I have two dogs, one weighs about 10 pounds, the other about 80. My affectionate nicknames for them are “Little Dog” and “Big Dog” because I am nothing if not creative. When I feed them, I put their food bowls as far apart as possible, because Little Dog thinks all the food is his, and doesn’t want to share with Big Dog. She calmly ignores him as he snarls at her, or she surrenders the bowl from which she is eating, and goes to the other bowl to continue, which starts the process all over again. Sometimes I intervene and try to make him leave her alone, but it is the most exercise they get all day. The rest of the time they are buddies, they even cuddle together while they nap the day away.
Yesterday, I watched what felt like the death of the church I love. Well, I watched until I wept, and then I looked away (more about that later). This morning as Little Dog tried to claim all the morning food, I was reminded of what looked rather like a dog-fight in the closing hours of the General Conference. I know it is not a perfect analogy, but there were some on both sides, who, like Little Dog, didn’t seem to believe there was a place for the Other. And the extremes seemed to do a lot of “Othering.”
Here’s the thing. It felt like the death of the church not just because I don’t agree with the decisions made, but because of the way I saw people treating one another. Little Dog has more in common with us than I like to admit. So when I began to weep, I looked away.
Last night at Disciple Bible Study, while finishing up the Gospel according to Luke, I focused on the Resurrection story, but this morning I went back to re-read the part about the Cross. “And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.” (Luke 23:48-49). I may have always read that wrong, I make a lot of mistakes, but I’ve always seen that “…at a distance” part as meaning the closest followers of Jesus watched the crucifixion from a distance, maybe even a “safe” distance. And if yesterday we did indeed crucify those on the margins, those who have been displaced from their families, friends, society, and now the church, I’ve got wonder if watching from a safe distance, and looking away when it got painful for me, is really the best place to stand.
And here’s the real clincher, this morning Big Dog seems better at following the example of our Lord than I am. When confronted, she doesn’t engage in the conflict. She lets Little Dog snarl his little heart out, and often, lets him have his way. But with one flick of her tail, she could sweep him away; with one of her paws, she could send him tumbling; she could easily fit half of him in her mouth and end his incessant barking and howling. But she doesn’t. She puts aside her self-interest for him.
And as the old Gospel song says, “He could have called ten-thousand angels…” but Christ didn’t. “He died alone for you and me.”
I have recently claimed what turns out to be a mashup of two churches’ mission statements as my own, “Loving all people into a living relationship with Jesus Christ.” And it’s a catchy phrase, but as I Re-Think Church this morning, I realize I can’t do that from a safe distance.
A friend has been part of a ministry that helps people escape the sex trade in a major metropolitan area (Wow, I really cleaned that up. What I mean is, she helps prostitutes escape from slavery). It’s messy work. She befriends people many of us would cross the street to avoid and she loves them unconditionally. She doesn’t judge them. She sees them as beloved children of God, helps them with basic needs, provides health care, and sometimes, gives them a safe place to stay if and when they are ready to begin a new life. That is “loving people into a living relationship with Jesus Christ.” She receives death threats from those who make their money selling the bodies of the marginalized, but she marches right up to that cross time after time and continues her mission of loving people. And a surprising number of those people she loves left home, or were kicked out, because they are LGBTQ+ persons. Their community, their family, their church told them they were not worth loving, and with no where else to turn, ended up enslaved and again vilified.
So when someone asks me, “Who won at general conference?” My answer has to be, “NO ONE.” We doubled down on discrimination and exclusion, and like Little Dog, can’t conceive that there is enough for all. I don’t know what will happen in the church over the coming months, other than that I will log off of twitter until May of 2020 for the next go-around. The plan which passed has been referred to the Judicial Council, the Supreme Court of the United Methodist Church, who have already declared much of the plan incompatible with the Church Constitution. But today, I want to love ALL people into a living relationship with Jesus Christ. And if they don’t love me back, well, at least I’ll be a few steps closer to the Cross.