The United Methodist Church has always been a warm and comforting place for me. As a teenager I was introduced to youth groups through The United Methodist Church. I began to experience Christ through a relationship as opposed to solely scripture readings. The church provided me with the essential stepping stones that I needed to strengthen my relationship with Jesus Christ. It truly hurts my heart when I hear stories from individuals in which they are unwelcomed or limited in their growth within The United Methodist Church. The church has been such a blessing to me in my own life; I struggle to understand how a place of worship and devotion to God can make others feel shunned and limited in their growth.

In South Georgia, I practice as a psychotherapist and teach as a college instructor.  Through my career I have heard stories in which people are deeply hurt by the way the church has made them feel. When I say “hurt,” I mean they feel limited or shunned.  The pain is so severe that many have stopped practicing their Christian faith all together due to feeling ostracized and unwelcomed.  I feel as though South Georgia is in a drought. While there is an abundance of churches around every corner there are little to no affirming congregations that welcome LGBT people and allow them to progress into spiritual leadership positions. This is problematic for me as a Christian and one who attends a United Methodist Church.  The mission of The UMC is: “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” The website goes on to say, “this means we strive to nurture followers of Christ who then reach out and teach others about the love of Jesus” (www.umc.org).  It is difficult for me to understand how a church that’s mission is “reaching out” and “teaching others about the love of Jesus” can push away certain people who want to be a part of the body of Christ.

While I respect difference and I completely understand how some people are more comfortable with specific things over others, I do not believe respect and discrimination can be practiced simultaneously. While I have encountered those individuals who are shunning LGBT persons away from the church, I have also met those who are welcoming them and working toward ending the discrimination.

Reconciling Ministries Network has become an integral part of that stepping stone initiated so many years ago at The United Methodist Church. I feel as if the Reconciling Ministries Network has created a safe zone in which Christians can begin to have a conversation about LGBT inclusion with other Christians. I believe this conversation is important to the growth of the body of Christ.  I hear stories of LGBT individuals or their supporters expressing how “dissected” they feel when they go to church. As a Christian, I have a problem with this statement. I feel church should be unifying and a time of coming together with other believers to join in the communal worship of Christ. How can we expect our LGBT brothers and sisters and their allies to feel this if there are no conversations occurring at the church level?

Almost a year ago, I decided to step out on faith and attend a RMN processing coach workshop. I met with leaders from the RMN headquarters out of Chicago, IL and began to have this conversation about LGBT issues and The United Methodist Church. Remarkably the entire process felt very right. There was love, compassion, encouragement, teaching, and accountability.  There were individuals from all over the Southeast region eager to learn how to gracefully have this conversation with their home churches.  For the first time in a long time I felt that the church was once again supporting social justice.

RMN has created, what I like to believe, the extending hand of Love bridging together the years of distance between fellow Christians. Working in a field that requires listening to families and individuals, I too often witness people who are broken and misguided by their churches about homosexuality. I cannot help but feel saddened that individuals abandon the faith due to such misteachings and personal bias. I feel that RMN is that bridge which so many have been seeking. The process in which RMN takes is very loving, patient, and understanding.

Unfortunately, South Georgia is limited extensively in providing inclusive Christian congregations. So many Christians give up due to lack of fellowship, guidance, and encouragement. While there are many churches throughout South Georgia, there are very little that would allow all persons to actively engage in church leadership.  It is very difficult to attend a church service that refuses to recognize your marital union as a blessing but rather as a sin.  I feel the Reconciling Ministries Network is the link needed to help end the pain and hurt of many shunned Christians in South Georgia. RMN reinforces love and graceful engagement. These concepts are central to Christian teachings and are a necessity for all of God’s children. The UMC has always been an organization to stand up for social justice, and I cannot see a more opportune time than now. South Georgia lacks this bridge and there are many people walking away from the faith simply because they do not feel “safe”.  My hope is that all people in South Georgia can find safe places to explore and celebrate the faith of Jesus Christ.

Dr. A.J Ramirez

Dr. A.J. Ramirez is a trained RMN process coach in South Georgia and a Christian currently attending a UMC in Valdosta, GA. A.J. received her B.S. in Sociology from the University of North Georgia, M.S. in Marriage & Family Therapy and Doctor of Education from Valdosta State University. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice, a Certified Professional Counselor Supervisor, and an adjunct professor at Valdosta State University.

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