What does a committed Christian do in the The United Methodist Church (The UMC) when its doctrine and policy continues to discriminate against LGBTQ people? Despite a groundswell of grassroots support for LGBTQ persons, the institutional church has made no policy-level change over the last 40 years. As the third largest Christian body in the United States, The UMC still prohibits the ordination of “self-avowed and practicing homosexuals” and refuses the pastoral rite of marriage to loving same-sex couples. Sadly, The UMC is the only mainline Protestant denomination that continues to exclude LGBTQ persons from full participation at every level of church life.

Many of us decided that we must answer the call for Biblical Obedience as the most faithful way to respond to the church’s discrimination. What does this mean? It means that LGBTQ people are reclaiming the Bible. Instead of looking at the scriptures through an anti-LGBTQ lens, many of us have searched with new eyes and found treasures that lie far beyond the oft-quoted “clobber” passages that only seem to indicate that queer folk are sinful or disordered. Many of us now realize that you find what you are looking for when you read the Bible and that’s true not only around issues of LGBTQ people but also about the status and role of women, racism and many other social issues.

The struggle to end discrimination in The UMC has now reached a critical moment as more and more United Methodists are responding to the call for Biblical Obedience — a powerful LGBTQ reclaiming of the Bible and a call for faithful United Methodists to ordain queer clergy, marry same-sex couples, and stand in strong solidarity on behalf of the vulnerable and outcast. In truth, the Bible has been fundamentally misread, mistreated, and misused to oppress minorities instead of lifting up disenfranchised members of our church. We see that, in spite of the beauty of Christ and of Christianity, Christian history is dominated by a single interpretation of scripture established by those in power that excludes, dehumanizes, and is often violent toward those who do not fit the mold. We lament that well-meaning people often internalize these storylines and unwittingly become part of the injustice. Finally, we believe that the Bible, not unlike the great literary and narrative achievements of human history, deserves every bit as much study, attention, care, and caution even, in order to probe the depths of so great a mystery as God.

Today, even in the face of ongoing discrimination, many of us find that our deepening faith, our deepening commitment, and our deepening discipleship is informed, strengthened, and founded upon the great story of God’s unfailing love for all that is, and in particular, LGBTQ people. Biblical Obedience calls us more deeply into God’s word and therefore more deeply into the beauty of our own authenticity, our own sense of queer pride and confidence as children of God, and toward a greater resolve to oppose any so-called Christian perspectives that cannot behold and celebrate LGBTQ persons. Since the last General Conference in 2012, Biblical Obedience has repeatedly affirmed LGBTQ dignity and inclusion. As the great retired United Methodist bishop Mel Talbert has boldly proclaimed: “God has already settled this matter.”

As a result, Biblical Obedience demands that we take action, that our movement become the church’s version of civil disobedience. Today, United Methodist clergy are marrying qualified persons of the same-sex even though they risk their employment. Additionally, more and more LGBTQ persons are being passed through the ordination process demonstrating a new and increasing commitment on the part of many to do the right thing in spite of un-Christian church policies and attitudes.

Because of the strong faithful response of Biblical Obedience, the discriminatory policies and practices of The UMC are breaking-down by the grace of loving God who cannot abide injustice. Let us remember that no matter what the institution says or does, that God always has the final word — God always wins. As United Methodists head to Portland next month to deliberate once again over the settled matter of LGBTQ value and sacred worth, the resounding call of Biblical Obedience is as loud as ever: “Reclaim the Bible, take up the stories in scripture, be confidence and proud in the God who has called you by name, and refuse to obey unjust laws knowing that ‘God has already settled this matter!’

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Matt Berryman

Matt Berryman serves Reconciling Ministries Network as executive director. Prior to joining the staff of RMN, Matt spent three years in law school at the Florida Coastal School during which time he worked for churches, law firms, and LexisNexis as a legal editor.From 2002-2009, Matt served United Methodist congregations in the Jacksonville area of the Florida Conference.In addition to serving churches in the United Kingdom, he has led training events and workshops for The United Methodist Church, The Fund for Theological Education, Emory University, and the Fellowship of United Methodists for Music and Worship Arts.He received a B.A. from the University of South Carolina and a M.Div. from Emory University. Although he loves the heat and sunshine of Florida, he anticipates growing to love the charm of cold weather living in Illinois and the perfection of the snowflake!Matt loves an outdoor concert, a good idea, and his 14 year old son, Aidan.
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