In 1971 I was a student at Kent State University, enrolled in a class entitled, “Women in Literature.” It was led by the director of the then Kent Gay Liberation Front and her name escapes me now, as well as the works that we read. But, I do remember one class session late in the quarter, when a discussion of sexual identity came up. As several in the small seminar shared their fears and challenges as lesbian or gay, I remember thinking, “Wow. I have been in this class for almost an entire quarter and I didn’t know I was sitting with LGBTQ folks.” And on the heels of that awareness came the next one, “So what?” I was young and uninformed and had no gay friends that I knew of. But ever since that day I have been struck with the deep conviction that none of this mattered in the big picture. And I have been outspoken in my support of the LGBTQ population as an ally, in spite of, or maybe because my husband is a retired UMC pastor.
Don’t get me wrong. This issue DOES matter. It matters to all LGBTQ folks and their allies on every level.
And The United Methodist Church is making it matter in a way that is hurtful to many.
My struggle is with the irony of The UMC’s position. First, whether they know it or not, they have been ordaining LGBTQ pastors for decades. And even if they know this, which they probably do, they have attached a condition, stating that these individuals can neither admit their status nor “practice” their God-given sexuality. They are, in effect, encouraging those who seek ordination to lie. It is inconceivable to me that God would create humans and not allow them to be fully sexual in their relationships, especially when those relationships are committed. Further, to discipline them when they come forward, after many years of serving with passion and commitment and then agonizing over whether or not they should be true to themselves, is akin to the treatment given to some Puritans during the Salem Witchcraft Trials. Give them the lie, preserve the polite fiction so as to keep your job, your status, your “approval rating” or tell the truth and be hanged. Aren’t they the same servants of Christ now as they were when they were ordained? Indeed, they may have become even more compassionate and loving due to their personal struggles.
THEY know they are beloved by God and called to ministry; why can’t WE know this?
The other irony is the “sin” stance. Gluttony, divorce, etc., are sins. But we don’t hear divorced or indulgent individuals vilified or denied ordination by the church, not that they should be. But if we are talking sin, then let’s be fair. We are all sinners in the eyes of our loving God. I sometimes think it is personal revulsion, rather than scripture, that compels this denomination to so stubbornly retain its stance.
I believe that LGBTQ folks are created in the very image of God and are sinners no more than anyone else.
To deny them their call to ministry based merely on their sexual orientation makes them one-dimensional. All of us, queer, trans, or straight, have so much more to us than our sexual identity.
I recently moved back to a neighborhood and UMC church that I deeply love. It is not yet a Reconciling church; perhaps it will be. As I struggle with whether or not to fully commit to this denomination, my prayer is that we will see the light and offer God’s love freely, without condition, to any and all who come through the doors of The UMC.