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:
- Have you faith in Christ?
- Are you going on to perfection?
- Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?
- Are you earnestly striving after it?
- Are you resolved to devote yourself wholly to God and his work?
- Do you know the General Rules of our Church?
- Will you keep them?
- Have you studied the doctrines of The United Methodist Church?
- After full examination, do you believe that our doctrines are in harmony with the Holy Scriptures?
- Will you preach and maintain them?
- Have you studied our form of Church discipline and polity?
- Do you approve our Church government and polity?
- Will you support and maintain them?
- Will you diligently instruct the children in every place?
- Will you visit from house to house?
- Will you recommend fasting or abstinence, both by precept and example?
- Are you determined to employ all your time in the work of God?
- Are you in debt so as to embarrass you in your work?
- 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.
When 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,