By Rev. Mary K. (Sellon) Huycke
This is a hard day in a hard week in a hard year. I have so many emotions running through me as I reflect on the just released Judicial Council decision. But I guess it’s to be expected. It’s a struggle anytime the Church is faced with new revelation that contradicts what they’d understood to be faithful practice.
In Acts, deeply committed Christ followers wrestled with the expansion of dietary laws, elimination of mandatory circumcision, and the full inclusion of Gentiles. How heated those discussions must have been, as passionate, spirit-filled emergence collided with protective instincts no less than that of a lioness protecting her vulnerable cub.
In our era, Methodists have wrestled as new understandings emerged in the dominant culture about slavery, segregation, and women. The first woman was ordained in 1866, but it wasn’t until 1956 that women received full clergy rights. Methodists splintered over slavery and while they reunited in 1939, segregation was part of our formal polity until 1968. These “issues” couldn’t have been imagined by those first followers. Fortunately, they left us a pattern of discernment and adaptation.
Today the new understandings are about LGBTQI persons and the nature of marriage. I wish that the author of Acts had included more about the heated nature of their conversations. They’re written as if the discussions and decisions happened in the course of a day-long meeting and that everyone went home happy. We know that can’t have been the case. This history is written from the winner’s side. The fear and anger of those trying to protect this new and holy enterprise is not recorded. Nor does Acts record those on both sides who left the community, some because it was changing in ways they believed dangerous – others because it wasn’t changing fast enough.
The Judicial Council decision is not a statement about the worth of LGBTQI persons. It is not a statement about whether or not they should have full rights in The United Methodist Church. It was the Book of Discipline, our church law, that was on trial here. Does it allow for the contextual adaptations needed during a time of transition?
The answer we learned with the Judicial Council decision, is “no.” There is now even greater urgency for the denomination to engage with the process that the Bishops’ Way Forward Commission will be bringing us.
In the meantime, however, we must prioritize caring for persons made even more vulnerable by this decision. As a Facebook friend posted and reposted today, “Queer beloveds: be gentle with you today. Self care, self care, self care.” No matter what the world says or thinks about you, you are a child of God.
Mary Huycke is the first elected clergy of the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference and serves as chair of the Western Jurisdiction Episcopacy Committee