There is a Licensed Local Pastor in the New England Annual Conference by the name of Reverend Skip Smith. He served at Berwick UMC in Berwick, Main. I do not know him, and I doubt that I will ever have the privilege of meeting him, much to my detriment. He is also my hero and one of a very few people who has ever moved me to tears. Let me tell you the story of what happened.
At the New England Annual Conference, a resolution was proposed, discussed, voted on and passed. It was amended from it’s original form to better reflect the opinions and desires of the conference, but the intent of it remained the same. (More on that in the coming days when I have the amended copy in full.) What this resolution is formed on is the idea that the Annual Conference will not follow the rules set forth by the General Conference in regards to it’s policies on marriage and human sexuality. This is text of the resolution before the amendments. The section on apportionment was changed and some other categories (isms if you will) were added. The main thrust of the resolution remained the same however.
So, some background here. First, those who voted for this legislation were informed that it violates the rules of the church in many ways, not just in their refusal to follow the BoD about the two above mentioned issues. They knew and went forward. They knew that this would result in a ruling of law that would have the Bishop strike it down, or absent that, the Judicial Council strike it down. Such a motion was made and the Bishop informed the body that he had 30 days to make a ruling and that he would do so. Why he did not do so immediately is beyond me as he knew that this legislation is indeed illegal according to our church laws. Though tempted to speculate on why, I will not take away from Rev. Smith by doing so here. So, after some contentious debate, with the few traditionalists who spoke being shouted down despite the presiding Bishop’s continual remarks about “Christian Conferencing” (his words, not mine). Having watched, I heard no such actions from the traditionalists when those who spoke in favor had the floor. In fact, again despite the Bishop advising against it, cheers and clapping continued whenever those in favor of the resolution spoke, and even when the resolution had passed.
So it passes, a motion for a rule of law was made, the Bishop responded to it, and then to the microphone comes Rev. Skip Smith. He spoke about the historic questions asked of those to be ordained in the United Methodist Church. He spoke about the vow to preach and uphold the doctrine of the church. He spoke respectfully (more so than I would have to be sure). He spoke about believing that the doctrines are in line with the holy scriptures. He spoke about not mending the rules, but upholding them. He spoke about a time of prayer and how he did not want to make the decision that he was about to make. Then he took off his credentials, hung them silently on the microphone, and then he left. While he was speaking, it became evident what he was going to do. I cried. In a world where integrity of belief means nothing, vows only matter when they are convenient, and darkness abounds, he was a silent and willing beacon of light. That beacon of light left the building. We all should be moved to tears by such dedication and devotion. We won’t be. One of the first reactions in fact came from one of our supposed brothers in the UCC. You can read it here. Take notice of his blurb under his profile picture which reads “United Church of Christ member who believes we work best as a big tent denomination. It just happens to be that the left side of the tent is more equal!” He formerly was a field organizer for Reconciling Ministries and held music directing positions in the UMC. It appears he is still grinding his ax. One can not help but wonder if this is the sentiment from this particular segment of the church.
As Rev. Smith tried to quietly leave, a woman stood up asking him not to, then telling him not to leave yet. She began well enough with saying that no one wanted him to leave….then she proceeded to tell him all about how he was wrong, in numerous disrespectful ways. The Bishop allowed this to go on for no discernible reason other than to humiliate a man who had the integrity to do what those who spread chaos and discord, including now the presiding Bishop of NEAC, will not. The man just made what was undoubtedly one of the most difficult decisions of his life, and a Bishop let someone dress him down for it and insult him on the way out. That is shameful. The Bishop got a standing ovation for allowing all of this to happen but the man who deserved the accolades left not in the humble silence that he intended, but rather to the jeers of an onlooker. The goats were praised while the sheep left the room. Yes it is harsh. Yes I meant it.
Let’s call this sort of behavior what it actually is. It is evil. Deep, spiritual evil. When a man (or woman for that matter, but in this case a man) of conviction and integrity voluntarily leaves the church he made a vow to God through because he can no longer serve there in good conscience, he deserves our praise, not jeers. When we look at those who act with integrity to uphold their vows, and when rendered unable to do so by the authority set above them leave, for the sake of the body and themselves, we should cheer them and reflect on what they have shown us. When we jeer at them we are not the sheep eagerly trying to follow the Good Shepherd, we are the goats consuming all in our path. Inevitably, we will forget Rev. Smith’s name. We will forget the names of all involved I imagine. What we can not do is forget the example of integrity and dignity that we were shown. What we can not forget is how it was reacted to.
Rev. Smith is my hero. He made the only choice that a person of integrity could make in the circumstances. He did so explaining why simply and without flourish. No harsh words or biting tone. He did so with respect and dignity and was treated, and allowed to be treated, like a villain by those around instead of like the hero he is. Even if you agree with what the resolution says, if you can not see this as an act of integrity and honesty, then you are a part of the problem. At the end of this nothing has really changed, the evil is still there and no one will remember his name…no one but me. He’s my hero after all. God bless you wherever the road takes you Rev. Smith. Thank you.