As activists for LGBTQ people within The United Methodist Church, it is easy to be discouraged by the exclusion practiced in The UMC in the United States. Mistakenly thinking that the white, United States experience is the norm, we are often led to believe that the struggle for queer inclusion is happening only in the USA, and that the world-wide Methodist connection is not even thinking about these justice concerns. We have been told many times by those who support the current policies of the denomination that seeking inclusion and justice for queer people is disrespectful to other cultures, and trying to impose the United States’ values on other parts of the Methodist connection.
The Colombian Methodist Church begs to differ.
On February 25, 2018, Bishop Juan Cardona of the Colombian Methodist Church, along with his entire cabinet, gathered with Prince of Peace (Príncipe de Paz) Methodist Church in Bogotá, Colombia, to consecrate as Local Pastor the first openly gay Methodist Pastor in all of Latin America.
Pastor Jhon Botia Miranda was consecrated to serve Prince of Peace Methodist Church, having recently completed the training for licensing as a pastor. His fiancé was also present, and Bishop Cardona offered a prayer for the couple together during the worship service.
Jonathan Rodríguez-Cintrón, a pastor from the New England Conference and co-founder of QUEEN (Queer Unidxs for Emancipación and Equidad New England / Queer United for Emancipation and Equity New England), is working and studying in Bogotá, and reported from the consecration service. In his sermon, Bishop Cardona told the gathered community:
“It’s about time the church stop this madness of being centers of exclusion. We [the Colombian Methodist Church], since our General Conference in 2014, decided to be a prophetic and inclusive church. When we use the word ‘inclusive,’ we know what that word means and we practice that inclusion. In a time like Colombia is living today, it is important for us to be prophetic and bold. Justice without inclusion is not justice.”
Following a period of over 50 years of civil war and conflict, the people of Colombia have been engaged in several attempts at peace treaties for more than a year. Unfortunately, political factions and conservative church groups within Colombia rallied against the peace treaty, using fear of LGBTQ inclusion (referred to as “gender inclusion”) to solidify opposition to the deal.
The Colombian Methodist Church refused to play into these fears, and maintained the Church’s strong support of both the peace treaty and gender inclusion. The denomination’s position was so strong that the President of Colombia decided to recognize the Colombian Methodist Church, among five other denominations, for its leadership on topics of peace, justice, and inclusion.
The Methodist Church is prophetic again – can you imagine?
Bishop Cardona sees the consecration and installation of Pastor Jhon as a continuation of this commitment to inclusion and justice. He preached, “When we were dreaming about a Methodist Church in Colombia, the leaders at that time gathered together and decided to write their own dream, and then put it into action. We were so surprised when we read that all of us wrote the same thing: we wanted to be a fully inclusive church.”
Príncipe de Paz Methodist Church is a unique spiritual community in Bogotá. The congregation had long committed to inclusion of all people, regardless of social status, ethnicity/indigenous status, gender, or ability. Last year, the congregation decided by consensus that sexual orientation and gender identity were also essential in their commitments to inclusivity. Príncipe de Paz offers ministries for school children and youth (including recreation, food, theatre classes, and learning about ecological protection), and specific programs for women (creating opportunity for spiritual growth integrated with a cooking ministry, where the participants are “preserving the flavors of their ancestors” while baking goods which they hope to sell). Recently, the church entered a partnership with a queer radio station, Radio Diversia.
This congregation has become a place where many who have been wounded by religion and society in the past can find a spiritual home.
This is true of their pastor as well. Pastor Jhon Botia Miranda describes himself as a spiritual seeker, who began exploring different churches at the age of 12, but experienced marginalization in those churches because of his sexuality. He began to look for ways to reconcile his sexuality and his spirituality, and he found many queer people looking for the same in Bogotá. In 2014, he started a prayer group for LGBTQ folks and their families at his own house. That group grew rapidly from 5 to 50 people. When Jhon found the Methodist Church, he felt welcomed and affirmed, and decided to begin his process as a candidate for ministry. Jhon also founded “Redconciliarte,” modeled in part on the Reconciling Ministries Network movement in the USA, and this group engages in spiritual and civil rights activism.
Pastor Jhon currently works for Príncipe de Paz without salary, but he is clear where God is calling the community. He says, “we are building the Kin-dom of God, and when we say that, we are thinking about what is still Jesus’s mission, as he described it himself in Luke 4:18-19. We are called to free oppressed people. As we sang at my consecration, God will delight when we are creators of justice, joy, compassion, and peace. That’s our mission here. That mission is not married just to one cause. We are not creating a gay church; we are creating a family. The cause of the least of these is the cause of God, and so all of those are our common cause.”
If you want to support Pastor Jhon’s ministry, the ministry of Príncipe de Paz, and the continued commitment to inclusion in The Colombian Methodist Church, please consider a financial gift through The New England Conference: designate “Prince of Peace Colombia Advance,” and send to: New England Conference Center, 276 Essex St, PO Box 249, Lawrence, MA 01842-0449.