Greater NW Pride: Beyond the Rainbow Flag


Beyond the Rainbow Flag
(Or “Once the Rainbow Flags Are Down, Then What?”)

Since the vote taken by the delegates at the United Methodist Church’s (UMC) specially called General Conference, my Facebook page with other UMC contacts exploded with images of rainbow flags, banners, bunting, pics of whirligigs, candles, hats, pins, ribbons, hair bows, and tassels. Everywhere I looked on various UMC websites, there were more rainbow memorabilia, with banners draping church signs, rainbows flags popping up in sanctuaries, newspaper advertisements announcing this or that UMC is practicing keeping doors, minds, and hearts open as much as possible, and being sure that everyone knows that “all means all,” or as they would say in the South, “Y’all means all.” It was like many UMC churches ran out to a party store and ran out and got all the rainbow paraphernalia for an LGBTQ Pride Parade, without the great floats, sparklers, bands, dancers, cars, and quirky and kinky side shows. 
As an openly gay man, I want to say, “Thank you.” Your visible, written, and vocal support of LGBTQ people, especially in the UMC, is great and welcome!
Now comes the hard part, the"now what?" part. Once the rainbow displays are down, Facebook and Instagram postings vanish, the newspaper advertisements are a distant memory, the mundane colors of the church are prominent again, the furor or jubilation of the vote in February has tempered, the Western Jurisdiction will have met and sought God’s wisdom, and the Judicial Council will have met to consider the constitutionality of the so-called “Traditional Plan”…in light of all this processing and re-processing: now what? Will the UMC as a mainline denomination figure a way to be partners with other mainline denominations that welcome all? Will your individual UMC church be any more inclusive of or integrated with more LGBTQ people since the vote or a few years time? Or less? There is no doubt that the vote will dampen any growth of more LGBTQ people in the UMC until “next steps” are more clearly evident. After all, we, who are LGBTQ have our choice these days of other mainline denominational churches that are welcoming, open, and affirming, and integrate our God given talents and gifts well. 
In the coming days, (March 13-15), I’ll be at the Northwest Leadership Institute 2019 at the Cathedral of the Rockies/First UMC Boise. I was going to talk about LGBTQ people and our spiritual path, given the uniqueness of our journey outside or on the margins of cisgender, straight, heteronormative Christian faith communities. But then there was this vote in the specifically called General Conference, and a moment of expressing emotionally and thinking theologically about the work of love in search of justice arose. 
So, this is what we are going to do in my session, re-branded as “Beyond the Rainbow Flag” or “Once the Rainbow Flags Are Down, Then What?”

  1. Those of us who are LGBTQ UMC members in the session will be welcome to share what that vote felt like, what were their thoughts, and what were the visceral reaction or response in a few words. I’ll share what it felt like as an LGBTQ ally and out gay pastor in the Presbyterian Church, USA (hint: it felt like a punch in the gut, again). Then, cisgender straight people will have a chance to share;
  2. The next move is to ask individuals the following questions, which we’ll share in small groups (from Reconciling Ministries of the Greater NW):
    1. I am…
    2. I love my church because… 
    3. My dream for the UMC is…
  3. This will be followed by individuals gathering in small groups, and taking these cards with them, and writing the following: “My Dream for the UMC in which ALL are Welcome is…” This will involve each group working on a vision statement, including one Scriptural reference, which directs the vision of the group, e.g., love your neighbor as you love yourself, for example. This will be written on large pieces of newsprint. 
  4. Then we will gather groups all together, who will share their collective vision statement. The idea of the vision statement is to have a general sense of what are the “next moves” or “action steps” for not only individuals, but a group, or a community of faith.

The goal, overall? It is to assist congregations finding their way towards being fully integrated, in which all are not only welcomed, affirmed, and included, but integrated in every aspect of a community of faith’s life, regardless of one’s gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, age, ability or disability, from the hearing community and the deaf community. In other words, that the church strives to be the body of Christ in the world today (1 Cor. 12).
To those folks who are coming to Boise, I’ll see you there. Let's do the work of the Gospel and go forward.
If you aren’t coming to Boise, invite me to come and process with members of your district, your Conference, your retreat center, your church, and let’s work, together, in being body of Christ in your neighborhood, city, town, or village. 

Brett Webb-Mitchell
Rev. Dr. Brett Webb-Mitchell is an openly gay Presbyterian pastor in the Portland area serving as the part-time LGBTQ+ advocacy coordinator for The Oregon-Idaho Conference of the UMC. He can be reached at brett@umoi.org. Become a subscriber to the Greater NW Pride blog to get Greater NW Pride in your email box!