– by an anonymous United Methoidst clergyperson –
Weddings are beautiful. I love them. I love seeing my friends commit themselves to each other in the presence their community and Creator. It gives me great joy to see the deep love on the faces of a couple’s face as they look at each other.
But weddings also wreck me.
As a United Methodist clergyperson, I don’t have the right to perform weddings for the many LGBTQ people in the church where I’ve been called to be a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
As a queer person, I don’t have the right to get married in the church in which I’ve grown up. Not only am I deemed incompatible with Christian teaching by the UMC, I am also bound to the Discipline, which dictates that I cannot be a self-avowed practicing homosexual. I also cannot perform the unions of gay and lesbian couples for fear that I may be stripped of my ordination. This hurts. And I’m at a loss.
I used to speak a big game: “Oh yeah. If I’m ever asked to do a ceremony of a queer couple, I won’t hesitate to do it.” But I don’t speak that big game anymore. While I have not yet been asked to marry a queer couple, I am not sure I will be able to say yes when that moment comes. I also don’t know if I will be able to say no. I just don’t know.
There was also a time when I told people, “I don’t do weddings at all. I won’t do them for same sex couples or straight couples. I just won’t do a wedding or union.” But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I’ve realized that there are heterosexual couples in my church and in my life whose unions I want to celebrate. It’s not just an easy, “Yes, I’ll celebrate all marriages and unions or none at all” kind of thing. This decision is more complex than that simple yes or no.
On top of these clergy-specific issues, I share the struggle of so many of my queer brothers and sisters—the whole wanting to settle down and love one person for the rest of my life, while not being allowed to marry that person in the church that I call home. When I go to weddings, I long to one day experience what I’m seeing. I long for a day when I have the right to marry—and for the day when I find someone who cherishes me for me. But I’ve yet been able to settle down. Yes, I’ve dated. Yes, I’ve had significant others with whom I’ve fallen in love. But I haven’t been able to make myself stay in a committed relationship. Why? Because in my mind, being in a legitimate, steady, committed relationship meant that I had to deal with the United Methodist Book of Discipline. I was not ready for the implications of that, especially in the heart of Dixie.
I’ve been to many weddings lately. This is why I feel the need to say this now; to give a voice to those of us in the church who sit in the pews, witnessing the beautiful unions of our heterosexual friends and simultaneously trying to cope with this inner turmoil. As if it is hard enough being an affirming clergy person, it is even harder to be Queer clergy. Our romantic relationships suffer in ways that heterosexual couples cannot understand; yet we are asked to do weddings for heterosexual couples all the time. The internal struggle that I—and other queer clergy members—have over this is very real, and is very painful.
So why stay in the United Methodist Church?
It is not as easy as simply leaving the church. I am a United Methodist to the core. I was baptized in this church, confirmed in this church, learned how to love in this church, came out in this church, and was affirmed in this church. I may never get married or even find a partner who can put up with my uncertainty and craziness; a partner who understands what it means to be the partner of a clergy person in the SEJ. But for some reason, I cannot divorce this church.
I pray that the day will come when all of my friends can be married to the ones they love, regardless of sexual orientation. I pray that there is a day when The United Methodist church sees me, a queer clergyperson, not just as a person who seeks to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, but as a whole human being who is more than “compatible” and a beloved child of God, even if I am queer. I pray that the Discipline of the UMC does not continue placing hurdles in the paths of people like me, who, like so many, simply want to find and marry partners with whom to spend our lives.
For now, I pray that the advocates and activists in the United Methodist Church who speak up on behalf of LGBTQ lay and clergy will be mindful that weddings are hard for many of us, particularly LGBTQ clergy. Reach out to us. You know who we are. Please don’t forget how hard it is to live as a queer clergy person, no matter our geographical location.
I am aware that much of what I’ve written is coming from a place of hurt, isolation, and the reality of being queer clergy in the south. But I feel called to give a voice to those of us who are sticking it out in the system. We are here. We are queer. My wish is that the church, and our heterosexual friends, family, and colleagues, will recognize and affirm us for all that we are and for all that we have to offer to this community.