Staff Letter RE: General Conference 2019

March 2019

Letter to the Beloved People of Emmanuel,

The United Methodist Church at the Special Session of the General Conference in St. Louis betrayed its most essential and enduring standard for Christian faith and practice: “do no harm.” The events and outcomes of GC2019 have done irreparable harm to the LGBTQ+ family, as well as to the majority of United Methodists who live in the U.S. and represent a more centrist and generous orthodoxy. 

Delegates to General Conference voted to retain and reinforce policies prohibiting LGBTQ+ clergy and same-gender weddings. These policies, and the new consequences for violating them, are barbaric, shameful, and intolerable. While 66% of the delegates from North America did not support this plan, the majority of delegates from around the globe overwhelmingly did. 

Because the UMC is no longer a denomination for all people, Emmanuel UMC is now a congregation without a home. Emmanuel UMC has been fiercely committed to being a home for all people and that commitment is unwavering.

The staff and leadership of Emmanuel UMC are angry and grieving.  Our hearts are especially with our LGBTQ+ members and families.  We want you to know that if you need to talk or process what you are feeling, we are available to you. We are deeply sorry that the church has only added to the already heavy burdens carried by the LGBTQ+ family. 

First, we all must practice tenderness and deep listening to the pain of LGBTQ+ people and reinforce to everyone that Emmanuel is a safe community that categorically rejects the policies of our denomination.

Second, Emmanuel will continue to practice Biblical disobedience in the face of unnecessarily cruel and unjust policies. We will refuse to follow all rules or restrictions in our Book of Discipline that harm LGBTQ+ people.  We will follow the Holy Spirit, serve in a spirit of boundless love, and act out of Christian conscience rather than fear and conformity. We will support and honor the marriage of couples licensed to be married in the state of Maryland equally, regardless of gender; approve the use of our church building equally for all marriage ceremonies, including same-sex marriages; and affirm our full support to our pastor if he or she chooses to celebrate a same-sex marriage in our building.

Third, the temptation in moments like these is to act reflexively. It is understandable and healthy to be angry and want to do something. Your best move right now, as a member or constituent of Emmanuel, is to show up, invest in, and recommit to this incredible and rare community of faith. This is not the time to withhold your giving in protest, or to sit on the sidelines in defeat. We need each other now more than ever. We refuse to let this hatred win. We are not waiting on anyone else to tell us how to move forward. We are claiming our own agency. We are not waiting on the Judicial Council, our Bishops, or the next General Conference in 2020.

Fourth, Emmanuel is part of a community of Reconciling congregations and the leadership of Emmanuel is working with the Reconciling church community and other allies in the conversation about what is next for those United Methodists now exiled by the decisions of General Conference. We will not accept the status quo. We will consider every option before us, including an exit from the denomination. These conversations will begin soon, but will likely last for many months. Your patience and grace, along with your input, will prove necessary and invaluable.   

Finally, much of what was approved by General Conference on February 26th will face rigorous legal challenges within the denomination in the coming weeks. In April, the Judicial Council (our denomination’s Supreme Court) will rule on the constitutionality of the petitions passed in St. Louis. It is already clear that many items are unconstitutional, but it will take months for the dust to settle. It is possible that, at the end of the day, many of the items pertaining to greater enforcement of policies will not become church law. Nevertheless, it is clear that the future of the denomination is in peril, that unity is now beyond reach.

We are all proud to be staff at Emmanuel and grateful for the opportunity to lead you through this next season of our life together. All is not lost. In the stump is a holy seed. Let us see the good thing that God is about to do among us.

Grace, peace, and love,

Emmanuel Church Staff