My most direct connection to Jesus is through my mother, Lovie Westbrook Fowler, who was a member of Hornbeck Methodist Church as a child and the Hornbeck United Methodist Church when she left her old hometown to come to our area where she lived her life out in a nursing home in Angleton.
My father grew up closer to fundamentalist evangelical churches in his childhood. But my mother and he had me kneeling at the altar of our small Methodist church in Jacinto City to be baptized before I was six.
Like many of the young people in the 20th century, I drifted away from the church, but God and my mother kept calling me back, forgiving me, welcoming me, and allowing me to feel needed.
The United Methodist Church was always with me. Even when I tried to ignore it. Even when I advised others that it was out of touch with the 20th Century, that it was anti-science, that the people who went there were mostly hypocrites.
Now in my 79th year, I see more clearly the need to make disciples of all the world.
In the 20th Century our parents fought wars, they suffered economic depression, but they helped each other when neighbors were victims of weather events, crimes, or hatred armed with weapons of war. United Methodists were always teaching the stories of Jesus: stories of love, generosity, and kindness.
We need the church more today even than in the days of my youth.
We need the stories of Jesus.
When I consider the issue that confronts us and challenges our unity in the UMC today, I think about my mother, and I try to think how she would have decided.
I think she would tell me that God, through Jesus, has told us to love one another. To be fair in our dealings. To make the circle of love as big as we can, never to cast out people we do not understand – people like tax collectors and sinners. Our job is to help make the circle bigger. To love mercy, to do justice, and to walk humbly with our God.
She would tell me that we do fairly well with mercy.
But she would tell me that we have a lot to do yet to meet the requirements of justice and humility.
She would say that we have a responsibility to love one another and to inform everyone of their right to full participation in God’s community through our church. And that we must remain United Methodists. Not just Methodists. Not Global Methodists. But United Methodists.
We must honor love wherever it exists in a world affected too much by hate. We must eliminate those parts of our discipline that make us the judges of the relationships people enter into to express love and commitment in their shared lifelong journey toward sanctification and perfection. Not one of us is there yet. We cannot judge others. Thankfully, it is not our job.
We should not ask how people express their love just so we can judge them. We should not require that people be classified as L, G, B, T, Q. or cis. We should welcome all God’s people into our membership, FULL membership. Let all who qualify for ministry become ministers of the word. Let all who qualify become leaders in our congregations.
While we must always require love, we should never appoint ourselves to make judgments about the expression of love between people who commit to living their lives together in peaceful, loving relationship. We should celebrate when we find those places where love exists. And we should offer the sacred services of the church to all who require them for the fullness of their lives in Christian community.
I have remained a member of the United Methodist Church even though our Book of Discipline includes prideful, exclusionary passages aimed at the people we now refer to as LGBTQ, etc. I stay because I know that the Discipline clearly is not always inspired by God. It only gives us some agreed upon rules about how we will work together to achieve God’s purposes on Earth. We make mistakes in foundational documents. They can and must be corrected.
If some would choose to leave our church family because we make those corrections, I feel certain that God will lead them back some day and that the United Methodist Church will thrive and continue to provide leadership in a world that hungers for the word of God. That is our job. And I hope to be able to continue doing that work with you as members of a vibrant and open United Methodist Church.