I haven’t been to church regularly in over fifteen years. Let me tell you why.
In college, I took a literary journalism class with an awe-inspiring professor. Our project for the term was to investigate a topic of our choice in the most comprehensive way we could (in twenty pages or fewer). It took me some time to decide what I wanted to research, but when I realized that I still had many questions about the faith tradition I’d been raised in, I knew my topic was going to be the United Methodist Church.
Once I’d decided, I threw myself fully into finding out more about Methodism. I contacted my parents’ pastor at home. I befriended two local clergymen near my university. There were tracts for new members, hymnals past and present, histories of John and Charles Wesley (and their co-founder, George Whitefield), and a close reading of the UMC Book of Discipline. Sounds daunting and scary, doesn’t it? As I kept reading, I found out that the faith tradition was all a little scary. My gay friends weren’t included or accepted as members of the church. Abortion was frowned on, but I couldn’t get a straight answer from anyone about how I was supposed to view out-of-wedlock or teenage pregnancies. These were just a few things mentioned about what I, as a Methodist, was supposed to believe. None seemed to follow the “four alls” I’d heard about from Pastor Charlie in my confirmation classes: 1) All need to be saved. 2) All can be saved. 3) All can know they are saved. 4) All can be saved completely.
How did those “four alls” fit in with these inconsistencies… and the other no-nos I’d read about in our main book of church doctrine and beliefs?
They didn’t. And I guess my worldly college ways and increased critical thinking caused me to end up criticizing the church for its inconsistencies and hypocrisies. I wasn’t having any of it. I tried as hard as I could to avoid breaking the news to my parents and grandparents. When we were together, I still went to church. I just kept a lot of thoughts on my faith to myself.
If you’ve been following the news lately, you’ve probably heard that the UMC has held a Special Session of the General Conference of the Church to report on a Commission on a Way Forward for the church. The idea was to work on strengthening church unity. One of their topics to decide on for the church at large was whether to recognize LGBTQ+ marriage and the possibility of including LGBTQ+ clergy in the future.
Now, I haven’t been going to church, as I’ve said. But when I heard that this was happening, I made sure I had the website on the event’s updates saved so I could check in and see if my past faith family’s decisions were in line with what I’ve come to believe myself: Everyone matters and should be welcome wherever and whenever.
I even watched a passionate young Methodist, J.J. Warren, give a clear, concise speech to an effect similar to what I feel the church should embrace. He brought a roomful of people to their feet—even some of the bishops as well (and they’re not supposed to do that per decorum rules). I thought that things were going to change for the best, and maybe, just maybe, I’d be ready to go back to church.
But on the last day of the conference, the vote did not go in that direction. Instead, the more conservative branches of the church voted down recognizing all marriages and allowing all people to be a part of the church’s leadership.
I bring this up because when I was little, I learned that God is love. And I’m not trying to proselytize to you. God, in my estimation now, is everywhere and everything—a more transcendentalist idea of the power of the universe. And if this God is love and loves all, how can we not strive to do the same? And now, I watch a former family that I know loved me as it tips on the brink of a division that the church will probably never be able to overcome in the end.
My message to you, finally, is this. The Methodists used to say: “Open hearts. Open hands. Open doors.” Join me today. Make this your motto. Spread love, compassion, and inclusion. No one needs a church to love fully.