The Raleigh Rant
Dear Rev. Roberts,
It is with regret that I request to withdraw my membership in the United Methodist Church. I will continue to attend and financially support the congregation that has welcomed me just as I am, rather than the church that tells me what I should be.
I have struggled to become reconciled with my church ever since my partner in 1967 was told to drop out of seminary because he was gay and had no promise within the Methodist Church. I observed the witch hunt trial of Gene Leggett in San Antonio in 1976 that became a public spectacle and an embarrassment to the church. Subsequent clergy trials have occurred depending upon the arbitrary opinions of the local bishops, who can choose how to enforce the Book of Discipline. The resolution of these trials is capricious and inconsistent, and a trial often is ignored if a person is willing to lie. If our church is willing to prevent from ordination an outstanding young preacher such as Jeffrey Warren, who is reaching out to spread the good news to unbelievers, then it has the wrong priorities. (His presentation at General Conference was shared 516,560 times on social media just in case you thought he had no impact.)
Over the years it has become apparent to many that the United Methodist Church is more interested in maintaining the status quo and appealing to leaders who represent a conservative class of older members who have the most money. The debate is not about a cultural divide; it’s about political power. The Methodist Church was envisioned by John and Charles Wesley as an evangelical movement, but it was never fundamentalist in its interpretation of the Bible. After 14 years of serving as a co-leader of a weekly Bible study, I am still growing in my knowledge of the scriptures and also how to interpret them for the 21st Century. The fundamentalists cannot say the same. Love the sinner, hate the sin is still a statement of judgment. This struggle is not an interpretation of scripture over which we can amicably disagree. It has consequences.
This long debate about dogma has alienated not only the LGBT community from the church but also many others who see the church as focused more on self-righteousness than service. According to the UMC polls of the current generation, the Methodist Church has become irrelevant to their lives. The church has become an archaic institution that holds no promise of salvation unless we are in strict conformity with a 19th Century dogma. The Special Session of General Conference passed the Traditional Plan enforcing the restrictions of the 2016 Book of Discipline. Some are hopeful the plan will be overturned by the Judicial Council. If that occurs, we still will have the status quo. That is unacceptable to me. We are not petty children who have been hurt because we lost a game. We have suffered shame and abuse, sometimes murder, from those who claim to act in the name of God. As the Special General Conference demonstrated, the priorities of the church have changed, and evangelism is near the bottom of the list. Doctrinal purity is foremost.
At 83, I now believe that reconciliation with my church is not possible and that the established order will continue for the foreseeable future. I also have withdrawn my participation in the Reconciling Ministries Network and the North Carolina Chapter. The church hasn’t listened to our pleas. I can’t continue to participate in an exercise in futility. The Bishop’s periodic sessions of dialogue have served only to talk the issue to death with no real progress. I don’t want to hear another endless debate of the “issue.” I am not an issue; I am a person. If the church cannot accept me just as I am, then it has no place for me.
cc: Gray Southern
For many years I played the role of a victim. For a decade I coped by hiding in the closet. Then I tentatively started to come out to a few people, but I still was afraid and lacked self-confidence. I avoided any risk so I compromised my career and avoided any situation that might be a threat. I lived life on the fringes - not really engaged.
Slowly I realized that my WASP privilege shielded me from many of the problems that people of color face in this country every day. I came to understand that I was only one of many who are marginalized by society by racism, homophobia, greed, and class distinction. We may not be able to control our circumstances, but we can choose our responses.
I even found a partner, but again the pressures of society made it difficult to maintain that relationship. I could not even imagine the opportunity of getting married and living a normal life.
I found a steady job and settled down in a small community and got by - getting along and keeping a low profile. I wasn’t living up to my potential, but again I was afraid of taking the risk of stepping outside my comfort zone.
The train was crowded, and every seat was filled. The young woman politely asked if the seat next to me was available. It took some time for the train to get underway. In the meantime, she turned on the overhead light and started reading. After the train started moving, she got up and went to the club car where the lighting was brighter. She stayed there for a long time before returning to her seat.
After she sat down again, we struck up a conversation. I learned that her family originally was from Ethiopia. They had emigrated first to Mississippi and then to New Jersey, where she earned her college degree. She had heard about the job opportunities in the Triangle and applied for a job in Raleigh. She liked the lively downtown atmosphere and the loads of activities for young professionals. She was happy in North Carolina and not particularly interested in its politics.
We chatted for some time before lapsing into silence as the hours got later. I last saw her leaving Raleigh Union Station. I wondered how a beautiful young African-American felt about the Deep South, and she admitted that it was a challenge at times. Raleigh was much more progressive, and she felt that her race was not an issue.
With all the current hysteria about immigrants of color, I guessed that the transition of her family might be more difficult today. I also thought of another immigrant family who fled to Egypt to escape persecution. Although they later returned to Palestine, Egypt and Ethiopia became early adopters of Christianity and fostered the developed the Coptic branch of the religion. Although Christians are now a threatened minority in these Muslim nations, many ancient churches still survive. According to tradition, one even holds the sacred chalice of Christ.
