Diary of a Delegate: in Opposition to Disaffiliation

… or, Why I Remain United Methodist

General Conference logo, United Methodist Communications

In the midst of my preparations for Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday this past week, I received a mailing sent to delegates of General Conference. It was a pamphlet entitled “In Support of Disaffiliation for Reasons of Conscience,” speaking to a particular piece of legislation that arises in one form or another every four years.

As we know, the United Methodist Church is deeply divided over its own position on homosexuality, with many of us seeking to overturn the church’s policy that homosexuality is not compatible with Christian teaching, and that the church cannot officiate marriages/unions for gay or lesbian couples, or appoint and ordain pastors who are in relationships with a person of the same gender. And so, in response to this division, the question arises each General Conference: are we really the “United” Methodist Church? Should we split along lines of opinion on this matter? Can what we have in common hold us together when compared with the depth of our disagreements?

This particular legislation would give local churches the right to disaffiliate from the denomination, becoming, I presume, non denominational churches (something with which I have whole other levels of issue– much as I may resist over-focus on metrics, accountability is a very good thing!), and would allow clergy to withdraw from the denomination (something I thought I could do anyway), all based on whether or not we agree with the church’s stance on homosexuality.

Personally, I don’t find this a compelling course of action. It suggests that the depth of Methodism is agreement with the Book of Discipline in whatever its current iteration is, or even worse, agreement with a handful of paragraphs.

I am often asked, given the outspoken passion with which I disagree with my denomination’s policy on this point, why I don’t withdraw my status as a United Methodist clergy person and affiliate with a denomination that I find more agreeable.

The reason is that there is so much more to being United Methodist to me than our current language about gay people.

Don’t get me wrong; how we treat others is vitally important, and as I have said, our language and position on homosexuality represent, in my opinion, our gravest sins of commission. However, I did not choose the UMC as my denomination based on whether or not I agreed with the Discipline.

I grew up Roman Catholic, and so upon feeling called to pastoral ministry, I went denomination shopping, learning as much as I could before intentionally affiliating with one denomination that I felt was most faithful to how I understood the call to live as the Body of Christ. I chose the United Methodist Church for four reasons:

  1. An understanding of grace that gives voice to both the journey and the love that surrounds us before we even know it,
  2.  Mission that does not seek conversion, but empowers people by working side by side, and a historical commitment to social justice in all levels of mission and minsitry,
  3. “The quadrilateral,” which is a misnomer, but for me means that we are never asked to check our reason or experience at the door, but continue to engage with the history and context of our faith as we understand and apply scripture, and
  4. Strong support of women in pastoral leadership. This includes the fact that, because Bishops make appointments, women cannot be refused as pastors by local churches, based on their gender. Neither can persons of color. One day, when we ordain gay and lesbian clergy as I believe we will, neither can they.

I now add the itinerancy as something I find invaluable about the UMC. I hate it when it’s time for me to go, but I do honestly feel that the Methodist practice of having clergy appointed by the Bishop for a shorter (ie less than 20 years) period of time keeps congregations and clergy fresh, promotes congregational identity that is separate from the pastor (resists cult of pastoral personality), and frees clergy to preach, teach, and administer with sometimes difficult words and actions without fear of direct retribution from the personnel committee (now, whether one can critique the denomination or conference without reprisal is another matter… 😉 ). And, above all, I love the people called Methodist.

So I remain. The United Methodist Church is not perfect. We are slow in “moving on to perfection” in trying to be who we say and envision we are. Still, I believe we are on the path to being as faithful a people as we can be. We engage difficult conversations, and it takes us time to resolve them, because we are a global and diverse body. We are a deeply passionate people, and we care far more about following and serving Christ than perfecting doctrine, so we quibble incessantly, because following Christ is hard to figure out faithfully.

Reuters photo-- but we all know it's just cool to text with Methodists.

I believe there is room for everyone in the United Methodist Church.

Dick Cheney is United Methodist. So is Hillary Clinton. So is Rush Limbaugh. So is Sandra Fluke.

So am I.

And as strange as it may be, and as hard as it is to see sometimes, I believe there is more that keeps us together than can keep us apart. We believe in Christ. We strive to follow. We believe that social justice is vital to ministry and mission and theology itself. We walk grace as a journey before we even know it and long after we have had our “hearts strangely warmed.” We sing. We pray. We eat potluck like nobody’s business. We value relationship and connection– with God and with each other. We confess our sins of racism and discrimination, and try, albeit imperfectly, to repent. We have a network of mission across the face of the earth in more places and in longer deployments than nearly any other charity in the world. We say our hearts and minds are open, and we pray it might be so.

