You meet the most interesting people when you work in a U.S. senator’s downtown office. During the four years I worked as a staffer for Colorado U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, I spent many hours in conversation with a wide range of folks who, upon seeing the storefront Senate office, would pop in to let us know their opinions on a wide range of issues. One day, a gent walked in and introduced himself as the U.S. ambassador to Albania, who happened to be in town and saw the office. As it turns out, the gent was, in fact, the U.S. Ambassador to Albania, who happened to be in town when he saw the office. We also got drop-ins from folks who wanted help with a problem they were having with a federal agency and folks who wanted to express their opinions to the senator. We enthusiastically welcomed and tried to help both types of people, and I met some amazing people.
That is also how I found out about the Methodist Mafia.
We had a regular visitor who popped in to talk about UFOs and the illuminati when he felt it was, well, safe. He worried about our office location – only a block away from a large Methodist Church. It seems, at least in this gentleman’s mind, that the Methodists had a hit squad out to get him — a Methodist Mafia — because he had learned some important truths about the Methodists and had to be silenced. He had a backpack full of various scribbles and he lived a sad and scared life.
I thought of him, for some reason, when I read a recent news report about two local clergy who had travelled to the Methodists’ annual conference. It seems at that conclave the national Methodists voted, 438-384, to reaffirm the policy that bans gay clergy and weddings. I confess to be surprised by this. I’m not a Christian myself, but when I was growing up, my parents took my brother and me to church at a Methodist church. It was, at least back then, the “liberal” church. But it seems that while church membership is declining in the U.S., the Methodists are seeing a surge of growth in many nations in Africa, where the more conservative view thrives.
This is a real problem for many Methodists and is creating a schism in the church that could result in a very significant defection by many members and congregations in the U.S. I’d hate to think of the impact on pot lucks. (I stole that joke idea from the news report, where one of the church leaders noted that if you have two Methodists talking, you’ll end up with three opinions and a pot luck. Good joke).
We in Colorado have a contentious — to say the least — history on LGBTQ relations. It was not that many years ago when voters passed Amendment 2. If you are new to Colorado, read up on that battle, it is important state history. Colorado was labeled the “hate state” by some and lots of people ended up offended and/or outraged, especially after the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the proposed amendment violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. We have come, I truly believe, a long way from those dark days, and today, marriage equality is rightly or wrongly the law of the land. (hint: it’s rightly).
Yet, somehow, the republic and our great state have endured. I’ve not heard from too many of my conservative friends announcing their divorces, as they had oft proclaimed that gay marriage would somehow destroy traditional marriage. My marriage is strong, despite (or perhaps because of?) the knowledge that somewhere, a gay couple is living happily together. The Sun rises each day; dogs and cats still sleeping on couches, and the Broncos will be great this year. The world still rotates; life goes on.
All of this suggests that the Methodist Church — locally, nationally, and internationally — is entering some very troubled waters, given the range of opinions on LGBTQ issues. One of the very few true parallels between traditional religious belief and science is that in both, people don’t really change their minds when faced with new information. Rather, the traditionalists tend to hold fast to their beliefs until they, well, die off, and newer, better ideas take hold.
But regardless of whether you fear a Methodist Mafia or not (hint: don’t) our friends in that community have some difficult days, months, and years ahead. I hope they navigate these troubled waters and emerge better and stronger, but only time will tell.
Hal Bidlack is a retired professor of political science and a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who taught more than 17 years at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.