Gerry Hill

In the summer before my 30th birthday, I answered “Yes” to some questions. The context for these questions was during the Oregon-Idaho United Methodist Annual Conference. I was about to be Ordained as an Elder and granted full membership in the Annual Conference.  During the Annual Conference Session, the candidates for ordination are brought before the assembly and asked 19 historic questions that date back to the time of John Wesley.

Here are the historic questions:

  1. Have you faith in Christ?
  2. Are you going on to perfection?
  3. Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?
  4. Are you earnestly striving after it?
  5. Are you resolved to devote yourself wholly to God and his work?
  6. Do you know the General Rules of our Church?
  7. Will you keep them?
  8. Have you studied the doctrines of The United Methodist Church?
  9. After full examination, do you believe that our doctrines are in harmony with the Holy Scriptures?
  10. Will you preach and maintain them?
  11. Have you studied our form of Church discipline and polity?
  12. Do you approve our Church government and polity?
  13. Will you support and maintain them?
  14. Will you diligently instruct the children in every place?
  15. Will you visit from house to house?
  16. Will you recommend fasting or abstinence, both by precept and example?
  17. Are you determined to employ all your time in the work of God?
  18. Are you in debt so as to embarrass you in your work?
  19. Will you observe the following directions? a) Be diligent. Never be unemployed. Never be triflingly employed. Never trifle away time; neither spend any more time at any one place than is strictly necessary. b) Be punctual. Do everything exactly at the time. And do not mend our rules, but keep them; not for wrath, but for conscience’ sake.

At the time, I answered all of these questions in the affirmative. The bishop explained that these were historical questions and that circumstances may be different in our time than in the time of Wesley. Still, the intent of the questions was to examine our hearts, our faith and our commitment to ministry.

gerryhillWhen I answered these questions, I lied about #9. I had studied the doctrines of the United Methodist Church and I found that many or most of them aligned with my understanding of scripture. But, there was at least one glaring contradiction for me: The Church’s doctrine as it relates to homosexuality: “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” (Par 161F) I don’t believe this is “in harmony with the Holy Scriptures.” I have always known, to the core of my soul, that Jesus loves and accepts all people. The UMC is wrong on this issue. It’s been wrong since this language was first voted into the Discipline in 1972.

Still, I answered, “Yes.” I guess I thought, “Yes, for the most part. That is good enough. Lots of people in the UMC share my view.” So I spent the next 27 years of my life as an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church.

There is another question, for which I am no longer a “Yes.” It is question #12. I no longer approve of the UMC’s government, discipline and polity. I have come to understand that the way that the UMC is governed, and it’s polity, are too often instruments of abusive power.

When I think about how Jesus equipped and sent leaders, there was nothing of hierarchy, complaints, trials and punishments. The biggest concern wasn’t the “Covenant” (read: Law), it was the practice of forgiveness, healing and grace. There was not even a “set apart” ordained class of religious practitioners. There were just followers of Jesus living in community with the people they served.

I don’t buy it anymore. I can’t stand complaints brought against pastors who celebrate loving commitments between adults. I can no longer hold membership in a denomination that contributes to a culture that would have LBGTQ youth commit suicide before it would fully include them into the life of the Church.

But what I find even more distressing, honestly, are the liberal and progressive UM clergy who are incensed by the Church doing what it always said it would do. It is enforcing the beliefs and policies that it adopted as its Discipline. The people out of integrity are not those prosecuting the offenders. They are, actually, acting in harmony with their view of a judgmental God who withholds salvation from sinners. The are following the Book of Discipline, the same one we all answered “Yes” when asked if we would support and maintain it.

I took early retirement in June this year to step outside of the UMC for the first time in my life. My choice came from a need to restore integrity with my faith. Since then I have been healing, praying, recovering while serving emotionally disturbed youth and their families. Now, it is time to take the next step.

In solidarity with all of the people harmed by the polity of the UMC – with Robyn Morrison, Frank Schaefer, Annie Britton, Delyn Celec, J Zirbel, Kristen Burkert and so many more (LGBTQ and allies), I am surrendering my credentials as an Elder in the United Methodist Church.  Robyn and I are planning a liturgy for Sunday, December 22, the fourth Sunday of Advent.  On the day after the longest night, we will celebrate the completion of my connection with the United Methodist Church. The Church that I have loved all my life. The Church that has denied love and grace for too many for too long.

