A rebellion is brewing in the United Methodist Church. Over a hundred clergy members have outed themselves as LGBT, in direct violation of the church’s ban on “self-avowed practicing homosexuals,” in an effort to force a new dialogue with Church superiors as they prepare to convene their quadrennial General Conference, where eight hundred delegates will debate church policy and have the power to bring their church into the 21st century. The 111 deacons, priests, and elders have issued a lengthy letter online making a passionate and moving case for the church to abandon their discriminatory ban:
However, while we have sought to remain faithful to our call and covenant, you have not always remained faithful to us. While you have welcomed us as pastors, youth leaders, district superintendents, bishops, professors, missionaries and other forms of religious service, you have required that we not bring our full selves to ministry, that we hide from view our sexual orientations and gender identities. As long as we did this, you gladly affirmed our gifts and graces and used us to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world in the varied places you sent us.
While some of us have been lucky to serve in places where we could serve honestly and openly, there are others in places far more hostile, who continue to serve faithfully even at tremendous cost to themselves, their families, and yes, even the communities they serve, who do not receive the fullness of their pastor’s gifts because a core part must remain hidden.
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.
We come out, too, to provide hope for LGBTQI young people in hostile UMC churches. These young people are more at risk for suicide than their peers, in part, because of the condemnation they hear from the pulpits and pews of their churches. We come out to remind them that God’s love for them is immeasurable, and offers them a love that will never let them go, even when it feels like the church is willing to let them go. We come out to invite them to listen for God’s still, small voice that will speak in the quiet places of their hearts, who will call them into leadership positions. We seek to create a pathway of hope into ministry for them, even when the church has tried to shut its doors on them, or overtly or indirectly condoned the persecution of LGBTQI persons.
It’s far past time that American religious organizations began to finally embody the values of inclusion and love that frame their teachings when it comes to LGBT Americans. Newly liberated Rev. Laura Young was delighted to have the burden of her secret lifted from her shoulders: “I feel lighter already. I can be a better pastor and a better person when I can be my full self, living in the light and with integrity.” The United States is a multi-ethnic, multi-faith, and multi-gender society – and nothing is going to change that. We hope that this letter moves the church elders to make the right decision – and that others soon follow suit.