By Mark Johnson
Sharp Street Memorial UMC
I am the grandson and son of strong Methodist women. As a believer in God and justice for all, I never experienced a “fear” such as I did until I observed the results of the special General Conference held in Saint Louis in 2019. I sat in the bleachers in that arena surrounded by comfort foods. The experience was informative and I strived to observe the proceedings with an open mind, open heart and open arms. I went to the General Conference one way, and left another way, unprepared for the feelings I would experience.
Often, I consider myself as a centrist, partly progressive in my spirit with a passion for social justice and equality, while remaining traditionalist in my biblical view and interpretation of Scripture. In my morning meditation practices, I declare, “I am a child of the living God.” I am somebody who loves everybody and wants to worship and serve a living God that is relevant among the oppressed; the marginalized and the downtrodden.
When I decided to go to special General Conference this year, I expected The United Methodist Church to embrace a stance that would be more “progressive” in nature. But I watched each day as plans were wrestled to the floor and defeated. At times, I had thoughts of hope, a hope rooted in the expectation of change. As the Traditional Plan was adopted by the Special Session, I wondered, what would be the outcome. Would the LGBTQ+ community be targeted and ousted from the UMC? What other groups would be next? As I left the Special Conference, on the flight home, all I could do is cry; once again I felt alone and very isolated in my thoughts and feelings.
Today, after much prayer, fasting and action to help those that are homeless, hungry, and hurting, I am slowly healing from the hurt and pain. As a licensed professional counselor, I sought to immerse myself in my secular assignment while continuing to be United Methodist on Sundays. My soul does still cry out and for healing and reconciliation, but I am better now. I realize that I can be both a Christian and a Methodist and, more importantly, a child of the living God. The biblical mandate discovered in 1 John 4: 7-8 is my foundational Scripture in which I am reminded to love within and beyond myself.
So, I fear not … and I strive to love more. With an open mind, an open heart, and hopefully wider arms I intentionally reach out toward others who make me uncomfortable. I’m wondering if you’ll join me.