Safety in Numbness

Okay, here’s an idea.  We keep paying lip service to our commitment to young leadership and the need to attract and receive more young people into the church.  So, for the remainder of General Conference I propose we take two votes on major issues: first, we take the vote of all delegates 40 years of age and under; second, we take the vote of the remainder of the delegates.  Of course, we would use the combined total for our decisions, but we would have a comparison to see where the heart, soul and mind of our young adults are in relation to the older church (that significantly outnumbers them).  This would be an outward and visible sign that we are serious about listening to our younger leaders.  It would also be a clear indicator of our willingness to change versus our desire to maintain the status quo.  Are we brave enough to try such a radical departure from “the way we’ve always done it before?”  It would certainly be a leap of faith.  Do we trust each other enough to see what kind of church our younger leaders would create?  I’m not so sure…

We are working awfully hard to make the church “safe” for those already inside it.  It appears that for the next four years, no risks will be taken, no challenge to comfort or security will be issued (except in the case of guaranteed appointments), and no one who isn’t like us will be welcome.  We are voting down most of the significant changes and we are reconfirming who we do not want in the church, what we can do to keep them away, and what we will do to them if they dare to infiltrate our ranks.  We have dealt with our faith in the most abstract terms — love is a nice, fuzzy feeling, but outward and visible signs of such must pass by a two-thirds majority, and so are defeated.

I was walking past a group of younger adults who were lamenting the decisions being made about who is acceptable and who isn’t in our church.  This was the first echo of truly ‘Holy Conversation’ I have heard this week.  They were discussing a very pointed question: “who would we be willing to die for?”  One young man was saying that it didn’t matter whether we want gay people in the church or not, but what really mattered was whether we would put our life on the line to save a gay person.  If we would die for a gay person, why wouldn’t we let a gay person teach or preach or institute communion?  Set aside your personal opinion for a moment.  Look past the content of the question to the underlying premise: a gay person is a person.  If he is a sinner, he is a sinner just like all the rest.  If she is a Christian or not is irrelevant — God sent Jesus for precisely such as these (and us).  To be like Jesus means to live the WWJD question.  One young man reflected, “if people we are called to die for aren’t welcome in the church then neither am I.”

A young woman affirmed the same basic thought.  “Some guy got up and said people who haven’t accepted Christ aren’t children of God.  Is that true?  Is that what The Methodist Church teaches?  If so, this is no church for me.”  We keep talking about attracting younger people, but younger people are grossly turned off by our intolerance, our exclusion, and our hypocrisy.  For the young, judging and ostracizing is as great as any sexual sin.  We will continue to lose whole generations based on our hostility to men and women whom God loves.

But moral issues tied to our naughty bits is too easy a target.  Immigration, violence against the poor and helpless, the second-class treatment of laity, and the tokenism offered to young leadership are all part of the larger picture.  The response to my post last night on the cheapening of discipleship struck a real chord with young delegates at General Conference.  I met seven young people who sought me out today to thank me for lifting up one of the things they most dislike about The United Methodist Church — that “faith” is about beliefs and thinking good thoughts, not about actions and commitment.  “People are looking for Christianity to be easy and to make them feel good,” one guy told me, “but Jesus was very clear that people looking for an easy way should look elsewhere.”

A young woman confessed some deep disappointment.  “When I got elected (to GC) I was so excited.  I thought ‘I can actually be part of the process to make a difference!’  I have been preparing for this for months.  I came ready to work on fixing lots that’s not working in the church.  But nothing I say or do makes any difference.  I have to go back and tell my friends that nothing really important to them is going to change.  I even have been really disappointed by the young people on stage, like the guys from that Spark thing.  They’re more like old people in young people’s bodies.  I don’t sound anything like that and I don’t want to.  I can’t remember being this depressed in a long time.”

