Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Why Don't You Just Leave

Today, I’m grateful for the Reconciling Ministries movement that allows congregations, who respectfully disagree with their denominational teachings excluding LGBT folks, to remain in the fold as the loyal opposition.

As I wrote these words, I wonder how truly loyal I am to the wider United Methodist Church. If I were choosing a church today with my commitments to justice and equality, I wonder if I would choose a UMC congregation. There’s much about this church I love, but the unrelenting turn of the church over the last thirty years away from social justice and toward biblical fundamentalism and disciplinary legalism is disturbing.

What brought this reflection on was a comment  I often hear from church folks about my stance toward gays and lesbians. “Why don’t you just leave.” I omit the question mark, because it always feels more imperative than interrogative.

Just leave the United Methodist Church. Like it would be so easy to pick up and move to another state, away from family that we care for and support. Like it would be so easy to move into another denomination, go through the certification processes and become pastors of a church. Like it would be so easy to leave the church that has become my home.

This makes me wonder what kind of a church tells its pastors and parishioners, “You just need to leave.”

Perhaps it’s a church that told lay and clergy, who marched for civil rights, if you want African-Americans  in our church, you need to get out of town and start your own church.

Perhaps it’s a church that told women back in the 1920s who marched for equal rights or women in the 1940s who pushed for the ordination of women, you need to find another church.

Perhaps it’s a church that told lay people back in the day, if you want to be represented along with clergy at annual meetings, maybe you should join another church.

Or maybe it’s a church that told the whole denomination, if you want to free the slaves, then we’re out of here.

We have this dream in the UMC that we were at the forefront of civil rights struggles, and while that was certainly true in some individual cases, as a denomination, we have come kicking and screaming into every battle for civil rights. Today our churches remain highly segregated along racial lines and essentially closed to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons. Power flows top-down from bishops and clergy, and suspicion of female pastors and female leadership remains.

Until the United Methodist Church fully faces this heritage of discrimination, we will continue to proclaim a broken gospel, one where our speech does not match our words and actions, and where we let “spiritual concerns” trump real world concerns, as if the two could ever be separated.

For my part, as a UMC pastor who plans to stay and preach and live in the UMC, here’s my new year’s resolution.  I will continue to proclaim the whole gospel to the best of my ability, and I will listen and respond to those on the margins. I will find ways to open the church to those who have been so long excluded, and I will walk in that gospel way one day at a time. I invite you to join me.