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"For Everyone Born" in text set in front of a rainbow-colored silhouette of the St. Louis skyline

Supporting Your Methodist Friends

"For Everyone Born" in text set in front of a rainbow-colored silhouette of the St. Louis skylineDear Non-Methodist Friend (who probably cares about and knows at least one United Methodist pastor or lay person),

Today I write to you as a United Methodist Church (UMC) pastor who is fighting for justice and full inclusion for all people at all levels in the lives of our churches and denomination. As you probably heard, last week the UMC held a big meeting, called a General Conference, to discern the role of LGBTQIA+ persons and allies in our body. This was a special, called meeting, held between regular quadrennial meetings, and the sole topic of this meeting was LGBTQIA+ persons (even though they weren’t mentioned by name for most of the day of prayer) which we have been debating at General Conference since 1972 – 4 years after we were established.

As you may know, the UMC is the 3rd largest denomination in the United States (behind only Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists); and we are a global denomination with 12.6 million members worldwide. Approximately 60% of our membership is in the United States. In some countries where we are in mission and ministry, it is illegal to be in a same sex relationship and is punishable by death. In other places, like the Northeast and Western US, fully welcoming LGBTQIA+ persons is a necessity to reach our communities. There is a great divide.

This divide was very evident at our Special General Conference when it was voted 53% yes, 47% no, to uphold the “Traditional” plan which would redefine same sex relationships in church law, increase penalties on clergy who break church law—including the revocation of credentials, and more. Much of this plan was deemed “unconstitutional” by the Judicial Council, which functions like the United States Supreme Court in our denomination. There are many questions about what the result of passing this piece of legislation will be. Suffice it to say, we won’t know for a while. In the meantime, all “sides” are weighing their options for staying or leaving the denomination while knowing that the conservatives will have a larger percentage of delegates at our next regularly scheduled General Conference in 2020.

This has been an exhausting week for all United Methodists who are following our General Conference. We are worn out. In the UMC, we have 3 General Rules that guide us and were given to us by our founder, John Wesley. 1) Do no harm. 2) Do good. 3) Stay in love with God. Harm has been done to our LGBTQIA+ siblings, and this is not acceptable. In the words of our baptismal vows, we must “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they may present themselves.” We have failed. We allowed evil to rear its ugly head in the way we talked to the “other” this week. Insults were thrown from all sides. This is not a good witness to our faith.

Many well-meaning people of faith have asked me what they can do to help. So I crafted this list to guide you, well-meaning person of faith in engaging with United Methodists, especially those who are grieving the actions of General Conference: Read more

rainbow flag blowing in the wind

Speaking For Me

rainbow flag blowing in the wind“The issue.” That’s how we are often talked about by conservatives and progressives alike. To those who would like to purge The United Methodist Church of all of us queer folks, we are discussed not as real people in the church but as “the issue of homosexuality.” Then there are allies who are quick to point out that human sexuality is just the “presenting issue” as our denomination grapples with how we understand scripture, where the locus of power should rest, and the complex realities of a global church. While there is truth in that argument, that truth fails to dull the sting of dehumanization. Either way we are talked about as if we weren’t right here.

The United Methodist Church has been fighting about LGBTQIA+ inclusion/exclusion since 1972 when language was inserted into our book of polity that declared homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching and then in 1984 that barred “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” from being clergy. This antiquated language enacts not just exclusion but also erasure as those of us who identify as BTQIA+ but not as homosexual are left unclear whether we are even being talked about to begin with. I have heard allies defend themselves for only speaking out for gay and lesbian rights because our book of discipline only discriminates against homosexuality. And yet, United Methodist polity has reduced identity to action—sexual orientation to sex acts. Being bisexual will not protect me from charges filed if I decide to marry a woman nor will it protect me from the much more complete purge the so-called traditionalists would like to enact.

