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It’s OK to hit pause sometimes

It’s OK to hit pause sometimes

By Jessica Brodie (Read full coverage of General Conference—click here)

I sat there in the General Conference press room May 17 watching new Council of Bishops President Bruce Ough take a deep breath and bare his soul.

About how he, at age 23, had to make the difficult decision to take his 20-year-old brother off life support after a surprise heart attack.

About how he, at such a young age, had to be the rock for his family.

About how he, in just an instant, went from whole to broken.

Much like The United Methodist Church is breaking, he said, when it comes to the issue of human sexuality.

Ah, yes.

Except we’re not broken yet, and maybe we don’t have to break at all. Ough, on behalf of the Council of Bishops, begged the Holy Spirit to come into that space and implored the body to embrace a spirit of unity despite division. And the very next day, upon the body’s request, Ough returned to the stage and offered the COB’s “way forward” (see article, here), which effectively hit pause on sexuality legislation and funneled the whole matter to a new study commission.

To some, this was the absolute worst thing to do. Why put off deciding what we already know is right (whichever side of “right” you happen to fall on) and postpone the inevitable? Why drag out the debate and the angst and the litigation any longer when people’s lives and the work of the church are at stake?

But I think what the COB proposed can be a very good thing for the church if we can open our hearts to it. As the days have passed, I’ve come to realize the COB’s plan was designed for those in the ever-present middle, who are unclear about the theology behind either side and can honestly see both perspectives of the debate.

There’s a reason why so many votes seem almost split down the middle: many people aren’t sure what is the right thing to do. They’re calling for an answer from God, poring through Scripture, and for whatever reason are still not getting the clarity they seek.

Is it so wrong to take a collective breath, turn inward and study this thing a little more before we are pressed into a vote? Is it so bad to calm the polarizing forces with a little balm of time?

Maybe it is. But maybe it’s not. And I’d hate to see something as important as the unity of this denomination cavalierly voted upon because people are itching for the final answer.

Sometimes it’s OK to press pause. Sometimes it’s OK to wait for a clearer direction. Sometimes that can make all the difference.

And if a pause might mean a little extra time for our church to figure out a way forward united as one under God, then I’m willing to wait. I’d rather see us together than apart.

In the words of Dr. Tim McClendon, “Together we can do more.” Amen.

27 Comments

  • Yes, it is wrong to pause to decide whether man’s indecision trumps God’s directive! If a group of us cannot follow God’s final answer, let them go! God said it! I believe it! There is no need to figure out a direction – either follow the Bible or don’t. The choice is very clear!!

  • I disagree. If the bishops’ proposal included a commitment to uphold the Discipline I might feel otherwise. However, their decision not to charge or try those who defy the Discopline during this process has resulted in making us more divided and brining us closer than ever to schism. Conference after conference has declared their intention to defy the Discipline. It has also already forced many to leave our denomination, and pushed many into supporting schism for the first time. The bishops have made schism inevitable and soon.

    • Mike Childs – The bishops’ proposal DID say “We will continue to explore options to help the church live in grace with one another – including ways to avoid further complaints, trials and harm while we uphold the Discipline.” Note that last phase: “while we uphold the Discipline.” As a body, the Council of Bishops did NOT make a “decision not to charge or try those who defy the Discipline during this process.” Some defiant Conferences do not have the patience (nor the faith in the Holy Spirit’s ability to show us what is right) to wait. The Bishops’ decision was the right one. Those of little faith are the ones causing the continuing turmoil.

  • I agree with the sentiment of the author and wish this pause would bring different results than a division. However, after decades of wrestling with this issue I believe the only people who have not formed an opinion on one or the other side are those who have failed to personally study it for whatever reason. It seems to me the differences expressed by good people on both sides are based on their very different interpretations of scripture and aren’t differences like that the basis for separation of Christians into separate denominations?

  • Your editorial is written, I am certain, with care and concern. I am also certain that the clergy that asked MLK Jr. to slow down were also acting with care and concern for the nation and the church. But MLK’s response in his Letter from Birmingham Jail put this thinking into perspective. He wrote that such thinking was based upon a “tragic misconception of time” that something in the very flow of time will “cure all ills”. He goes onto to say that “Human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes from the tireless efforts of men (and women) willing to be co-workers with God.” He concludes by saying the “time is always ripe to do right.”

    With care and concern for those in the middle, I believe the injustice to which our denomination clings, requires no further study. If it leads to a disruption of unity, then so be it. The civil rights enjoyed in the church and our nation that emerged from King’s movement did not come about by attempting to appease the “middle.” It came because those denied equality based upon their race stood up and asserted that “justice delayed is justice denied.”

