Sacred Disobedience

SACRED DISOBEDIENCE: How to Fight the Good Fight

One of the long-time leaders of our church died on Easter Sunday, far too young.  She was a tireless advocate for justice, particularly in the area of affordable housing; and as we repeated those well-worn words from 2 Timothy -- "She fought the good fight..." -- I thought of all of the struggles in which she engaged over her lifetime: some won, some lost, some unfinished.

Those words -- "fought the good fight" -- came back to me this weekend as I reflected on the rulings of our United Methodist Judicial Council that came out this past Friday evening; because, clearly, the fight is not over for full inclusion of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters into the life of our church.  It was noteworthy to me that these rulings were issued under the cover of darkness, just as the weekend was beginning.  Were I of a cynical bent, I would speculate that it was done this way to minimize any news coverage, and that the Judicial Council must understand what a public relations nightmare this is for our denomination. 

For those readers who are not United Methodist, the Judicial Council is our denomination's version of the Supreme Court; and our current Council is clearly a court that believes in judicial activism.  (The term "judicial activism" tends to be applied to progressive judges, but can clearly go the other way as well.)  In this case, an activist Judicial Council has -- for very unclear reasons -- given "standing" to one Jurisdiction (a Jurisdiction is a regional grouping of Annual Conferences) in filing a complaint against the internal functioning of another jurisdiction (i.e., the election of Karen Oliveto as Bishop).  In two other rulings, the Council -- again, with a very unclear rationale -- has inserted itself into the internal discernment of the Boards of Ordained Ministry of two Annual Conferences who had made internal decisions about how they engaged candidates for ministry (the Boards of Ordained Ministry oversee the process for women and men who want to be clergy).

As I noted in my last blog post, none of these conflicts will be truly resolved until the Commission on a Way Forward brings its proposals to the special session of General Conference in February of 2019. So the question becomes, how do we fight the good fight between now and then?   

First and foremost, we don’t keep quiet. Since the current language in the Book of Discipline forbids our acting according to our consciences, it is incumbent upon us to continue to challenge the status quo: to engage in "sacred disobedience" in the same way that the civil rights movement engaged in "civil disobedience." For those of us on the progressive side of this debate (and, I would argue, the right side of history), it is our sacred duty to keep this issue before our denomination, in the media, and in the public discourse in an aggressive way. 

In our current situation, "sacred disobedience" will need to happen on several levels. 

1.     On the Jurisdictional level of our church, it will mean that Jurisdictions will need to make sure that they are supporting leaders that challenge the status quo (Bishop Oliveto and Bishop Talbert are good examples).  The Book of Discipline grants the College of Bishops in each Jurisdiction an enormous amount of authority in how it addresses complaints against these prophetic leaders.

2.     Likewise, Annual Conferences -- as the fundamental organizational body of the church -- can express their authority by Boards of Ordained Ministry continuing to discern the Spirit's call on them, as they discern the Spirit's call on the candidates for ministry coming before them.  If they have chosen to not ask questions about the sexual practices of candidates, that is their decision to make. I was privileged to be part of this decision in our own Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference. 

3.     Bishops also, within their Annual Conferences, have enormous authority in terms of how they address complaints against clergy who support LGBTQ inclusion in various ways, and how they shepherd the process of Clergy Executive Sessions and partner with the Boards of Ordained Ministry.

4.     On the local church level, clergy and churches must continue to open their doors and ministries to LGBTQ persons, and advocate for changes in the Discipline. One of the tragedies of these Judicial Council rulings is that the only thing most non-church goers know about The United Methodist Church is that we are locked in this decades-old (and increasingly irrelevant – from the point of view of the broader society) battle around homosexuality.  That means that if I were an LGBTQ person looking for a church, I’m probably not go looking at a UM church. So we can combat that by engaging LGBTQ persons and inviting them into the safe space that we have created in our churches.

5.     Finally, as individuals, we must have courage and demonstrate the passion of our convictions.  Here at The Metropolitan Church, that means we proudly wear our rainbow stoles and crosses to Sunday services; we march in the annual Pride parade; we actively engage in outreach to the LGBTQ community; we pledge -- not only as a congregation, but as individuals -- to being Reconciling United Methodists; and, finally, we commit ourselves to publicly engaging others in thoughtful dialogue on the issue. Whether on social media or in the checkout line at the grocery store, we make our voices heard. 

The Judicial Council has ruled; we can do nothing about that.  It is discouraging and heart-breaking for Bishop Oliveto and countless LGBTQ Methodists who are discerning a call to ministry.  But we cannot let the Judicial Council have the last word.  We must continue to push the envelope and to make it as uncomfortable as possible for our church to live in its current tension. 

We can’t ever let up, until God’s justice reigns. 

That is what it means to “fight the good fight.”