And now, as our denomination gathers for a special called General Conference (Feb 23-26) in St. Louis to vote on a way forward for our denomination, the “issue” will be fought over as though it were just the future of our denomination and not real lives that are at stake. Our lives. My life. In the fall of 2018, I made the complicated decision as a young United Methodist clergywoman to come out as bisexual. I began claiming my own queer voice just as my beloved denomination has disintegrated into a shouting match—speaking sometimes against, sometimes for, but always over me. Rarely with me.

When I was deciding how, when and if I would come out to my congregation, a queer friend and mentor asked me to consider if I wanted to fight for LGBTQIA+ rights “as an ally” or if I wanted to fight for our rights as a queer woman. I looked at her funny. I know who I am. I can’t do anything as anyone other than who I already am. “That’s your answer,” she told me matter-of-factly.  Read more

The Devil’s In The Details

This week the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, the denomination’s governing body, is convening in Tampa.  The Rev. Katie Dawson is  in Tampa as part of the delegation from the Iowa Annual Conference.  Her post, reprinted here from her blog, “salvaged faith,” raises questions particular to the UMC, but also for young clergy women in other churches.   

Last Saturday afternoon, the Faith and Order legislative committee passed an amendment to paragraph 304.3 in the Book of Discipline that discusses qualifications for ordained ministry.  The change actually removes language that would bar a “self-avowed practicing homosexual”  and removes language that talks about from service and instead inserts this language:

 

I have a LOT of questions about this amendment that I hope are discussed before we decide to pass this change.

1) Does this amendment refer to only ONE marriage, or does it leave open the possibility for someone to be remarried.  As it stands, the amendment refers to a marriage between a man and a woman and makes no comment on the reality of divorce and remarriage, remarriage after death, etc.  Clearing up that question is important. We have many re-married clergypersons in our midst and if we are already concerned about the retirement tsunami in the next 10 years – this impact might be HUGE.

2) While our standards previously called for “fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness” (and still retain that language earlier in 304.2) there were no particular stipulations re: appointment for those who have failed to live out the highest of these standards.  Clergy who today have committed adultery may have sanctions, but we leave room for forgiveness, repentance, etc.  This new proposed language seems to preclude that by including unfaithfulness in marriage (as well as co-habitation) in the list of things that will make a person ineligible for commissioning, ordination, AND appointment.

3) Point two leads to deeper questions if the answer to my first question is “only one marriage.”  With the new language that is listed here, are clergy persons who have divorced and how have remarried not eligible for appointment?

4) What about sexual conduct outside of marriage that happened in the past?  What if I was a wild child as a younger adult and have since matured and changed my ways… does this amendment preclude them from being a candidate for ministry?  What if a person co-habitated before marriage?  Does this amendment apply retroactively to their behaviors and now as an ordained elder or deacon mean they will not be appointed?

5) **thanks to folks who talked with me in person and in the comments here** WHAT IS SEXUAL CONDUCT?! genital sex? kissing? smouldering eyes at one another over a table? Lord help our unmarried younger clergy (which we are trying to recruit) if they have to constantly fear something they are doing might be construed as sexual conduct.

I could go on and on and on about questions and implications of the wording of this amendment… the language needs to be CLEARER or else it might have implications on our current clergy that we have not for seen.

On the other hand, I’m guessing that someone who would respond to some of my questions might see that little word “may” in the fourth line from the bottom.  It says that those persons “may not” be certified, ordained, appointed.  It doesn’t say “shall not.”  It says “may not.” And that means that Boards of Ordained Ministry and the Appointive Cabinet can exercise judgment and flexibility and can leave room for grace and compassion and forgiveness.

And that is because legislatively speaking, “may” language is permissive language.  It has flexibility.  It leaves the question up to the person who is exercising judgment, rather than simply following a set, prescribed rule.

And actually, for friends of the LGBT community… that means it is a step in the direction of inclusiveness.  Previously the paragraph read: “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church.”

“Are not” is very different from “may not.”

Words matter.

The Rev. Katie Z. Dawson is a United Methodist pastor serving in Iowa.  A graduate of Vanderbilt University Divinity School, she blogs at salvagedfaith.wordpress.com. She is a reserve delegate to General Conference and was crowned the delegation’s “twitter queen.” You can follow the action @katiez.