A Special Session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church took place February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri. The purpose was to act on a report from the Commission on a Way Forward, authorized to examine paragraphs in The Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and to explore options to strengthen church unity. Our own Pastor Dan Martin has written a response to this decision seen below. You may also read a reflection about next steps written by Joe Iovino.
Dear West Market Street United Methodist Church Family,
The cat is out of the bag, so to speak. I have always known that when I speak, I speak with words that are interpreted as being the words of West Market Street United Methodist Church. I have openly shared my beliefs and opinions in private conversations but have not used the pulpit or my position to take stands without understanding that I speak for every member of this church. I have been measured in my responses and words. The words that follow are not words for the casual Christian. If the radical grace of Jesus Christ is not in your heart then skip to the last paragraph now and do not read what is in the middle. I will always be your pastor and will judge you only with the merciful heart of your pastor and will walk with you all the way to hell because I love you. I am honored to be your pastor.
The last four days have been excruciating days and nights for the United Methodist Church. In the late 1960s and early 70s several denominations came together to unite into the United Methodist Church. The object of that time was to unite. For the past few years there have been movements in the United Methodist Church to produce a division. Now the division is in place and there are many decisions to be made over the next months and years as to who we will be as a church. It appears we have been given this opportunity to be who we believe God needs us to be as opposed to being who others have decided for us. For years we have tolerated open attacks on God’s children from within the church and now the self-justified police have become known as to the nature of their true hearts.
Today, as the dust settles we begin to look around the remains of the United Methodist Church and to put out the fires that burn around us, to see if relations can be salvaged, and to decide what parts need to be torn down for rebuilding and what parts need to be salvaged for renovation. The landscape is not easily recognizable from the same vantage point as a week ago and the future landscape is to be determined.
This morning, as the words remain strained in our fixed and raw throats as they have cut us like razors, as our ears still ring from the shrill sirens of attacks and bombardments, as our eyes still burn from the tears, as our breaths are very shallow, and as our spirits call us to get up and move into the day: we know we will be greeted with a new and vocal landscape of intolerance. The final words have been spoken, voted upon, and decided. We have let our own fears, desires, hatreds, and personal internal struggles to speak as if they are God. We have listened to these voices, joined them together, and believed they are sacred. We have a new self-proclaimed golden calf that stands right in front of us all.
I am fully aware that it is hard for a denomination to span beliefs that truthfully represent faithful Christians in West Africa, California, Bulgaria, the Philippines, Denton, NC, and Greensboro. I understand there are differences and beliefs in each place that are real and must be understood with tolerance. I also know how to live in faithful support and tolerance as an eternally broken family of God. I know we have some level of belief that we are perfect and our church is perfect. I have always found it humorous that Jesus was ridiculed for eating with sinners. My question is, whom else could he eat with? It is the United Methodist Church is the church that nurtured me from my beginning breaths, Baptized the very first Sunday after my birth, in front of my church family who received me in faithful solidarity of all other Christians, in spite of our differences, around the world. This is the church where I found my faith, where I received my call. This is the church of my ordination. We all have our stories as to how we found the Lord in the United Methodist Church and moved into becoming disciples, ministers, and missionaries from that foundation. We have thrived in our church home with our church families. In our lifetime we have weathered the evils of our culture involving racism, the sin of sexual suppression as women have been offered opportunities, the great understanding that special needs children of God have rights, and in our understanding that the declarative statements of “man” and “woman” are not as clearly defined as we would wish. As in all tempting evil we have believed ina simplistic, while imprisoning, truth that presently cannot stand the test of truth. Life is not black and white and God’s children do not fit into two boxes. Actually, WE do not fit into easy boxes.
