St. Louis: “We Had Hoped…”

What Might Have Been 

John Greenleaf Whittier wrote:

Of all sad words of tongue or pen,
the saddest are these, “It might have been.”

We had high hopes for what might have been during the General Conference in St. Louis.

We had hoped that the center would hold; that the “Methodist middle” would support the One Church Plan as an effort to “maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  (Ephesians 4:3)


We had hoped that instead of mirroring the painful polarization around us, “the people called Methodist” might be united in our faith, mission and ministry while honoring the diverse contexts in which we serve.

We had hoped that delegates from the US (67% of whom support the One Church Plan) and delegates from Africa (where a majority of the delegates do not) could demonstrate the way equally faithful people serving in very different contexts can read the same scripture and come to different convictions about same-sex relationships.

We had hoped that we could be a church in which the things we do together are more important than the things that divide us.

We had hopes for what might have been.

But when the voting began, it became apparent that the forces opposed to the One Church Plan were in control on the floor. 52762393_10156202843851762_7409731876035756032_n.jpgThe vote to send the One Church Plan to the plenary revealed just how deeply divided the Conference is.

The unity that might have been crashed on the rocks of our differences.  The Traditional Plan that moved forward not only maintains the current prohibitions on same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBTQ persons, but would create harsh penalties for persons who disobey and would either encourage those people to leave or would force them out. It is also plagued by constitutional questions that will need to be dealt with tomorrow.

My conviction is that the Traditional Plan moves us in the direction of a legalistic fundamentalism that is inconsistent with the longer history of the way Methodists have interpreted scripture and been in ministry together.

What Is God’s Will? 

The question we are forced to ask is similar to the way Abraham Lincoln wrestled with God’s will in the Second Inaugural Address.  Faithful people on both sides of the debate read the same scriptures and pray for guidance from the same God.  I know that my friends on the other side have prayed as fervently as I have for the past two years. I know that the members of the Commission on a Way Forward and the Council of Bishops have listened for the God’s wisdom as deeply as I have. We’ve all prayed for the Holy Spirit to be at work among the delegates.

So, will the final votes of the General Conference necessarily be God’s will for the United Methodist Church?  One of my colleagues on Facebook said, “We have to believe that God is in control.”

Since I’m a Methodist and not a Calvinist, I don’t have to believe that.  I’m not required to believe that everything that happens is God’s will simply because it is what happened. As Wesleyans, we believe that God does have a purpose and will and that God is relentlessly at work to fulfill that Kingdom-shaped purpose through God’s people.  But we also believe that God gave us free will.  The degree to which God’s will is accomplished is often in our hands.  God has a purpose for the United Methodist Church but God’s fingers are not on the voting devices.  The delegates will decide.

I am sure that God’s will is consistent with the words and way of Jesus.  God’s will is accomplished through us when our choices align most clearly with Jesus’ vision of the Kingdom of God.  My task is to be as fully obedient as I can be to that Kingdom vision.  My humble conviction is that what we anticipate will be the action of the General Conference fall short of that measure.

Christ  Walks with Us 

“We had hoped…” That’s what two sad, disappointed disciples told the stranger who joined them as they walked to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) It was only later that they realized that the one who walked with them was the Risen Christ.

I’m sad and disappointed by the anticipated defeat of the One Church Plan.  But my hope is that the same Christ walks with us and that one day the disappointment will be transformed into new life.

Grace and peace,












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16 thoughts on “St. Louis: “We Had Hoped…”

  1. Beautifully written. Well articulated. Thank you for finding and sharing the hope in a time of division within the church. The authenticity of your words come from the authenticity of your heart. Thanks for sharing tonight Jim!

    Trey Winter 678-899-0378


  2. Excellent.

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. MY heart is broken too at what appears to be a loss of any sense of unity and shared ministry.   We are all losers here and like you I pray that disappointment may give birth to new life in us. Thank you for your words and your witness to be best that is in us! Ben F. Boone 270-556-2555 (c) “We are not God. We are simply the image of God, and our task is gradually to discover that image and set it free.”  (Michael Quoist)

  4. You know I have so much love and respect for my church in Hyde Park, that I made the kindergarten-level mistake of generalizing from a sample of one. I’m actually surprised, but worse, it’s also disappointing and embarrassing. Lisa Sent from my iPhone


  5. Thanks for your thoughtful and heartfelt response to this disheartening day. Your honest words bring both comfort and challenge (with an emphasis on the latter)!

