Commentary: Pastor urges GC2019 delegates to 'be open'

It is a great honor to be a delegate or bishop or other representative to the special General Conference in February, and I want these representatives to know that the prayers of many people, United Methodists and others, are with you. May God’s wisdom guide you as you seek a way forward through this quagmire that threatens our denominational unity.  

The Rev. Sean C. Turner. Photo courtesy North Carolina Annual Conference.
The Rev. Sean C. Turner.
Photo courtesy North Carolina Annual Conference.

As delegates prepare for February, please consider this unsolicited plea from one who was not selected to be in a position to cast a vote. My word of the day is "please," with all the emotion I can muster in that word.

Here are my requests for delegates:

• Please consider all things prayerfully. As John Wesley suggested in other instructions, please do this more than once.

• Please laugh each day of the conference. Rejoice in God’s joy.

• Please be well rested before you go. It will be a marathon, but it will also be over before you know it.

• Please go with an open mind. Even if you feel your mind is already made up, be open to the movement of the Spirit who has a habit of moving in surprising ways. If this was such a cut-and-dried matter, we would not still be debating it after all these centuries. To attend with a closed mind will do harm to The United Methodist Church. And doing harm is hardly in the Methodist spirit.

• Please allow the mind of Christ to be with you and the peace of Christ to surround you. Remember the spirit of holy conferencing. We have been witness to too many “debates” on this that have been nothing more than diatribes. There has been too much shouting that merely goes past each other. If no one is listening, we will get nowhere.

• Please know that God will not be divided, and the work of the Kingdom will go on.

• Please prayerfully consider that our understanding (or lack thereof) of homosexuality has brought us to the brink of rupture, as it has already done to other denominations. Does the Gospel story, indeed the entire panorama from Genesis to Revelation, only allow grace in certain situations?

• If all you can do is quote Scripture, please do not attend. Allow another to go in your place. It is never enough to know a verse by heart. As our baptismal rite from the Evangelical United Brethren tradition asks in that wonderful way, will you live a life that becomes the gospel? Is Scripture written in your heart or only on tablets of stone?

• Please allow the Spirit to move and live and breathe among you. All of you. (Double meaning intended!)

• Please do not allow us to become the dead sect Mr. Wesley feared.

• Please prayerfully read each of the proposed ways forward.

• Please do not be defined by what you are against. God is for all of this very good creation.

• With tongue somewhat — but only somewhat — in cheek, please do not be so heavenly minded that you are of no earthly use.  

What you are doing is important. Do not think otherwise. I have been a Methodist since birth, a United Methodist since the age of 2 (that would have been 1968), a pastor now in my 24th year, a British Methodist for 14 years while serving in England and Scotland, and now a United Methodist again. Whatever label I wore, I have always tried to be aware of God’s love, grace, humor, joy and mystery. I have seen much anger over this, and no emotion at all over the family down the road with no food, power or water.  

I am not at all suggesting that our debate on homosexuality is unimportant. What I am suggesting is that too much of our work to this point has been sinful. Christ’s last command was that we love one another. We can do that and be passionate. We can do that and vehemently disagree. Just read The Acts of the Apostles!

So, please let us see some anger that is indeed righteous and that is filled with a longing that justice will indeed roll down like waters. Oh, that God would indeed rip open the heavens and come down! But until then, General Conference is the best we’ve got. So, one last time, I urge delegates, please be clothed in the mind of Christ and may this be a holy conference.  

The Rev. Sean C. Turner is the pastor of Hill’s Chapel United Methodist Church outside of Charlotte, North Carolina. The church is in the Western North Carolina Conference.

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