General Secretary Erin Hawkins Responds to General Conference 2019

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The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is upon me, for the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to comfort the brokenhearted and to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed. – Isaiah 61:1

In April 1968, a newly formed United Methodist Church changed its practice of sanctioned discrimination and institutionalized segregation by ending the Central Jurisdiction which separated blacks and whites in the Methodist Episcopal Church. This action was taken in part, due to the insistence of the Evangelical United Brethren Church, which proclaimed that it would not merge with Methodists if we held firm in our practice of systemic racism.

Fifty years later, the action of the Special Called Session of General Conference to support the Traditional Plan serves as proof that our comfort with sanctioned discrimination and exclusion has never left. The sin of white supremacy which has plagued the Methodist movement from its inception continues to reveal its dominance within both conservative and progressive camps of the Church.

My heart grieves for my Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual (LGBTQIA+) siblings who experienced the harm of continued rejection, insensitive and bigoted rhetoric, and emotional and spiritual disregard. I acknowledge your dedication to the church in spite of the oppression you face and respect any feelings of anger or betrayal that may lead some of you to walk away.

I also grieve for those traditionalists whose willingness to be in authentic dialogue and relationship was overshadowed by forces that corrupted the work of the General Conference.

Here’s what I know as a woman of color. Despite the changes of law in 1968, which intended to end the exclusion of blacks and other people of color in the life and witness of the church, systemic racism still plagues us. There are churches in the connection that still resist the appointment of pastors of color and actively reject their leadership. There are still Boards of Ordained Ministry and Cabinets who execute racial double standards in the credentialing of candidates for ordination and appointment. There is still a lack of focused attention in the denomination to reach growing communities of color in the United States and by extension to speak consistently and relevantly to the racial injustices that confront our world. Women are still seeking a change in The United Methodist Constitution to “guarantee” their inclusion. Simply put, changes in United Methodist law, while an essential first step, have not resulted in full inclusion for people of color and will not result in full inclusion for LGBTQIA+ people either.

There were Pharisees in Matthew 22 who sought to build a trap for Jesus using the law. To them, he replied that loving God and loving neighbor were the two greatest commandments on which all other laws and prophets hinged. Using the law as a weapon is an age-old tactic and Jesus reminds us even now that Love IS the law!

The struggle to end oppression in all of its forms and to realize the vision of full inclusion must continue. AND…at the end of the day, changing the law is simply a means to an end. Our true mission is to make love real in a church and world that needs it now more than ever. The love that I am talking about is…

A love that actively honors freedom and won’t allow the Book of Discipline to hold us back from calling justice to roll down like a river and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

A love that actively honors humility and calls us to repent for how we decry some forms of oppression while remaining silent about or participating in others.

A love that actively honors community and binds us together as the true church — the fellowship of all believers — where we hold one another accountable and no one is alienated, excluded, or left behind.

A love that actively honors humanity and challenges us to realize that our focus on what happens in the church is not an excuse to ignore what is happening outside of the church. If we cannot be a church present in the world, then we are not the church.

A love that actively honors self and invites each of us to “do our work.”  It is time for all people who experience oppression and those who support them, to confront our own biases (implicit and explicit) and get the support we need to heal our traumas, unhealthy need for external validation and addictions to mental, physical, and emotional pain that prevent us from living our best God-ordained lives right now. Our greatest hope for liberation lies in our own unfettered joy, courageous vulnerability, purposeful self-expression, and sacred action.

And most importantly a love of God who calls us to move past our superficial interpretations of love to a depth of generosity, unconditional acceptance, and passionate pursuit of wholeness that can only come from abiding in the eternal truth of love that is God.

I am committed to doing all that I can as a leader in this church to continue challenging the laws that oppress. In my heart, however, I know that I am called to more. I must make the aim of my living and leadership to make real, in every way possible, a liberating love that transforms the world and every human being in it.

The contraction, resistance, and breaking open that is taking place in the denomination right now is so much bigger than The United Methodist Church. What we are experiencing is, in a small way, the messy but inevitable awakening of the human family.

Let the birthing continue…

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