Nearly 150 United Methodist LGBTQI Clergy and Candidates Release Letter Week Before Key Judicial Council Decisions
April 17, 2017—This morning, 147 LGBTQI clergy and clergy candidates in The United Methodist Church (UMC) released an Easter pastoral letter, inviting the Church to deeper love, inclusiveness, and justice. The letter, organized by the emerging United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus, comes the week before the United Methodist Judicial Council is scheduled to make several decisions that will affect the ordination and future ministry of LGBTQI clergy and candidates within the church.
“This season of Easter, we rise up together as queer United Methodist clergy and candidates to be seen and heard by our beloved church,” said Rev. Dr. Israel I. Alvaran of the Philippines Annual Conference. “We are not begging for a place at the table but seeking a new way to be in relationship with each other that affirms our Christian witness and service as queer religious leaders.”
The letter highlights the harm caused by the judicial process and the attendant questions, complaints, and briefs filed against LGBTQI United Methodists. “These cases use our beloved families as weapons against us,” reads one passage from the letter, “and reduce our loving relationships to sexual acts.”
“For me, this letter is a sign of the commitment I made at my commissioning to be loyal to and to defend the order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline of the United Methodist Church ‘against all doctrines contrary to God’s Holy Word,’” said Rev. Elyse Ambrose, Associate Pastor of The Church of the Village in New York City. “I will, with God’s help, continue to strive against all that stands against God’s Holy Word of the belovedness of God’s children, the Spirit of God enlivened within us, and the hands and feet of Christ at work through us.”
The letter invokes several core Methodist principles, calling on The United Methodist Church to embody the Wesleyan principle to “do no harm,” the denomination’s commitment to “inclusiveness,” and the baptismal vow to “resist evil, injustice, and oppression.” For the 147 clergy and candidates who signed the Easter letter, embodying the vows of their baptism includes resisting unjust acts within the church. “We answer to a higher authority than earthly institutional power,” they write, “and will not accept unjust laws when they run contrary to the Gospel.” In their letter, the LGBTQI clergy and candidates also express solidarity with those whose cases the Judicial Council will consider April 25-28, 2017, including United Methodist Bishop Karen Oliveto of the Mountain Sky Episcopal Area, whose election and consecration as an openly lesbian bishop is being challenged.
“Queer Clergy in the UMC are formed in the stories and grace of Jesus, but we linger in a kind of Holy Saturday suspension. We are talked about in the abstract even as we are deeply involved in the pastoral, liturgical, and prophetic ministry to which we are called,” says Rev. Lois McCullen Parr. “But, ultimately, we are Easter people—a people of hope and promise. It is this truth we hold: to see the church become its best self—the liberating, loving agent of God’s justice.”
Next week, between April 25 and April 28, 2017, the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church, the church’s highest judicial body, will hear several cases that have a direct bearing on the licensing, commissioning, ordination, and consecration of LGBTQI clergy and clergy candidates. These cases stem from questions of legality and briefs filed after the licensing, commissioning, and ordination of queer clergy in New York and Northern Illinois Annual Conferences.
“As Queer servant leaders of the United Methodist Church, we share this letter on Resurrection Day to reiterate our love of God and our church and to embody this love and commitment as we speak truth to power and offer ourselves as partners in the healing and building of God’s beloved community,” said Rev. Alex da Silva Souto, Pastor of New Milford United Methodist Church in New Milford, CT. “It is past time for our church to become a truly prophetic agent of God’s grace, love and justice.”
The 147 LGBTQI clergy and candidates who signed the letter come from more than 25 annual conferences and represent a growing number of openly LGBTQI clergy within the United Methodist Church. That number has grown since 111 United Methodist clergy publicly came out as LGBTQI before last year’s quadrennial General Conference. Since then, the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus has organized LGBTQI United Methodist clergy and candidates in response to questions of the legality of the licensing, commissioning, and ordination of openly LGBTQI people.
“I signed this letter on behalf of all LGBTQI people within and beyond our denomination and to express my prayers for those who reject or question my human worth and vocation,” said Rev. Dr. David Weekley. “I hope this letter helps bring our church closer to fulfilling the good news of sacred worth and love for all. Now is a particularly important time to share this letter with our church as the lives and livelihood of so many LGBTQI people are at risk”
Photo provided by the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus