In mid-June, the United Methodist Publishing house began soliciting contributions for a small group resource to help individuals in United Methodist churches understand and discuss the UMC’s debate over human sexuality. According to an official solicitation for the resource, “The purpose of the resource is intended to facilitate accessible, honest, well-informed conversations about The United Methodist Church’s teaching on same-gender marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ persons, as well as theological tensions with the teaching and about calls for a more inclusive stance.” According to the solicitation from the Publishing House, “the goal of the resource is not to advocate for any ‘side,’ but rather to foster a deeper understanding of what’s at stake in individual lives and in the life of the denomination.”
As a result of her dissertation work on the history and ecclesiology of matters of human sexuality at General Conference from 1972-2008, Rev. Dr. Tiffany Steinwert was asked to provide a chapter for this resource. The deadline for submitting a 3200 word chapter? Two weeks.
Rev. Dr. Steinwert responded with the following questions to the Publishing House:
Who are the other scholars participating in the publication? Have you included queer voices in the resource? As this is a publication regarding their lives and ministry, I would assume the majority of contributors identify as openly queer.
I am not sure I understand how scholars are asked to frame chapters without “advocating for any ‘sides'”? Isn’t that the very nature of scholarship and the call of Christian discipleship?
And, lastly, why is there such a rush on this publication? A two week turn around suggests either no one has agreed to contribute and the publishing house is scrambling for contributions or the publishing house does not consider this an endeavor worth putting in sufficient time, thought, and planning to create. Quite frankly, it appears as though the subject matter and the people’s lives at stake do not really matter to the denomination.
The Publishing House responded that no other contributors had yet agreed to write for the resource as the other prospective authors had also been asked just the previous day. The rushed timeline was due to due to a belatedly felt pressure for the need of such a resource. The representative explained that the need for small group study materials for laypersons has increased over the last couple of months: “It’s an urgent need that must be met quickly.”
To the representative’s knowledge, none of the authors for the resource are openly queer.
Regarding the question of framing the chapters, the representative responded, “while the nature of scholarship is to take a clear stance and make an argument for it, this resource was not intended as a work of scholarship but a study guide for use by small groups. The task of coming to conclusions would be the work of the small group using the resource.”
We envision that most people who use this study will already have a strong opinion on this topic one way or another, and that most small groups who use this study will have multiple opinions represented in them. The goal is to inform and challenge these opinions, with the result that they will be either sharpened, changed, or more nuanced. We hope that whatever “side” one holds, participating in this study will enable that person to have a better understanding and appreciation for where the other “side” is coming from. The chapter writer, therefore, must represent the church’s current teaching and calls for change accurately and faithfully. Another way to think of it is that we’re hoping the writer will make the best possible case for all “sides,” giving the small groups an opportunity to come to conclusions through their own discussion and reflection. And we want people to understand how this conversation is taking shape throughout the UMC, so we’re focusing on writers who can set things in that context.
Here is Rev. Dr. Steinwert’s response in full:
Based on this new understanding of the project, I cannot in good conscience participate.
Neglecting and excluding the voices of queer scholars and pastors in a study on their lives is unethical at best. It only reinscribes the historic and ongoing marginalization of faithful gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender United Methodists. I cannot allow my scholarship to be in a resource that perpetuates the oppression of queer people in our Church.
While I am mindful as a teacher of the importance of presenting diverse perspectives to provoke critical reflection on one’s own values and beliefs, I also know the importance of presenting clear arguments. Students can weigh each argument on their merits and come to their own conclusion. Again, I cannot allow my scholarship to be presented in a way that by virtue of the support of the status quo reinscribes oppression.
I am aware the debate which has been occurring over the past 50 years in the UMC regarding the full inclusion of queer people has garnered greater awareness in recent months as the specter of denominational schism looms. The recent Judicial Council rulings, coupled with the sporadic updates from the Commission on the Way Forward, has created a perception that somehow only now is this an urgent need of the denomination. Of course, queer people know this is a lie of the institution.
Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 1968 when funding for Motive Magazine was pulled after publishing an issue exploring lesbian identity.
- Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 1972 when the Church declared they were incompatible with Christian teaching.
- Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 1976 when the Church refused to recognize marriage between same-gender couples.
- Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 1980 when the Church prohibited funding organizations that “promote the acceptance of homosexulaity” including those that supported people living and dying with HIV/AIDS.
- Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 1984 when the Church instituted legislation demanding “celibacy in singleness and fidelity in marriage” as an intentional way to exclude queer people from ordained ministry and specifically prohibited “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” from ordination.
- Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 1987 when Rev. Rose Mary Denman was defrocked for loving a woman.
- Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 1992 when the Church rejected the results of a quadrennial study to remove the incompatibility clause.
- Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 1996 when the restrictions on officiating same-gender marriages were strengthened.
- Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 1998 when Rev. Jimmy Creech was defrocked for performing a same-sex wedding and in 1999 when Rev. Greg Dell was suspended for doing the same.
- Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 2000 when faithful LGBTQ activists were arrested on the floor of General Conference.
- Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 2005 when Rev. Beth Stroud was asked about her genital activity in a trial that led to her defrocking and since Judicial Council Ruling 1032 permitted pastors to deny membership to people on the basis of sexual orientation.
- Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 2011 when the Church tried faithful pastor, Rev. Amy DeLong for her marriage to a woman.
- Queer people have felt the urgency of this debate since 2016 when the General Conference refused to take action on any legislation regarding the lives of faithful queer UM and instead created a commission that includes less than 10% queer participants.
I could go on. I have left out many details and many lives.
This is not a new urgency.
It is only now urgent that the fate of the institutional Church seems to be threatened.
I applaud the publishing house for finally taking note of the pain and suffering queer United Methodists have had to endure for nearly 50 years. It is about time the Church did something. However, I fear this resource will be just one more in a long line of resources (remember, The Church Studies Homosexuality?) that does nothing more than reinforce the status quo of oppression and marginalization no matter the intent or even conclusion it may draw.
Without the participation of queer people, without clear stands on all sides, and without the thoughtful process of crafting a well-planned resource that responds not simply to the urgency of schism, but to the urgency of real people’s lives and the urgency of the Gospel witness now marred beyond recognition in our Church as we exclude God’s Beloved people, I cannot participate.