In last week’s BTL, a reader named Magic wrote a letter decrying that pastor Beth Stroud was defrocked for being a lesbian and calling the leadership of the United Methodist Church a group of bigots. I am a longtime member of the denomination and feel Magic’s claim is simplistic and shortsighted.
Yes, the Methodists have policies that bar gay pastors and bar commitment ceremonies (as do many other denominations) but support for such policies is falling. The conference that determines policies had only 54 percent of its delegates approve the underlying doctrine when it met in 2004, significantly down from the same vote at the 2000 meeting. There is hope.
In addition, there are some local churches that specifically welcome LGBT members, including Central United Methodist beside Comerica Park and First United Methodist in Northville. Beth Stroud continues to serve as a lay pastor in her congregation in spite of church policies because that particular church loves all of her. There is hope.
The top court of the church, which confirmed the order against Beth Stroud, also reinstated a pastor in Virginia who had been forced on leave after refusing membership to a gay man. At the same time the court was ruling against us, the Council of Bishops was meeting and quickly put out a pastoral letter affirming that LGBT people are indeed welcome as members. The news report said the bishops were “of one mind” in affirming our place at the table, even if we cannot yet sit at the head of the table. There is hope.
Now that Magic has labeled these same bishops as bigots, what next? Do we gain anything by such a declaration? Does it help our cause? Does such name-calling make it more likely they will turn to us with open arms? Or does it simply allow Magic to say, “I may be gay, but they’re a bunch of bigots and I’ll never have to deal with them again?” Not everything the United Methodist Church – or any church – says is against us.
We as a community have been burned by the church enough times that it is understandable to give up and do our best to ignore the church or sit back and call them all bigots. But I see a problem. The LGBT community has grown so far away from the church that we no longer speak the same language. We can’t explain ourselves in their terms. We throw out the whole church message rather than saying what tiny pieces are hurtful and wrong.
There was a time when I wrote my own letter to the denomination newspaper declaring many church leaders to be bigots. I’m thankful now that it was never printed.