I invite other Ordained Elders in the United Methodist Church to consider if you can answer these historic questions with integrity. If not, are you ready to surrender your credentials – even if no one brings charges against you?

In Christ’s powerful love,
Gerry Hill

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Letter to General Council on Finance and Administration

Dear General Council on Finance and Administration,

We received with joy word of your October 21, 2013 decision to extend benefits to “same-sex spouses” and “civil spouses.” We rejoice that the restraining effect of ¶ 806.9 in the 2012 Book of Discipline finally met real life with recent state and federal decisions regarding marriage and the reality of shifts in employment practices.

For our agencies to provide the best possible support for ministries of the United Methodist Church, from local congregations to international mission, they need to hire and support those gifted and called for particular ministry needs. These people are single and they are partnered. Those who are partnered will be in a range of relationships. When formal commitments are made and yet benefits are restricted, we not only limit the pool of the best possible employees, we diminish our witness to the inclusive love of the gospel of Christ by revealing categorical discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer people within the life of our church.

Thank you for caring for the life of the General Agencies and the lives of LGBTQ people through an extension of partner benefits.
At the same time, the restraining effects of discriminatory legislation are ongoing, affecting the lives of individuals, families, congregations, and the very mission of our church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Now that you have disclosed your assessment of the organizational needs of the church, we point to a need for additional disclosure about how the financial restrictions based on the notion of “incompatibility” impact other resources and the vitality of our ministries.

There are numerous effects. More and more people are divesting from the church because of the ongoing discrimination towards LGBTQ people. More and more people are walking out the doors, taking with them their prayers, presents, gifts, service and witness. The financial restrictions related to sexual orientation limit education about healthy sexuality and the church’s ability to minister to all God’s people.

We urge the General Council on Finance and Administration to assess and disclose where else you see negative results from continuing the current financial restrictions in the Book of Discipline. If you see effects on the lives of individuals and ministries beyond General Agencies, we urge you to speak to the church about this before General Conference 2016 so appropriate changes can be made.

It is time to pull back the curtain on the effect of intentional discrimination within the church—Disclose it. Failing to do so is to be complicit in continuing the discrimination.

In expectation,
Rev. Amy DeLong
Laci Adams
Alison Wisneski
Rev. Dr. Julie Todd
Laura Ralston
Dr. Mary Lou Taylor
Brenda Smith White
Rev. Wesley White
Mary Anne Balmer

Letter to Connectional Table

In advance of Love Prevails’ witness to the Connectional Table in Nashville this week, we sent the members of the Connectional Table the following letter. The letter makes the connections between LBGTQ exclusion and the missional practices and four areas of focus in the UMC.

Dear Connectional Table Member,

The 2004 General Conference made clear that: “the Connectional Table is to be motivated by faithfulness to the mission of the church to make disciples of Jesus Christ; global in scope and holistic in understanding; inclusive in nature and collaborative in style; and while being efficient in the stewardship of resources, be transparent, accessible, and accountable in all relationships.” [from UMC.org about the Connectional Table]

This task is most worthwhile for the life of The United Methodist Church. However, it is made more difficult when elements of this vision are not valued within the system. It is also made more complicated when issues of LGBTQ exclusion are ignored in the Connectional Table’s four areas of focus. Let us give some examples.

Regarding the task to develop principled leaders: There is a lengthy and growing list of names of called, gifted, and principled leaders lost to the UMC because of the current “incompatibility” legislation. This is not accountability in all relationships, nor stewardship of resources. Regarding your task to develop new communities of faith: We remove called and gifted LGBTQ clergy who can do this work faithfully and effectively. We restrict participation of LGBTQ laity within these new communities. When do we tell members of new church starts that our denomination is not inclusive in nature; that our welcome does not extend to LGBTQ people? There are faithful disciples of Jesus Christ who cannot find a home in the United Methodist Church.

We are at a critical point in the life of The United Methodist Church. We are players on a stage, reciting a script that has been acted out for more than forty years. All the while the audience is yawning, booing, and leaving.

To change this script, the Connectional Table must make transparent the effect of 40 years of exclusion of LGBTQ people from the life of the church. Failing to reveal the devastating consequences of intentional and categorical discrimination brings down the curtain on our play. By not substantively speaking to the issue of LGBTQ exclusion, the Connectional Table itself continues to be an actor in this bad drama.

