More than 100 United Methodist clergy members have come out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender in a challenge to the denomination’s stance on LGBT issues as it prepares for its General Conference.
A total of 111 ministers signed a document titled “A Love Letter to Our Church From Your LGBTQI Religious Leaders,” published today on the website of the Reconciling Ministries Network, which represents LGBT-accepting Methodist churches. The website crashed soon after the letter was posted, but The Columbus Dispatch, an Ohio newspaper, obtained a copy of it, without signatures.
The clergy members take issue with the denomination’s policy that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals,” as the church’s Book of Discipline calls them, cannot be ordained as ministers, as being gay is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” The church also does not allow clergy to conduct same-sex marriages. These issues will be debated at the Methodists’ General Conference, convening Tuesday in Portland, Ore., and continuing through May 20.
“While we have sought to remain faithful to our call and covenant, you have not always remained faithful to us,” the letter reads. “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. … 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 here because God has called us to serve in this denomination, and our souls are fed by the theology in which we’ve been raised,” the signatories state, adding that they want to remain in the church but wish to make it more inclusive. “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,” the letter continues. It also says the clergy members are coming out “to provide hope for LGBTQI young people in hostile UMC churches.”
The General Conference, a term for both the denomination’s highest legislative body and its meeting, convenes every four years to discuss church policy. The bans on openly LGBT clergy and same-sex marriage have come up frequently at the meeting over the past few decades. At the last meeting, in 2012, delegates voted to maintain the anti-LGBT policies.
Some clergy and congregations have defied these rules, with one of the latest examples being Rev. David Meredith, a Methodist minister who married his same-sex partner, Jim Schlachter, over the weekend in Columbus. Meredith is a signatory to the letter, the Dispatch reports.
The Reconciling Ministries Network has proposed removing the anti-LGBT language in the Book of Discipline. Some other groups within the church have proposed that individual clergy be allowed to decide whether to perform same-sex marriages and regional church bodies be allowed to set policies on openly LGBT clergy, Sojourners reports.
The United Methodist Church, with 8 million members in the U.S., is the nation’s third largest Christian denomination, after the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention. A change in its LGBT-related policies would have a huge impact, Matt Berryman, executive director of the Reconciling Ministries Network, wrote in an Advocate commentary last month.
“If the UMC votes to end its anti-LGBT, anti-Christian policies this May, it will represent a significant and, one could argue, historic step toward dismantling some of the long-standing prejudices in the Christian church,” he wrote. “A significant policy-level change would impact thousands of clergy, millions of members, and countless newcomers to the faith who seek to know and experience God’s love and acceptance.”