    Blessings, LeeAnn

    Sent from my iPhone


  6. Elizabeth Ashley-Carnes February 26, 2019 — 5:17 am

    Thank you. So well expressed.

  7. February 26, 2019 — 5:22 am

    Oh Jim, a sad moment. Thanks for your comforting comments. For me the silver lining was that you must be feeling better in order to marshal the grace you Expressed. That’s our Jim.

    Blessings and get well!


    Sent from my iPhone


  8. Greetings Moruti

    I share your sadness!

    To my untrained eye, this really does look like the stark picture where traditionalism and culturalism take precedence over the way of the Christ and those who seek to follow that way as closely as possible.

    Our prayers unite us



    From: Jim Harnish Sent: Tuesday, 26 February 2019 04:40 To: Subject: [New post] St. Louis: “We Had Hoped…”

    jimharnish posted: “Wh

  9. Thank you, Jim. I too had hoped.

  10. Thank you so very much for your insights Jim! We had hoped! So happy you are home! Do listen to your helper!! K

  11. How does the global church in the UMC see themselves today in St. Louis?

    I was rather young in 1968, a child in my current Methodist Church. Despite growing up with one (there may have been more) now labeled LGBTQ in the Church, I question the “label” so prominant in the discussion of human sexuality, ordination and the Book of Discipline over the past three years, let alone longer.

    After all, the Wesleyan traditionhas typically has looked at issues of protective class individually and not collectively, from what I have studied. Blogs on human sexuality have talked about the Church, and the role people of color and women (Herstory).

    Did I read the 47% of the delegates to #GCUMC are from outside the USA in St. Louis this week?

    “When this union occurred in 1968, 92.5% of the General Conference delegates were from the United States and the remaining 7.5% came from the Central Conferences outside the U.S. Before the merger, the Methodist General Conference (GC) authorized the Commission on the Structure of Methodism Overseas (COSMOS) to conduct a study of the Methodist overseas structures during the 1964-1968 quadrennium and bring recommendations.”

    A 29 year old, Methodist female shared the following on the discussion with me, “The right path isn’t always easy. Just because you want something doesn’t make it right. God tells us what is right and good.”

    While that person is an American, isn’t there some truth in that message from our brothers and sisters from outside the USA?

    I have continued to pray for prudence and ethics in St. Louis. Indeed, our human sexuality shouldn’t define us. But, why has been used in that fashion with our discussions, as the UMC?

    Peace be with all our brothers and sisters in the UMC and those with Christ. We are all children of God.

  12. Thanks as always for your deeply held and clearly spoken thoughts. I share the pain of this moment. I had also hoped the One Church Plan would succeed. I was also aware that we reap what we sow. For decades we have commission missionaries to Africa heavily weighted with more far right theology. I can’t say Methodist fundamentalists for that is an oxymoron. Now that theology has become political in a way that will shatter the church for a long time. I believe it will lead to a disenfranchisement of those churches whoo have been open, and will stay open. It may challenge the, so-called, fellowship of the clergy. As aa retired member I have little left to fight, but I will try to be a healing agent where I attend, and, despite the decision, refuse to bend toward any separation of men and women whose genetic determination was far beyond their control. Theology must understand science or be found guilty of causing great pain and sin. We are no longer in 6000b.c.

  13. since we were done in b y africa and the over seas UMC can we organize a UMC of the USA if we want to share God’s love with all people

    1. “done in by Africa”?!?!?!?!?? Curious indeed how we loved the “little pagan babies” when they were OUR mission field and how we now resent and cry “Betrayal!” when they come of age in the faith and see us as THEIR mission field! Hell hath no fury as that of an evangelist proselytized by “their own” convert!

  14. So very good, and gives expressions to my own feelings — but better than I could have expressed them. Have shared with others via Facebook. Thank you, Jim.

  15. Fascinating how “One Church” in “Unity” politicized and selectively appropriated immediately calls to mind “freedom is slavery, war is peace, ignorance is strength.” When in fact fracturing, what better defense than to claim unity as motive and portray those taking the contrary stance as exclusionary and discriminatory. Well played!! What a dog’s breakfast in the name of our Lord no less! No wonder the North American Church is in shambles!

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