Our small plane landed gently on the Grand Island airport runway in what must have been open prairie at one time. The plane's steps took us down onto the tarmac where we then made our way into the tiny terminal. The passengers on board represented the variety of folks congregating here for the trial: the trial's presiding bishop, three of the four leaders of our United Methodist Coalition of RCP, MFSA, Affirmation and IATC, a Denver Post reporter and other types of supporters and spectators. There was a sense of non-reality in our surroundings. "Where are we exactly, and how did we get here?"
When we pause for a moment, we know that there are many who are asking these same questions. Where is the church right now and how did it get here? The answers are plentiful and varied.
After finding our way across the dark plain, city streets and multiple railroad tracks to our hotel, the coalition group then went the few blocks to the Holiday Inn where the service of "A Renewal of Vows" was taking place. Outside stood two lonely-looking protesters with homemade signs of black marker on brown cardboard. "God loves us all but hates the sin." It was a pleasant night to stand outside but the attention was indoors.
Members of the Grand Island police department were well placed, noticeable at each turn in the corridor leading back to the ballroom. I wondered what kind of an event could compare to this one in the history of their police force.
The Soulforce group was just finishing their dinner in an adjacent indoor patio area. There were approximately 120 people participating with Soulforce--90% are United Methodist. Mel White, Soulforce organizer, was surprised by the percentage, "The Methodists are taking over," he jest. There were UMYF members, retired clergy, young families and lifetime companions.
Moving on, our coalition group came to the ballroom which was lined with reporters, television cameras, and microphones. The seating was crowded but there was room for a multitude of United Methodists. The purpose of the service was to re-enact the ceremony for which Jimmy is being tried, to witness to the pastoral and worshipful elements of the April, 1999, service.
Let me say here that there is no one belief or stance about same-sex unions among the members of the Reconciling Congregation Program or its Board of Directors. Our mission at RCP is to enable the full participation of all people in the life of the church, both in policy and practice. Each church (and individual) must sort out the rest on its own.
For Jimmy, the church law that forbids United Methodist clergy from officiating at same-sex unions reflects a broader prejudice against gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people--that their (our) love is not honored or recognized by God. Furthermore, this law negates the faithful voices and lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons. It extends a witness --by the church-- of exclusion.
Following the service was a press conference. I doubt that the majority of the press was prepared to hear answers to their questions conveyed in the light of faith. Instead of asking whether or not the church will split, Jimmy reframed the question to be, "Where is God leading us in all this?"
A good question to contemplate and stop with for now.