To my brothers and sisters in Liberia:
When I was pastor at South Lyon First United Methodist Church, we prayed for you every Sunday, and trusted that you were praying for us. We rejoiced with you when the clean water wells we helped dig stopped old people and children in your village from dying of "running stomach." We poured over the photos of you brought back from our mission team, photos of the hand pump and the John Dean Town midwives and the Gretta Moffatt schoolchildren. I placed the photo of your church leaders beside my desk so that I could see it every day while I worked. I spoke from the pulpit about how God was doing great things through our relationship. I wore the beautiful purple dress you sent back for me with joy.
Then the Special General Conference happened.
Afterwards, rumors flew that the Liberian delegation had voted for the Traditional Plan because their bishop told them to. "Vote the way I tell you – they'll send money anyway," he supposedly said. Rumors flew that the coalition of traditionalists was "playing hardball" to get their opponents out of the church. An email was leaked in which a leader in your delegation called supporters of the One Church Plan "heretics."
With all the rumors, it was hard to know what was true. With all the rumors, it was hard to know what to do.
I felt bewildered and betrayed.
I understand that you serve Jesus in a different culture than mine. I understand that many of you interpret the Bible differently than I do. I had hoped the One Church Plan would allow us to do the ministries our own settings require. Gay Christians are members of my family, my church, and my community. They are faithful to Jesus Christ. The Traditional Plan that is now in place would expel me for performing their weddings or welcoming them as colleagues.
How will we be in ministry together if I am kicked out of the church?
I need you to know that this really hurts. Some of my friends are saying it is time break the long-standing covenant relationship between our two annual conferences. They're saying that it's time to cut you loose.
I've been praying for months about what to do.
The answer came from a leader in my conference, the Rev. Paul Perez, who supports human rights for everyone. He told us that now is not the time to withdraw from our mission relationships. "Discontinuing international giving or ending relationships will not undo the Traditional Plan or further the cause of justice for LGBTQIA persons," he said. Instead, United Methodists should "struggle to dismantle the interlocking systems of oppression" (the traditional word for this is "sin") that threaten human survival. "When it comes to missions, institutions come and go," he said. "It is relationships that matter, relationships that embody God's healing, redeeming, and liberating grace."
I look again at the purple dress you gave me, I think about the person who stitched its seams. I think about the schoolchildren in their blue and yellow uniforms. I think about the midwives in their bright head scarves going from village to village to instruct mothers in newborn care. I think of the women and girls coming, day after day, to draw water from that well….
We all drink from the same well, the living water of Jesus Christ. (John 4:10,14)
Here it is: I can't imagine being a United Methodist without being part of a worldwide mission partnership. I need you to hold me accountable. And you need me. I can't imagine life without you. And the children, who always suffer the most when adults fight, still need clean water, medicine, education, love.
Though it will take some time for our broken relationship to heal, I will keep the purple dress. May God speed the day when I can wear it again with joy.