People have searched the scriptures in the Old Testament of the Jewish tradition of hospitality that was prevalent in the first century. Then we had the Crusades and now the civil wars in the Middle East. The refugee crisis in Syria has overrun European countries that struggle to cope with the influx of millions of people. America seem to be threatened by a few thousand refugees on our southern border. Let’s face it, the real issue is racism and not security.
We are a nation of immigrants. During the 18th Century, they came exclusively from Europe. For most of the 19th Century, the people came from Europe or China. In the 20th Century, we attracted people from all over the world, primarily because of better economic and educational opportunities than in the less developed nations. We put up lots of barriers to protect ourselves, but people still come in spite of our overt hostility at times. Why?
Because for generations we were the beacon of hope in a world filled with wars and lack of economic opportunity. Poverty exists in this country but not in the same extent as in many other countries, such as India.
Jesus was a Jew and a Palestinian. Would we welcome him today?
My church continues to struggle and is engaged in a battle of who will control the denomination. I went back and read my commentary a year ago on “The Way Forward” in the current controversy of the United Methodist Church over homosexuality. We now have the report of the commission, the three optional plans they presented, and the recommendations of the Council of Bishops. Here in North Carolina we’ve had a series of “discernment” meetings to discuss the options and to consider the positions of the local churches. Everyone is gearing up to lobby the delegates of the Special Called Session of the General Conference in February 2019. The conference will consider the options and presumably reach a decision on the issues. It’s not just a question of the wording of the Book of Discipline; it’s also about what happens with the potential reorganization of the church, especially if the Wesleyan Covenant Association decides to leave the denomination.
Other than religion writers, I don’t think anyone other than Methodists are concerned about these issues. We’ve been debating dogma for almost 50 years without any resolution, and I’m not confident that we will come up with a practical solution this time.
My fears and concerns are not only for the future of the United Methodist Church but also about the future of the LGBT Civil Rights Movement. It is under attack by the federal government on many levels, including a potential reversal of Supreme Court decisions. My pastor’s Thanksgiving sermon was about relying on faith to soothe our worries and ease our souls. That’s a hard road for me right now. I am concerned not only with LGBT rights but also the explosion of gun violence in this country, the lack of social justice not only in our economy, but also in our judicial system. We are a divided nation that seems incapable of breaking out of gridlock to reach solutions. Love is the answer, but how do we express unconditional love in such a fractious society?
I’m reviving an old tradition and going to DC on the train for Thanksgiving this year to visit friends. Hopefully there will be a break in the demonstrations, and I will avoid the traffic by leaving my car at the station. We tend to blame all of our problems on Congress and sometimes see it as the center of everything. In fact, because of the gridlock we’ve been pretty much able to get along without it. I’m going to an inter-faith supper preceding Thanksgiving, which is pretty unusual. We tend to think of the holiday as a Christian celebration, but in fact it never was. It is about family, community, friends, and at least one day a year in which we express our gratitude for being Americans. It is also the occasion when many Americans choose to be very generous with their time and money.
God Bless America.
Considering all of the anti-LGBT rhetoric that has come out of Washington the past 18 months, it was inspiring to watch the memorial service at the National Cathedral today. Most of the music was surprisingly old-fashioned and simple until the end when the extended mournful melodies carried on too long. Bishop Gene Robinson gave a short, informal homily that was moving but not maudlin. I was surprised that he got a standing ovation in the middle of a worship service.
The service was a preamble to his internment in the Cathedral crypt. He is one of only 300 persons to be so honored. It also recognized the pain of his cruel death 20 years ago, and how with the efforts of his family he has become the symbol of the gay rights movement in the US. Whatever one might think of the political aspect of the call to get out and vote, it brought into focus the division in this country of how LGBT people are viewed. Unfortunately, that has taken on a popular view of liberal versus conservative stances. In many situations the positions of evangelical Christians have been at the forefront of resistance to LGBT people, not only in the church but in civil society. The Episcopal Church split over this issue, and the Methodist Church has been struggling with it for almost 50 years and also is facing a possible split. Denominational in-fighting over the issue is a waste of time and energy. We already have hundreds of Protestant denominations that have fractured over much more minor issues. Whatever the evils of the Roman Catholic Church over 1,500 years, it did maintain a certain unity that has dissolved in the last 500 years into endless quarrels and debates.
The rationale of this discrimination is the interpretation of a few passages of scripture in the Bible that is used to justify discrimination of the LGBT community. Haggling over interpretations of the Bible is a no-win situation that only leaves everyone frustrated. Taking Jesus’ mandate to love everyone as ourselves is the basis for a solution to the conflict.
Some politicians in the current election cycle are once again using the LGBT community as a bogeyman to imply that we are a threat to Christian moral values. In fact, Christianity was formed by challenging the traditional 613 Jewish laws of the First Century. It established that the true moral values existed in a person’s heart and mind rather than a self-righteous pursuit of strict legalism. Surely, we have come beyond that debate in the intervening centuries.