I am a cradle Methodist. I was born to a United Methodist pastor Father and a cradle Methodist Mom. There are Methodist pastors in almost every generation of my family going back multiple generations. One of my ancestors is said to have been ordained by Francis Asbury. We are VERY United Methodist. I was the District United Methodist Youth President, Jurisdictional UMY President and attended two National Youth Ministry Organization meetings. I am an Elder in the UMC and have served UM churches in two states. I believe in the grace, social holiness, and faith espoused by our founder, John Wesley. I love the social justice history of our church. I love the fact that Wesley went into the fields and to the mines to be in ministry where the people were. I love the way our denomination is connectional in nature – we are part of a connected ministry that becomes better and more capable the more we work together. I love, for the most part, our Social Principles, which lay out what we believe as a church regarding our interactions with each other and the larger world. I love our collegial community of pastors – Elders, Deacons, Local Pastors, Student Local Pastor, etc. – and laity. I love our yearly gatherings of holy conferencing as we make decisions about the future of our mission and ministry as a church and on a regional basis.
But there are also things I do not love about my church. We have become so obsessed with numbers and reporting those numbers that we sometimes lose touch with the purpose we have as a church. We have lost touch with the passionate evangelism that led Wesley to encourage, “Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come for miles to watch you burn.” We have become a church of decline – declining numbers, declining acts of evangelism, and declining congregations. I know there are a number of reasons for all of this and I live with them as a faithful member of the church, but I also work to change this trend in my preparation of the next generation of pastors. And the church is striving to reverse this trend and this part of my church I love dearly.
The “hate” part of my love/hate relationship (it’s a harsh word but serves its purpose here) is around our polity regarding LGBT clergy. Our polity clearly states that “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.” (United Methodist Discipline, ¶ 304.3) We straddle the fence however by also saying that “all persons are important—because they are human beings created by God and loved through and by Jesus Christ and not because they have merited significance.” (Um Social Principles, ¶161)
Last night the PC(USA) decision to allow LGBT clergy follows other mainline denominations – the UCC, Episcopal, and Lutheran Churches, among others – who have changed their polity to allow for the ordination of all persons, regardless of sexual orientation.
This leaves the UMC standing in a place of exclusion almost by themselves as members of the “mainline club” of denominations. For this I mourn. I am part of a church that states our theology of grace, inclusion and faithful acceptance – and lives a different reality. For this I mourn. I know countless people denied ordination and acceptance due to their orientation, despite their gifts and graces and their call by God to ministry. For this I mourn. I am part of a church whose theology and polity are in stark contradiction to each other. For this I mourn.
But I am NOT leaving. I am staying. My love for my church outweighs my “hate” for our polity on this issue. I will stay and continue to fight for justice and inclusion. I will stay and urge my church to join the ranks of denominations to reverse decades of exclusion. I will stay because I love my church. I love who we have been, who we are, and who we can be. I will stay hoping for that day when our polity matches our theology and I will work for that day to come.
I’m staying … because despite all its flaws … I love The United Methodist Church and pray for change.
(I give thanks to a number of people who inspired this blog post, especially Sean, who I have never met but who brought me to tears today.)