Anyone who reads this blog likely knows that a Pennsylvania United Methodist elder in full connection has been suspended for 30 days. He was convicted on Monday for officiating at a same sex union. His son was one of the people whose union was celebrated. The jury found that he did, in fact, violate the Book of Discipline, the United Methodist Church's law book. I think the verdict is insane because rather than revoke his credentials, they have given him 30 days to discern and then expect him to voluntarily surrender them if he won't uphold the discipline in its entirety. I hope he doesn't.
Jeremy Smith has shared a list of ways that many United Methodists don't uphold the Book of Discipline in its entirety yet aren't having charges filed or facing trials for them. He's also written about some of the shady background of the charges being filed — which local secular press covered as well. I spent four years as what I now call a transitional United Methodist.
My time with the UMC was mostly outstanding — I was welcomed whole heartedly into a new youth group as a high school junior and participated in the Wesley Foundation through all four years of college; I worked for it for two of them even as an Episcopalian. I served on the Steering Committee for the United Methodist Student Movement for a year. I started my discernment for ordination process with the United Methodist Church.
While liturgical tastes/expectations/practices and the candidacy for ordination process (not set up for undergraduates who go to college outside of their district or annual conference) were much higher on the list of reason I left the United Methodist Church, my sexuality was number three. Ten years after Gene Robinson was elected, consented to, and consecrated bishop in The Episcopal Church the United Methodist Church is removing a man for marrying his son. I happily entertain discussion about covenant, rules, civil disobedience and biblical obedience; unjust laws being no law and all and juries having to follow laws rather than ignore the ones they don't like.
I understand that. I worked for a pastor who didn't baptize infants and rebaptized adults, too. The annual conference where my campus ministry was has an elder in full connection who performed a Skype "baptism" years ago and the video has been on YouTube since then, with vows omitted, thanksgiving over the water omitted, etc. And how many bishops, when they instruct ordinands to wear black robes, ignore the paragraph of the Discipline that mandates following the ordinal — which is really clear that ordinands should wear an alb?
I don't think that any of them would have been put on trial if I'd filed a complaint — but then again, I don't think that trials are the way to settle disagreements in the church, particularly if punitive justice rather than restorative is what is being sought, especially if the sentence lets the jury not feel like the punishment is on them.
What I don't understand, though, is those who are staying in the United Methodist Church and waiting for it to change around them. I am not the only who to have made the comparison between individuals' relationship with the institution as one of an abusive relationship. I have watched dear friends be subject to processes of unofficial investigation with due process violated as they hoped a trial wouldn't emerge who love the institution. I have seen friends fight to hide their sexuality at all costs. No, not even hide their sexuality, but hide anything that might give suspicion that they might be LGBT and always looking over their shoulder, concerned who saw what and who is or is not "safe."
I particularly don't understand it when they stay they want to stay in the institution to work for change, but don't work for change. More than LGBT people saying that (which they do) I don't understand so-called allies that will say nice things in small groups about their support for LGBT people but won't speak against anti-gay resolutions as their annual, jurisdictional, or regional conferences. One of the reasons I like Jeremy Smith and his blog so much is that as a straight ally he doesn't hide his support for LGBT inclusion.
As many have pointed out, and with whom I agree, not everyone is called to surrender credentials in solidarity, to come out and have them revoked, or to officiate at blessing same-sex unions. But if someone is saying that those aren't their calls, what are their calls? I don't believe that God calls any of us to have secret safe groups as the only places where we express our support, approval, or beliefs that are different.
After learning his sentence Frank Shaefer said, "I feel I have to be an advocate, an outspoken advocate for all lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual people...I will never be silent again." For following his call, he's facing losing his credentials. If you are a United Methodist, what is your call in this? You can't be defrocked for publicly, vocally, advocating for changing the way things are. Your abstentions are just as hurtful as a no vote to the person you've just told you support completely.
If you are just way more Methodist than I am and staying with the institution to change it, how are you working for that change? Working, not just hoping. Are you organizing groups? Drawing attention to difference? Or hoping that someone with a little less to lose — or maybe even a little more — will do that?
This is probably a little heavy-handed, but I'm hurting. I'm hurting for my friends all over the church who love the church that keeps slapping them in the face and punching them in the gut. I'm hurting because I worry that staying in the system has turned into joining the system and that fear is beating love. I'm hurting, largely, because I'm wondering and worried when it will be someone I know who despite their best efforts at covering anything that hinted at queerness are found out and dragged through a trial. How are you working on this?