The United Methodist Church is in the need of prayerand one that emphasizes full inclusion of all its parishioners.
At the recent General Conference in Portland, the struggle to move the church's moral compass against its anti-LGBTQ policies was courageously demonstrated when more than 100 United Methodist Church ( UMC ) ministers and faith leaders came out to their churcheswith Rev. Jay Williams of Union United Methodist Church in Boston's South End as one of them.
While these ministers and faith leaders undoubtedly moved the hearts of many the church's policies remain unmoved.
In 2016, to still be fighting for LGBTQ full inclusion puts the church in question rather than its LGBTQ parishioners.
And the UMC's history of struggle on this issue clearly illustrates the defiant will for LGBTQ inclusion.
For example, in 2013, the Rev. Frank Schaefer, pastor at Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Pennsylvania, was forced to stand trial for officiating his son's 2007 same-sex nuptials.
"I love him so much and didn't want to deny him that joy. I had to follow my heart," Schaefer told the New York Daily News.
The Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the Methodist Church, however, wanted to drill home to Schaefer and his allies that heirrespective of familial love or Christian beliefblatantly and willfully violated the church's law book, the Book of Discipline, prohibiting same-sex marriages.
Sadly, little has changed in the UMC on this issue since the well-publicized trial of Rev. Jimmy Creech in Nebraska. In 1998 the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church ruled that Creech, a heterosexual ally, violated church law by blessing the union of two lesbians. Following the Judicial Council's ruling, Creech's contract as pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Omaha was terminated. The following year, Creech was in the hot seat again for blessing the Holy Union of two gay men.
For these acts of ecclesiastical disobedience, that the jury felt was of biblical proportions, Creech was defrocked and lost his ministerial credentials.
When asked by The Advocate that year why he continued to marry same-sex couples while knowing the church's position, Creech rightly stated the following: "A cultural prejudice ... has been institutionalized in the church. The position of the church is wrong, it's unjust. It's discriminatory. It isolates a part of our population, part of the brothers and sisters of the human family. It denies their humanity, considers their own humanity to be somewhat unnatural or immoral or sinful."
However, the UMC's exclusionary language and practices toward LGBTQ people will not stop those of us who feel called to ministry. If anything, it confirms our calling that much more.
While it is clear that the UMC is not in lockstep with the changing societal tide toward LGBTQ acceptance, it is also not in lockstep with its own more progressive arm of "reconciling and inclusive" congregations.
Union United Methodist Church ( UUMC ), a predominantly African-American congregation located in Boston's South Endonce the epicenter of the city's LGBTQ communityis one of them. And it is the one institution least expected to be lauded among LGBTQ people of African descent because of the Black Church's notorious history of homophobia. But UUMC is a movement, and with its pastor's recently coming out it's an example of full inclusion as a welcoming church body.
Since June 2011, more than 100 Methodist ministers in New England have pledged to marry LGBTQ couples in defiance of the denomination's ban on same-sex unions. Approximately one out of nine Methodist clerics signed a statement pledging to open their churches to LGBTQ couples that stated, "We repent that it has taken us so long to act. … We realize that our church's discriminatory policies tarnish the witness of the church to the world, and we are [complicit].''
Knowing where Methodist clerics in New England stand on same-sex marriages, Schaefer officiated his son's nuptials here in Massachusetts.
The public trials of Creech and Schaefer were disciplinary acts to evoke fear among our allies. While UMC's ultimate objective is to reinforce ecclesiastical norms, this recent public act of discrimination by the General Conference not only feeds into the existing climate of religious intolerance in this society, but it also has LGBTQs constantly questioning their self-worth and relationship with the church.
However, as LGBTQ people we must know that religious intolerance and spiritual abuse are antithetical to the social gospel of inclusion, and that all people have the same sacred wortheven if the United Methodist Church doesn't practice it.