I love my wife.
The dumpster Fyre Festival that was the United Methodist Church’s General Conference consumed far more of my day yesterday than it should have. It also made me do things I haven’t done in years, like write in this space, post to Facebook, and even (gasp!) interact on Twitter. None of those things were good for me. Not one of them enriched my life, strengthened my faith, or made me feel better about myself.
I knew the outcome was preordained (perhaps I am a Calvinist now). The only thing left was for pain inflicted from both sides to play itself out in a bloodbath of parliamentary procedure. I knew what the vote would be. I even knew the subplots. But I watched anyway, probably for the same reason I wasted hours of my life I will never get back from the Clinton/Trump debates.
Anger has consumed me for the past three days. The last time I wrote in this space, I stated plans to leave the denomination. The words stated on the floor from both sides were hurtful, damaging, insulting, and hopeless. It was not representative of the church with which I wanted to be allied. My plan today was to swing by church on the way home and remove my name from membership.
I love my wife.
Last night I had a conversation with my amazing wife who helped me place the yesterday’s events in context. The reality is, nothing in the United Methodist Church has changed, save for a few lines in the Book of Discipline. While those words are hurtful and fail to represent a loving and compassionate God, they aren’t scripture. They weren’t divinely inspired.
Those words didn’t change the hearts of the people at the church I attend.
And I love my church family.
Let’s pull out an obscure reference to a movie from 1995 most people have never heard of, Angus. In the final scene of the movie, a kid that has been bullied his entire life finally fights back. The quarterback of the football team shoves him down and he responds:
I’m still here asshole.
I’ll always be here. You push me down and I’ll get right back up again. And again. And again. And again. I could beat you right here, right now. But I don’t want to be better than you, Rick. I don’t want to be better than anybody. I want to be who I am: A fat kid that’s good at science and fair at football. That’s who I am. I can live with it, why can’t you?
[RICK: Because it’s not normal. You’re not normal.]
And who is, you?… There are 400 people in this room that are nothing like you. Some of them are tall, some of them are short… Some of them have scars of frizzy hair…
But most of them walk these halls every day never telling anyone the truth about what they really want or need because people like you, normal people like you, have them terrified of being who they really are. I mean, if you’re “normal”, what does that make them?“Angus”, 1995
Rick, the quarterback, responds “Whatever I am, it’s something you’re never going to be.” To which Angus gently replies, “Thank God.”
I could leave the UMC, the church that raised me, the church that taught me to love.
Or I could stay.
I could stay and be the virus that metastasizes; that teaches young people to be patient, let the ignorant have their say; that forces his way onto Church Council and into church leadership; that screams at the top of my lungs during prayer about what God’s love means.
To those United Methodist reading this and considering walking away, I ask you, please join me. Be the virus. Because one thing we know about the love of God, it spreads faster than hatred – and it’s harder to kill.
There is a small (and some might say growing) majority in denominational leadership that want to rid the UMC of this virus. They will push us down. To them we say:
We’re still here, asshole.
We don’t want to beat you. We don’t want to be better than you. We don’t want to be better than anybody. We just want to be who we are: Christians who will throw open the doors of the Church to anyone who comes; who will attend same-sex weddings, bless ordination of gay clergy; who will be a thorn in your side.
Go ahead, bring up clergy on charges. Conduct your “background checks” like some McCarthy-era House committee. Turn the Episcopacy into “Survivor – UMC Discipline.”
We’ll make sure every one of your actions is front-page news. We’ll find intelligent, articulate United Methodists to make our case to the greater public. We are a bigger, more well-connected denomination than any Protestant group, and the minority is diverse and passionate, and we love our church. You can’t take it from us.
What we saw over the past few days was a small majority (54%) demonstrate to the entire congregation that they would rather violate our constitution, disrespect the rulings of our bishops, ignore young people, and demean people of God, than allow someone who isn’t “normal” to aid in bringing souls to Christ. And they want everyone who disagrees to leave.
We’re still here, asshole.
So please, join me. Be the virus. Multiple people at Plenary yesterday referred to us as a “stain.” We aren’t a stain, we’re a virus. And if we commit to infecting our congregations, that virus will spread faster and more out of control than any message of exclusion.
Be the virus.