Standing in the Gap

As I listened to Mark Doty’s honest and confessional words on Sunday, I was taken back to moments in my journey in the UMC that have given opportunity for challenge, grief, change and healing. In the 22nd chapter of Ezekiel in the First Testament many translators and commentators use a phrase from this oracle to Jerusalem that often surfaces today. God laments a search for one to “stand in the gap” referring to a breach in a wall to save Jerusalem from ruin. He found no one. No one.

My journey as a United Methodist is unique, broad, rich. I have been given the gift to serve at every level of the church. I have been the first elected lay delegate to the policy-making General Conference and the last elected alternate to the bishop-electing Jurisdictional Conference. I have been chosen to preach about repentance and racial reconciliation in the Cleveland Convention Arena and I have privately sobbed in a basement hallway of a Cincinnati hotel at the realization that for denominations divided over race “unity” did not mean merger. I have been challenged about my faithfulness to scripture at policymaking tables and I have gotten to call the Church to accountability in matters of human rights in Somalia and the Sudan. I have petitioned corporate boards of directors to include women and persons of color at their tables and have gladly stepped forward for election to church offices over women and persons of color. As I look back God has presented me with a lot of gaps.

In listening to Mark’s words of pain and rebirth, I again realized my comfort, in a way, in gaps. I have been asked many times in recent weeks about my “take” on the disaffiliation of United Methodist congregations. I realized in trying to piece words together that my greatest fear is that the UMC may no longer seek or have gaps to stand in— at least not as before.

In my political life in the UMC (a very accurate description), I have appreciated the support from those of many perspectives. When I entered that fray (also a very accurate description) I was young and I had visibility throughout the Church for my ecumenical and interfaith commitments. I was pulled into positions because I was young, a public speaker, and, truth be told, white. As the Conference looked for a ‘next generation’ to add to leadership, my uniqueness as a lay ecumenist presented the first gap. ‘It’s okay. He’ll come around.” was the murmur around the room. I didn’t. Next, my growing confession of white privilege and naming and confessing the sin of racism that still fractures our Church and world was a big gap. “It’s okay. He’ll come around.” I didn’t. Next, my unwavering tolerance and support for LGBTQI rights, leadership and legislation was a gap. The murmur around the room? Crickets.

I have sat elbow to elbow with top leaders and writers of the most progressive movements of the UMC and top leaders and writers of the conservative (even reactionary) movements of the UMC. I have listened to and have loved them, and they me. I have eaten and received sacrament with them. The UMC has been the host and catalyst for so many gaps. May that continue to be a source of her strength as God needs us all to stand, not on one side or the other but, in the gap. Creator God, May the gaps continue to be our comfort zones. Amen.

Byrd Bonner