A Small Step for Some, a Huge Step for Others
Author: Christine Schneider, Lay Delegate, Switzerland-France-North Africa
It is easy for me to support the One Church Plan. Diversity is normal in Western Europe where I live. Actually, I find it hard to explain to friends why the UMC still treats people differently because of their sexual orientation.
The opposite is true for United Methodists in Eastern Europe and Eurasia. Acceptance of homosexuality (and the whole spectrum of LGBTQ…) is against the law in most of their countries, against the views of most of their fellow citizens, against the position of most of their governments, against the teaching they have heard and followed for generations, against the practice and conviction of all other churches in their countries. United Methodists in those areas honestly fear that a change in the UMC would harm their standing in society, harm their mission and ministry, harm their ecumenical relationships. I heard them express these fears during a recent gathering of European and Eurasian delegates to General Conference.
Nevertheless, I ask them to support the One Church Plan. Other parts of the UMC need the freedom it grants for the sake of their mission and ministry. However, my plea to support the One Church Plan comes with great respect for what it means to people from other cultural backgrounds. In addition, I am prepared to give them all the safeguards they need, in particular the guarantee that they won’t be forced to accept for their area what they simply cannot accept.
For the sake of the unity of the UMC, some delegates from Eastern Europe and Eurasia might be willing to accept diversity in practice. The main difficulty for them seems to be the definition of marriage in the Social Principles as those are binding to all. However, the final text proposed under the One Church Plan (ADCA p.164, petition 90002) builds the bridge which is needed. It says:
“We affirm the sanctity of the monogamous marriage covenant that is expressed in love, mutual support, personal commitment, and shared fidelity, traditionally understood as a union of one man and one woman. We believe that God’s blessing rests upon such marriage, whether or not there are children of the union. We reject social norms that assume different standards for women than for men in marriage. Where laws in civil society define marriage as union between two adults, no United Methodist clergy shall be required to celebrate or bless a same-sex union.”
As much as this text opens the door for same-sex marriage it also leaves a door open for keeping a traditional understanding. Central Conferences and/or Annual Conferences outside the U.S. wanting to keep traditional standards could add in their rules: “We uphold and practice the traditional understanding of marriage.” I hope this is the safeguard my UMC friends from other parts of the world need as they consider the different plans proposed.
I’m convinced that we don’t have a chance to win the votes of people in Eastern Europe and Eurasia for the One Church Plan unless we recognize where they come from and that the proposed change represents a huge step for them. We do have a chance to win some of them if we are sensitive and build bridges in our personal interactions with people from other cultural backgrounds and in our interventions on the floor of General Conference. Let’s go to St. Louis with this kind of convicted humility.