We have split in the past (over slavery), and there are those who have walked away because of matters of conscience (over homosexuality or discrimination, or other reasons we may not know). We will continue to wiggle and wrestle and fragment, I am sure.

But I’m not leaving until and unless we lose what holds us together, or until and unless the day comes when the church no longer wants me because the denomination sees not enough in my ministry that keeps me Methodist when compared to the areas of my disagreement. When I criticize my church over homosexuality or idolizing metrics or anything else, I do it because I love it, and because I believe my voice matters– in the pulpit, in the committee rooms and on the floor of General Conference, and yes even on this little blog– when it comes to engaging the church as it is and calling it into what it needs to be.

We are a great denomination, but I believe we can be yet more faithful. I want to be part of that conversation and growth, as we are made perfect in love and witness by the one who calls us to life, to faith, to work.

47 thoughts on “Diary of a Delegate: in Opposition to Disaffiliation”

  1. Thanks, Becca…I so agree with what you have said and I can relate, too, having been raised a Roman Catholic myself. I love your expressions of faith.

  2. I believe that one of the things keeping us at odds with each other is the unwillingness of our leadership to allow us to be in conversation. I see Bishops and Conference leadership who fear open dialogue, and try to manage or even avoid it rather than facilitating it. I remember in former Troy when we sat around tables in small groups and were forced to listen to each other, without debating, share our thoughts, feeelings, and stories about the church’s position on homosexuality, and I remember how we then voted on General Conference petitions without the need for debate because everyone had been heard.

    I work hard in local congregations to create an environment where we can celebrate our differences, where we can allow people to question, think, and grow, and where we can disagree in love. In some settings where I work on the Annual Conference level in smaller groups I have witnessed relationships of trust and respect develop where I wouldn’t have thought possible, and have even seen hearts and minds changed, so I know that it is in us to do this. What we need most is leaders (i.e. Bishops) who are wiling to embrace diversity and faciliate conversation, rather than fear dissent and manage debate.

    1. Steve,

      An excellent point. I remember that conference session vividly, although I had a very different expereince. I was a member of the theological diversity team, which proposed and facilitated that circle process discussion, and I served as the moderator for my table. That meant I was silent and “impartial.” I actually felt very powerfully the lack of dialogue for myself, since I never got the chance (in that setting) to voice my own beliefs. I wouldn’t have traded it, and the experience was a blessing for the body as a whole, but it serves to remind me how it feels to be silenced, or to feel that your voice is not heard or valued. Since I spend so much time talking– loudly!– often!– this was new, humbling, and informative for me.

      Your words are also a powerful challenge to me as a Jurisdictional delegate, as we deliberate over what it takes to be a Bishop and what sort of leadership the church needs moving forward. Thank you for that. You are absolutely right.

      I miss being in conference with you, and I’m so glad we’re still in connection!


      1. Becca,

        Thank you for your thoughtful and well written response to the resolution on disaffiliation.

        The resolution in question came out of my local church board, and it is not intended to force any one to leave the United Methodist Church. Nor do we intend to leave so long as we can stay in good conscience.

        However, there is a point where honest differences put in a position where the most loving thing to do is an amicable separation, such as happened with Abraham and his nephew Lot. As the prophet Amos said, “Can two walk together except they be agreed.” (Amos 3:3)

        For example, I could not in good conscience be Presbyterian, as much as I love my Presbyterian brothers and sisters, because I do not believe in predestination. My conscience is bound on that issue by my understanding of Scripture. The same is true on the issue of homosexuality. I could not remain United Methodist if the UMC approved homosexual practice and gay marriage because my conscience is bound by Scripture.

        Some of my friends on the other side of this issue have told me the opposite is true for them. They cannot in good conscience remain United Methodist if the United Methodist Church does not approve homosexual practice. As you acknowledge, many have already left the church because of this very reason.

        All the resolution says is that churches and pastors should be free to follow their conscience on these matters. I agree that is unlikely to pass, but it is still right in my opinion.

        God bless you. Hope to see you at General Conference.

        Mike Childs,

        First United Methodist Church, Louisville, MS

        1. Wow, Mike, thank you so much for engaging with the conversation here. The actual name on the resolution! Very cool of you to respond in person, and I too hope we have the chance to meet in Tampa.

