Last week, my friend Mary Ann was reinstated in her United Methodist ordination process in Southwest Texas. Even though she was approved by her church and a district committee, her conference board broke their own rules by voting her out without ever interviewing her. Her bishop, after over 6 months, finally overturned their discriminatory action, granting her the right to an interview.
Many are saying that this decision just delays the inevitable—in a year she will meet with her conference board and they will vote her out. But I don’t think it will be that simple.
The individuals on this board now have to see Mary Ann as a person: read her writing, listen to her story, and look into her eyes before they will be allowed to deny God’s call on her life.
It is one thing to vote out an abstract lesbian, it is quite another to enter into another’s life and tell them to their face that they were wrong about their calling. To do that, board members of Southwest Texas will have to decide to ignore their conscience and the Holy Spirit.
History books will record Mary Ann’s name alongside Anna Oliver and Anna Shaw… both denied ordination in in the 19th century on the grounds that “there is no place for women in the ordained ministry of the Methodist Episcopal Church.”
Mary Ann’s persistence and confidence in her calling to a church whose discriminatory clergy rules deny her entrance echo those in history who applied to colleges, sat at lunch counters, and kneeled in churches… even though they were not allowed to do so by law. As Anna Oliver said in1880 when seeking ordination alongside men:
I am sorry to trouble our dear mother Church with any perplexing questions, but it presses me also, and the Church and myself must decide something. I am so thoroughly convinced that [God] has laid commands upon me in this direction, that it becomes with me really a question of my own soul’s salvation. If [God] commands me to just the course I am pursuing, as only they that do [God’s] commandments have right to the tree of life, I have no alternative.
Mary Ann has no alternative than to follow God’s call on her life to minister in The United Methodist Church. My hope is that board members will have no alternative than to follow the Spirit’s call as well.
Andy Oliver has two children: Liam and Evan. Before joining RMN, he served as a United Methodist pastor in Florida and is currently appointed to RMN from the Florida Conference. Andy received his B.S. in Public Relations from The University of Florida and his M.Div. from Duke Divinity School.