News and Views

In Liminal Time, UMs Called to Actively Wait

Posted by Bishop LaTrelle Miller Easterling on

 Beloved of God,

The Special Session of General Conference (SSGC) has concluded. The Dome in St. Louis turned the page almost before we vacated the premises. Tons of dirt were hauled in to fill the arena floor and welcome those ready to experience a monster truck event. It will take much longer for the members of The United Methodist Church to turn the page on what transpired there.

On Saturday, March 2, we offered a live stream session to share information regarding the legislation passed during the SSGC. You may view the entire three-hour broadcast at I join a cacophony of voices who understand that we will be processing, healing from and unpacking this SSGC for quite a while.

As you know, I am an ardent supporter of the One Church Plan and believe it offers the contextual freedom and space for all persons to live according to their theological and scriptural interpretations. I remain perplexed as to why some completely dismiss the possibility of being in relationship with persons with whom they disagree. I am well aware of the oft-articulated scriptural arguments, so we need not rehearse them again. Respected scholars arrive at differing conclusions concerning those passages.

Furthermore, I believe we have been living The One Church model for some time. We simply won’t confess it to the world.

As we sit in the liminal space of awaiting the Judicial Council rulings on the constitutionality of the petitions, and their corresponding implementation on January 1, 2020, perhaps the most important task before us is understanding what the Traditional Plan does not mean for our denomination.

First, the Traditional Plan’s passage does not mean that gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, queer, intersex and asexual people are not to be welcomed in our churches. Although Para. 161 of our Social Principles does contain the language concerning incompatibility, it also “implores families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends.”

Further, it also articulates our commitment to be in ministry for and with all persons. Youth should be welcomed into confirmation classes and those qualifying for leadership positions should be welcomed to serve. There is nothing that precludes these actions. If that statement concerns or disturbs you, I invite you to consider why.

Further, there should be clarification that one’s identity as gay or lesbian does not automatically preclude them from being in ministry. Our disciplinary language forbids practicing homosexuals from ordination and appointment. Simply identifying as gay or lesbian does not meet the disciplinary threshold. There are persons, both hetero and homosexual, who are committed to celibacy. If one who identifies as same-gender loving has committed to a life of celibacy, they have every right and privilege available to all other clergy in our denomination.

Finally, there is nothing in the Traditional Plan or our current Book of Discipline that precludes forming meaningful relationships with persons unlike ourselves. In our current political and theological climates it is becoming more and more common that we live within an echo chamber of persons who share our worldview. As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie explained in her TedTalk, basing our understanding of anything on a single story is dangerous.

It is quite easy to “other” those we don’t know, have no relationship with or hold in disdain. It is far more difficult to “other” persons with whom we converse, break bread and work alongside.

I pray we begin to form relationships with persons outside of our echo chambers. I pray we fellowship, study and engage in mission and ministry with persons from all walks of life.

As we wait, we do not wait as those without purpose. We wait as those who have been called, baptized and ordained to serve the present age.

It is not lost on me that our waiting occurs during the season of Lent, a journey that ushers us into a 40-day period of intentional fasting, prayer, study, meditation and service. As Jesus emerged from his 40 days and nights of testing, in the power of the Holy Spirit, he read the following:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,

   because he has anointed me

to preach good news to the poor.

   He has sent me to proclaim

       freedom for the prisoners

  And recovery of sight for the blind,

to release the oppressed,

  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. (Luke 4:18-19)

 May we sit with these words and seek God’s face in understanding exactly in what forms evil, injustice and oppression present themselves to us today.

 Blessings and peace,

Bishop LaTrelle Easterling

Kevin Baker Mar 7, 2019 2:43pm

Thank you for this word Bishop. It is the "we have been living The One Church model for some time" reality that has contributed to our current place of pain I am afraid. When we live out a plan that breaks our covenant even after years of "holy conferencing" it places us in schism. So while I disagree with your comments in that regard, I WHOLEHEARTEDLY agree and appreciate your thoughts on what the Traditional Plan DOES NOT mean. Everyone I know welcomes our LGBT brothers and sisters into their churches and circles and believe that each of them is of sacred worth. I pray that we can create a new narrative that disagreement with practice does not equal a lack of love for persons. We can indeed be in the same church together and learn to love one another when practice and person-hood are rightfully separated. I have 5 wonderful children that I have always loved and will always love, but I have not always approved of their practices. Bless you Bishop as you lead during these trying times.

Sarah Yates Mar 7, 2019 10:24pm

Thank you Bishop. I also did not understand some are choosing not to be in relationship with whom they disagree. As LGBT person, I extended that olive branch by supporting the One Church Plan. It broke my heart that it didn’t.

Kenn Bing Mar 8, 2019 1:18am

Thank you Bishop Easterling. Your words are for all to hear and heedand you acknowledge those who are hurt and need healing. I sat and listened on Saturday at a neighboring UMC church, to your words and wisdom as you help us to navigate and understand this vote with His Love. But, I struggle with SSGC2019 narrow passing of the traditional plan. I know it’s because I struggled in our home church we’ve attended since moving to Maryland in 2006. We have experienced its move in a similar direction as the traditional plan over the past few years, we find our family is no longer safe or welcome for our family to worship and serve. But you must know It was a UMC in another state/conference, that demonstrated by there Love and acceptance of our family to know God and how we serve Him through his Love. This solidified our commitment of being a United Methodists, so much so we have willingly served with music, mission, leadership, unconditional Love, knowing all the while we have our imperfections and needing Gods Love and His followers involved in serving the local church and abroad. We baptized and confirmed our child as a United Methodists and yet our child turned to us and asks us why are we here, when they treat us in such a different and distant way? We have been lost and wandering for a church home now for several months and wonder about whether God is calling us away from UMC all together. But yet, I witness so many other UMC churches here, that have stood with a message of inclusion, acknowledgment and Witness of how this has hurt our family and other LGBTQI persons. But not a word from our Home UMC church. This silence is very telling and I will pray and ask God to lead us to where the Holy Spirit can lead our spiritual journey. I just wish all of the BWC would speak there Love through courage and to speak respectful truth of where the leadership and pastoral leadership is in each of the congregations. We, as LGBTQI, should not have to guess where our Pastor or church leadership stands on this very conviction. Can the Body of UMC live without LGBTQI persons? Yes, but not without pain and scars that may not heal for our beloved UMC. With my heart broken and my family searching, we see your leadership, Bishop, as light on the shore, giving guidance in a heavy fog and some very cold water. Thank you! Submitted with Peace, Love and searching my soul to be in a mind of forgiveness.

