresolved, a couple things tend to happen. Either the spouses learn to co-exist with each other in an unhappy marriage that lacks intimacy, OR they end up getting divorced. Until we burn our brooms and toss out our rugs, the United Methodist Church will continue heading in that same unfortunate direction.
I have hope that the Counsel of Bishops’ special commission will be fair and objective and creates a way for both segments of the church to minister with integrity without forcing either to compromise their base convictions regarding human sexuality. If that is possible, we might find a way to move toward intimate unity. If the commission doesn’t do that, at best we will have a false unity – at worst, we will find ourselves looking at schism in 2020. Please pray with me that this special commission comes up with a suitable way for us all to move forward and that we as a denomination STOP sweeping our differences under the rug.