USED WITH PERMISSION FROM LIZETTE TAPIA-RAQUEL
On May 7, 2018, the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church (UMC) announced the results on the voting on five possible amendments to the constitution. For each to be ratified, it required a two-thirds vote from the annual conferences around the world which were done in 2017 and early 2018.
Two amendments were not ratified. One was on gender equality which declares, “men and women are of equal value in the eyes of God.” The other was pertaining to inclusion which declares that no member will be “denied access to an equal place in the life, worship and governance of the Church because of race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, marital status or economic condition.”
The Council of Bishops expressed disappointment over the results.
On April 18, 1968, my mother and father, Lydia Galima and Jose Tapia, along with an entire community of family and friends, mostly from the United Methodist Church, celebrated my birth as the first child of the union. On 23 April, 1968, the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church likewise celebrated their union to become the United Methodist Church. Thus, our Church and I are both celebrating fifty years this year.
The United Methodist Church has a long tradition of conferencing, ‘holy conferencing.’ We value our connectionalism and our global character despite our diversity as a people of faith. Thus, we gather, time and again, to be in conversation, to intentionally understand and deliberate on issues affecting the Church and our society, to define who we are as a community of faith and to raise our prophetic voice to transform our broken world. This we do because we believe “there is no holiness other than social holiness,” in the words of John Wesley.
The recent rejection of two amendments to the Book Discipline pertaining to gender equality and inclusion exhibits a crisis of faith for many of us called United Methodists, as well as our sisters and brothers in other denominations and faiths. Thus, I feel a need to ask these questions:
How do we understand our Christian identity? Who is this God we believe in and the Jesus we follow? How does it define us as communities of faith and as a Church?
What are we communicating to the women, our daughters and granddaughters, wives and sisters, our women bishops, pastors and deaconesses of our church? What are we teaching the men, our sons and grandsons, our husbands and brothers, our male bishops, pastors and lay? When we refuse equality between women and men, can we honor the women and girls in our churches and value their contributions and participation in our corporate lives?
How will our rejection of equality affect relationships between male and female clergy and bishops, female deaconesses and male pastors, between husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, male and female youth leaders in our churches and societies? How can we give testimony to a just and loving God when we cannot be just and love equally ourselves?
Who is truly welcome in our churches when we vote against inclusion? Can we truly live out our message, “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors?” How do we authentically advocate for the migrant, the refugee, the suffering and oppressed when we exclude those we have nurtured in and belonged to our own churches because of tradition and rules? By whose standards do we deny others inclusion into our faith community, God’s?
Are we saying that women are not equal to men? Are we saying that not everyone is welcome in our churches? Are we saying that we do not believe that we are all created in the image of God? Are we saying that we cannot live out Jesus’ greatest commandment of loving our neighbors?
I have been raised in a family of United Methodists and have always been affirmed as a female. I grew up with the Church as my second home and learned of love, equality, inclusivity and justice in its Sunday School rooms and big sanctuary. Now, I am fifty years old and on Sunday we celebrate Mother’s Day in churches in different parts of the world. But can we truly celebrate as women and as mothers in our churches?
If we cannot affirm the equality of women and men, and cannot commit to the inclusion of all into the United Methodist Church on its 50th year, what is there to celebrate?