Last week was the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference, and it was a saddening and discouraging conference in many ways. Although Annual Conference is supposed to be about "holy conferencing" or the open, respectful, prayerful dialogue that happens by the power of the Spirit, there was a lot of politics, distrust, fear, and division.
One of the most disappointing things to me was that a petition to remove the language from our Book of Discipline that says "we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and believe that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teachings" was defeated. I believe that this language needs to be removed because I do not believe that homosexuality, in and of itself is "incompatible" with Christianity. There are all kinds of sexual immorality (try adultery, promiscuous sexual behavior outside of marriage, child abuse), and there are also plenty of sexually ethical and moral gay people in loving, healthy, committed, monogamous relationships. There are scriptures that refer to homosexual sex as "an abomination" to God, but there are also scriptures that say that women should be silent in church, that condones slavery, that we should not eat shellfish because it is an "abomination," but somehow we have found ways to exegete and interpret these verses. It's only the scriptures that refer to homosexuality that we continue to read literally.
But perhaps even more disheartening to me than the failure of our conference to pass this petition, was the total lack of conversation around the issue. Both sides continue to talk past each other--not responding to the other's concerns, not really hearing what the other has to say.
There were also a lot of politics--and I guess I should have expected that, since it's the year before our General Conference and we were electing delegates to represent us there, and this is Washington, after all. But it wasn't politics in the good sense, it was nasty, distrustful, are-you-with-us-or-against-us kind of stuff. Yuck.
There were good things about Conference--it wasn't all bad. There was a really challenging and inspiring Bible study presented by the pastor and some members of the Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community in Pittsburgh who challenged us to rethink the mission and purpose of the church. And the music was AWESOME. Mark A. Miller and his band "Subject to Change" gave us the most uplifting, fun music we have had in years.
In fact, the last song we sang at conference, during the ordination service was one that went something like this: I need you, you need me, we are a part of God's body. Stand with me, agree with me, you are a part of me, I need you to survive.
And I burst into tears at that point, wondering how we could sing this after all that had happened and the ugliness and division that was so rampant in the church right now. My friend Ginger put her arm around me and said, "We keep singing it until we can live it."
Yes, we will. We must. Just keep singing.