Erna Benjamin Mar 8, 2019 8:57am

Thank you Bishop Easterling for your comments and explanation of what the Traditional Plan DOES NOT mean, that the UMC welcomes all into their churches, no one is turned away. I pray this clarity allows consideration to those who struggle with scripture and today's evolving norm.

Rachel Cornwell Mar 8, 2019 12:39pm

You cannot say you love someone, and yet deny their full humanity—which includes our sexuality and gender identity.
You cannot say “LGBTQIA people are welcome in our churches” but deny them full participation in the church’s ministry. Or only allow them full participation if they deny part of who they are and how God made them.
This same type of discrimination been used by the church against many other groups of people in the past and has caused deep hurt and harm. We have and continue to violate Wesley’s primary General Rule to “do no harm.”
When will we learn?

Jen Kidwell Mar 8, 2019 4:35pm

Bishop, I do not write to change your mind. You preach and pray and sometimes speak in a way that makes me believe that in private, we agree that all marriages are equal, that God's call can be for anyone, and that the Book of Discipline does not speak for you when it comes to interpreting scriptures on human sexuality. I write to tell you that this leadership is cowardly. My youth who heard you preach at ROCK 2018 have been surprised and hurt by the choices you have made in leadership in recent weeks. You had won them over. You had preached inclusion. You had told them you loved all of who they are and they believed you. They don't believe you anymore. They know that actions speak louder than words. They have studied history. They know that claiming to be "bishop for all" in a space where some are marginalized is an endorsement of that marginalization. Tepid leadership like this is EXACTLY the reason why I have not pursued ordination in the UMC. I'm particularly grateful for this choice now, since I, as a lay person, can choose to look to the leadership of many of the bishops of other conferences (including North Georgia, of all places) and not be as bothered your misaligned words and actions any longer.

Jane Malone Mar 8, 2019 10:43pm

Beloved Bishop Easterling,
I appreciate your transparency. Although I no longer belong to a congregation in your episcopal area, churches and people I love are under your jurisdiction. I take seriously your claim to be bishop of all of the people - but see little evidence of your embrace. Faithful United Methodists whom you serve are hurting – not only those further targeted for exclusion by the Traditional Plan but many others who belong to the Body of Christ residing within Maryland, DC, and West Virginia. How could you not acknowledge and express regret for their pain?
Specifically, I am appalled that you would in your statement evoke the dog whistle of homophobic meanness: rejecting candidates “practicing” same gender love while arbitrarily accepting those celibate in same gender love. The original UMC approach to LGBTQIA relationships in 1972 called for celibacy in singleness and fidelity in marriage. Among the twisted theories underlying this policy was LGBTQIA partners would not marry. Now it’s 2019 and LGBTQIA marriage is legal in the US.
I recall with pain welfare workers’ search of the female-headed home for men’s shoes or other evidence of another parent. This mean-spirited policy suppressed two-parent family structure and marginalized too many fathers. What a failure of public policy.
Disrespect of persons in same-gender relationships, including refusal to ordain qualified candidates because of who they love and to whom they are married, echoes the ugly and oppressive history of US welfare policy.
It’s long past time for the church to honor all relationships and families in whatever form they take.
How will you lead? Hiding behind other grudges, or embracing the entire Body of Christ?

Bert Keidel Mar 11, 2019 10:53pm

I am a 73-year-old heterosexual lay Methodist, a regular church-goer and a former Sunday School teacher. These days, I strive to “put on the mind of Jesus” in my everyday life. It saddens me deeply to discover that this letter, Bishop Easterling, sounds like that of an apologist for the Traditional Plan. Can’t you see that It is disingenuous to claim that the Methodists Church “welcomes” someone, when in the same breath you acknowledge that how God made that person is incompatible with how the Methodist Church now requires that we worship God? Can’t you see the deceit in this letter? Does your letter think it can get away with the deception of saying that the Traditional Plan doesn’t block gay and lesbian candidates for ministry because they have the option of being “non-practicing”? That’s the same perfidious trickery that has in the past given us Jim Crow options: “The Law doesn’t say you can’t vote, you just have to pass this literacy test.” Before whom is this letter cowering? It reads like a letter from someone fearful of even the sliver of dissatisfaction that certain groups might levy against her over any hint she might disrespect the General Conference outcome. This is not a letter from someone willing to sacrifice high position, income and pension to back up what she claims in the letter is her professed Christian conviction that the church should enable “all persons to live according to their theological and scriptural interpretations.” Does that phrase only refer to supporters of the Traditional Plan? They are their own prisoners. Why doesn’t this letter “proclaim freedom for the prisoners,” prisoners whom this outcome condemns? Where in this letter is any statement bemoaning the pain that so many God-loving Jesus-loving Methodists must now suffer because of this outcome? Please replace this letter with a different letter. Either find the spiritual courage to step up to God’s task of the times, or step down!