After 40 years of legislation based on a false premise that same-gender love is incompatible with the gospel, a growing gap between the arc of God’s Justice and United Methodist policies has become exceedingly clear to everyone, actors and audience alike. If the Connectional Table truly seeks to be faithful to its identified mission, it needs to begin following a new script.

In expectation,
Rev. Amy DeLong
Laci Adams
Alison Wisneski
Rev. Dr. Julie Todd
Laura Ralston
Mary Lou Taylor
Brenda Smith White
Rev. Wesley White
Mary Anne Balmer

Julie Todd Discloses Dismay to Her Bishop

Rev. Dr. Julie Todd wrote the following letter to her Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar. Upon receiving the letter, Bishop Devadhar invited Julie into conversation. They met recently to discuss the following matters and had a painful, meaningful, authentic dialogue. As Love Prevails and the Reconciling Ministries Network has encouraged United Methodists to do, please write to your bishop to express your desire to see justice for LGBTQ people in the United Methodist Church. Love Prevails will make a disruptive witness to the Council of Bishops’ meeting in Lake Junaluska, November 10-15.

November 4, 2013
Dear Bishop Devadhar,

Greetings in Christ’s name. Unfortunately I write this letter to you prior to having a chance to speak with you in person, which had been my hope.

Now I write in response to the Executive Committee of the Council of Bishops’ statement condemning Bishop Talbert’s officiating at the wedding of Joe Openshaw and Bobby Prince. When I read such things, I attempt to dismiss them as the familiar and useless institutional nonsense that they are.  Yet I seem never to be able to escape how deeply these letters grieve me. I cannot dismiss the ways in which such communications perpetuate the exclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people in the church. I am dismayed at the all-too-familiar way in which the Council of Bishops finds it acceptable to perpetuate injustice and call it spiritual leadership. I find it unconscionable that the Executive Committee writes what I consider to be a statement of spiritual violence while attempting to affirm that all of you believe in the sacred worth of all people. I feel like you are saying to queer people: “Really, we still love you. We just hate you in practice. Now let us pray.”

My outrage is particularly directed to bishops like you. It appalls me that you agree to lend your own name to such statements. You have portrayed yourself as a bishop who is an ally of the movement for LGBTQ equality in the denomination. I recognize that you have attempted to be kind and welcoming in various ways. I assume you recognize that such kindnesses do not constitute acts of justice. When you purposefully add your name to statements such as the Executive Committee’s recent statement against Bishop Talbert, your previous acts of welcome die their deaths in a void of personal and institutional hypocrisy. Bishop, signing your name to such statements is not being an ally, it constitutes consciously engaging in acts of oppression. The bishops’ language reinforces the culture in which GLBTQ persons continue to be marginalized and violated on a daily basis. I imagine that you do not see it this way. You believe you are upholding your responsibility to faithfully administer the Book of Discipline. Do you not see that Christian tradition at large is the primary factor for creating the atmosphere of hatred for gay people in this country and all over the world? By reiterating traditional anti-gay Christian views through your affirmation of statements like these, you, Bishop Devadhar, personally participate in perpetuating this culture of hatred, exclusion and violence. This kind of purposeful perpetuation of oppression towards queer people undermines my respect for your authority as my bishop.

There is always an overarching theme in such episcopal statements that the most important value in these discussions is the unity of the church. In my mind, these appeals to unity are little more than a cover for preserving the institutional status quo. You bishops reconcile yourselves to injustice and sacrificing the lives and callings of human beings within our church so that the order of the church is maintained. Then you call this affirming sacred worth. Please, I am begging you, stop saying that the unity of the church is more important than the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer people. Just stop.

Some days I am so incredibly grieved by the lack of radical, risk-taking leadership within the UMC, I can barely stand it. On such days I believe that the church has completely lost the critical and transformational power of the gospel. I think about leaving this denomination all the time, but so far I cannot bear the thought of abandoning my friends in this struggle. Everyone in this denomination knows that there are plenty of bishops, perhaps even a majority, who approve of removing the anti-gay language and practices from the Book of Discipline. If only those of you who so believe would have the courage of one such as Bishop Talbert. If you all acted and spoke together for justice, I believe there is nothing the church could do to you. I also believe the reason that you and others do not make such stands is because you fear your own personal, professional and institutional losses. I for, one, do not fear such losses. I am free in Jesus Christ to pursue radical justice in the church and in the world. In light of my understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ, I have and I will continue to violate the Book of Discipline in marrying same-gender couples. I feel sorry for you that you do not feel so free, or free to openly dissent from the official position of the UMC on homosexuality. At this point in history, it is unconscionable for you to fail to do so.

