REFLECTIONS FROM FLORIDA ANNUAL CONFERENCE, 2022
This was a difficult Annual Conference. In the past, Conference has been a time to gather with ministry colleagues, to hear new ideas, to meet clergy candidates, to vote on resolutions, to sing, pray, and fellowship together. But it feels as if a change has come – now Conference feels more contentious, more lines drawn, more focused upon who is “IN” my group and who is “OUT”. Voices used to be raised in praise of our Savior; now voices are clamoring to “Join Us against Them!”
This is painful, because many of these are persons with whom I attended college and seminary. Some of us have served on camp and retreat teams together; some of us have been in Clergy small groups. These are people with whom I have shared my joys, my struggles, my pain and my dreams, and I have shared in theirs. And yet I have found myself excluded now.
Because I don’t share their views on a specific theological point, I am no longer welcome or invited to their group. I hope I have not done the same, but I am afraid that I have. When we are hurt, we usually strike back. Maybe not with fists, but with words, with glances, with passive-aggressive speeches and snubs. I know Jesus weeps right now. We in the Church have adopted the same tactics as the world – “If you disagree with me on this one subject, you must be my enemy.” We’ve seen this in politics, in business, in our schools and on our playgrounds, and now we are seeing it in our churches. I have been in church meetings where mobs were organized to protest and disrupt our proceedings, where deceit and “whisper campaigns” were sent out to spread false information, where someone challenged another member to step outside into the parking lot for a fist fight! This is the Body of Christ? And yet, I stay. Why do I stay?
Why do I remain a part of an organization made up of people who keep trying to hurt each other? Because I love Jesus more than I hate those who hurt me. When Jesus was on the cross, He looked down upon the very ones who had crucified Him and said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” I pray for those who want to leave our Conference, who feel that we are going in a different direction than how they interpret scripture. I pray for those who were refused initial admittance into our Conference by a small minority who managed to get enough votes to stop a 75% threshold. (The final vote was 72.4% approval, just 7 votes shy of 75%.) I pray for myself, that I might not become that which distresses me.
I pray that the peace, the love, the forgiveness of my Lord Jesus Christ would teach me to love as He loved, and to become a sheltering presence for those who need escape from the storm. I ask for your help to become the servant Jesus needs – to welcome those who are searching, to protect those who are afraid, to firmly and peaceably stand up to those who are oppressing. May the light, the hope, the grace of Jesus remold, transform, and make us into what He needs in order that there may be peace on earth, as it is in heaven.
– Rev. Bill