We are mere weeks from The United Methodist Church convening in St Louis to discuss the overdue changes to the Book of Discipline. People are arriving at their camps of opinion with firm belief – most unwilling to budge or negotiate. In other words, the body of Christ has gotten ugly. Mean.
In an attempt to quell the fears of queer folk, our Bishops issued a letter of “strength for the body of Christ”. Some will believe that this letter is a good first step. I mean, when you are talking about decades of harm, “first steps” are always good, right? <insert eye roll>
Here’s my problem. This letter uses language that is as centrist as is comes. It’s safe. It doesn’t challenge anything. Not to mention, it will make the episcopacy feel as if they have done their part in this battle. It sets them up to be able to say “But, we wrote a letter! We said we love them! We said we want peace!”
Here are my problems:
1. Confession does not equal accountability or repentance: The bishops “confess participation in the harm (they) have done to one another and to the LGBTQ community.” And yet, confession and repentance aren’t the same thing – not even remotely. In the bishops’ desperation to be done with the shame they know they partially caused, they confessed. But this letter appears that they’ve done so, exhaled and closed the book. This should be just the beginning of the conversation they are having, not the end. The lack of accountability in this letter causes me tears and anger pangs.
2. Safe space does not exist: There is no talk of the ways in which queer folks haven’t been SAFE in congregations for generations. That their very bodies have been in danger. That there have been no steps to mitigate or establish a precedent for how hate crimes against them are punished within the walls of the church. Sure, there are rules for general criminology, but we all know that the vast number of crime against queer folk in our congregations is either 1) unreported or 2) reported and then skewed so as to not highlight identity as the reason why.
3. The commitment is shallow: The letter states that the bishops “commit themselves to help people who disagree with each other to have conversations that include, honor, and respect people with different convictions”. How, exactly, do they intend to do this? Why should the previous actions of some of the very people responsible for the harm done to LGBT+ folks not be expected to continue? Why should some of the very bishops who helped to draft the even more harmful (hard to believe that’s even possible) Traditional Plan be trusted to commit to this kind of help? Is honorable and respectable conversation even helpful?
We have been having conversations for decades. We have been fighting for YEARS. We have been harmed and brutalized, minimized and chastised. We have been engaged in a fight for the rights for all while others have been doing their very best to shun and discriminate. We have been begging for visibility and equality in this denomination in ways that would embarrass the Christ we follow.
Yes, I’m tired.
Yes, I’m frustrated.
Yes, I’m mad as hell.
And no, I won’t give the bishops of the United Methodist Church a pass simply because they found it in themselves to extend a leafless olive branch to a body of humans who are worth the entire damn grove.