September 18, 2013
Dear Bishop Webb,
While it is an honor and a privilege to serve the United Methodist Church as an elder, I am most moved by the way that the Spirit works in and among us building relationships of trust and love where God’s abundant grace reveals itself in ways that transforms lives and even makes disciples of us. To live out the calling of pastor requires sacred trust on so many levels—between clergy and God, clergy and parishioners and the congregation, clergy and God. What an amazing fluid dance it is!
The United Methodist Church is not upholding its end of this divinely dynamic equation with its statements in the Book of Discipline that discriminate against people who identify as GLBTQ. Our system is broken when it clearly identifies a group of people as less than full members of the body of Christ. Not only by reading the Book of Discipline, but especially by the call placed on my heart by God, I understand as clergy that I am called and expected to minister to all people. We know what a challenge that is—that is our lifelong journey. But, when the church calls us to minister to all and requires us by the letter of an unjust law to discriminate, people of conscience have a problem.
It is very clear to me that our ultimate obedience is to the Bible, to God known to us through Jesus Christ and to the grace-filled spirit of the Book of Discipline. When we are biblically obedient we obey the Book of Discipline. Our Wesleyan heritage and quadrilateral demand thinking, feeling spirit-led obedience. We are seeing that break out all over our denomination as people step out of the shadows of fear to proclaim they are being faithful United Methodists by following Jesus’ call to be in ministry to all.
These contradictions in our church rules create many problems. When I invite all to the communion table, my congregation—especially the children—knows that all means all. No matter what. They believe what I say.
How then can I with any integrity explain our church’s official position to blatantly discriminate?
How can we have an open communion table and not allow clergy to officiate at the marriages of loving same-sex couples in their church homes?
How can I ask all at baptisms to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves when we do not acknowledge that we as a church represent that systemic evil that is hurting GLBTQ people—and therefore the entire body of Christ? When one suffers, indeed we all suffer.
How can we celebrate the joy of baptizing a baby—celebrating the gift of prevenient, lavish grace, grace that flows more abundantly than we can ever fully take in and then have the mendacity to shut off God’s own spigot of grace and acceptance if this child grows up and into their divinely-formed identity as GLBTQ?
And, what if this child of God is called to ministry? Then we are asked by our Book of Discipline to deny this gift for the church—this gift formed by God’s own hand for God’s beloved people.
I cannot explain any of this with any integrity to my beloved congregation.
Doesn’t all really mean all?
Some of my very faithful, lifelong Methodists were confused why their pastor is not allowed per the Book of Discipline to marry people, especially in NY state where there is marriage equality.
But what does “open hearts, open minds, open doors mean,” they ask me?
This awful discrimination that binds GLBTQ people, binds my heart as well.
I know when I say all, my church doesn’t mean all.
I know when I say “you are welcome,” there are exceptions.
I know when I say “you are a beloved child of God” we have discriminatory language in the Book of Discipline that disputes that.
I know that when I tell a struggling parent of a child that there is no sin, no mistake; their child is a treasured child of God; GLBTQ identified and made in God’s very own image that my church doesn’t have my back. Instead it provides the hateful “incompatible with Christian teaching” language to twist the knife and deepen the pain.
I know that some will come to the United Methodist Church to justify and find refuge for their hatred—because we stubbornly cling to that language and church law.
I long to be free of these contradictions.
They hurt people.
They damage the witness of the church.
So many people today avoid the church, thinking it is full of hypocrites.
When will we stop providing the supporting evidence?
I long to have my words, my heart and my church’s policy be free from all of this.
I long to no longer feel like I am misleading people by opening some doors to all folks and being asked to slam others shut.
Bishop Webb, I long for you to be the one to lead us out of this mess.
I have been fervently praying for you.
Be the bishop who has the courage to open his or her mouth and say to your bishop brothers and sisters, “Enough. We are hurting people. It harms the entire body of Christ when we single folks out for discrimination. We must change now.”
I pray that you have been called for such a time as this.
You will not be alone when you speak out for love and justice. So many people—inside and outside of our church-- have been working and praying for this new day to dawn in our denomination.
I have no doubt you will be overwhelmed by support from so many and upheld by the power and grace of the Holy Spirit that is at work even now freeing our denomination from our sin.
Science, society and culture have a healthier view of homosexuality than does our church.
I long for the day when the church is out front leading people in justice and peacemaking; sharing God’s abundant, lavish love.
But, I would gladly settle for the day when our church, realizes the harm we’ve done and meekly slips into line behind Dick Cheney, the Boy Scouts, the pope, and the US government and military.
Disciples of Jesus Christ called to transform the world quietly following behind.
I wonder what Jesus would have to say about our position in line?
Blessings and Peace,
Rev. Amy B. Gregory