    We cannot continue to condone the insidious judgment that people in the LGBT are unworthy of full inclusion into the life of the church. For those who think this injustice should continue for Biblical reasons, I suggest they read carefully Jesus’ words against judgment and for an non/discriminating love.

  • Amen to the cause for pause! I’m not convinced yet that this whole issue has been bathed in prayer enough for a vote.
    May God’s eternal Spirit direct our denomination to the place where he honor God, AND honor each other – to the glory of God.

  • Pause? Who is taking a pause? Maybe the conservatives are waiting to see and pausing to give the Bishop’s proposal a chance. But for sure, the progressives in already 5 annual conferences with their Bishop’s approval have NOT PAUSED AT ALL.

    • I am glad to hear that progressives are not pausing. In fact, the last I heard, the New England Annual Conference is going against the BoD and granting full inclusion to our LBGTQAI sisters and brothers. This makes six Annual Conferences who realize that all God’s children who love God, and love their neighbors as themselves are worthy human beings and must be allowed to marry and if they have graduated from a three to four year seminary they are worthy of ordination.
      Kudos to the six Annual Conferences, and may there be many more in the near future.

  • For those who have faced discrimination and who will continue to face discrimination, it seems to me that 40+ years is already a long enough “pause” to wait.

    • My husband, a retired UMC minister and electrical engineer, and I, a retired RN, completely agree with you.

  • !st Romans is very clear, so why the debate ? Does man made rules out weigh God’s ? Pull your heads out of sand. Every district in the USA is reporting declines in membership. In the USA, the LG……… community makes up about 3 tenths of one % and even less in the UMC. A lot of noise does not make it right. We must love everyone, but not in leasership.

    • Do we keep divorced pastors out of the pulpit? According to Matthew 5:32 + 19:9 divorce is only acceptable in the eyes of God when marital in- faithfulness occurs. So how do we justify one and not the other. After all sin is sin, which is anything that separates us from God. It’s time we stop passing judgement and follow the loving footsteps of Jesus. The energy of the church would be better spent scoring and loving those in need.

    • AMEN BILL, we can love the person but not the sin.

  • 44 years is enough prayer, study, and discussion. The “balm of a little more time” is not calming anything, but is taken as an excuse for more lawlessness by some who turn their backs on promises made at their ordination. It’s time to make plans to part company, before we do even more damage.

    • I completely agree with you David. It’s time to split. There needs to be a petition from like minded conferences to the COB giving them the guidance they should be giving us!

  • This is not a “thing” to put on hold…… This is about people’s lives and discrimination against lives. Putting justice on hold is not acceptable however painful it is to move forward.

  • While the bishops have asked for a pause, some of the progressive conferences have gone full steam ahead and broken or propose break the Discipline by authorizing the ordination of same sex clergy and/or same sex marriage. The last count was about 7-8 annual conferences are going that route.

    Irrespective of what your viewpoint is on this matter, this type of proactive action is going to make a special commission relatively meaningless.

    • Hooray, seven or eight conferences are doing what Jesus would have them do. I was under the impression that it was only six conferences. Kudos to all of those seven or eight conferences. They are no longer feel that our LBGTQAI sisters and brothers are “sinful.” Their LBGTQAI sisters and brothers are just not like they are, if the Bishops of those conferences and the powers that be in those conferences happen to have been born heterosexual.
      One’s sexual orientation is not a choice, my friends, it is a matter of one’s genetic makeup. I am shorter, at 5 feet tall, than most of my colleagues. Does this make me a “sinner” because I am different?
      The UMC excoriates women who choose to terminate pregnancies if the fetus has Down Syndrome, or other abnormality. If the women do continue the pregnancies and deliver a Down Syndrome baby or a baby with some other anomaly, that child will be different, is he/she a “sinner?” You cannot have it both ways. You say God made all of us. God, then also, made those who are LBGTQAI
      Many “abominations,” listed in the Hebrew Scriptures, are ignored today. For example, wearing clothing of two or more fabrics, or threads, the consuming of shellfish or pork,and being disobedient to one’s parents. How many of us would still be alive if our parents did what the Bible said to do when we disobeyed our parents? The Bible says that they should have taken us to the “gates of the city so we could be stoned by the elders of that city.”
      Use common sense, Bruce, today we know that being homosexual is not a choice. Being homosexual is one of the many, many “abominations” of which we were warned. I am guessing that you are heterosexual, could you wake up some morning and “choose to be gay?” No? I did not think so.

  • It is amazing to me that we still want to study this issue some more. After years of bringing this up at General Conference, we still want to slow-walk this. Sounds a lot like what has been encountered in the church since the time of Peter.

    Jesus gave us two commandments: :Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’[a] 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[b] There is no commandment greater than these.”

    This is explicit. We need to align the Discipline with these commandments. As it stands, we find ourselves fighting against God.

    • Kudos to you, Paul. My husband and I concur.

