These past few weeks many in The United Methodist Church experienced just the latest moments of pain and anguish at the hands of our church. The trial of Rev. Frank Schaefer for celebrating the wedding of his son, Tim, to his partner several years ago was held in Pennsylvania this month. It was a gut-wrenching trial, conviction, and penalty phase. It had to have been an unbelievably painful moment for Frank and his family – and was, as well, for many persons and groups working for full inclusion in the UMC.
Previous to this, the Council of Bishops asked for charges to be filed against retired UM Bishop Melvin Talbert for performing the wedding of two men in Georgia. The request to file charges was another blow to many who have felt blow after blow in the church. And there are more trials, most likely, on the horizon.
They have brought about yet more instances of anger and frustration for many in The United Methodist Church. And it has been another time of crying out in righteous indignation and “hearing” the absurd silence of too many in the church.
Also this past week, I sat in a movie theater watching the Robert Redford movie All is Lost. The movie is about a man fighting the elements after his yacht is damaged while sailing alone in the Indian Ocean. It is, in my opinion, a cinematic masterpiece. The images - both under and above the water - were stunning to the point of almost being overwhelming. The acting job by Redford is a tour de force. I sat breathless for much of the movie. It was simply incredible.
The movie is at the same time one of the loudest and the quietest movies I have seen experienced.
The crashing waves, spooling lines of rope, surging storms, spilling cargo, billowing sails, and howling wind are so loud at times that it makes the listener uncomfortable – but not because the volume was loud. It was because of the impact of the sounds.
The reason for this heightened audible impact was because the main character, Redford, only speaks three times in the entire movie. The sounds from other elements of the film are even more profound due to the absence of speaking from the only actor ever seen on screen.
Redford only speaks three times in the entire movie –
First he speaks into a radio he is trying to repair and pleads for someone to hear his SOS. He says it over and over several times asking for anyone to hear his cry of desperation. His voice is raspy and dry. The suffering he has already endured is evident. He is pleading for help. He is asking for someone to hear his plea. But it is clear that no one hears his cry.
LGBTQ folks in the UMC have cried out for years for someone to hear their pain. Cries for help and change have gone unheard and unheeded by too many in the church. We cannot even seem to be heard enough to agree that we disagree on the issue of homosexuality in our church. It’s as if the apparatus we are using to cry out is broken and the message is unable to get to those who need to hear. Or maybe they hear, but choose to ignore the anguish because they are so certain in their own positions on the issue.
Second he cried out in rage when his predicament becomes worse and worse – crying out in a loud voice “Fu#k” with all of the righteous indignation he could muster. We are beyond that point in the UMC. There is no way to know how many LGBTQ persons have felt our denomination, how many pastors have left over our position on sexuality, or how many person called into ministry have said way will they venture into our system. Many do so in deep pain – crying out with all of the righteous indignation they can muster. The strains are loud right now – on both sides of the debate. But the painful anguish of those excluded is pushing our church and I for one will continue to cry out with them.
The final time he speaks in the film is crying out to a passing ship, “Here! I’m here! Here! Help me!” The United Methodist Church often seems to be a gigantic passing ship not even aware of those who they have left behind. But I know many who are keenly aware. And many who are working hard to make their voices and their stories heard and known. We have Bishops, District Superintendents, pastors, laity, and leaders from all kinds of positions in the church whose hearts and minds are being changed to be receptive to the cry for full inclusion in our church.
In the end, the voices of those calling for inclusion are getting louder and louder. The media sees the UMC as a bully right now. Many are decrying the fact that despite the rules, a father celebrating the marriage of his son and his partner should not result in a church trial. Many are looking for our church – one of the last mainline Protestant denominations to embrace inclusion – to be who we say we are, United. Many are calling on our church to live out our doctrine and theology of grace. And many are pleading with rasping voices for our motto, Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors, to finally come into reality.
All is not lost – justice will prevail. Because I believe that grace is bigger than exclusion and inclusion will win in the end.