In case you missed it, a few days ago the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)  changed its definition of marriage to include people of every sexual orientation and gender identity. There has been much celebration, and I rejoice with my Presbyterian siblings. As someone who is particularly sensitive to Reformed theology, days like these make me desperately want to be a Presbyterian.

But I am not a Presbyterian. I am a United Methodist.

I have been sitting in United Methodist pews since I was the size of a grapefruit in my Mom’s tummy, and those pews (or chairs) will likely always be where I find my home. But as a transgender man with a fluid sexuality, it is tempting to walk right out of The UMC doors, and across the street to the PC(USA). At least there I could marry who I love without fear of someone getting put on church trial.

But I don’t walk away. I have opened our church’s doors and stared longingly at a lot of other denominations. I’ve maybe even stepped onto our front stoop and reached out my hand hoping someone would scoop me up on her way by, but I have never been able to bring myself to completely walk out.

I don’t blame anyone who has. I understand it, I really do. But I can’t.

And so on days like today, the question of the hour is “When will The UMC follow suit?”

I find myself defending an institution that doesn’t defend me.

Of course there are lay people, pastors, district superintendents, and even bishops who are supportive of the queer community. In fact, much of the support I have received has come from members within The UMC, and I cannot thank them and others like them enough. But when The UMC doesn’t acknowledge my existence as a trans man and when we still put pastors on trial, it’s safe to say that The UMC is no ally of my family or me.

And yet I stay.

Is it masochistic? Maybe. Or maybe it’s just hopeful. Maybe there’s just something about this church that gives me the kind of hope that says there is new life on the way. (Prayerfully, “on the way” is sooner rather than later.) Through navigating being queer and Christian, something I’ve learned is that I can’t give hope to myself. If I’m staying in The UMC because I have hope for it, it’s because of something that is happening outside of me; there is some person or people or movement or God-Man that gives me hope for the place I call home. I wish I could tell you exactly what it is, but I honestly don’t know. What I do know is that something is happening. Hope is here, I’m here, and I don’t think either of us is going anywhere.

So I will stay.

And I will defend this church when people claim it’s unredeemable. But I have so much hope and love for this place that I refuse to ignore or shut down the hard questions any longer. When will The UMC follow suit? When will we learn that all people are people worthy of love and care? When will church trials be a thing of the past? When will we acknowledge that there are trans people in our congregations?

I do not know, and I will not defend our inability to answer those questions.

They are questions that should have easy answers, and I have hope that someday they will. Until then, I’m sticking around because the conversation won’t happen on its own. I’m sticking around because when I came out, I had people in my church offering me resources, love, and hope and I don’t know how not to attempt to return the favor. To those of you who showed me there is a place for me in The UMC, thankyou. You have given me the hope and courage to stay.

And to you, person who’s reading this who has been harmed by the place I call home: I’m sorry.

I’m sorry we don’t do all that we can to welcome you with open arms, not regardless of who you are, but because of who you are. There is a place for you here, and we are wrong to not publicly and consistently acknowledge your place and your worth.

Forgive us, Lord, for our inability to proclaim the worth of all of Your children.
Forgive us, Lord, for when we are complicit in hate because we are too afraid tospeak Your love.
Forgive us, Lord; forgive us.

Brett Stadtlander

Brett Ray is a trans man and the author of My Name is Brett: Truths from a Trans Christian. He is a second year Master’s of Theological Studies student at Duke Divinity School in Durham, NC. He enjoys asking more questions than he will receive answers, sacramental theology, spoken word, and Iowa State athletics. Find more of his work at mynameisbrettray.com.
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