Today, Pharisees, who want to protect the Word of God, while at the same time oppressing the Children of God, have had their way. The reasons for this are foreign to me but from personal conversations I know that many people are trapped in a sexual identity they cannot accept for themselves and have been forced to live in a lie that has robbed them of their God given identity, that some live in fear that they will be discovered, that some have never received the grace of God allowing them to extend the same amazing grace to others, that some have allowed hatred and intolerance to become their truth, and some actually believe due to many unknown reasons that God hates the very children that were uniquely and amazingly crafted into their identity, without the permission of the child, and this hatred has to be acted upon in the name of “God.” Thousands of individuals have confidentially and secretly told me of their horrible pain while believing God is punishing them and hating them due to their sexual identity. Now the church believes we have the sacred duty to impose our little fearful and self-made truth on others. Has this become our identity as a people of God? Am I a disciple of the Risen Lord to spend my time accusing others of what I believe are their shortcomings.
How do I deal with the way we have self-justified the Biblical words concerning adultery? Are we to honor those words and offer the punishment demanded? How do we justify our current acceptance of divorce and remarrying? How do we justify our views on Sabbath? How do we honor God by our personal greed as others go hungry? We have certainly found our way around the inconvenient words of God that interfere with our life. Then we somehow pointto others who are not like us, who we can claim are different from us, who we justify by our self-assumed belief should be “fixed” to be a part of the cruise, presently the LGBTQ community. Is the God created LGBTQ community of individuals required to graduate from a course of re-identification on exile island to be a part of the church (by the way, the Wesleyan Covenant organization under the name of the Good News Movement has a program where members of the LGBTQ community can be sent to be transformed into a heterosexual through a Jesus based program). Is this to be our future as a church? Who will be called out to be the next group of “sinners” who do not belong on the boat?
Today I feel like a Martian in the church that has forever felt like my spiritual home. Maybe you feel the same. We have fallen to the place of picking on each other rather than dealing with the real evil in our culture including rampant abuse of individuals held captive as sex-slaves, the continued slavery of people caught in an endless and bottomless depravity of cyclical financial captivity, the financial expectations of a culture that are out of control driving us to divorce our soul for the sake of getting ahead, the dissolution of the family, the continued increase of narcissistic attitudes by those who govern us, or the deadly relations between our law enforcement officers and our public who are pitted against one another in what has become a nightly news bite. All of these are sacred needs that we ignore as we believe we serve God by claiming his unique genetic creation in an individual is to be called, “bad.”
We believe it would be wonderful if we were all from “Kansas,” so to speak. We think if we were all black, or white, or brown, or green life would be wonderful. We believe if we made strong borders so we are all boxed off in our little hotels then everything would be great. We want all food to taste like the amalgamation of “American food,” all clothes to be the same, all dancing to be decent, all visual art to be monochromatic, all music to be at best harmonic, all education to be one size fits all, all church to be people who are just alike, and all people to be practically perfect in every way. Then we think this is what God wants and we make it a church. Sinners who do not resemble this should not come in and are certainly not welcome.
So who will we be as a church? West Market Street United Methodist Church will be who we have always been. We will welcome all who come to us, will offer spiritual growth opportunities that will expect the development of mature disciples, our worship of the living and all saving God of grace and mercy found in Jesus Christ will be proclaimed, our members will love each other with graceful and merciful hearts, and our outreach to the broken world will be without question and without limits. I have always known that when I speak I speak for the church. I have always measured my statements and comments due to this place of power and responsibility. I have been a pastor to all and will continue to be such a pastor. I am sorry that I cannot have lunch with everyone so we can talk personally on any issue. I am available at 336-708-6015 for calls and will be as available as I can be for any drop by or scheduled conversation. I will, however, not stop attending to the duties of the pastor (administration, pastoral care, outreach, and worship) that take a lot of my time every day. We will continue to be “church” and there will be no noticeable changes in how we do ministry on West Market Street. No one’s belief or stance will keep me from being their pastor, I believe in the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ, and I am available, as long as, you will allow me, the opportunity to serve as your pastor. As always, I am honored to be your pastor and a pastor at West Market Street United Methodist Church.
Blessing, Pastor Dan