Bishop Mark J. Webb
Upper New York Annual Conference
United Methodist Church
324 University Avenue, 3rd floor
Syracuse, NY 13210
Dear Bishop Webb:
I am confused and disturbed by what seem to be contradictory statements in the Methodist Book of Discipline related to people who identify themselves as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. Perhaps some of my confusion is because I was a Lutheran for 55 years, only becoming a Methodist 7 years ago when I joined Tabernacle UMC in Binghamton. My understanding of Christianity is that Jesus brought a new covenant with God, who is loving, not punitive; and the two greatest commandments are to love God above all else and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Do Methodists abide by a different text, something that supersedes what Jesus taught in the New Testament?
I see that the Book of Discipline includes similar guidance and tells Methodists to “do no harm,” so it is hard for me to understand how UMC can condone rejection, even hatred, of people who are GLBT. The people I know who are GLBT do no harm to others, but apparently the UMC demands their condemnation, which sanctions hateful speech and behavior by “religious” people. This does great harm. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds, but it is the highest cause among gay, lesbian, and bisexual youth, who attempt suicide three to four times more than their heterosexual peers. It is even higher for transgender youth. Why would the UMC want to persecute these vulnerable young people rather than protect them? Under these conditions, I am amazed by the number of GLBT Methodists who love God and their church so much that they remain devoted despite institutionalized abuse. If people really can choose their gender preference and identity, wouldn’t everyone choose a life without persecution?
I am familiar with the parts of the Bible that are interpreted as rejecting homosexuality. Does the UMC take these as God’s laws, imparted from God’s mouth to our (edited by men) Bible, in English? And does the UMC advocate practice of all the other Old Testament laws? If so, how does the UMC reconcile those laws with the new covenant? (And should I worry about being stoned to death for defying my husband?!) I understand that some parts of the world have cultural taboos against homosexuality, but Jesus taught us to move beyond our cultural taboos – to accept prostitutes, people with illness and disabilities, even Samaritans. Sadly, churches have used the Bible to condone great atrocities, like slavery and genocides, while the money-changers in the temples go unchallenged. Isn’t this upside-down?
About 10 years ago, the Lutheran church to which I belonged voted to become a reconciling congregation. I am a straight, white, well-educated women and I have enjoyed great privilege in my life. I had never thought about, much less cared about, how churches had treated their GLBT members. After our church voted yes, overwhelmingly, there was overwhelming refusal to discuss GLBT concerns, and I saw how much that hurt our members who were openly gay. This and other issues had created a climate that seemed antithetical to all that I knew about Christian love, so I began looking for another church.
At Tabernacle, I found models of what Jesus taught: working to feed people who are hungry, providing spiritual support for people with physical and mental health problems, hosting gang prevention and 12-step groups, and more, always showing love for God and all people. Shortly after I joined Tab, the congregation began the process of study and reflection that led us to become a reconciling congregation. And since that time, Pastor Steve Heiss and Tab’s members have worked to be sure our church is truly welcoming to all. How could we go back on that commitment, to reject some who love God?? Our vote was 98 to 6 and, yes, we lost two or three members, but we have gained others, both straight and GLBT, who see that Tab lives the values that Jesus taught.
Recently I have observed that the UMC seems willing to overlook the “sins” by both clergy and laity of being GLBT or offering them full membership, as long as everyone lies about it. But the Book of Discipline requires us to seek and welcome, nurture with worship and the sacraments, free the oppressed, and be a compassionate and caring presence (2012, p.92, ¶122). I belong to Tabernacle UMC because this is what Pastor Steve Heiss does with and for everyone, without reservation. So why is he threatened with punishment?
Bishop Webb, I really wonder how leaders of the UMC can live with their hypocrisy, professing to spread God’s love but practicing such hatred. I pray that you will do the right thing, the truly Christian thing, and reject the homophobic exception to love in the Book of Discipline.
“We who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.” Martin Luther King, Jr.