          I have to say that although I don’t want to see this resolution passed, as I stated in the post, I believe it speaks to a tension that is very real and very powerful. For naming that deep pain and pushing into it, you have my respect, and thanks.

          Some petitions are submitted in the hopes that they don’t pass, whether for reasons of irony or trying to make a point or whatever. While I understand that this particular petition is intended for passage, I think it is equally valueable if it is not passed, so long as it is discussed. For that reason, I hope it makes it to the floor. I would be happy to have us deal seriously with the question I am raising in this post, and your resolution raises: what makes us United Methodist (what makes us *United* Methodist)? Where are the lines we cannot cross? What are the essentials on which we must have unity, and where are the places where dissent and diversity are embraced? Does what we have in common truly keep us together, or is it not enough?

          Again, I have lifted my answer, for me, for this moment. I completely respect that other people are not where I am. I feel like Jacob sometimes, and I’m too stubborn to let go. Praying there’s a blessing on the other side, and not just a hip out of joint.

          Blessings to you as we “wrestle” with this topic, and (lovingly!) with God and one another!


  3. Becca,
    Like you, I have no intention of leaving the United Methodist Church and am, if you will, fighting for it. That which would cause division provides a great opportunity to strengthen the church as we focus on what we truly believe and what we are asked to do.

    I will be posting a link to this post on my own blog (http://heartontheleft.wordpress.com/) and encouraging others to read your thoughts.

    In peace and with the knowledge that Easter is more than a day on the calendar,
    Dr. Tony

    1. Thanks, Dr. Tony, both for reading and commenting, but also for sharing. As Steve mentioned above, the dissent and potential for division is also an opportunity to form relationships with people different from ourselves and come together over our core beliefs.

      Blessings and resurrection hope!

  4. Those grunts you hear are the sound of my ongoing struggle. How long does one lay aside a major conflict of conscience and relationally and materially support a body that claims a platform of social justice but fails so openly to live it. I’m having trouble with the idea that we will be spending a hundred years apologizing for our failure to embrace our brothers and sisters in Christ because of who they chose to love, justg as we currently are over our historic failure to embrace those of color. Shame on us. I don’t know how much longer the opportunity to disagree can satisfy me. I know you pray for me, Becca. Keep it up. Keep it up.

    1. Bless you Holly! I do pray for you, and the tons of friends I love who are in your same place, or have already walked away because they could no longer support or affiliate with something that has failed in so many ways. I hear your deep pain, and I share it. I especially grieve that we are still in many ways so far from trully repenting of our racism, and we carry on discriminating against others. We are a truly broken people.

      When I picture the kin-dom of God, it’s not a fluffy cloud with angels in white robes; it’s the place where and when all this is finally right, when the people of God– all of them– come together in true joy and family. What a colorful, diverse, loving gathering that will be. You and I will look at each other with tears in our eyes. Finally. Finally, the broken will be made whole.

      We live in the not yet. We live in the struggle. It’s exhausting.

      Deep love and peace to you sister.

  5. Becca – Great piece that articulates well the reasons to stay together. Although not a GC delegate, I have seen an draft of a proposal for a wholesale splitting if the GLBTQ legislation is accepted this year – and it greatly saddens me. Over the history of this decades long struggle there have been many UMC folks that have stayed with the denomination – despite being ostracized for their stand and made to feel as if they were great sinners. Yet they have stayed for the very reasons you have outlined. To think that some on the other side of the debate are now threatening to leave if their “side” does not win this year reveals a lack of understanding on their part of those very strengths of the UMC that you highlighted. The very ability to dissent and debate is one of the strengths of the UMC – something that has been a part of our DNA since the very first conferences Wesley called where they debated and adapted the discipline. To face some now who argue that we should leave if we do not agree also reflects that they do not understand the strengths of the UMC and what it means to be part of us. I can only hope and pray that the voices for disaffiliation are loud but few even among those who do not agree that All means All and that the disaffiliation legislation will die a quiet death at GC. Good luck to you and all the delegates, my prayers are with you.
    p.s. I will be connecting my blog to this as well to spread you thoughts – http://dmack89.wordpress.com/

    1. I agree– one of the hard arguments to hear is when someone says “if this changes, I will leave.” It has a way of minimizing the struggle of those of us who stay (see Holly C-C’s comment above, with the palpable pain in it), or those who finally did have to walk away– their names and faces tear me apart. These are people I love, people God adores. These are people I feel, in some ways, I deny every moment I choose to stay. And yet, I hear the tremendous pain of those who feel that the UMC can no longer be their church if the policy changes (see Holly B’s comment below, and the palpable pain in *it*). All I can say to them is, I know how it feels to be an exile in your own church, to love it and not want to leave it, but to feel that it has failed in a significant way. That’s my daily pain, and I don’t wish it on someone else, even though me “getting my way” legislatively would in some ways have that effect.

