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Sharing in Faith: Resolutions or Reconciliation?

The Rev. Beverly L. Wilkes-Null. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Beverly L. Wilkes-Null.

The Rev. Beverly L. Wilkes-Null Photo courtesy of the Rev. Beverly L. Wilkes-Null.

How my United Methodist family confronts the challenges of human sexuality within our family concerns me because so many of us have spent far too little time in Christian conversation around the sacred gift of human sexuality. I was born in 1959, to parents who were born in 1915 and 1926. Now that both of my parents are gone, it never fails that when we gather around the table, the four sisters — born in 1942, 1944, 1951 and 1959 — all joke about still waiting to have “the talk” with Mom. I suspect that for many of us, human sexuality is far more complicated and mysterious to us than we would like to admit.

At the age of 13 I discovered by accident that my big brother was gay; I later discovered that he was actually bisexual. In the midst of my discoveries — never to be spoken of in my family of origin during his lifetime — I discovered that what I had been formed to accept as Biblical truth remained so. Yet, it did not alter the fact that I loved my big brother and that he loved me. Furthermore, my big brother lived out his faith in Jesus while owning what, I believe, he accepted as his true self, hundreds of miles away from his family. Today I still grieve that he was not able to be his true self with our family.

Human sexuality is a family discussion that we United Methodists are mandated by our times to holistically engage in without giving in to the temptation to prejudge, cast out or demonize. Our human sexuality is sacred and mysterious; therefore, though we bring our insecurities and fears to the table, come to the table we must. I believe that we have reached a season in the life of The United Methodist Church where submitting thousands of petitions and spending millions of dollars on a body of people from five continents who come together for approximately 10 days, once every four years, will not achieve God’s best outcome for our global family. While we have constitutional challenges before us, in my heart of hearts, I do not believe that John Wesley ever envisioned a day where we would use our constitution to prevent us from responding to the deep cries of our people, particularly here in the United States of America. Here in the states, our conversations on human sexuality are mingled with judgment, misinformation, partial truths and violent fears, and have become a toxic epidemic of bullying as though there is no third alternative, no God solution except for the one I envision that would ultimately dispose of those not of like minds.

Here in the United States of America, clergy and laity are not paralyzed because of our various views on homosexuality or even the changes in state laws around the institution of marriage; we are paralyzed because we have no platform that allows for holy conferencing as one body in the United States of America to address those things that are most central to the continuation of our mission and ministry. To create such a platform would require the opening of our constitution but it would not sever nor weaken the connection as some threaten. It would, in my view, strengthen our global connection by empowering us to focus on Global Missions and Ministries when the global family gathers and on National Ministries and Missions when our national family gathers, which is a privilege afforded to every Central Conference.  

I do not have an answer for all of the questions that are causing great anxiety in my United Methodist family. However, I am convinced that creating a platform that will lead us toward reconciliation is the mission that my family is called to embrace in this season. Threatening to dismantle the denomination is not God’s way; bullying one another is not God’s way. God is calling us to move beyond the rhetoric of resolutions to a place of reconciliation; a place where there will be no winner and loser; mediation, not litigation; restoration, not adjudication. Rather than tearing our family apart; rather than cheering on conservatives, moderates or liberals; rather than naming camps, the time has come for us to create space for silence. Holy sacred silence. Listening space. All who are crying, all are our sisters and brothers; can we hear each other’s cries beyond our own fears and insecurities? Have we enough trust in God and God’s faithfulness among us that we could dare open up our hearts and ears and listen to each other without judging, bullying or blaming?

May it be so!

Rev. Dr. Beverly L Wilkes-Null
Highland, Illinois

Posted February 18, 2015.