National surveys tell us regularly that a growing percentage of people – now more than 25 percent in California – identify themselves with no religious group. There’s even a name for this new denomination: “Nones.”
Most Nones think of themselves as spiritual in some way. It’s not that they believe nothing, it’s that they haven’t found a religious organization – church or synagogue or mosque or temple – that consistently offers them something they need.
For years now, as churches have gotten smaller and wedding venues have moved from sanctuaries to wineries and fewer young adults vote, we have talked about a growing mistrust of the institutions that were the bedrock of our parents’ generations. No wonder they’re not coming on Sundays, we inside the Church say. It’s not the Church’s fault.
But two weeks ago my denomination, the United Methodist Church, took an action that seems almost designed to reinforce the generalizations that skeptical people tend to make: that religion makes people narrow-minded and judgmental, smaller in their thinking rather than larger.
In a decision that shocked many of us, the United Methodist Church voted to continue its old, outdated, discriminatory stance that keeps LGBTQIA people from participating in the full life of the Church. They’re welcome, the recent General Conference affirmed, but they cannot be ordained or married in the Church.
At a moment when the denomination threatened to split over this issue, 53 percent of the delegates dug in and held on to this traditional policy. Many of us in the Church feel disappointed, betrayed and embarrassed by this decision.
To be sure, the question was more complicated than it seems on the surface.
The United Methodist Church is a global denomination. Much of its growth in recent years – and therefore a large number of its voting delegates – come from countries and cultures where attitudes about homosexuality are quite different than they are in the U.S. When liberal Americans say the Church should change because right-thinking has progressed beyond the tradition, delegates from other parts of the world hear the next generation of colonialism. They feel patronized and dismissed, perhaps with good reason.
What will happen now in the United Methodist Church is not clear. Literally, “the jury is out” – the Church’s Judicial Council, which operates like the U.S. Supreme Court, will decide at the end of April whether the General Conference’s action violates the United Methodist Constitution. Sound familiar?
In the meantime, this has become a moment of clarity for United Methodists in this community. Los Altos United Methodist Church decided years ago that it would stand against its denomination’s policy on this issue. LAUMC publicly declared that its pastors will perform same-gender weddings, inside and outside the church buildings. One of our pastors is an out gay woman.
I think the LGBTQIA people who are members would say that they feel fully welcomed and included in the life of this church. We’re standing strong, remaining a fully inclusive church, no matter what our denomination decides.
We do this not because we’re so liberal, but because we believe a wide, inclusive love is the most important article of our faith. In fact, it’s the identifying mark of the God we believe in.
The Rev. Kathi McShane is senior pastor of Los Altos United Methodist Church, 655 Magdalena Ave. For more information, visit laumc.org.