      In terms of legislation, the disaffiliation argument never gets much traction. But the spirit behind it is real and powerful, and part of the tension in which we live.

      I pray daily for our denomination. This is essentially my prayer. We are broken. We hurt. We cannot ever *not* hurt someone. Help. Amen.

      Seeking shalom,

  6. I completely agree with all of your points here for remaining a United Methodist member and clergyperson! Have you heard about a movement within the UM called “The Confessing Church”? I do believe in the overwhelming, totally transformational power of Grace by the Power of the Holy Spirit! I believe this applies to all peoples, no matter what label society puts upon them. But I do think it is very worthwhile to explore more times of confessing at the altar other than just Maundy Thursday and Ash Wednesday and the First Sunday of Advent! I really like the confessional provided in the Book of Common Prayer that the Anglican Communion utilitzes in EVERY worship experience.

    1. Our denomination’s emphasis on grace and its power to form and transform is so central to who we are, and I love it as a part of our life and worship together!

      Now, the confessing movement/church has an interesting history and is a term that’s been applied in several ways. Where I’m most familiar with it is in the hostorical use coming out of the Nazi regime, and churches having to decide whether or not they would comply with the violence and evil of that regime or stand up to it and face the consequences. It’s an important reminder to us of when and where we should take a stand. Not always an easy question to answer. There are those on both sides of this current issue who feel that this is (and those who feel it is not) the place to draw that line. For those who draw the line, then disaffiliation becomes the reasonable choice. So hard to say.

      Blessings in the journey,

  7. This is a very painful conversation for me, Becca. I am a 59 year old retired United Methodist clergywoman who has probably remained a United Methodist too long. The problem is that I do not believe there is another church I would fit in either.

    I believe in the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman. I do not believe practicing homosexuals should be ordained. I have no problem with the idea of civil unions between anyone who wants to live together; but I do not think the church should conform to that civil standard.

    As a single clergywoman, I understand that sexual behavior is a CHOICE. I conform to the standard “celibacy in singleness and faithfulness in marriage.” I believe those lines are clear in Christian tradition and my church and my life. I believe that the practice of homosexuality is contrary to Christian teaching as the current Book of Discipline states. Perhaps the reason God has not blessed me with a husband is so that I can bear witness to the reality of sexual behavior as a CHOICE. It really IS, and I think the church should affirm that there ARE boundaries in sexual behavior that are GOOD. I do not have sex with everyone I love, and my life is not diminished by saying “no” to crossing those boundaries.

    I appreciate the fact that The United Methodist Church continues to uphold these standards in the face of society’s pressure. And I appreciate the fact that I have been ordained in this church. Despite my retirement, perhaps I can continue to proclaim the Gospel by my actions–my celibacy, and my love of neighbor.

    I will probably leave the United Methodist Church if the General Conference votes to affirm the “marriage” of homosexual couples and the ordination of practicing homosexuals.

    I do not know that there is any other place for me to go however. I will simply be churchless.

    You and I agree on many issues. But as Martin Luther once said, “Here I stand, I can do no other.”

    I look forward to meeting you in Tampa

    1. Holly, thank you for your response. So frequently those of us of the position you express so well just try to be too accepting of other positions saying everyone has a right to their opinion and belief. This has opened the door such that it reduces our religion to nothing but ethics, be nice and accepting of everyone. Our religion does have special meaning and yes we should take a stand, even if other people become upset because their do not seem to accept our right to our own position.


      1. Thanks for reading and replying, Wesley.

        I do think that the disgreement is deeper than me for example not feeling you have a right to your opinion. You do. Unfortunately, however, denominational polity is not about opinion, but about what we say as a body. There’s the challenge, because I don’t want to have your opinion (to which you are entitled) be made mine. But basically there is *a* position that is the UMC position. Each of us stands for our own principles, but together we try to say something. That’s where we have trouble.

        Blessings in the journey,

    2. Holly,
      Amen, thank you for a loving response without faltering on your principles. I am a young clergyperson who is in the same boat in many ways. Leaving the denomination is/will be very difficult, but how do i continue to say “doctrine suppercedes personal belief” and stay in the denomination which will not overturn this decision once it is passed. (and i believe it will be passed eventually)

      1. Hi Chris,

        Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Prayers for you and for us all as we wrestle with this tension now, and for many years to come I am sure.