As you know, I teach courses in justice and peace. One of the main topics that students deal with personally is how to gain the courage to commit themselves to social justice efforts, which they know will demand losses and sacrifice. One reason they find it difficult to conceive of doing so is because they lack role models. That they lack contemporary role models in the church of Jesus Christ is a sad testament to the lukewarm nature of our witness for justice. I have been blessed with many such role models. I remain in this denomination because of the courageous witness of so many leaders like Bishop Talbert. I wish you and your other colleague bishops would stand so courageously for what you know is right. I will continue to fault you until you do so.

I would like you to know that I will be present with Love Prevails at the Council of Bishops meeting in Lake Junaluska this month. I will see you there. Having voiced my outrage to you, I remain, nonetheless,

Yours In Christ, Julie

Julie Todd is an ordained elder in the New England Conference of the United Methodist and Affiliate Faculty for Justice and Peace Studies at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, CO. She teaches online and lives in Lawrence, MA.

Join Love Prevails in a Day of Dismay

amy

Join Rev. Amy DeLong and the Love Prevails team as we gather at the United Methodist Council of Bishops’ meeting to express our dismay at the Bishops’ abdication of their role as prophetic leaders and their recent admonition of Bishop Melvin Talbert who courageously performed the wedding ceremony of two faithful gay men.

The Love Prevails team will create signs at 10 am for a witness during the 10:45 am session that is open to the public.

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Zachary Ferguson

Here are my reflections regarding the statements issued by the Council of Bishops, Bishop McAlilly of the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences, and Bishop Wallace-Padgett of the North Alabama Conference regarding Bishop Talbert presiding over a same-sex wedding in Alabama this past Saturday:
In 10 years, when the majority of people under the age of 40 have left the church, I hope that the leaders of the UMC that stood for injustice and hatred will realize what role they played in the decline (and possibly even the destruction) of the church. It is very sad, because we have been through this as a church in the past.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us, “The time is always right to do what is right.” The laws and rules are not always just or right, so sometimes it means that we have to stand against those rules and demand justice. It was only 57 years ago that women finally were able to be ordained, and 47 years ago when African-American preachers were able to preach in an all white congregation– which means that the UMC is no stranger to changing our understanding of what scriptures mean. The time to do what was right in the church only came because those that were oppressed demanded that it be so. The leaders that opposed those changes because of the scriptures and the Book of Discipline were on the wrong side of history, and became part of the ugly stain on the quilt of the UMC that is our history.
Bishop Talbert understands the history, and the injustice that the UMC has committed against its members, and he personally was affected by those injustices. He should be applauded for his stance, while the Council of Bishops, Bishop McAlilly and Bishop Wallace-Padgett should reconsider their stance of hatred and complacency.
I would remind the church that Jesus spent most of his ministry with “the other”. Time and time again, we find Jesus at the gates of the cities in which he visited; a place that those outcast by society were found. He showed love, mercy, compassion, and concern to those people. Instead of focussing on the scriptures that promote hatred and judgmental actions, we might need to refocus ourselves on the example of the ministry that Christ left for us.
It is no surprise that I support the full inclusion of the church–for marriage, ordination, and membership regardless of sex, age, race, gender, sexual orientation, social/economic class, ethnicity, or any other factor.
I served the church as an US-2 young adult missionary, but because leaders of the church continue to promote hatred and division in the church, I have decided to leave the UMC. A decision that breaks my heart, but I can no longer stand idly by while my brothers and sisters are discriminated against, and individuals are judged because of how they are created. Love is beautiful, and should be celebrated by everyone–no matter if it is between a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, or a man and a man.
It seems we fear what society has not accepted as the “norm”. When we began ordaining women as a church, or opened churches to be served by pastors of a different race or ethnicity, we were going against what society, and many in the church, thought was the norm. Dr. Howard Thurman was exactly right when he said, “He who fears is literally delivered to destruction.”
Let us begin to not live in fear, but instead build a church and a world built around love and acceptance.
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