The Beloved Community's message: God's love extends to everyoneAnnual Conference 2022 Inclusivity
The Beloved Community’s mission in a complex world boils down to this: We are all wired for relationships and communities that are authentic.
Christians need to be together through the Body of Christ. To do this, we must be intentional about connecting and being with others. This means building relationships with those that are different from us.
Given the contentious issue about the role of the LGBTQ+ community in the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church, building those relationships is of paramount importance.
That was the message from Rev. Dr. Steve Harper, a retired Elder in the Florida Conference, on the opening night of the Annual Conference in Lakeland at a dinner of the Beloved Community. State Senator Shevrin Jones also was scheduled to be a guest presenter, but unavoidable circumstances prevented his attendance.
|Rev. Dr. Steve Harper|
Dr. Harper was a professor at the Asbury Seminary in Orlando and graduated from the Duke Divinity School. He taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. He also served as Dean of the Chapel and Director of the Pathways Initiative at The Upper Room in Nashville.
“In 2014, some folks in the church were beginning to use the language of separation,” he said. “Something inside me said, ‘Steve, you can’t do that.’ I knew what I could not go back to, but I didn’t know where I was going to go.”
That destination is unfolding, and that’s where the Beloved Community comes in.
The Beloved Community celebrates the beauty and power of God’s gift of diversity. It engages and enriches FLUMC congregations as they consider their unique and diverse callings, gifts, and graces.
That is particularly relevant today, given the disaffiliation of multiple churches from the United Methodist Church over the issue of whether LGBTQ+ persons who are self-avowed and practicing can assume clergy roles and engage in same-sex marriages.
The issue came to a head during the clergy session on the opening day of this year’s Annual Conference. A narrow margin rejected a single slate of 16 pastoral candidates for provisional membership as opponents focused on two candidates with LGBTQ+ connections.
“The Beloved Community is about more than this, but after (the vote), that one thing matters a lot,” Harper said.
Florida Conference Co-Lay Leader Alice Williams also serves as a Co-Convener with Rev. Corey Jones of The Beloved Community. Like many, she was stung by the clergy's vote on provisional candidates, but as the Annual Conference continued, she was encouraged by a resolution that offered an apology and support for the affected people.
“I left hopeful, I truly did. What Steve was helping us to understand is that this isn’t easy. That doesn’t absolve us, though. What I took away from this is that we have to be the people of God. Yes, I left hopeful and challenged,” she said.
“There’s a lot of hurt out there right now, but we can’t stop. If we step away from the table now, we won’t see change. We’re the closest we’ve ever been, I really believe that. I see more and more people that are coming to an understanding that God and the Holy Spirit are working in this. It’s not enough to say you’re welcome to come through the day. It’s making a seat at the table. There isn’t a hierarchy at God’s table.”
Williams is a long-term, loving relationship with her partner, and she works tirelessly to stress that God’s love extends to everyone.
“I couldn’t be anything other than what I am and be happy in my life. People have this notion that the gay lifestyle is perverted, but we’re not any different. We’re as varied as straight people are,” she said.
“I call the LGBTQ community my tribe, just as I call the Methodist Church my tribe.”
The issue requires prayer, God’s guidance, and an understanding that not everyone will see this the same way.
“We often start our prayers with a point of view that says who am I, but it should start with the question who is God?” Harper said.
“The Archbishop of Canterbury said that if your idea of God is wrong, your theology is wrong. So, your first four words of the Bible: In the beginning, God.”
He said those words shape everything he now believes.
“In the Trinity, you find that God is non-binary. Oops,” he said. “Four words. In the beginning, God. In four words, I’ve got a non-binary, loving, relational, good God. Good God! I’m sick and tired of people trying to tell people like me that I don’t believe in the Bible.
“The new United Methodist Church is one of hope. The house looks cleaner when you’ve swept it.”
He urged those on either side of this issue to listen to different points of view.
“I think the situation we’re in today, as complicated as it is, is about the church learning only one position and not the other,” he said. Many congregations need to make smart decisions, and they can do that by understanding that learning only one side of an issue isn’t smart.
“We’ve got to realize we’re a human family, and we’re going to rise and fall together.”
For Williams, that sense of togetherness is what The Beloved Community is about.
“Everyone is created by God and able to be together,” she said. “We’re not going to understand everything, and we won’t always get along, but we have to remember we’re all created by God."
We, all of us, are beloved by the One, who, in turn, commands us to love and not to judge each other.
Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for FLUMC.org.
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