      2. I have great hope that this change will never be made in The United Methodist Church. My current hope lies in Africa where our church is growing at a tremendous rate. Nearly 40 % of General Conference delegates will be from Africa this year, and MORE than 50 % will be from Central Conferences in 2012 if current trends continue. As I discussed this issue with another delegate, he mentioned that the concerns of African delegates are more about basic survival needs–feeding the hungry and caring for orphans. African delegates have a MUCH different priority and will not be swayed by rather privileged Amerians.

    3. I hear you Holly. That may not seem like honesty, but it is. I wrestle now with what you envision having to wrestle with if and when the policy is changed, and I know how painful that is. Like you I love this denomination and it is my spiritual home. But it is not perfect and in this case, for me, our failure is a tremendous source of pain. As I said aboce, I don’t wish that pain on anyone, even though I know that the change for which I advocate will cause it for some. The current stance causes it for others. Truly, we are broken, and we cannot be healed without grace.

      Although we’ve not met in person, I value your voice. Thank you for lifting it, even (and especially!) when it differs from mine. I think it’s my colleauge Steve who said above how powerful connections and relationships are formed when people of shared faith and differing views commit to dialogue together in love and in the context of the Spirit. The struggle is painful, but those gifts are rewarding. I too look forward to meeting you in Tampa.

      Blessings to you. I am glad that at least for this moment, we are both part of the Untied Methodist Connection. Peace,

    4. > I will probably leave the United Methodist Church if the General Conference votes to affirm the “marriage” of homosexual couples and the ordination of practicing homosexuals.

      I will as well. The United Methodist Church is special because we affirm the authority or Scripture. The day the UMC stops affirming the authority of Scripture will be the day I find a more faithful Church.

      1. blessings to you Rick!

        Thank you for your honesty.

        I wonder if this is not the crux of the issue. There is an assumption that those who support changing the Discipline do not “affirm the authority of Scripture” when in reality, it is a matter of interpretation.

        For example, I stand on the authority of Scripture whole-heartedly, but most of my Southern Baptist brothers and sisters would say that it is not I, but THEY who stand on the authority of Scriptural as they would deny my wife (and perhaps in the future, my daughter) the privilege of being an ordained elder, pastoring and teaching in authoritative positions over the men of the church. We, in the UMC, allow for interpretation of Scripture to look deeper or beyond the words from Paul that those Baptist brothers and sisters stand on as authoritatively denouncing women in pastoral or preaching roles within the church.
        It is my opinion that this assumption that the “other side” is deciding to take Scripture and toss it out the window that causes the worst barrier to open and honest dialogue.

        There was a time when we stood on Scriptural Authority to deny this to women and it took open dialogue to re-interpret what it meant to stand on such authority in relation to women as ordained elders. As a pastor AND the spouse of a pastor, I am so glad they had the courage to dialogue openly back then and allow for a change to take place.

        Add to that–that all too often the branch of the church that DOES desire such a change to the Discipline too often made similar blanket assumptions that people who want to adhere to this traditional view of scripture on homosexual issues are somehow homophobic, uncaring, or somehow lack the love of Christ and we have an impasse that will never be resolved.

        I appreciate that Becca has refrained from making any such assumptions and actually rather than focusing on the homosexual issues, her point was rather that DESPITE her dissatisfaction with the church in these areas, she remains committed to the United Methodist Church and its higher ideals.

        That is why I sooo appreciated the post (and now the way she has responded to those who disagree). Even if I were not as progressive as I am, I would appreciate and value her words.

        Again, blessings to you in service to the Kingdom


        1. Well said, Tommy, and thank you. I have members of my congregation who disagree with me on this issue– I even have a few members who feel a little uncomfortable with me as their pastor because I am a woman. I would get nowhere by telling them they are narrowminded and sexist/homophobic. They have their understanding of Scripture and of God and are trying to live it out faithfully, as am I. I lovingly challenge and dialogue, and that, in the end, is where relationship and change happens. I do believe God can speak to us through others, but not through shouting and name-calling. God speaks, as always, through love and relationship.


    5. Holly – you point out several times that you believe sexual behavior is a choice – and as far as choosing to have sex or not – I would agree – that is a choice – but are you suggesting that being gay is a choice? If so then I would have to disagree with you on that. From personal knowledge of many friends and family I can attest to that.

