In the days following Easter, the church usually has the opportunity to take a deep breath. The hectic pace of the services leading to Easter morning comes to a sudden stop. For United Methodism, this pause is deceptive. Easter Monday has led us to today, Tuesday. The Judicial Council, our highest legal body, begins the work of evaluating the constitutionality of the decisions made at February’s extraordinary General Conference. While we live into the Resurrection, uncertainty surrounds the future of our denomination. To be honest, I live in a permanent state of queasiness.
Of the four readings selected for the second Sunday of Easter, the first, from Acts 5:27-32 speaks directly to our denomination. The apostles are brought before their version of the judicial council. In the wake of Jesus’ death, their continued preaching, teaching, and healing run counter to the “discipline” they were expected to uphold. This wasn’t happening.
The apostles are given a choice: stop and stay in line or keep preaching Jesus and live beyond our version of God. If they leave, their lives and that of their families will be at risk. After all, if they could do it, Jesus, it could happen to them. What are they going to do?
Peter replies in verse 29. “We must obey God rather than humans.” That’s how I feel. I want to do what is right by God, and not the prejudices humanity blames on four verses of scripture. I do not want to harm people or participate in a system that propagates emotional violence in the name of a loving God. I can’t keep looking at myself in the mirror knowing I am a part of a systemic culture of exclusion. So yes, I agree with Peter in Acts 5. We cannot obey humans, no matter how angry, intense, or holy they sound if their version of Christianity and United Methodism says, “God only loves and welcomes certain people to a specific point that we flawed humans then administer-all under the banner of going on to perfection.”
Or, we can obey God, who has a history of saying yes, to all flawed people (without asking anyone, “change the way I made you before I’ll love you or allow you to celebrate the sacraments”). And who knows where we’re going “on to”? If we’re with God, it will be fine.
Richard Lowell Bryant