As an aspiring pastor in The United Methodist Church (The UMC) and a staff person at Reconciling Ministries Network, I spend a lot of time trying to explain my work to strangers, new friends, taxi drivers, and anyone else who might casually ask, “So, what do you do?”
In these conversations, I spend most of my time explaining my denomination’s legalese, archaic language that hasn’t kept up with the most basic understandings of sexuality and gender, and our church’s determination to continue discriminating against LGBTQI people.
These are not the conversations I want to be having.
As a pastoral representative of The UMC, I’d rather have meaningful conversations with strangers and new friends about supporting trans youth, combatting white supremacy, the ethics of our country’s international policies, and how we can tenderly take care of one another in these challenging times.
Meanwhile, a queer pastor in Iowa is preparing to endure their second complaint process. Last summer, Rev. Anna Blaedel bore the weight of such a process after three clergymen scribbled an “official” complaint on a folded piece of paper for being a “self avowed practicing homosexual.” Now, Rev. Blaedel braces for yet another punitive process because they practiced inclusive ministry and officiated at a wedding between two women.
Rev. Blaedel’s personal life, their ministry, and those who love them will endure a great deal because of the long complaint process ahead.
And for what purpose of God?
Rev. Blaedel explains, “Jesus lived and taught a way of radical Love, prioritizing justice over false unity, relationships over rules, and liberation over law & order. The practice of bringing charges against clergy for being LGBTQI, or for being in meaningful ministry with LGBTQI people, is incompatible with Christian teaching, is harming LGBTQI people, and is distracting The UMC.”
See, Rev. Blaedel is also a pastoral representative of The UMC who would rather focus their time and energy on making our world a more whole, more just, more compassionate place. But instead they stand in a long, long…long line of LGBTQI clergy who are forced to spend their energy and resources on self and communal advocacy in the face of discrimination.
So much money, so many hours, and so much pastoral care that could have been extended by LGBTQI pastors is instead allotted for our own survival as we advocate for our rights to do ministry as God calls us to do.
And so it continues: complaint after complaint after complaint.
This week, The UMC’s Judicial Council (our version of the Supreme Court) is meeting to discuss two cases about LGBTQI ordination and the “legitimacy” of our first openly lesbian bishop, Bishop Karen Oliveto.
As many LGBTQI people await news on how our lives might be changed by the Judicial Council, the Commission on a Way Forward (the body tasked with evaluating these discriminatory policies) released a statement saying, “We urge the entire church to stay focused on the Commission’s work as our best opportunity to determine God’s leading for the church.”
In the Commission’s statement, in the words of bishops, in the institution’s focus on “unity,” the message to LGBTQI Methodists and our allies is clear: “Just stay calm. Relax. The Commission on a Way Forward is going to take care of everything.”
No matter what we endure along the way, our denomination tells us to wait.
I believe that the Commission on a Way Forward will propose significant changes for our denomination at our special General Conference in 2019, which was scheduled this week by our Council of Bishops. The depth and breadth of such change remains to be seen, but United Methodists across the board agree that we can’t continue with the status quo.
Though I look towards 2019 with high interest, I know LGBTQI Methodists cannot passively accept harm until that time comes. Without a moratorium on the implementation of discriminatory policies, the harm continues between now and 2019.
Just this week, extensive harm was done to Bishop Oliveto, whose relationship with her wife was reduced publicly to arguments about sexual behavior. This harm extends to all LGBTQI clergy whose ministries hang in the balance. And this harm extends to LGBTQI youth, whose church calls them “incompatible” with their own faith.
For the last 45 years, LGBTQI Methodists and our allies have grounded ourselves in faith and in community as our denomination deliberates, votes, make statements, and projects our shared future together.
We learned long ago we could not wait.
I look to 2019 as a time when The United Methodist Church may finally end its attempts to thwart God’s work in our lives and ministries. But I am not passively waiting for such a time. Not while the harm continues. Not while the discriminatory policies stand in place. Not while LGBTQI clergy and our allies are picked off one by one. Not while our denomination prevents us from accomplishing all God intends.
Regardless of what comes from the Judicial Council this week, whether positive, negative, or neutral, I and many of my LGBTQI clergy siblings and allies already have our eyes focused on God, on ministry that enlivens conversations with strangers, and on countering the harm done by our denomination.
No matter what lies ahead, my truth, and the truths of so many others remain the same:
LGBTQI people are beloved.
LGBTQI people’s ministry is blessed by God. There is so much fruit to prove it.
LGBTQI people are leading the church and its future.
LGBTQI people will never, ever, begin “waiting.” And we hope our allies won’t either.
LGBTQI people are being deeply harmed by the church and it is unacceptable.
Today is too late for change. By yesterday, too much harm has been done.
We will not wait. We are too busy be-ing the church. Perhaps by 2019, our denomination will finally join us in ministry.
Photo provided by M Barclay