  8. Becca,

    I am so glad to have discovered your blog, and behind it, a writer with clear convictions AND a willingness to dialogue. I’m hard pressed to think of a friend with whom I so frequently disagree and yet respect so much. Your patience is an inspiration and your grace is a challenge to offer the same to people around me.

    Thank you for this well-written observation of why our denomination is still the best jalopy circling the track in this modern race. 🙂

    Grace and peace,


    1. Oh Joey, the feeling is mutual! Although I have quite a few friends and partners in ministry with whom I disagree quite vehemently (the pastor in the next town over and I will stand on opposing sides at Annual Conference session and– metaphorically– scream at each other, but show up for a worker’s rights rally a week later side by side, or prop up the homeless shelter hand in hand). It’s always a joy and a gift to discover individuals who are passionate about God and about ministry, and who won’t back down from their passion even when it disagrees with mine. I like to think I offer a formidable challenge from time to time, too, so sticking with it, and with me, takes real fortitude!

      Glad to be in this old jalopy with you. We may fight over the map from time to time, but I hear the driver actually knows where we’re going!


    1. Thank you Tommy. I will take all the prayers I can get!

      Blessings from across the connection,

  9. A Danish pastor, Ole Birch, shared your blog on facebook. Thank you – the roomy, unafraid debate in our church is one of the things, I proudly mention to people, when they ask what Methodism is. And it is one of the reasons, I joined the Methodistchurch.
    As for your point of view: Allow me an Amen 🙂
    Anne Hedegaard Haldan (layperson), Esbjerg, Denmark.

    1. Well hello, Anne, my first known commenter from Denmark! You made my day!

      What a joy to be part of a body so diverse, so widespread, and so committed to being the church through the struggle with one another.

      God’s blessings to you from afar,

    1. Holly, that’s certainly a possibility as well, although the ways in which central conferences can ammend the Book of Discipline to account for their cultural contexts may help mitigate some of that (which is why I was much more hopeful about the proposal out of last GC about regional conferences, but it did not pass in the annual conferences). However, I still think that a group of people– no matter how big or small– saying they will leave if something changes is no more or less of a witness than the group of people who have already left because of a current policy. Surely the size of the group doesn’t matter– not when the shepherd seeks even one lost sheep. And leaving is comepletely understandable due to questions of conscience, but staying is also an option, a painful one, and one I know very well.

      This is a difficult tension in which we live, and there are no easy answers.

      Seeking grace and peace,

      1. There is a major difference in the two suggested groups that may leave the UMC because of comference action. People that leave because they do not like the policies of the organization and the fact the organization does not change policy to satisfy that group, to me, represents people that join the organization without doing their “due diligence.” They joined not know what the organization stood for or they joined with the motive that they could change the organization and force the current members to change or bury they heads in the sand when the organization’s policy changed. .
        The members that knew the organization when they joined and find the organization changed by what I will called false members (people who joined without knowing the organization) are the people that are really mistreated. Their church have been taken away from them. This is very different than people that joined when the organization did not match their beliefs. The people wanting this change did not have this policy position imposed upom them. That was the policy when they joined. They are in effect saying no church should be allowed to maintain the current position on same sex relationships. Their srtategy seems to be to get one organization to change, then to use that as justification for another organization to change.
        I will acknowledge that some people change their viewpoint over time. They may have agreed with the UMC when they joined, but they changed and the UMC did not change with them. On other points this is why Catholics join the Methodist Church and why Methodist join the Baptist Church. If the organization no longer fits you as a person, then find an organization that now, already fits your new position.


        1. Wesley,

          I have to disagree with your point here, on several fronts.

          First of all, what do you call someone who joined the UMC before they knew they were gay? What about, say, my kids, who are Methodist by birth and may somehow come through being Methodist pastor’s kids and still love the church enough to call it their home? What if one or both of them are gay? Did they join the church under false pretences?

          Second, when I joined the United Methodist Church by choice, there were no denominations that allowed clergy to officiate at marriages and unions for gay and lesbian couples, and no churches that ordained glbt clergy, except the Unitarian Universalists, I think. But theologically, I am not a Unitarian Universalist. Nothing against them. Just not what I believe about God. Should I have placed what I believe about sexuality over what I believe about God? Should I still?

          Third, though, is the biggest point– I don’t know if you understood the central message of my original post. I don’t leave now because there is so much more to being United Methodist than what we say about people who are glbt. Your last line sums it up: “If the organization no longer fits you as a person, then find an organization that now, already fits your new position.” The UMC is so much more than an “organization” for me. It is a church, a Body of Christ, my spiritual home. And it is one that is imperfect, but very faithful in very many ways. It is more than a paragraph I want to see changed. And I am more as a person than my position on sexuality as well. The UMC fits me as a person and a child of God pretty well. This issue does not define me any more than it defines the UMC. Important in each case, but not the only thing.

