It’s been six weeks since the gut-wrenching 2019 General Conference. During this time, many witnesses against the Traditional Plan and in support of LGBTQIA+ church members have been appearing on Facebook and in newspapers. Sid’s Statement of Dissent was a powerful addition to the conversation.
Our position gained further clarity this past week in the Statement of Noncompliance published on the Trinity website and Facebook page under Lay Leader Jimmy Alan Hall’s signature. “Liked” hundreds of times and shared dozens, the Statement formally notes that we will:
1. withhold apportionments until LGBTQIA+ persons are no longer facing systemic discrimination,
2. remove “United Methodist Church” from our signage, and
3. either join a more inclusive Methodist expression or simply withdraw altogether should corrective action not be taken in a reasonably swift manner (in other words, we won’t sit around and wait for GC 2020 only to face the same pain).
That’s it in brief, but I strongly encourage you to read the whole thing, if you haven’t already. It chronicles the actions we have taken under Sid’s capable leadership as a congregation committed to justice for LGBTQIA+ persons, does an excellent job describing who we are now, and lays bare what is at stake if the church doesn’t do the right, just, and Jesus-like thing.
One thing you won’t read there is this: Sid has committed $100 out of the Pastor’s Discretionary Fund to help send an LGBTQIA+ clergyperson to the UM Forward meeting that is occurring in Minneapolis in May. This meeting is one of several going on across the denomination to discuss what’s next. It is perceived by many “in the know” as being the one most focused on centering the voices of LGBTQIA+ persons.
A series of clergy meetings are also being held under Adam Hamilton’s leadership. Hamilton is the pastor of the largest church in the denomination. He’s a white, cis, straight male who told his congregation in a sermon about five years ago that he had changed his mind about LGBTQIA+ persons. He lost 800 members that day—but the 16,200 that stayed worship with a pastor who has publicly stated that the church’s current discriminatory stance is wrong.
I’m guessing that if we sat in the pews at Rev. Hamilton’s church, we’d have a problem with more than just the fact that he’s a straight white guy trying to create a new Methodist expression at a time when LGBTQIA+ people MUST be at the table. (In fact he has invited more openly queer pastors and pastors of color to his meetings as a result of this criticism.) But the story of his conversion reminds me that we all continually evolve in our understanding… of pretty much everything.
An embarrassing personal example? As a straight, cis, white woman, I have had to not only evolve in my understanding on LGBTQIA+ issues but also my understanding related to race, immigrants, and even my own woman-ness. In fact, I used to be uncomfortable with the idea of women pastors. I wish I were kidding, but alas, I am not.
I guess what I’m saying is something like this: As a congregation, we do not budge. We know who we are. What I’m asking goes something like this: How much grace are we willing to give centrists like Rev. Hamilton as they work out these issues in conversation with those of us who have been in the fight much longer? In conversation with those of us who are actually LGBTQIA+? And I do mean conversation with people who want to talk to us, not people who seek to change or punish who we are!
While it’s tempting to say “We’ve been here before,” perhaps we actually haven’t. After the earnest call GC 2016 made for our bishops to lead us and their grand (and expensive) failure to do so, GC 2019 threw all the cards in the air. And we aren’t just sitting back to see where they land—we are and will remain engaged building what comes next. If the result isn’t open and affirming enough for us, as the Statement says, we will do something different. Frankly, as the Statement also says, we almost always have!
But it’s this ongoing conversation, as well as the often risky actions taken by Sid and our congregation in a largely conservative Annual Conference, that have made it possible for churches like Trinity to exist over the last several decades. And I think that’s important, as I look around at all you gloriously diverse beloveds on Sunday mornings.
In closing, I know that Sid as our pastor and we as a congregation will do everything we can to ensure that whatever comes next for Methodism unfolds in the most open, accepting, and affirming way possible for LGBTQIA+ persons, and for us all. In some ways, this refuge we call Trinity depends on it.
Whether we succeed or not, I am confident we won’t back down.
Stephanie Molnar Mowen
Secretary, Leadership Council
Trinity Church of Austin