Since Sunday, my world has gone slightly crazy. I've been in touch with various people from within the United Methodist Church, as well as other denominations. Lay people, clergy, upper level leadership. I've spoken with old friends, and been blessed to have new ones come into my life. In the midst of all this talking, I've still been thinking. And while it might be an inflammatory topic, I feel the need to address it...
When I first began the ordination process here in the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church, the knowledge of gay clergy, both single and partnered, was prevalent. It still is. In many cases, we know who they are. We know their partners. We've played with their children. We've attended their weddings, housewarming parties, engagements, holiday parties, and other communal gatherings. They are provisional clergy, and they are ordained in full connection. Clearly, there was something happening, something at a corporate level, which allowed the disciplinary regulations prohibiting the ordination of "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" to be dismissed, or at the very least ignored. This reality left me with more questions, and so I started asking them.
The answers I received, often hidden in subtext, were troublesome. These people—these queer clergy—had gone through their ordination processes without ever vocalizing their sexual orientations or their relationship statuses. They had sat in district committee meetings and board of ordained ministry meetings with people whose job was to get to know them on a deeply personal level, and they left unspoken something I believe to be an integral part of any person's identity. In their paperwork and in their spoken responses, they either never said anything, or in the more conservative conferences of the denomination, they lied. These people, called by God to be messengers of the good news and caregivers for all God's children, in order to receive a set of institutional credentials and receive "representational authority," kept something about how God created them hidden, secret, locked away.
Faced with the choice to do this myself, I realized how wrong it felt. Not only on my part, but on the part of those entrusted with the task of determining my capacity for ministry within our denomination. What happened to them, to the Church, that made growth in numbers and a more balanced ledger more important than the mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being of those called to do the ministering? When did it become okay for one clergy to ask another to lie, to compromise their integrity, to deny a piece of God's image within them or a relationship in which God placed them? When did adherence to institutional policies, procedures, and disciplines become more valuable and mandatory and adherence to the commandments of the Creator and the heart of the Gospel... the message of Christ, whose purpose was to bring life and bring it more abundantly (John 10:10)?
Throughout most of my discernment over the past few weeks and months, as I heard more clearly what was being asked of me both by institutional leaders and my Creator, I mostly experienced a sense of sadness and heartache. I loved my home church, as well as many others in the denomination whom I'd met over the years. But since leaving the ordination process three weeks ago and making the announcement to Holy Covenant on Sunday, something else has been surfacing inside me. Something more akin to righteous anger, holy rage.
Anger is not my color. It's like a sea-foam green, a coral, or a salmon. It washes me out and makes me look like someone other than myself. At least, this is how I've always felt while experiencing the emotion. Apparently, though, my anger over recent events is different. I don't feel like I'm self-directing it. I don't feel worse about myself for feeling it. Instead, I feel empowered, engaged, awakened. There is an injustice taking place. Not just the injustice of a denomination discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation, though I do believe that to be a grievous, systemic sin. Here, though, there is an injustice being done against those called by God to transform the church and the world, and it's being glossed over as if it were nothing.
As I spoke with a close friend last night, we thought about what might have happened in my own district committee meeting. What if someone had spoken up and said , "This is wrong"? What if someone had exhibited the courage to realize and vocalize just how harmful it was to ask me (and so many before—and probably after me) to take a significant part of my life underground, all for the sake of the denomination being able to benefit from the gifts, graces, and skills given to me by God for the sake of doing God's work? What if someone had said what bureaucratically should have been said—that I as a partnered gay man could not, based on polity, be ordained within the denomination? Or better yet... given the number of people in that room I presume believed the discipline to be unfair and unjust, what if the committee had allowed me to come out entirely and then been intentional about moving me forward in the process knowing that they were standing against a set of policies that were driven more by fear than by love?
Sadly, though, this did not happen. I was not allowed to be wholly authentic. I was not affirmed, truly, in the fullness of who God created me to be... at least not in the meeting itself (I've spoken with a few committee members before and after the meeting who were indeed quite loving and affirming). Instead, I was expected to do what so many before had done: to adhere to the status quo, compromise my integrity, offer the parts of myself that were wanted to the denomination and keep the unwanted parts under the rug, behind the bookshelf, or in the closet.
When we sit silent at the sight and realization of injustice, we participate in its mechanisms. When we place church growth and financial stability above the value, worth, and well-being of God's children, we diminish the message of the Gospel and we reject the love which God offers to us for the sake of seeing it flow outwards into the rest of creation. When we ask queer people called to ministry to hide because it makes us more comfortable, we cause our brothers and sisters to stumble, and well, that never turns out well for those who do the same in Scripture. We've gotten cold—no, lukewarm— and complacent.
These words come not out of judgment against those queer people who have chosen to stay within the United Methodist Church for the sake of fighting the good fight and seeing the denomination be transformed into what God would have her become. These words are a challenge to those who let the wheels of an unjust, ill-directed system keep on turning. I pray that you recognize the harm you're inflicting and the sin that you are encouraging... sin against God and against self. I pray that you again hear God's voice calling you to make decisions and live your lives based on love... not love for a system, but love for God's children who you know are called to do God's work as whole people. Do not hinder that wholeness.
Do not say to God's beloved children, "Lie to me."