          I made a covenant with the UMC. I found in it a true and deep love for God in Christ and a way of living that out. I made a covenant with my husband. Each of us grows and changes over time. Sometimes, we find things about one another (even after 13 years together) that we don’t like, that we have to wrestle through. I’m not about to walk away from him and find someone who “fits me as a person” because I found out he’s lactose intollerant and I’m from dairy country (silly example, but you get the point I hope). Now, if one of us becomes abusive, or unfaithful, then it is time to walk away perhaps (certainly in the first instance). That’s the question, right? Is the UMC in a place where it is abusive? Unfaithful? Some see it that way on one side or the other. I’m not quite there yet. Thankfully, I think. So I uphold my commitment and my covenant. It’s not easy. But no deep relationship is.

          Again, I want to be clear that this is not the only thing that makes us Methodist, and not the only thing that makes me me. To suggest otherwise si to miss the point I am trying to make, or worse, to minimize the connection folks like myself feel with our church, or the struggle with which we live.

          Living in the tension,

        2. Wesley-
          The ban on ordaining gay and lesbian clergy was added in 1984, and the ban on UM clergy performing same-sex blessings or marriages was added in 1996. The United Methodist Church that I joined in 1983 allowed those things, so I hope that following your line of thought you will allow me to work to change the denomination back into something more like the one into which I was confirmed.

  10. Thank you for your blog and the discussion that it has brought to light. I am a retired UM Elder who chose early retirement because the church in which I was confirmed, called and ordained has become less and less welcoming to me as it has become more consumed with the desire to label one group of people as unwelcome in the church. When children are born and brought to the church bor baptism into the Body of Christ, we fortunately do not have a litmus test to make sure that they will not turn out to be lgbt when they mature and understand their particular sexual orientation. Unfortunately, that point of self discovery has become the moment when our denomination decides to discontinue its proclamation of God’s grace for all when it comes to the gay community.

    When I was a child, I rejoiced when the church ceased to be blatantly racist in its activities by abolishing the segregated conferences. I was so glad to see talented women having their calls to ordained ministry be recognized, often against much resistance by Boards of Ordained Ministry and local churches.

    I really think the UMC is at a place like that of early Christians when Paul came back singing the praises of the faithful conversions of the Gentiles to the Church in Jerusalem where the local opinion was you had to be a good Jew to be a good Christian. Surely there is a way for us to agree to disagree about whether you can be a gay Christian. Is not the issue more important for us to affirm that we are all part of the body of Christ, and that we have an important message of healing to offer the world that human sexuality is a precious gift of God that all persons are entitled to experience in committed relationships?

    The church came to a resolution of the Gentile/Jew dilemna and moved forward. Perhaps some left because their way did not get the final position. But ultimately, the Christian Church was saved because the church was freed to serve all people.

    We need to be addressing the critical issues of how millions of children, youth and adults are being forced into the sex trade in every nation for the sexual gratification of men and women of every sexual preference through the prostitution and pornography industries. There are whole industries of sex trade tourism around the world where business men and tourists ignore their marriage and commitment vows while on business trips or vacations to Las Vegas, Thailand, etc.

    We wink and smirk knowingly at the advertisements that assert that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. We once had vital women’s and Deaconness ministries that went out to offer instruction in marketable skills in sewing etc. so that women would have an alternative to becoming prostitutes so that they could provide for their families. Millions of young people are being forced into mitias and private armies in Africa where rape is being used as a terroristic tool of oppression. Do we hear our brothers and sisters in the African conferences addressing these matters?

    As our confessions affirm, we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We are all thankful for the amazing grace of God. Some of us sin by falling back into pharisaisms. Others sin on the side of overlooking the shortcomings of others. I choose to remember that the good shepherd was not happy that one sheep, perhaps a very naughty, stubborn and obtuse sheep should not perish, but left the 99 and went out after the 1.

    I am thinking that the World Methodist Federation may be the resolution of our problems. Perhaps it is time for a Progressive Methodist Connection to step free of the UMC, or for a Reformed UMC to step free of the UMC or both so that the good work of committed Methodists of every stripe can go forward in the work of ministering in the name of Jesus Christ instead of expending so much money, time and effort in lambasting each other every four years. It may well be in God’s good time we will come to more light and seek to reunite in a hundred years or so as we once did over slavery and laity rights. Or we may not. We will still all be part of the body of Christ and members of the World Methodist Federation.

