On Keeping Covenants and Loving Children
“You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”
-Matthew 3:17b, Mark 1:11b, Luke 3: 22b
When I presented my son for baptism as an infant in 1988 at Community United Methodist Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia, I was asked the following question:
“Will you nurture this child in Christ’s holy church, that by your teaching and example he may be guided to accept God’s grace for himself, to profess his faith openly, and to lead a Christian life?” (p. 40, The United Methodist Hymnal)
There was no question in my mind that I wanted this for my child, and so I covenanted with The United Methodist Church, not just the people at Covenant United Methodist on that particular morning, but the greater Church, to do all in my power to help him lead a Christian life. In response to my commitment, the gathered community, representing the larger Church as well, promised to surround Steven with love and forgiveness, and help him to grow in service to others, so he might become a true disciple of Jesus Christ.
We were so proud of our little guy, and so grateful that he would be surrounded by the “unconditional” love of The United Methodist Church. We took our beloved child to Sunday School every week. He attended church camp, went on youth retreats, sang in the choir, was confirmed twice (because we moved from Texas, where he was first confirmed). Our child was smart too, excelling in science and particularly chemistry, so he attended one of our United Methodist affiliated schools, Emory University.
Interestingly, he chose Emory over other schools because he felt he could nurture his spirituality there. He was a regular participant at Canon Chapel, excelled in chemistry, was a standout in track and field, and just for fun added a second major, religion. Upon graduation, he attended Harvard where he earned a Master of Divinity. And he will never seek ordination.
My beloved son is certainly a child of God, a disciple of Jesus Christ, truly gifted, and he is gay. He doesn’t trust the church. While our bishop today is very gracious, there is no telling what the theology of our next bishop will be. While his mother’s church is very welcoming, not all churches in the denomination are, and there are no guarantees that he will be welcome. Our denomination’s churches are like a minefield: we never know if our next step into a sanctuary will reward us with safety or if we will be irreparably damaged.
We have all experienced institutional betrayal, every one of us in The United Methodist Church. It began in 1972, the year we first defiled our Book of Discipline with degrading statements about homosexuality and, coincidentally, the year I was confirmed as a United Methodist.
So, 47 years later, in February, Steve and I will serve as delegates to the “Special General Conference” in St. Louis, MO. In preparation we have studied a myriad of plans with some very misleading names: the Traditionalist Plan, the Connectional Conference Plan, and the One Church Plan. The first two plans tighten the restrictions on homosexuality, while the third fails to address many of the agonizingly painful statements made about God’s created children who identify as LGBTQ. The harmful language that has crawled into our Book of Discipline has transformed that book into a rope which has strangled our denomination and threatens to do so under any of these plans as they exist today.
However, the Simple Plan promises something different. It promises to expunge the excruciatingly painful language that has been chipping away at the very soul of The United Methodist Church. It promises to reaffirm the part of the baptismal covenant that says we will surround our children with love. It promises that all children in the United Methodist Church may grow into true disciples of Jesus Christ, regardless of their sexual orientation.
C’mon United Methodist Church. I kept my covenant. It’s time for you to be true to yours.