I’m at a loss for words. Okay, not really. But I’m struggling to find cohesive, grace-filled words. Today, at the United Methodist General Conference, delegates voted to keep discriminatory language within the book of discipline. They voted to keep members of the LGBT community on the margins of the church. They wouldn’t even pass a petition that stated members of the church disagree on the topic of sexuality. To make matters worse, I’ve heard story after story about ungodly behavior: behind-doors negotiating, manipulation of third-world delegates, offensive language, and an exercise of fear-filled power that would cause Jesus to flip over tables during plenary.
How have we gotten here? How has the Jesus story of an upside-down honor system and a radical love for the “other” turned into a hierarchical system that clings to power and control and an exclusive claim on God? Well there’s a long story for that, and it’s called the Christian tradition. It’s a continuing tradition of imperialism, scapegoating, dehumanizing entire populations and harnessing God and the Bible for nationalistic, accumulation-driven fervor.
Sounds pretty hopeless right? But the amazing thing is, even though humans have turned the church into a power scheme that can rival any dictatorship, God still moves. God is still here, and God is manifested to us in many incredible ways. In the midst of fear and anxiety and the train-wreck that we call church, people of God’s love and immense grace are holding tight to the promise of a restored Creation. It’s amazing to me that so many people who have been cast aside by the church still find the courage to stand up and say, “We beg to differ.” That’s God courage.
So we seem to have two opposing sides here that are claiming the will of God. One says, “I know exactly what God wants. I’m doing it right and you’re doing it wrong. Repent, so that you can be welcomed into the society of God.” The other side says, “I don’t own God. All I know is that God is love and Jesus came to turn this world on its head. I’m called to love with reckless abandon and give up my life of accumulation and power and control in order to serve the lowliest of low. You are a beautiful child of God, no matter what.” I don’t know about you, but I believe in the God of love and hope and full inclusion. I believe in the God who created all of us with a divine spark of imagination. I believe in the God who inspired Scripture and still inspires each of us on a daily basis.
I find it almost comical that we keep repeating the same cycle. In a typical hypergroupism model, we become scared of our own illegitimacy, annihilation and demise and pin our fear on the “other.” We find a group who we believe to be less human and less divine and we use them as a scapegoat. Our own insecurities lead us to attack the “other” in order to survive. We’ve done it over and over: to the American Indians, the African Americans, women and now the LGBT community. Eventually, we realize we’re wrong and reverse our sentiments, but not until we’ve wounded entire populations. When will we stop the cycle? Instead of changing our ideas about a particular group every few decades, we need to change our being.
We need to follow Jesus. We need to give up our lives of power and progress and live in real community where people love each other so much it hurts. Following Jesus is much, much harder than following rules and putting on a nice, shiny mask. Following Jesus involves getting dirty, it involves losing popularity contests and losing face. Living into God’s dream requires recognizing our common humanity, the God-given humanity that is inside each of us. It requires letting go of control and the need for absolute truth. A restored Creation requires admitting that we might not be right and we don’t have all the answers. God’s dream involves us focusing on our work as creatures; planting seeds of hope and love and staring fear straight in the face and saying we have a different view, a different hope.
So let us love. Let us stand in the midst of oppression and injustice and love our little hearts out. Let us continue to follow Jesus, turning the world and its evil systems on their head. Let us beg to differ. Let us stand with the saints who’ve come before us and proclaim God’s beautiful Gospel of resurrection and a love that never, ever quits. Let us love.