The Rev. Mark R. Holland of Trinity Community Church in Kansas City, Kansas, supported the use of what has become known as “Rule 44” during General Conference of The United Methodist Church because, he said, he has seen how small-group discussions can help foster understanding.
Delegates to the General Conference voted against use of Rule 44 – a provision that would have moved proposals related to human sexuality or other topics into discussion groups comprised of 15 or fewer people – for the 2016 meetings on a 477-355 vote. The decision came after more than two days of debate and questioning over parliamentary procedure. During that pre-vote debate Thursday, Holland and the Rev. David Livingston of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in Lenexa, Kansas, both spoke on various issues in favor of allowing the small-group discussions to come to a vote of the body of delegates.
Holland’s three-minute speech in favor of moving Rule 44 to a vote of the General Conference included a personal story about adoption of his daughter and how a meeting opened his mind to a better appreciation of differing beliefs.
Holland later elaborated on his abridged story made during his speech.
He and his wife, Julie Solomon, took part in a mission trip to Congo in 2009 with his associate pastor at Trinity UMC at the time, the Rev. Mande Muyombo, who now is associate general secretary for Africa for the Global Board of Global Ministries. The couple’s life changed forever on that trip.
“We went with no intention of adopting, but we fell in love with a little girl,” Holland said.
That girl is Esther. Just 4 years old at the time, she had been raised since she was 2 days old by Honorine Mwad Mujing, also known as “Mother Mwad.”
Fast forward to 2012, during General Conference in Tampa, Florida. Holland, also a delegate then for the former Kansas East Conference, attended a dinner with friends from Africa to share family pictures. During that dinner, African delegates asked Holland to explain the rainbow-colored stoles worn by some people in attendance.
Holland used the opportunity to tell about the movement to change the Book of Discipline to allow self-avowed, homosexuals to be ordained and to serve United Methodist churches and to allow for same-sex marriage within the denomination’s churches.
“So I talked about my church, which is a reconciling congregation,” he said. He explained how LGBTQ people in his congregation helped lead worship, taught Sunday school and handled other duties, such as mowing the lawn.
“They looked at me in total disbelief,” Holland said. “They had never had someone they knew and loved talk that way.”
But the learning and understanding traveled both directions. Holland said the African delegates present explained that in their culture, homosexuality was associated with sorcery and witchcraft – “the very margins of society.”
“It really opened my eyes to the three worldviews on display at General Conference,” Holland said.
Holland said meetings such as General Conference provide a place for ideologies of people living in post-modern, modern and pre-modern societies to converge. While that convergence can cause large barriers, it also provides an opportunity to share stories and beliefs about their faith.
Those stories may have been the content of the sharing times around tables had Rule 44 passed.
“When you share stories, you learn that cultures can be fundamentally different from one another,” Holland said, referring to the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which posits that decisions can best be made by factoring in scripture, experience, tradition and reason. The quadrilateral is a concept taught in confirmation classes and elsewhere within The United Methodist Church that provides the basis of theology for the church's founder, John Wesley.
“I believe God’s word is true and God’s word is good for all for all time,” Holland said, noting that interpretation of scriptures varies widely among believers in Christ. “We just need to listen to each other’s stories. We are good people of good faith who see what is in the Bible very differently.”
Contact Todd Seifert, Great Plains Conference communications director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.