As a progressive, I celebrate that you are standing up and speaking out against the Traditional Plan. You have amazed me with your success in getting centrists and progressives elected to General Conference. What we progressives tried to do for years, you have made real progress this year. It has been a successful political coalition.
But our coalition is not tidy. We are in a time of transition and even the labels we use reflect the messy ambiguities of the moment. The traditionalists scratch their heads and wonder what the difference is between a centrist and a progressive. So do I. In fact, by the end of this letter I might need to use another label such as “liberationist.” And I have no problems being called “queer.” None of us like being called “incompatiblist.” So, you can call me almost anything—just as long as you call me for supper!
As I have listened to you talk—and you talk a lot—here are some things I want you to stop doing and start doing:
- Stop using the slash in “Centrists/Progressives.” It implies that we are more united than we really are. What happens is that the distinctive perspective of progressives is drowned out by centrists. I know you are not doing this on purpose, and it is so easy to do because our focus is on our shared opposition to the Traditional Plan.
- Start giving us time and space to develop our vision and strategic interests. Just because we have a common opposition to the Traditional Plan does not mean we share a common vision for the future or even the same reasons for opposing the Traditional Plan. We progressives need more time to organize among ourselves.
- Stop characterizing progressives who feel called to leave and start a new denomination as intolerant extremists and ideological purists. For me, the progressive non-negotiable is the immediate full inclusion of LGBTQ believers. What is unclear is how the 2020 General Conference should do this: immediate and uniform changes in the UMC; give birth to a new progressive denomination; create safe space within the UMC for the evolution of such a denomination; or create safe space for progressives within the UMC until the rest of the denomination is ready for full inclusion. Regardless, my desire is not driven by ideological purity but my missional pragmatism. My appointment is to North UMC, a large urban multi-staff church, and East Tenth UMC, a small urban neighborhood church. North’s membership includes many LGBTQ members for whom the fight is over and they want to get on with envisioning a new Methodism. North’s mission field is Indiana Youth Group, a city-wide LGBTQ youth program, and Trinity Haven, a soon-to-be transitional housing ministry for homeless LGBTQ youth. Every day that passes with us being identified with this denominational battle hurts our outreach. As for East Tenth, I have deployed a pastoral team to serve them, but I lost a team leader because he is a gay millennial who is unwilling to endure the ambiguities and abuse of the UMC. My “extremism” is driven by missional necessity.
- Start listening closely to progressives. Many of you scoffed when you read what UM Forward said about you in Loved and Liberated: “The greatest threat to queer liberation is centrism, not conservatism.” You don’t have to agree with that assessment, but do not dismiss it as irrational anger. I did not have a hand in writing the proclamation and I would not have used its rhetoric, but I agree with the fundamental ideas of UM Forward’s proclamation and there is much truth in their analysis.
- Stop assuming that for progressives the problem is only 8 paragraphs in the Book of Discipline. The issue of sexuality is inseparably intertwined with a host of other problems in the denomination such as racism, clericalism, corporatism, and size. You cannot solve the problem of sexuality without revamping other parts of our polity that perpetuate these other problems. For example, the problem is not ordination alone, but the combination of ordination and guaranteed appointment and an itinerant process that is trapped in a clergy-centric bureaucratic structure. For progressives, it is not good enough to have a United Methodist Church with a few tweaks. Could it be that the underlying difference between centrists and progressives is that centrists are more institutionalists and progressives are early adapters?
- Start focusing on a new vision for Methodism. “Stay and resist” has served us well, but now is the time to focus on the good fruit that should yield. Envisioning new expressions of Methodism is the right conversation we should be having.