Last week at annual conference I bought a shirt that read, “Hii welcomes all of His children.” Next to those words was a picture of Jesus that looked like a Nintendo Wii character (or Mii). Underneath, in smaller letters were the words, “Illinois Great Rivers Conference of the United Methodist Church.”
Annual Conferences of the UMC have been gathering over the last few weeks. All of the conferences will be voting on a set of amendments to the UMC’s constitution. These were amendments that were passed by the General Conference last summer, and now have to be ratified by a 2/3 majority of all the annual conference members. Last week our conference voted on these amendments, and the results of one in particular really saddened me. This is the amendment:
On May 1, 2008, at a session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church held in Fort Worth, Texas, the following Constitutional Amendment was made by a recorded vote of 558 Yes, 276 No. It is now presented to the Annual Conferences for vote.
In the 2004 Book of Discipline, Division One, ¶ 4, Article IV, (2008 Book of Discipline, Division One, ¶ 4, Article IV)) amend by deletion and addition as follows:
After “worth” add “and that we are in ministry to all” and after “persons” delete “without regard to race, color, national origin, status or economic condition” and after “sacraments,” add “and” and after “members” delete “, and” and insert a period and add “All persons,” and after “faith” add “and relationship in Jesus Christ, shall be eligible to” and after “body” delete “of the Church because of race, color, national origin, status or economic condition”.
If voted and so declared by the Council of Bishops, ¶ 4 (¶ 4) would read:
Inclusiveness of the Church — The United Methodist Church is a part of the church universal, which is one Body in Christ. The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth and that we are in ministry to all. All persons shall be eligible to attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, and upon baptism be admitted as baptized members. All persons, upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith and relationship in Jesus Christ, shall be eligible to become professing members in any local church in the connection. In the United Methodist Church no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or any constituent body.
The amendment, put briefly would make it clear that all persons are welcomed into membership of the United Methodist Church. There were many arguments against this amendment. The one that made the least sense was the argument that this amendment would force Pastors into allowing anyone into membership without any standards. At first, I was torn on this amendment because of this issue, but after re-reading I saw the word “eligible.” This is not a mandate compelling churches to include anyone that wants to join.
There are a lot of smoke-screen arguments against this amendment, but the only viable reason anyone would vote against it is that they don’t want a gay person sitting next to them in church.
I thought that this would be the line that people wouldn’t cross. I thought this was the dividing point between the moderate majority and the extremes. I understand that people are divided on issues of pastoral authority and marriage. But I also thought that keeping people out of churches was going to be too far.
I believed that the moderate majority would rise and say, “we are a welcoming church.” I thought that people could get beyond the fear-mongering and the politics and the polarization and say, “We have open hearts, open doors, and open minds.” This amendment wasn’t about homosexual marriage. It was not about homosexuals in the pulpit. Really, it wasn’t about homosexuality at all. It was about a church standing up and saying simply, “We welcome ALL.” I really thought that the conference I love was going to vote to approve this amendment.
By a vote of 51%-46%, I was proven wrong.
Hii welcomes all of His children. Apparently Wii don’t.