Thursday, February 14, 2008

Reconciling United Methodists: The Latest Petition for Hope

In meeting with other clergypersons who are gay or lesbian on my recent book tour through the Bay Area, reading ON BEING A GAY PARENT to seminary, church and PFLAG groups, I am reminded of where we still are, in this day and age, regarding the open ordination, let alone marriage, of LGBT people: we are still in a position of second-class (or third class) citizenry in this ecclesial bodies. The hoops, hurdles, and strange language, deceptive antics, and legal tactics we must employ as LGBT people, including in my own denomination (PCUSA) and Presbytery of New Hope, e.g., Authoritative Interpretation (a.k.a., AI) and "scruples," are not part and parcel of the ordination process for straight people. While straight candidates for ministry must address theological, ecclesiological, and sacramental questions in the ordination process, we who are LGBT people also, and alone, often get questions that deal with very personal parts of our lives that no straight people are ever asked or questioned about. Talk about a double- or triple-standard!?

One day, hopefully soon, a worship service or two of forgiveness for this albatross-like process will have to be called for and held for making ordination of LGBT people tremendously difficult if not impossible at this time. It is for this very reason that so many clergy who are LGBT people "lie for Jesus," as one former closeted lesbian minister-professor constantly told prospective LGBT clergy at a prominent United Methodist seminary near my now-home in Carrboro, NC. The idea? Lie about being LGB or T, stay in the closet, in order to "get into the system," and make changes from within the system. The only problem was this: once in the system, a.k.a., the church, the lying LGBT minister--who had not only lied to Jesus but all those involved in the ordination track--was now living more securely in the closet, and would continue to stay in the closet because she or he wanted to rise in the rank of the United Methodist Church (or Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, Disciples of Christ, Episcopalian, name your own denomination here____), and is now addicted (yes, addicted) to the money, comforts, power, and prestige of being the soon-to-be senior pastor of a multiple staff church. When I asked one intelligent, handsome, closeted pastor to consider coming out of the closet of his parish and work with the religious non-profit, School of the Pilgrim (I am the Director), he said that we could literally not afford him. In other words, he was getting paid more for staying in the closet at his parish, even though it is killing him (softly) and thus was stuck there, because of all the economic strings attached to his life and his parish. I have simply lost count of how many colleagues and former students I know who are "whores for Jesus" (says one friend who stays in the closet because he is dependent upon the church for health care and retirement benefits in his 50s) and "lying to Jesus" just to stay in their respective jobs as clergy. They will tell me, "All I'm doing is answering the call!" But at what cost, personally and communally? Whores and liars: is that what closeted LGBT clergypersons have become in our system of church governance?

What these now-ministers forgot or were suddenly realizing was the kind of courage it would take to be out-spoken out- LGBT prophets, in which they also stopped short of making the next crucial move: "Changing the Church with Jesus." Working in the Spirit, the Holy Spirit to be exact, who still embraces us in love, desires to make the Church more inclusive of all God's people, gay and straight, able-bodied and disabled, women and men, rich and poor, of all races, ethnicities, and heritages, young and old, etc.

How strong is this temptation to lie and be a whore for Jesus? Very strong. I should know: I lived it for over twenty-four years. Today, I am poorer economically, but healthier in body, mind, and spirit in the body of Christ. And with the publication of this book, I am working to change the Church with Jesus with love.

Let me state the obvious: there are people in the Church and in the world who hate us because we are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender people, and are living in loving relationships. As my friend Richard Rodriguez reminded me this past week over a wonderful lunch-time conversation: momentum is on our side and we are going to win this argument, because love is more powerful than hate. If you need proof for my position just look at Jesus' life, death, and resurrection: call it love.

I recently received this "flash" news point from the Reconciling Ministries, made up of United Methodists, in which 75 LGBT clergypersons hope to amend their Book of Discipline, which outlaws the ordination of LGBT people. Below is the passage which this group hopes to take out of their Book of Discipline. For more information, please click here.

Paragraph 304.3 of the 2000 Discipline is a declaration of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” The practice of homosexuality is a chargeable offense under 2702.1(b) of the 2000 Discipline.

Let us pray,


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