At the Southwest Texas Annual Conference this year I was appalled at the United Methodist Men (UMM). The mission of the UMM is “Helping men grow in Christ, so others may know Christ” – somehow a few of them thought the best way to do this was to wear hand stitched “stoles” with the words “Not Adam and Steve” over an image of two men holding hands crossed out. I live in Texas, I’m used to hate speech, I hear hateful and ignorant all the times, even in Austin. Yet I took particular offense at this because the stole is representative of the life and ministry of my Lord Jesus Christ and it was desecrated with hateful ideology. As I watched the man wearing this “stole” move to his reserved seat on the front row of the delegation I wondered why my bishop looked at it and did nothing, why none of the district superintendants said nothing, why the ordained elders and deacons called to serve all of God’s children did not feel called by the Spirit to rebuke this act of bigotry being so brashly displayed in the communion of the saints. I guess the Spirit only moves our clergy when it is convenient to them, but I digress.
I understand that there are a host of opinions on how LGBT people are to be treated in the church, some more reasonable than others, and I respect that. What I have no respect for is people turning their ideology into weapons. I have many friends with whom I disagree on this area of church life, one of whom is on the steering committee of the Methodist Renewal Movement (MRM), I’ll call him Reverend X. The MRM is committed to keeping the Book of Discipline’s statements on “homosexuality” the same and continuing the practice of keeping LGB candidates for ordination who are in same-sex relationships from serving openly in our annual conference. Their latest victory came at the expense of my other friend Mary Ann Barclay. While I knew Reverend X’s motives and his motivations, I did not realize his methods would be so harmful. I saw him talking to this man with the desecrated stole on, I thought surely he would reprimand him and ask him to take it off, instead I saw them laughing and joking as if hate speech were a joke. I suppose I am most frustrated because as a Black person I know if this were 50 years ago when interracial marriage was still a hot topic and a similar stole were being worn that said “No Adam and Maya Angelou” and bore an image of a woman with an afro and a White man were crossed out this UMM member would have been asked to leave or at the very least to remove said stole. Yet, the same form of hateful imagery is allowed because it is about “the gays”. I thought so much better of Reverend X because he greeted me with a hug and kind words despite our differences, I at least thought that for PR reasons he would do some “image consulting” to this member of the United Methodist Men; but no such action was taken. This awful “stole” was worn all weekend; the SWTX Conference did not take seriously the baptismal vow to “resist evil in whatever form it takes”.
All of this took place while the SWTX Conference was meeting jointly with the Rio Grande Conference before we are both dissolved and reformed into one “bold, new conference”. How embarrassing that this stole was one of the first things to greet our brothers and sisters in Christ. This stole is not the garment of one willing to make anything bold or new that is of Jesus Christ. I pray that actions and the in-actions of the people of our conference this year are also dissolved with our Annual Conference and that the bold new conference, Rio Texas, is so bold it has room for all people, even faithful Christians in disagreement.
At the ordination service on Saturday I watched as the bishop told every candidate for the order of Elder: “An elder is called to share in the ministry of Christ and the whole Church…to seek justice, peace, and freedom for all people; and to take a responsible place in the governance of the Church…” At annual conference the Order of Elders (which includes but is not limited to the bishop and district superintendents) failed to uphold this commitment. They failed to seek justice for all people, and they failed to govern the Church. I can only pray that a spirit of repentance falls over the elders of Southwest Texas, and that the bold new conference, Rio Texas is a place where love can dwell where all can safely live, a place where saints and children tell how hearts learn to forgive, where the love of Christ shall end divisions. A place where all are welcome.