So, we have a window to address the disillusionment — not of those who have left the church, but of those still in it.  Would we have the courage to see how they might vote on the key issues of our denomination?  I’m betting not, but man would I love to be proven wrong.


Wednesday morning update and reality check.  I have only been at conference 20 minutes and I have been stopped by two dozen people — all older — telling me what a dumb idea this is.  It seems (in the minds of many) that young people lack experience, wisdom, knowledge, and judgement.  They are naive, overly emotional, and they don’t think through the implications of their decisions.  What I have heard (from most) is that we cannot trust them to make good decisions for the whole church.  Now, note that I never said we should let them decide — just that we should segregate the vote to better understand where they are coming from.  Also, note the fear and lack of trust that younger people might see things differently…

35 replies

  1. I’m under 40….what is this SPARK thing that was mentioned?

    I know many more people “under 40” who are in favor of traditonal (and faithful!) Biblical teachings on homosexuality than otherwise.

    I like reading your blog and there is some great insight to be found here—especially regarding the costs of discipleship—but it is past time for the UMC & her leaders (like you) just drop this nonsense and focus on genuine discipleship. You don’t hear about this kind of crap happening at the SBC meetings!


      For those of us who do not consider people nonsense, we feel reaching out to all children of God is part of our mandate to love the world as God loves us. Hurting human beings with a poor use of the Christian “good news” is not crap. It may be the only thing that truly matters and unconditional love may indeed be what distinguishes us from Southern Baptists.

      • That’s a resonable response. IMO there is no lack of love in calling people to a life of holiness with regard to sexuality. Even for the porn addict who hasn’t “acted out” physically—only in private—I think this is important. But then, I’m just crazy enough to think that discipleship is about holiness in all areas of our life. You seem to be on board with calling UMC leadership to account and not caring if they feel “loved”…I see this as very much the same.

        I think you and I see things very similarly when it comes to theology, so it surprises me that you think this lifestyle is compatable with Christian teaching. With regard to the SBC, I’ve been a member of several and I’ve never felt them to be more or less loving than the UMC churches I’ve been a part of.

        Thank you for taking the time to comment. You certainly are one of the more refreshing voices in the UMC even if I disagree with your views on the practice of homosexuality. Not the loving & accepting, mind you.

      • Nah, it was just reactive to “nonsense” and “crap” and the concept that the SBC deals with its controversies in more reasonable ways than we UMCs (I was at the conference where the SBC reasonably dealt with the ordination of women. They almost made our quagmire seem respectable…)

        More to the point, there is a reason the UMC is troubled over this subject and it recurs because as much as either extremist side would like to say it is a non-issue with a single right answer, they are unlikely to get the other side to agree with them.

        I stopped using the Bible as a weapon and theology as a crowbar a few years ago. I no longer try to talk anyone into agreeing with me. I can explain what I believe and why, but I have no desire to make you accept my position as true.

        Why do I believe being gay or lesbian is not a sin? The Levitical code is a set of community standards by which the preservation of the community was the highest value. The mission of the early Hebrew people was to be fruitful and multiply and to worship God that God might make them a great people and through their growing size and strength, they would become conquerers. Whatever added to the population was good; anything that did not contribute to the propigation of God’s people was “sin” (missed the mark). Things which actually worked against the mission were abominable (did damage to the strength of the community). This is why having sex with the same sex is part of the larger set of penalities to the fertility codes: fornication (having sex with no intention of procreation), masturbation, bestiality, crossing/mixing bloodlines, adultery (where parentage could not be guaranteed — though polygamy was not a problem), and divorce (including the necessity of marrying widows to brothers to allow procreation to continue unabated and uninterrupted). Close relationships were not the subject of this band. It was common for both men and women to kiss those of the same sex on the mouth and soldiers slept together regularly. Enlightenment and Victorian sexual moralitycertainly inform our modern readings of ancient texts, but they had nothing at all to do with Leviticus or I Corinthians. The sin was not procreating, therefore wasting precious opportunities to increase the population (which in a society with between 50-80% mortality rate for children under 3 was very important). The expression of authentic love between two people was never the subject of scriptural writing — even adultery isn’t about the relationship, but about property rights. The ancient world didn’t have the luxury of worrying about titilation and horniness as we do today; lust was a threat to the common good and the survival of the community.

