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By Leslie Robinson
The only thing I like better than a striking woman falling into my lap is a striking topic doing the same. When I read that 75 LGBT clergy from the United Methodist Church had come out in an open letter to church leaders, I joyously prepared to write a hymn of admiration.
Now my hymn is evolving into a dirge.
Things began so promisingly, when I read online how these ministers from all over the country had waded into the denomination’s conflict over homosexuality exactly a week before a meeting of UMC pooh-bahs. A story on 365Gay.com declared most of the 75 weren’t out “until now.” PlanetOut’s headline blared, “Gay Ministers Come Out, Risk Defrocking.”
Well, color me ink-stained and chain me to the keyboard. I knew I had some heroes to raise up here.
I asked the Reconciling Ministries Network, an organization working for LGBT equality in the UMC and the force behind the letter, to send me a copy. With it came the Network’s press release, emphasizing the “great personal risk” the 75 were taking.
But a funny thing happened on my way to canonizing these clergy. I realized the letter wasn’t signed.
It included no signatures. The 75 names are known only to the Network’s attorney, who keeps them confidential, and to God, who presumably does, too.
Well, color me confused.
I e-mailed a couple of people at RMN and asked point-blank whether I was missing something. If the names aren’t being released, how will the church hierarchy, the press or individual Methodists know who’s come out? Where’s the vaunted danger to the signers? Is their fear that the list of names could be demanded by a secular or religious court? Stolen? Blown into the street by a vigorous air conditioner?
If I have missed something, I won’t know what it is until readers’ angry e-mails arrive, because I haven’t heard back from the RMN folks and my deadline is nigh. Both of which mean I get to proceed with my rhetorical questions.
Is this bravery? Is this risk? Is this even coming out? If you affirm you’re gay with invisible ink, are you out?
Here’s what I do know. The UMC is the second-largest Protestant denomination in the country, and like other denominations, in the midst of a hot conflict over homosexuality. Last Halloween the Judicial Council both defrocked out lesbian minister Beth Stroud of Philadelphia, and reinstated a Virginia pastor who had been suspended for refusing a gay man membership in his congregation. So for the conservative faction, life’s been a giggle.
Against this backdrop, the many LGBT people in UMC pulpits and pews have some soul-searching to do. In their letter, the 75 clergy write of the pain inflicted by the church’s official anti-gay policy, but also make clear they don’t want to hightail it to another church “for it is in the UMC that our spirituality is rooted.”
For this conflicted bunch, publishing this letter may well feel like a radical act. Signing it publicly might feel like burning the flag and a bra at the same time.
They’ve declared to the entire denomination that they’re here and hurting, but in such a way that they won’t lose their jobs as a result. It may look like a giant step to them; to me the step looks Chihuahua-sized.
Considering the UMC’s conservative path, I’m guessing these 75 will soon have to look again at their hearts, spirits and bank accounts to see if they can walk the path of a Beth Stroud. God speed them — because they don’t get up much velocity on their own.