Choosing to Believe: My Archway Into Life Beyond General Conference

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In the aftermath of the recent United Methodist General Conference, I choose to believe some important things today as an evangelical centrist, a heartbroken unifier, and an embracer of gracious and justice-minded orthodoxy within the United Methodist Church.

I choose to believe what is best about people in the midst of our serious divisions. Some would call this either naïve or morally irresponsible—or both. But I see it as my only way to breathe healthy air at this point in the journey, especially as a District Superintendent in the church.

I choose to believe, for example, that my conservative friends are not driven by hatred, bigotry, or a crippling homophobia in their support of the United Methodist Church’s current restrictions related to homosexuality. Rather, the conservatives with whom I relate are driven by the conviction that souls, eternity, and Biblical truth are at stake, and that to love homosexual people authentically means something far more unpopular and complex than affirming their choices. (I desperately hope, of course, that my conservative friends will have a profound sensitivity to the fact that their stance, irrespective of its motive, lands as something oppressive, abusive, and contemptuous upon the hearts of LGBTQ+ people, their family members, and their advocates. Such a sensitivity will help my conservative friends to approach the current negative responses to General Conference with a more durable patience and a more nuanced understanding.)

I choose to believe that my progressive friends are not driven by an irreverence toward Scripture or an eagerness to dismiss Biblical teaching in order to accommodate societal trends. Rather, the progressives with whom I relate are driven by an unwavering passion for a history-altering liberation to which they believe the ministry of Jesus points, somewhere way beyond what they interpret as the incomplete and culturally-conditioned Biblical condemnations. (I desperately hope, of course, that my progressive friends will have a profound sensitivity to the fact that many conservative United Methodists are just as heartbroken concerning our bitter divisions, even though they occupy the majority side of a winless debate. Such a sensitivity will help my progressive friends to approach the current conversation with righteous and well-stewarded anger instead of abusive insults and bitter vituperation.)

I choose to believe that my centrist friends are driven neither by a cowardly refusal to choose a side nor an idolatrous fixation on preserving the institution. Rather, the centrists with whom I relate are driven by the belief that the saving grace of Jesus Christ makes possible a wide and durable unity in which divergent viewpoints can live and breathe together, and that none of those divergent viewpoints necessitate a severing of our connection in the mission to which all of us are called. (I desperately hope, of course, that my centrist friends have a profound sensitivity to the anguish that is taking place to their left and right and an awareness of the fact that their position may sound like an abdication of leadership to some on both sides. Such a sensitivity will help my centrist friends to nurture deeper relationships across the spectrum.)

I choose to believe that my Christ-following LGBTQ+ friends are not driven by a desire to diminish the the church’s emphasis on sexual holiness. Rather, the LGBTQ+ friends with whom I relate are driven both by their understanding that their orientation is an integral part of their personhood and by their desire to be seen, not as an “issue” or as a group of “incompatibles,” but as souls within the Body of Christ who are called, gifted, and equipped, all the while longing for relational covenants and spiritual wholeness like all the rest of us. (I desperately hope that my LGBTQ+ friends will know the love of God in tangible ways in these hard days through the ministry of caring people, so that they might not be further crushed by a debate that is often dehumanizing for them.)

Most importantly, I choose to believe that Jesus is still Lord and that God cares about the ministry and mission of the United Methodist Church even more than we do—FAR more than we do, in fact. Furthermore, I choose to believe that our current struggle has not taken us beyond the boundaries of what God can redeem, reshape, reconfigure, and restore.

Therefore, I choose to remain in this broken, imperfect part of the Body of Christ called the United Methodist Church. I choose this messy, heartbreaking, and important journey with progressive, traditionalist, and centrist Christ-followers, many of whom have forgotten more about discipleship than I will ever know. I choose to embrace the struggle of it all, not with cynicism, but a strong conviction that the struggle is worth it (as it so often is in the life of God’s church).

What I have written here will strike many as being woefully inadequate, a theological or moral cop-out during a time that demands a clearer sense of certainty; or a deeper commitment to Biblical faithfulness; or a more passionate pursuit of justice and radical hospitality. If that is your take on what I have written, then perhaps you are right.

Then again, perhaps God is utilizing United Methodism as a sacred instrument by which to announce to a politically, racially, culturally, and philosophically fractured world that there really is a better way forward—that there really is a countercultural and rugged unity that is as gracious as it is urgent.

10 thoughts on “Choosing to Believe: My Archway Into Life Beyond General Conference

  1. As always, profoundly transparent and filled with Truth. I am humbled to say I am there with you. May the KING of all Kings reign within us and in our world! Thank you for your sacred discernment Eric.

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  2. Hi Eric,

    Though I am of an opposite view than yourself I do respect you and your opinion. I am a moderate conservative. I love the dinner but hate the sins. My viewpoint is that we can not alter scripture to the society’s current viewpoint. Nor, can we advocate LGBT leadership or marriage as a “normal” standard within Christ’s church though we must welcome and love the LGBT person we are not of equal yoke. I state this humbly from my sinners heart.

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  3. Hi Eric…I appreciate your statement and your concerns. I weep for our church. I despair over the exegesis that was offered by the conservatives. I pray for all impacted by this unfortunate decision. And I pray for the Judicial Council which will have a tremendous impact on the whole scenario. But above all, I lift up our Lord Jesus Christ, his compassion, his grace, his matchless words of forgiveness, and it is from the cross, the resurrection, and the ascension that we must read all of scripture. Frankly, I read Adam Hamilton’s remarks today and feel myself in agreement with them also. I fear we have not yet realized the damage done in St. Louis. God bless, Eric.
    Drew

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  4. Hi Eric, though my view on this topic may not be in alignment with yours, I am absolutely positive you struggled in making your decision. Know matter where each of us stands on this matter the most important thing we agree upon is that every life matters and everyone deserves to be treated with love, compassion and respect. I will always have immense love and respect for you my dear friend and pastor. Blessings to you!

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  5. Eric thanks for speaking from my very heart as a Centrist. I have friends and colleagues in every part of the spectrum. People don’t realize how hard it is to be in the middle struggling with all before us.

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  6. Very well said Susan.
    So many of my very good friends are born gay and are wonderful Christian people.I just hope they know the Lord loves them as he loves everyone and that we don’t all have a say in who can belong to the UMC.

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  7. While there is a clear choice in my heart, walk and faith, I choose to love ALL persons regardless of their view. And while I am opposed to the view and perspective of the side opposite mine, I respect the right of that person to have it, however, ill-placed I believe it to be. I endeavor to pray for them and ask for their prayer for me and let God speak the truth to both of us. It is the so-called centrist I have the most issue with as it fits perfectly into the decay and desolation of human interaction and relationship that is cascading in our society, driving an ever-deepening and ever-widened divide between all good intending people. Whatever you believe, believe that, and have the courage to stand, speak and be counted for your convictions. There should be no participation medals, just because you can open your mouth.

    Anything else, I am drawn to Hebrews,

    “Warning Against Apostasy
    5:11 About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, 13 for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. 14 But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”

    It is time for those who are on solid food to take their stand, and from their we can decide how to participate, or not, and move forward. All the rest are obfuscating and causing satan to find more doorways into our faith while they try to be everybody.

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