        So, I am very much against selfish behavior that damages the community; I am not so worried about the sexual behavior of individuals in a monogamous relationship with each other. For that reason, I don’t believe same sex relationships are the sin, and if participants are not committing this particular sin (I do believe that we are all sinners in need of grace and forgiveness) then they can be Christian disciples and in fact, Christian teachers and preachers.

        I also come from a science background that convinced me that gay and lesbian propensities are genetic predispositions, and not choices. No more than race or gender does a gay person have “control” over their orientation. Have gay people been “reoriented” and “transitioned?” Yes. And experiments have been conducted that induce homosexual feelings. I lean toward the hard science over the soft psychology every time.

        Everything I am sharing is why I believe what I believe. As far as the information goes, it is easily available. People don’t change their minds because of information — they need something significant that convinces then otherwise. This is why I believe a legislative process is a terrible place to deal with these situations. We are talking about people, not issues. So, that’s where I am coming from –for what it’s worth.

      • I appreciate you taking the time to give such a detailed answer. Certainly some food for thought. And no doubt, we are all sinners in need of Grace. I join you in wishing to share Grace with all people.

  2. As one of the “Good Old American White Boys” I’m starting to wonder if I am still welcome. Or do I have to become silent and go along to get along? Am I a racist, a bigot, or a hate monger just because of the color of my skin and of my age. I am none of these. As I recall, John and Charles Wesley were also caucasions of western European descent. Would they also feel as unwelcome if they heard the tenor this discussion.
    As I understand the rich history and tradition of the United Methodist Church, We commonly consider four things when making decisions regarding doctrine, social principles or other issues before the church. These are: 1) Scripture 2) Tradition 3)Experience and
    4) Reason Of course Scripture is the most important of these and trumps the others.
    As much as I would like to see my opinions included as one of those four, they are not, nor should they be.
    If we base our church doctrine on the waves of change occuring in the world around us, how are fulfilling the admonition to —be in the world, not of the world.
    Whatever position is taken on many of the issues facing those of you fortunate enough to be attending General Conference, we should all prayerfully consider if our position is based on personal opinion and tolerance; for the sake of inclusivity, and to keep pews full. Or if our position is based on our deeply held beliefs with a firm foundation in Scripture.
    I know the concepts of tolerance and inclusivity are important and are very consistent with scripture. We are called to take the gospel to all of the nations. However, tolerance must be exercised by persons on both sides of an issue for constructive discussion to occur.
    Please take a step back from the emotional aspects of the issues before you and ask the Lord for His guidance, that your decisions may be of God and not of man. Prayerfully submitted, your brother in Christ,
    Galen Smith

    • Being a recipient of gender power and white privilege is no reason to be excluded, but for those who don’t enjoy it, it is easy to resent those who abuse it. I am in the same boat — a middle-aged white male who struggles to admit all the things I have that I haven’t earned or don’t deserve and am not always willing to share. Luckily, we can still learn, and we can use our privilege and power to help others rather than to dominate them. Were the criticisms without merit, they wouldn’t sting quite so much.

  3. I think this could have been a great idea! (Of course, I’m in that “under 40” demographic…)

  4. The chances of us attracting any young leadership having eliminated guaranteed appointment is fairly nil. How are we supposed to convince any sane person (young or old) to jump through our ordination hoops when, for all intents and purposes they will be no better off when they’re done than when they began?

  5. It isn’t just the 20 somethings that are becoming completely turned off by the UMC. Add my 50-something life long Methodist voice to it also. I wonder if Jesus would be happy with much of the Christian church?

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