upper room daily devotions

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

This Gay Pastor Responds to General Conference

Over the past couple of weeks the internet has been replete with articles, blog posts, facebook updates, and tweets about the decision made at General Conference of The United Methodist Church to maintain language stating that "homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching." I actually don't want to rehash most of what has been said. Whether it's Chuck Currie (a UCC pastor preaching at First UMC in Portland), Sandy Brown (pastor at First UMC in Seattle), or others across the nation, most of what needs to be said has been said. Simply put, the decision to continue the marginalization of LGBTQI people is wrong. It is not about biblical authority or holiness. Rather, it is about power and fear of difference. For those who hold a theology that is challenged by fluid sexual identity or sexual orientation, there is more graciousness and kindness in stating that good Christians of good conscience disagree. Those who won't name our disagreement are much more interested in being right than loving, more interested in having power over than being in community with, more invested in shoring up their world views than being changed by the Other. These are my thoughts and they belong to no other person. I own them all.

My facebook wall has been filled with responses to General Conference - responses which range from disappointment to outrage, from the uncertainty of whether people can continue inside this polarized and broken denomination to deep sorrow because the bigotry of the general church is at odds with and doesn't reflect the love and welcome people have personally experienced in their local congregations. A number of these posts have been made by young adults and others who tuned in or attended General Conference for the first time this year. Others have been slogging through the debate on human sexuality quadrennium after quadrennium and they despair of any motion toward inclusion.

To be honest, I am more heartbroken over how other people have been hurt by General Conference than I am directly wounded by it. If I weren't somewhat inured to the issue by now, I would have left this denomination a long time ago. And, trust me, I've thought about it. Long and hard, I've thought about it. Today, however, I feel freed from the marginalization of the church (well, most of the time I do). A while ago, I decided to be honest about who I am, what I believe, and what I'm called to do; if the United Methodist Church provides a place for me at the table, so be it. If not, so be it. I don't say this flippantly. You see, my family is a generationally Methodist one. Not one, but two of my ancestors were Circuit Riders back in the early days of the movement. I can trace my family back to the very beginning of the Church of England. The Anglican way is part of me. The Wesleyan movement has left indelible marks on me. The Wesleyan Quadrilateral, Wesley's sermons, our hymnody, the idea of itinerating clergy, free will, prevenient grace, practical divinity - these are all deeply rooted in how I experience God and how I mediate God to others. However, I do not bow down to The United Methodist Church; I bow before God, and none other (at least that is to what I aspire). So, when I see this glorious movement, this wonderful heritage, wasted in worthless acts of evil and oppression, I hurt. When I hear young adults wonder how their church as a global body can differ so much from their local congregation, my heart breaks. When clergy who haven't been able to leave their closets come to me and cry in uncertainty about their place in this denomination, I cry with them.

There are those who like to quote scripture - five to seven specific scriptures - about how homosexuality is against human nature and God's plan for humankind. And, I don't want to parse those scriptures here. I'm willing to say, "Okay. Let's say that's right. So what?" That usually throws people off. They expect me to try an explain those scriptures away or to step into church apologetics, to get my "revisionist exegesis" on. I certainly can do that because the scriptures trotted out and put on display have absolutely nothing to do with homosexuality, but I very often choose not to do that because arguing won't change people's minds. Rather, I have found that I have to step away from the debate, not because I am afraid of "losing" or because I can't match them scripture for scripture (I can), but because experience (one of the four components of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral) has taught me that debate and argument do not equal holy conferencing; they do not change anyone's mind. And so, I reply with the question, "So what?" There are no biblical literalists. There aren't. There are biblical fundamentalists, Evangelicals, charismatics, and so forth, but there aren't literalists. The Bible is always interpreted. We have made many decisions over the past two millennia about our relationship with scripture. It is our holy book. It is our story. It is God's Word. It is not something to take literally, not if we take it seriously. My question of "so what" is not a challenge to scripture; it is a challenge to the person abusing it. I simply call them on their arbitrary use of God's word, which I believe is a violation of the first three of the 10 Commandments, which leads all too often to the violation of the sixth and ninth commandments.

Instead of arguing, I pray for the salvation of those who say unspeakable things about me. I pray for those who enliken me to someone engaged in bestiality, pedophilia, murder, rape, and torture (all of which have been used in comparisons directly to me). At General Conference in 2000, an African delegate actually said that homosexuality results from a witch's curse, to which American delegates in opposition to homosexuality nodded in agreement and applauded. I had no choice except to believe that a significant portion of the Southern delegates believe in witchcraft or they were willing to use an African delegate to promote their own political aims. I left and prayed for them all. The narrowness of their heart must be a burden. I have come to believe in something I once deeply resisted for both theological and linguistic reasons: I have become a prayer warrior.

The United Methodist Church failed to live into something better, something more humane, something more Godly. It decided to stay locked in a pattern of fear, scapegoating, and namecalling. What it - what WE - did this General Conference was to contribute to the death of every LGBTQI person who commits suicide. Their blood is on our house. Every time religious language is lifted as a club used to spiritually bludgeon a beautiful child of God who wants to live fully the way in which God has created them to be, it steals something of their soul until too many hurting and soul-weary people take their own lives or live in fear, or they hide in dark and cold closets (a form of living suicides). We - The United Methodist Church - have decided through debate and democracy to participate in aiding their deaths.

In response to our decision, I feel the need to state here in public what many already know about me. But let this be a clear statement of what I think, who I am, and how I intend to minister:  To LBGTQI people and those who love them, the church is wrong. You are beautiful and wonderfully made. You are a child of God. This pastor will baptize you, confirm you, commune with you, perform your weddings, bury you, and invite you into positions of leadership. I will continue to lift my voice and offer my body as a witness to God's radical welcome. To delegates feeling dejected, thank you for all you have done for me. I am reminded that the central image in our faith is a cross, a symbol of systematized pain used to shame and humiliate. In order to love, Jesus gave up power. I choose to continue to love and walk the way of the cross with him.


Karen Hart Rosales said...

Beautifully written. I do not understand how people who think of themselves as "good Christians" can be so cruel and dismissive to their brothers and sisters. God bless you and every minister who carries on Christ's teachings as they were meant to be taught.

texasgal said...

Amen and amen.

Liz W said...

Thank you for your truthful and inspiring words! God bless you and us as we fight this together!

Dean Prentiss said...

Thank you, Katie! You are awesome. I may have to steal your line some day: "to get my revisionist exegesis on."

CJY said...

This is simply the most beautiful and profound response I've read yet to the sad events of general conference. Thank you

Unknown said...

I second the amen. Thank you Katie.

Amy Marie said...

Hey Katie. Because so many people this morning commented on this post I had to go read it. They were all right. So eloquently written. I hear so much of the same from people within the Mennonite church right now. Do mind if I post it on my facebook page?

Rev Katie M Ladd said...

Amy, thank you for your comment. Feel free to re-post!

I think many people in various denominations feel this way, even in denominations that have institutionally taken a stand but that have struggled to be united in it.

Rev Katie M Ladd said...

Dean, I am sure I stole "getting my revisionist exegesis on" from you, didn't I? And, thanks for the support. I appreciate it.

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