So here are my thoughts:
- Why does it make ANY difference how many people attend any of the mentioned pastors' churches? They make it seem like if you pastor a church with more people in the pews each week, that inherently means you're doing something right - more in line with "God's will" perhaps. This is an ongoing issue in the UMC (and other mainline denoms) and one which I find disturbing... Jesus was NOT about preserving the status quo or filling the pews!
- We've known for a long time that the issue of gay marriage in the church (we're not talking about civil marriage) is one with many voices on all sides. We've also known for a long time that while we all believe in the Bible, how to read and follow it has always been up for debate. Until we can learn how to tolerate each other, no matter what the issue, we come out looking like hypocrites. There are so many layers of complexity here, anyone suggesting there is a simple way to handle it is foolish. Punishing everyone doesn't spread love (or give the UMC good press which can't help anyone's attendance numbers), and it doesn't appear that the UMC at large is going to change policy anytime soon. Is there anyone who can have a civil conversation and find alternatives?
- Perhaps the church does need to split so that each camp can believe and practice in the way they see as most true. That would certainly NOT be easy; I don't think anyone wants to see that happen - and not just because of the financial fall out (which would certainly be bad). We have to find another way, and though it's hokey to say, if we're Christians, I think we have to ask what would Jesus do. We have to ask these questions as individuals and as a community. We struggle as people are trying to do this the best way they can see - some by taking a stand against policies they see as unjust, and others by trying to hold them accountable.
- As someone who has a clear personal stake in this issue, I hope that changes are made, but I also hope that they are done prayerfully, with a spirit of love and putting others first. The question of how to be tolerant of those who are intolerant of you is one that I will struggle with for always. I'm proud to say that I go to church that chose to respond to a picket by the Fred Phelps clan by bringing them water to drink, but what is the appropriate response to those who want to punish the people that are standing up for what it just?
- I question the role of accountability when it's used as a way to keep people in line. As the church, we should not be instilling fear and punishment shouldn't be our modus operandi. But then I consider what John Wesley did in his meetings, making sure that people were on the path to being better Christians. How did he know which things to press people on and which things to overlook? And Jesus certainly held people accountable too. Yet he seemed to do it in a way that challenged everything - the adulterous woman didnt' get stoned, but Jesus didn't just let it slide either. I believe that those who are calling for the church laws to be upheld are doing so (mostly) to keep the church on the "right" path - they fear that we are losing our way. While I disagree with them, how can I begrudge them that? And where is there room for a middle ground between these two? Should there be middle ground?
- I feel bad for the Council of Bishops. I don't know how they can best respond to this issue. There are bishops on both sides of this issue, and they do have a role to uphold the laws of the church, but they also have an obligation to call the church to justice. It seems to me they are damned if they do and damned if they don't on this one. I hope the Holy Spirit will be with them as they work it out together, and I'll be watching to see what they say. A lot of people - in and out of the UMC - will be watching.