Why some are choosing to stay in The United Methodist Church…
by Rachel Gipson
A Mother’s Lament
I have just finished putting my three sons to bed. This nightly ritual involves a somewhat chaotic flurry of baths, books, snuggles, prayers, sippy-cups of water, night lights, songs, kisses, and I-love-yous. At all times, but especially bedtime, I try to create an environment where my children feel safe, secure, and unconditionally loved. The world is waiting, and it is so big, and often cruel, but for now I can protect them and surround them with love.
The church has been an environment that contributes to the goals of safety, security, and unconditional love. Having been raised in the United Methodist church as the daughter of two ministers, I have personally felt this love through the years. The support, friendship, and community I have experienced at church have been constant in my life, and have a dependability unlike any other group of which I have been a part. I feel a deep loyalty to my church on a local and global level. For this reason, I have looked forward to raising my family in a community of faith, that they might experience God’s love through others as I have.
But now I wonder. As I listen to the testimony of Tim Schaefer, I wonder if I am making the right choice as a parent. Sure, right now the church is just one big love-fest for my kids. But what if any of my sons are gay? What if any of them have a gender identity different than their biological sex? Tim Schaefer contemplated suicide because of the messages he received from the church. Am I doing harm by teaching them to love a church that does not love them unconditionally? By being a member of a United Methodist church, am I conveying, even implicitly, that the views held by the church at large are acceptable to me? By giving my money to the global United Methodist Church am I teaching them to look the other way where there is injustice? Am I setting them up to feel shame in their sexuality, whatever form that takes, by loving this church as much as I do?
On a local level, my boys will be loved and accepted. I know that. My church will love them, their pastors will minister to them, and they will not feel shame from the pulpit of their home church. For that I am deeply thankful. However, this isn’t just a local issue. I can’t hide the published views and official stance of the church from them. I can’t look in my son’s eyes and promise him that he can marry whoever is lucky enough to earn his love in the same sanctuary where his parents were married.
Obviously, this is not the first time I have felt at odds with my church over this issue. But this is the first time I have ever considered leaving. As a mom, I am intentional about the messages my children receive. I am not naïve enough to think I can filter all the bad out of the world (nor would I want to), but right now I am facing a choice. Can I knowingly expose my sons to a church that does not offer all people the opportunity to feel safe, secure, and unconditionally loved? How can I teach them to support an organization that makes clear that not all of God’s children are welcome? And finally, how can I possibly say goodbye to a church that has given me so much over my lifetime? No matter what choice I make, I feel loss, uncertainty, and deep disappointment.
I don’t know how to conclude these thoughts. This isn’t a call to action or rallying cry. Nor is it an angry goodbye to my church. It is a mother’s lament. It is the recognition of a hurt that I feel deeply. A hurt that bears the faces of my sons and a desperation for change that is as urgent as Tim Schaefer’s thoughts of suicide. I do not want to leave my church. However, my church is making it painful to stay.
Rachel Gipson, Los Angeles, CA. Nov. 21, 2013
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Reasons I Stay is a project of Reconciling Ministries Network dedicated to share the stories of individuals who have decided to stay in The United Methodist Church despite its descriminatory, unjust, immoral rules against LGBTQ persons. It is part of the Biblical Obedience movement sweeping across The United Methodist Church. We recognize that staying is not the right and healthy choice for all people, and we celebrate those too who have chosen to leave to more inclusive faith communities. You can read all the Reasons I Stay stories here. We invite you to submit your own story to Reasons I Stay.