I have a United Methodist Church Sunday School perfect attendance pin, which is a reminder to me that at one point in my life, my home town church at the time, the UM Church of Freeport, was the center of my universe. For five years, I never missed a Sunday school class. I sang in the youth choir. I made my confirmation, and many years later, I married my then Catholic husband there because my minister had no problem sharing the altar with a priest. When it came time to pick a denomination in which to raise our children, I lobbied heavily for Methodism, because I wanted my girl babies to have the option to join the clergy should they choose to do so, and I had numerous misgivings about the concept and practice of confession, the denunciation of homosexuality, birth control and the termination of unwanted pregnancies, and all the rules that seemed to govern not just behavior but thoughts, which hung over Catholicism like a judgmental cloud.
I won the domination battle, and both of our children where baptized in the Methodist Church that we joined when we moved to the North Shore of Long Island. I taught the confirmation class, my husband, an architect, became an usher and a trustee, and later designed the multi-purpose room which ironically was the place where we held the reception following his funeral in January 2002. Unlike my early church experiences, which my own parents did not participate in, our family worshipped together. Every person in our church knew my kids from the time they were babies. I share all this because I want you to know how emotionally, spiritually, financially and socially invested my family was in being Methodists.
All that changed when my older daughter revealed to me that she was gay. Because I already knew that 10% of the population is homosexual, and that a gay person is born that way, I had no problem with it. But apparently my domination did because the Book of Discipline states that the practice of homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” I do not recall Jesus saying, “Suffer the little children to come unto to me, unless they are gay.”
There was all that other stuff about not discriminating against folks based on race, being welcoming to all who seek Christ’s love, but really, how can a group of learned, sincere, God-respecting people keep that sentence in the Book of Discipline and not expect anyone to notice the hypocrisy of the document? It essentially negates anything that comes after it. It is the equivalent of saying to gay people: “You can come to the dinner party we’re hosting, but you cannot eat any food.” You cannot get married in church, you cannot ask your minister to marry you, even in a state where gay marriage is legal, you cannot encourage a gay friend to enter the clergy, even if they feel called to serve God; and when all is said and done, the place where everyone should feel the most welcomed and accepted, the CHURCH, is the last place they can go because they are “incompatible.”
I do not care if you welcome my kid to coffee hour. I want the language of our official Book of Discipline to reflect love, not fear, true acceptance, not just empty gestures, and tolerance that starts at the top and informs everything else we do.
MIND members wear the purple shirts [“closed doors, broken hearts, we mind” – you can buy one here] to acknowledge that our doors and hearts are not really open, and every year at annual conference, they ask everyone to stand with them and wear one, too. I have no doubt, if he were here today, Jesus would be wearing a purple shirt, too.