Saturday, January 15, 2011

Why bother becoming "reconciling"?

Over the last few months, University UMC members have been engaging in more focused discussions about whether to become a reconciling congregation. In February, we will probably vote on the matter, pending the decision of our Church Council. As your new pastor, I had hoped to stay in the background. After all, this is a movement of lay people at UUMC that long preceded my arrival. A reconciling committee has been active at the church for the last ten years and has led to a number of classes and groups in the church becoming reconciling. However, I soon realized that my silence might be interpreted as lack of support for the initiative, so I’ve decided to write a few blogs for you to respond to over the next month in the hope that we might be able to reach greater clarity together on issues and questions that I’ve heard in the hallways and Sunday School classes.

Perhaps the most common question is, why are we bothering to do this at all? Aren’t we already reconciling in everything but name? What do we have to gain (or lose) by becoming a reconciling congregation?

There are several answers to this question, but the strongest to me is that in a time when gay bashing, violence, suicides and discrimination are still part of our daily news, the church must speak with a strong voice. The UMC, through The Book of Discipline, has spoken with a divided voice. It affirms the sacred humanity of homosexual people, but also declares homosexual practice incompatible with Christian teaching. Consequently, the strongest way for UUMC to proclaim univocally what we believe and affirm a different way of relating to the LGBT community is to affiliate with Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) and add the word “reconciling” to our description of our church.

What does it mean to be “reconciling” and to affiliate with RMN? For our church, it means we’re we are a safe place for gays, lesbians, transgendered and bisexuals to worship, to grow in their faith, and to lead and serve Christ. Further, it means we are connected with other like-minded churches in a strong, supportive network and that we have affirmed a ministry that we intend to last when we’re long gone.

Reconciling is surely where UUMC has been for the last twenty years, but it’s been largely an unspoken commitment. Perhaps it’s comparable to a couple who came recently to me to be married. They were already living together, so my question was, why get married? Their answer underscored a basic desire to make a public commitment and to take their own commitment to each other to the next step.

For UUMC, already a church open to ministry to and with the LGBT community, affiliating with RMN seems like the logical next step. RMN is a Wesleyan movement that seeks the full inclusion of all God’s children. They’re committed to working for changes in the exclusionary language of our church’s polity. And they’re more broadly committed to ending racism, sexism and economic injustice, oppressive forces that UUMC has historically stood against.

As your pastor, what I hear underneath the surface of some conversations about reconciling ministries is also a fear of change. What will this new ministry mean for attracting new members or our relations with other churches in our conference or for members in the pews? I know that you don’t need to be reminded that any commitment that steps out into the unknown is a bit frightening. Nevertheless, I take courage in the truth that UUMC has been down the justice road before, that God saw the church through and that when we take a stand for the gospel truth, God’s word to us is clear: Do not fear. I will be with you even to the end of the earth.