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Using Your Voice

Earlier this year, the United Methodist Church voted no on sanctioning same-sex marriages or allowing openly gay pastors. While there are questions about the legality of some of the ballots, and there is concern about the influence of the international church bodies, it is nonetheless the current decision of this worldwide body.

So the churches that don't agree with the decision are having to work out what their continuing relationship will be with the worldwide body.

Earlier this month the confirmation class of First United Methodist Church in Omaha, NE, declined to complete the confirmation process which would make them full voting members of their congregation.

There is a video available online which shows two young people presenting a statement on behalf of their classmates about why they were not completing the confirmation process.

They love their congregation. They love their female pastor. They love that their congregation is welcoming of the LGBTQ+ community. But they disagree with the decision made by the worldwide body, and this was their way to express their disapproval of the decision.

The congregation gave them a standing ovation.

Comments on Facebook and Twitter have been along the lines of:

"In case you needed a reason to believe that this generation will save us all, here it is." (Sheri Shuler @SheriShuler)

"These kids will rule the world." Sara Chauhan @Boodogs4

"This new generation ... have won this battle, I think." SpringPeer @RachelsBirds)

I don't think they've won the battle. I think they've given it up.

At this time, at this moment, declining full membership in their congregation is a strong statement. They have clearly thought about it.

But if in a year they haven't changed their minds, and if in a year the new confirmation class chooses to make the same statement, then they've given up the battle.

They are denying themselves the opportunity to make change from within.

By choosing not to become members of the congregation, they are giving up their voice in the congregation. They are giving up the opportunity to lead their congregation. They are giving up the opportunity to serve as a representative to church conferences where these issues are debated and voted on.

In their current congregation, it may not make a difference. But as these young people go to college and lives in new churches, if they continue their stance, they are losing the opportunity to make change from within.

I have similar problems with people who complain about not being able to vote in the state party primaries because they're registered as Independents. If you're not willing to be a member of the political party, why should you have a right to participate in their decision-making process?

After last year’s school shooting in Parkland, FL, the students realized that one way they could influence change was by encouraging their classmates to not only register to vote but to actually get out and vote. The rate of voting among 18-to-29-year-olds in Florida's 2018 mid-term election was 15 percentage points higher than in 2014.

According to an article in U.S. News & World Report:

"Preliminary exit polls and widespread media attention for the March For Our Lives movement launched after 17 were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School had suggested high turnout among young voters passionate about gun reform. The teenage founders of the organization reached celebrity status, making appearances on late night TV, earning the International Children's Peace Prize and publicly taking on the National Rifle Association and lawmakers they felt were beholden to the group.

Counties with large numbers of college students had particularly impressive turnouts, with 49 percent of 18- to 21-year-olds voting in Leon County, home to Florida State University, and 46.5 percent casting ballots in University of Florida's Alachua County. Nearly 40 percent of that age group voted in Parkland's Broward County and 39 percent in neighboring Miami-Dade County, according to .. analysis." (USNWR, 1/23/19)

There have been school shootings for 20 years. Why was the effect at Parkland different? Partly because the victims were old enough, and savvy enough, to use the system to fight back. And they fought back by encouraging others to speak up and participate, to be heard through their vote. The figured out a way to make their voices heard and make a difference from within.

Rachel Held Evans died recently. She grew up in the evangelical church but was unhappy with its conservatism. Others facing the same issues have chosen to simply leave the church, and never come back.

... much of her work, was explicitly written for people who had been pushed away from Christianity. Especially after 2014, when she announced that she was “done fighting for a seat at the evangelical table,” Evans spent significant energy arguing for LGBTQ inclusion in the church. She also wrote about the importance of women’s voices in traditionally patriarchal Christian subcultures and reached out to Christians of color who were developing their own writing and platforms. Following her death, many people commented on her efforts to reach people at the margins of traditional Christianity: “Her impact on our community was enormous and deserves to be recorded,” wrote Matthew Vines, an influential Christian writer who focuses on LGBTQ issues in the Church. He encouraged people to “share your stories about this amazing woman of God

Evans did not lead a denomination or a movement or even a church, but she did invite people to come along as she worked through her relationship with Jesus. Her very public, vulnerable exploration of a faith forged in doubt empowered a ragtag band of writers, pastors, and teachers to claim their rightful place as Christians. Evans spent her life trying to follow an itinerant preacher and carpenter, who also hung out with rejects and oddballs. In death, as that preacher once promised, she will be known by her fruits.” (Emma Green, The Atlantic, 5/6/19)

She spoke up. She tried to influence change when she was within the evangelical church. They didn't listen. She left the church, but she came back to the Episcopal church. Her voice was stronger as a member working from the inside than as a critic on the outside.

I hope that the young people at First United Methodist Church ultimately decide to join their congregation. Right now they have sent a message. But ultimately their voice will be stronger as a member from the inside than as a critic on the outside.

-Ann Iona Warner

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