  • Pause to see the forest…. We have been fixated by the trees….
    There is a bigger picture here that needs a new God-perspective. A pause is very appropriate.
    Our society has been going through tremendous and lightening fast change that has shattered the family and destroyed the middle class. The struggle with sexuality needs to be seen in the light of this massive dislocation of the roles of men and women that began with the widespread use of the birth control pill. We have quickly moved into a new, uncertain future and the past “status quo” of these roles is of little help to us.
    I believe, and all the research seems to back it up, that we are all “hard wired” for family: for love, affirmation, caring, healing, and to be surrounded by people we trust.
    But in our over-sexualized culture, we have narrowed that behavior to the physical and equated sex simplistically with love. But love comes in many levels: physical, family, deep friendship and Godly. This is the wisdom we have forgotten.
    So now we are in an identity crisis of major proportions. A pause to reflect, pray, listen and seek the deeper truth for the long run is not only necessary, but crucial for us to discover God’s path for all of us in this forest.
    (P.S. Hasn’t the church supported same sex families for centuries? – calling them Monasteries and Convents?)

  • We have studied long enough. I say time to vote, in fact past time. The longer we study the more divisive we become and hardened in our positions. I don’t think further study is going to reveal anything we don’t already know. Let Jesus lead us and vote to end all forms of racism, bigotry and hatred in our beloved church.

  • Amen to the cause for pause! I’m not convinced yet that this whole issue has been bathed in prayer enough for a vote.
    May God’s eternal Spirit direct our denomination to the place where he honor God, AND honor each other – to the glory of God.

    Wow – I am amazed that so many feel so justified that prayer is not needed. Enough said.

  • Sadly, the ’cause for pause’ feels much like just another punt by General Confernce to avoid being the one that has to do the hard work of making a decision.
    Those who complain about how these new statements from progressive conferences are ‘forcing’ pastors to leave are rather disingenuously ignoring the untold numbers of pastors and other persons who have been forced to leave and otherwise made unwelcome in the house of God over all these decades of waiting and praying and thinking and deciding.
    The truth is, over the life of the church we have made mistakes. Mistakes about slavery, about women’s inclusion, about African American members. And when we knew better, we did better. Those who want to say that this issue is different, are saying so with wishful thinking. It is not different. It is an issue of knowing better, and it is time to do better.
    The entire nation has made it to this leap ahead of us. We have no more excuses. We can clutch our pearls and a few proof texted verses of Leviticus and Paul, but we know better. And it is time to do better.
    We let go of our issues with women and Afican Americans and divorce and even alcohol and gambling in many places, so there is no more excuse for trying to hold this up as some more holy issue. It’s not about holiness. It’s about discrimination. And we all know it’s wrong.
    You are worried about the church dying. Well as the mother of young adults who grew up in the church, I will happily tell you that one of the main reasons they believe in God and Jesus but not in the UMC is because we still are standard bearers for discrimination against LGBTQ persons.
    And let’s be honest – this is not about the ‘ever present middle’. The middle will be around no matter what. This is about trying to hold both ends together and keep them from tearing apart almost half a century worth of work building infrastructure on large and small scales, amassing assets and creating ministries, boards and agencies in partnerships all over the world.

  • Gods words trump the proposed changes. To whom and when did God give the Bishops the authority to override the Bible.
    I note some of the comments are selective in picking out words that match their thinking. Try reading the chapters specifically
    addressing this issue. Wrong is wrong. No one has the authority to override the words in the Bible.

    If the Bishop go along with the minority I trust our church and many more will elect to remove themselves from the UMC.

    Since no action is forthcoming on the 100 plus gays that came out during the 2016 conference and nothing is proposed to
    address the New England Districts total disregard of the UMC rules it is doubtful that the Bishops will take a stand and support
    the words of the Bible.

  • I do not remember the Bishops asking for another study of this issue. I thought they were asking for all the references in the discipline to be researched and recommendations brought to possibly a special general conference to act on their recommendations. Let us not assume they will bring forth anything until the research and recommendations have been made. Do we trust them to be guided by the Holy Spirit or not.

  • This is really discouraging. I have five generations of Methodist ministers in my family. However, the Bible is VERY clear on this issue. We all sin, and for a group to make sinful behavior their identity is wrong. The Bible is incredibly clear about LGBT and other types of “pornea”. That includes all sexual sin. We should never justify any sin and legitimize a group of people who use their sin as their identity. What if someone said, “I like to steal. That is just who I am! I am a thief, and you had better accept that, or you are a bigot!” Please don’t tell me LGBT is different. No one CHOOSES what tempts him/her. However, you DO choose your behavior. In short, the Methodist Church does not go by the Bible. If they did, this issue would not even be a vote. This is ridiculous.

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