I have spent the last week reflecting on General Conference. I reflected on my the first week in legislative committees, the night I came out on the conference floor (raising awareness to the harm I and many others felt), the empowerment of representing MFSA in the structure subcommittee (with my own voice and values), the heartbreak after watching the bounds of God’s love and grace debated, my humanity questioned, my church continuing to support war (which is incompatible with Christian teaching), but I left with hope and faith in my church when the Judicial Counsel ruling was revealed. You see Andy, it was not in the legislative committees, the hurtful speech about sexuality, the slight in our social stances, but in the gasps of air and the sure presence of the Holy Spirit the last night of General Conference that offered hope.
Some of the things that you wrote in your letter this week were deeply hurtful. I was dazed and confused by your theme of “follow the money and see where the money leads us.” Now, I am not going to pretend that I have as much experience in church leadership or local church ministry as you, but does that really matter? I still have wisdom to offer.
I have served several smaller congregations within our annual conference. The congregations that focused on increasing tithes with fear tactics (acting from a place of scarcity) significant ministry never happened. In the churches where there was faith, discipleship and vibrant ministry that went beyond the bounds of the local congregation (a challenge posed by our own bishop for our annual conference) there were plenty of resources (some crafted and distributed by the General Board of Discipleship, General Board of Church and Society, and the General Board of Global Ministries). The churches that focused more on ministry and less on money were also the churches that were growing exponentially. The entirety of your letter focuses on scarcity, denies the structure changes that did happen and is full of scare tactics. It is a little repelling (especially to millennials, we struggle to trust large power systems).
The next thing that I could just not understand is the attack on United Methodists who believe in the ministries and witnesses of the general boards and agencies. As a young person, who started my career in United Methodist leadership on a conference level (District Youth Council and Conference Council on Youth Ministries), I would have not moved into leadership throughout the connection, if it was not for the United Methodist Student Forum and the United Methodist Student Movement, that empowered me and my voice as a young person to be a current leader in the church. Without these connections, I would have never found Reconciling Ministries Network and the affinity group, MoSAIC (that was birthed from Student Forum). Both organizations empower me to work with young people who find deep pain from faith based hatred, especially the queer community. I dare not think where I would be without the support and the network I have built through the UMSM and MoSAIC or how ineffective I would be as a current church leader.
Also, I am deeply pained that you would call the work of these agencies and the work of the Holy Spirit at General Conference part of “a dead sect” and include the unrequited fear that it happened for the whole world to see. Yes, there were folks watching us, but not regarding the structure of our church. The world was interested in the stances we would take as a church on social issues that are alive and relevant to society. If there should be any fear, it should be that we pushed young people farther away by continuing our wrong and hateful stance towards queer folk, that we will continue to invest in war and that our church is not ready to talk about the racism, colonialism and sexism that is alive and rampant in our churches. Thankfully, even after all these negative stances, there is a movement starting to dream of a better UMC. You can see a reflection from this weeks tweet chat on the dreamed future of the UMC from the perspective of young people. There is HOPE! The only way to move forward.
I have only scratched the surface with the issues I found in your open letter. I hope that my response will only spark conversation as we move forward as colleagues and leaders in the church we both love. I hope that we can reconcile ourselves. I know I am trying daily to forgive the wrongs I felt at General Conference and asking grace for my wrong doing. I am striving to look past the negative conversations shared among members of the Connectional Table, clergy and bishops that attacked my integrity as a person of sacred worth, to heal from the attacks on my competency because of my age, to overcome the hurtful speech about my sexuality, to be persistent when left out of the conversation and most importantly to move forward from General Conference with hope and faith that God is not yet done with the United Methodist Church and the people Wesley called Methodist. Blessings and peace on your journey forward, friend.
All shall be well,