There are many voices within The United Methodist Church who want us to break up with them. From bishops, Boards of Ordained Ministries, and other leaders, we are told to simply leave. Is leaving home ever that simple? We are United Methodists because there is no other denomination with our unique connectional polity and distinctive Wesleyan spirituality. We are here because God has called us to serve in this denomination, and our souls are fed by the theology in which we’ve been raised.
We are coming out as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer/Questioning, and Intersex persons at this moment for several reasons. Foremost, we want you to know we still love you and seek to remain in relationship with you. Even if we should leave and you seek more restrictive language against LGBTQI persons, know that God will continue to move mysteriously in the hearts of LGBTQI young people and adults and will call them to serve within this denomination. You cannot legislate against God’s call. The “LGBTQI issue” is not one that can be resolved through restrictive legislation but instead by seeing that all persons are made in the image of God and welcomed into the community of faith. – Reconciling Ministries Network, “A Love Letter To Our Church From Your LGBTQI Religious Leaders”, May 9, 2016
It’s happening. What I have been advocating for 25 years is finally coming to pass. Over a hundred United Methodist leaders have signed an open letter to our denomination as it gathers for General Conference, making plain for all to see and hear they are both LGBTQI and not going anywhere. This mass self-outing challenges the stated preferences of at least some United Methodist leaders to hold trials for each and every person who violates church law regarding the ordination of sexual minorities or those who officiate at same-sex weddings. On the one hand we have the principle that those who violate church law in this regard be put to a church trial (even though the Book of Discipline doesn’t restrict administrative responses to legal action) and the reality that there are now, always have been, and always will be sexual minorities serving church, as District Superintendents, Bishops, youth leaders, seminary professors, and candidates for ordination. Even should those seeking not only to uphold our current language regarding the legal status of sexual minorities and those who officiate at same sex weddings get their way, that not only doesn’t guarantee a successful prosecution; it also doesn’t change the reality that people whose sexuality is different will continue to be called to serve in the United Methodist Church. Restricting the language even further only changes the perception of who holds power within the Church.
I’m sure there are some people gathering in Portland who feel blindsided by this open letter. Even if they support changing the Discipline, this letter would seem to force a quick and decisive decision upon what was intended to be a consciously deliberative process allowing all voices the chance to speak and be heard. This letter is a direct challenge not only to the current Discipline but a challenge to the 800 delegates in Portland to act rather than prayerfully dialogue and conference together on such a sensitive matter. Truth is, I have some sympathy with this point-of-view.
I think, however, that the delegates in Portland might be able to see this as just another part of the deliberative process, another piece of the puzzle they’re trying to put together that is the future of our denomination. Just as there are those, I am sure, who would prefer not to hear the story of Ben Wood, or would prefer we not use our Doctrinal Standards or our Articles of Religion as a guide through the thickets of deliberation, I’m sure that this open letter, precisely because of its audacity, is something delegates would prefer not to consider. It is every bit as relevant, however, as all the other parts of the matter, from Biblical interpretation through practical considerations. All of it must be in the mix, not least the potential future of our brothers and sisters who have dared risk so much so that others might benefit from their audacity.
We stand on the brink. All of us, not just the 800 in Portland, have the gravest of responsibilities: facing the future of our Church together, regardless of how we believe that future should look. I think it is important to recognize and name the courage, the challenge, the promise, the hope, this letter represents. Nothing is as fearless as Christian hope. We should honor that in our thoughts and prayers, our dialogue and arguments, in all that we do to see that the People Called Methodist continue to serve the world in our unique, evangelical, liberating way. Our moment of reckoning is upon us. Let us be the Church circumstances call us to be.