United Methodists

Where My Loyalty Lies

by Rev . Lois McCullen Parr

I hate to drive. But I spent about four days this past weekend in my car, on the road for Reconciling Ministries Network. I did something I hate because I love my church–the one where God’s people taught me the language of faith, and the power of the Gospel to set people free.

It was gift to me to be with people who are interested in helping to heal the harm caused to LGBTQ people by the institution called The United Methodist Church.

It was hope for me to hear from those who can’t tolerate waiting. It was joy to me to worship with the people of Clifton UMC, a congregation affiliated with RMN for almost 20 years.

Driving across Ohio, a state I’ve called “home” more than once, I had lots of thinking time behind the wheel. I saw some of this week’s news from UMNS—another story of a potential “church trial” for a clergyperson whose deliberate act of civil disobedience has resulted not in the quiet and comfortable “just resolution” that makes everyone think that there IS a way “we can all just get along.”

And I saw the statement that my boss, Executive Director Matt Berryman, issued in response, calling out the pain of yet another story of rules trumping love.

When I read Matt’s statement, I heard his anger.

And I thought about good old Jesus Christ—the one we follow, the one we trust; the one who, according to the Gospel writers’ accounts, made the Bishops of his day squirm.

On Sunday, I heard a great sermon about the cost of discipleship. Preacher Rev. David Meredith quoted Flannery O’Connor: “What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.”

David was using the text in Mark 10 where Jesus asks the disciples if they are able; of course they–and we–don’t usually want to think about what Jesus really means here.

I started humming in my mind “Are Ye Able?”

This is one of the first hymns I learned at my grandmother’s side, surrounded by the congregation that promised me in my baptism that they’d nurture me in the faith and teach me about God’s love.

As I hummed this song, I started thinking about the Ohio congregation where I was confirmed as a confused teenager. I got it stuck in my head that the last line of that hymn is, “Thy guiding radiance above us shall be a beacon to God, to love, and liberty.”

But that last line isn’t liberty; it’s loyalty. As I’ve been driving around, I’ve been thinking about why “liberty” is what came to my mind, and I think it’s because every time I ask people to think of a word that comes to mind when they think of “grace,” at least one person responds with “freedom.”

Knowing God’s grace brings us freedom: freedom to be exactly who we are.

But The UMC puts limits on that freedom and that grace when it says that people who are LGBTQ are “incompatible with Christian teaching,” when it says that we can’t be ordained when it says that our pastors can’t celebrate our marriages.

The Gospel is compromised when it limits grace—when it fails to set us free.

So I’ve been thinking about that word loyalty again. I promised, when I first took vows of membership, to be loyal to The UMC—by my prayers, presence, gifts, and service (witness was added long after). But I also learned that loyalty to The UMC meant making a commitment to be part of the ongoing revelation of God as the church bears witness to the Gospel for every new generation; specifically, I knew that a vow of loyalty was also a vow to be ready for change.

“Are you able?” asked Jesus of the disciples.

The song I learned to answer is “Lord, we are able. Our spirits are thine. Re-mold them, make us, like thee, divine. Thy guiding radiance above us shall be a beacon to God, to love and loyalty.”

Today, as my car rests, I know where my loyalty is. It’s to truth, to Gospel, to God.

Originally published by Reconciling Ministries Network; Photo via flickr user evclpics