BY SUSAN GRETTENBERGER
I am a lesbian. I am also a lifelong United Methodist and the daughter of wonderful, loving, accepting parents. My dad is a UM pastor. I have seen the best sides of a denomination which has, nonetheless, struggled for as long as I can remember to resolve how to respond to me and others who identify as LGBTQ. The denominational struggle has harmed people, even while many United Methodists have strongly supported us, even allowing marriages in their buildings.
I have stayed a member because parts of the UM Church were so progressive and visionary, doing work that really mattered, and because so many Methodists I know were so supportive of LGBTQ people.
Yet there it was in February, a public vote of the United Methodist denomination, with the results shared across American media. The vote, to the shock and anguish of even many bishops, resulted in tighter rules on LGBTQ people in the church. The recent decision was far more hurtful than I expected it to be. My wife and I considered bolting right on out the doors. And yet …
There was an immediate, supportive response from many United Methodists expressing their dismay and apologizing for the hurt caused by that vote. Ads saying just that, filled with thousands of signatures from clergy and pew-sitters, were run simultaneously in several Michigan papers. A similar statement signed by pastors from across the country ran in the New York Times. Bishops issued statements in some areas saying they expected pastors under them to do weddings for anyone in their congregations, including same-gender couples who are, and therefore must be, treated as equal in the eyes of God. I learned that as many as two-thirds of the U.S. delegates voted against the punitive proposal, and that it was primarily supported by a minority of conservative churches here. The remainder of the votes come from delegates outside the U.S., whose Christian views were shaped by conservative American missionaries – colonization’s ugly side.
I have been brutally honest with church folks I know about how crappy this all has been. They are SO clueless at times about how they contribute to the oppression of LGBTQ people through their silence, with many holding the same attitude as white people who believe they are not part of the oppression because they have black friends. What has heartened me is that while some conservative church people I know aren’t sure they are fully support gay marriage, they have heard my pain and they care. They are genuinely trying to figure this out. Some of them are even less defensive than the progressives who half got it before.
One such conservative at my own church, who has always been very warm, said she never understood the pain we have felt. She sincerely wanted to find a way to ease that pain and asked me, “Would it be enough if I can live with our church doing gay marriages?” I watched as she came to realize that her beliefs and past behavior had caused me pain, and I watched as she struggled to move to a new place in her beliefs so that she could support and stop hurting me, a person she cares about. In the end, she supported a statement saying we would allow same-sex couples to be married in our church, a beautiful and historic building which has seen so much change in our world and which now has seen a bit more.
The United Methodist Church, like all denominations, is a microcosm of our society. Some members have had our backs for a long time. Some members were silent allies before, on our side but not wanting to rock the boat too much. Now, many of the previously silent folks are fighting for us, and a bunch of churches are bucking the recent decision to support the right of LGBTQ people to fully participate. Across Michigan, dozens of UM churches and pastors have publicly committed to marry us.
In fits and starts, we are moving forward. Increasing numbers of people and congregations of many religions, including the UM Church, see us as divinely made and welcome us fully. I am still hurt that so many do not understand the ways they and their religion do harm the LGBTQ community, or worse, believe we deserve to be hurt. Yet, I have hope because so many more people now do understand and are making a commitment to fight the oppression we have faced within the United Methodist Church and in society generally. Do all of them understand it completely? No, but they care about us as people and have moved forward. For me, for now, that is enough.
Author’s Note: While I have used ‘LGTBQ’ in keeping with language being used elsewhere, I want to acknowledge that the matter of equity and inclusion for trans people has not been addressed by most commentators or congregations discussing the recent decision.
Susan Grettenberger, PhD, MSW is Director/Professor in the Social Work Program at Central Michigan University. She and her wife Nicole are committed to ending sexual violence. (No last name used as she works for MSU).