    We are still on the journey to resolve our American problem of racism. The AME, AMEZ and CME churches continue to be a witness to the difficulties we have about people of color. It may be also remain such for a long time a similar issue about the issue of sexual orientation which is at its root a bedrock difference of opinion about how we read and interpret God’s Holy Scriptures.

    So some of us have already removed ourselves. Others of us will continue to threaten to leave. Some have looked at us and despite our crafty ad campaigns to the contrary have decided that our Our Hearts, Minds and Doors are locked tight against them. My concern is that they will never get them back and we may have innoculated them against the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If so, we may have earned millstones for ourselves for harming children whom God loves and for whom Christ was willing to die on a cross.

    I currently worship with a number of “Methodists in Recovery” in an Episcopal Church. I miss my UM family, but rejoice to be in a church which truly welcomes all who seek the love of God.

    Feel free to edit my ramblings.

    1. David, there is no need to edit those ramblings. Thank you for your powerful words. I don’t think I can adequately respond. I have nothing to add!

      Rejoice in the rarity– this comprehensive and well-written comment has rendered me speechless.


      1. Does it kill to be gay?.Can the church sit at the highest level like the general conference in this age when we have more pressing issues like:wars,hunger,diseases,famines,unequal distribution of resources,hurt speech,and many other topical issues of our time to give or not give thumbs up homosexuality?Is this thee issue globally today?do we have ethical standards as a denomination?lets preach to change lives not be changed.this issue is like a match stick if we are not careful it will set fire in the denomination across the globe.Let us unite to unite.To say no is not a weakness when dealing with issues of morality,ethics and faith.We have social grouping like prostitutes,some who were forced into it by prominent members of the christian community and some by choice can we legalize prostitution in the church.The church has its social principles let us mot make it lose and carefree.

  11. One of the “current” issues within the United Methodist Church is the subject of homosexuality. The Discipline clearly dances around the issue with the “all persons are of sacred worth” and “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teachings.”
    What is striking to me is how the Discipline has changed over the years. If something is incompatible with Christian teachings then one should assume that the incompatibility warnings would be consistent throughout the various editions of the Discipline. That is not the case. In the 1960 edition of the Discipline there is no mention of homosexuality—BUT there is mention of divorce—in a cautionary fashion. Paragraph 356 states “In view of the seriousness with which the Scriptures and the Church regard divorce, a minister may solemnize the marriage of a divorced person only when he has satisfied himself by careful counseling that: (a) the divorced person is sufficiently aware of the factors leading to the failure of the previous marriage, (b) the divorced person is sincerely preparing to make the proposed marriage truly Christian, and (c) sufficient time has elapsed for adequate preparation and counseling.”
    This was such a hot issue that the pastor who owned this copy of the Discipline had underlined the paragraph so boldly that the words on the opposite side of the page could not be read.
    So, we have the situation where in 1960 divorce was the flaming issue and homosexuality was not mentioned—no mention at all. In the 2008 edition of the Discipline the hot issue was (and is) homosexuality and no mention about divorce at all.
    The incompatibility clause in the Discipline is counter to my understanding of the love and grace of God. As we have learned over time homosexuality is primarily dictated by the biological makeup of the person—pre-birth. Do we believe in a God who allows flawed creation; a God who endorses exclusion—I cannot believe that of my God.
    Our human history has used the Scriptures to justify many things that we currently have rendered wrong. We (United Methodists) have used Scripture to justify slavery—Wesley excluded. We (United Methodists) have used Scripture to maintain segregated churches. We (United Methodists) have used Scripture to exclude women from being pastors. We (United Methodists) currently use Scripture to state that homosexuality is immoral and sinful. We exclude gays and lesbians from becoming pastors. BUT we do allow divorced persons to become pastors.
    While you are at General Conference (whether in committee or in the general assembly) I pray that you will examine the paradox we have created and recognize that a person’s sexual identity should not be a barrier from full and complete inclusion in the body of Christ—both as a lay person and as clergy. The Discipline must be amended to correct this.

    1. Scriptures didn’t change. The people reading Scripture constantly change. The understanding of Scripture constantly changes.

      The paradox you mentioned has some merit, but cannot be addressed without an agreeable exegesis. This won’t be resolved until we exegete the passages with a common hermeneutic — and that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

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