After 25 years of servant leadership within the United Methodist Church, I recently chose to do what some may deem unthinkable: I came out as a lesbian to my small-town Kansas congregation.
The disconnect between my gay identity and my church's policies has distressed me for many years. I have long recognized and now assert that it’s well past time for the denomination to change. It’s my time to speak out and dare to share my story as a part of that change coming to fruition.
A denomination that clings to policies that forbid same-sex marriage and “self-avowed, practicing” LGBTQ clergy does not reflect the great love of God and the practices of inclusion and justice we see in Jesus' actions and teachings. All people of faith need the freedom to be their full, authentic selves in the church and the world. By not fully affirming its LGBTQ members, the UMC causes harm rather than shining as a positive force for love and justice in the world.
By treating LGBTQ members as "less than," the UMC turns faithful people into victims rather than celebrating all as beloved children made in the image of God. The church has already lost countless gifted members and leaders by not valuing the sacred worth in everyone. I noticed deep internal struggle in many of my theology students at Emory University, coming to terms with their identity and the church’s unwillingness to affirm their calls to ministry. We prayed and discussed scripture and the long-standing policies of the church. I emphasized God's love and my hope that one day the church would come to welcome them in their fullness, provide equal opportunity in seeking ordination, and celebrate their loving relationships.
Young adults in particular don't understand the rationale for this separation and exclusion within our church. Many are leaving to seek more welcoming and justice-oriented places. My young adult daughter fully supports my committed relationship and has welcomed my partner into our family. Raised in the UMC, she is repelled by the discriminatory statements, policies, and actions of the denomination, recognizing the struggles and suffering these have caused our family and so many others. She rejoices in my new openness about my identity and my stand as an advocate for full equality and inclusion in the denomination and in the world.
Now, as a pastor in a local church, I find it incredibly disheartening, even soul-crushing, to speak to my congregation each week about God’s love for them as they are while being unable to speak of my own God-given identity, my loving relationship, and much of my day-to-day life. While it's encouraging to see historic changes in our federal law along with growing cultural acceptance, it has become ever more difficult to be a part of a system that does not yet celebrate difference and affirm all.
My partner and I look forward to a time when we feel fully free to exercise our right to marry. Our great joy would be to invite one or more of our United Methodist clergy friends to officiate at our wedding worship service, yet all UMC clergy are forbidden from performing weddings for same-sex couples and from hosting such services in our churches.
I no longer allow myself to be a victim of a prejudiced system but instead seek to serve as an activist for grace, justice, and love. I do this not only for myself but for my partner, for my daughter, for all those who are excluded, and for the good of the church.
With the United Methodist Church's General Conference approaching in May, the acceptance of same-sex marriage and LGBTQ clergy are once again up for debate as the policy-making body of the church determines the rules of the denomination for the next four years. That's why I’m working with Reconciling Ministries Network to change these exclusionary, discriminatory, and hurtful policies, and encourage you to visit RMNetwork.org/itstime to petition the General Conference delegates directly and share your story about how the anti-LGBTQ doctrine hurts the UMC and the people you love.
My voice alone can only do so much. I implore you to make your voice heard as the conference delegates cast their votes. Together, we can move the church to fully affirm that all people are of equal sacred worth, with equal opportunities in the UMC. Together, we can end the infliction of harm by those proclaiming the Gospel. It’s time.
REV. CYNTHIA MEYER is the former assistant dean of students for the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. An ordained elder in the Great Plains Conference since 1992, she currently serves as pastor for Edgerton United Methodist Church in Edgerton, Kan.