In anticipation of the April Connectional Table meeting

You might have read our previous interactions with the Connectional Table here. We received a response from them on March 13th and replied on March 23rd. Please read their letter and our response below and feel free to share as we work towards the end of discrimination in our denomination.

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Karen Tompkins

While watching the Grammys on Sunday, January 26, 2014, I was very moved by the performance of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ song, Same Love. It wasn’t that 30 something couples (gay and straight) were married, but I was moved from one line of the song at the end.”I’m not crying on Sundays.”

It has been slightly over a year since I surrendered my credentials with the UMC because I am gay. And for many Sundays, the majority of this past year … I cried on Sundays. I cried for what I have lost. I cried for what could be but is not. I cried because I didn’t know who I was any longer. I cried for all that Kayla had to endure to support my ministry. I cried.

Often, I could not even bring myself to go to church and worship because I knew I would be a basket case of tears. I was grief stricken and I withdrew even further when so few reached out to me beyond the initial time period. To those that did continue to reach out, thank you.

But I’m not crying on Sundays anymore. And we, as a family, are attending a church regularly again. I get to and want to praise my God again, who gave me strength through it all and held me in arms of comfort in my heartbroken state. I’m not crying on Sundays! I can sit through a worship service and not need a box of Kleenex because I see a pastor baptize a baby or lead communion and I don’t. I’m smiling on Sundays! I’m healing! I’m thankful again!

And my prayer is that someday, others won’t cry on Sundays anymore either…

“I’m not crying on Sundays”

Connectional Table letter/Love Prevails response

On December 11, 2013, Love Prevails received a response from the Connectional Table for the act of disruption performed during the November meeting in Nashville, TN. The first letter posted is from the Connectional Table; the following is Love Prevails’ response to their letter.

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Open Letter to the Council of Bishops

Rev. Amy DeLong and Rev. Dr. Julie Todd have composed a letter in response to their time at the Council of Bishops meeting, held in November in Lake Junaluska, NC. They address issues that were passed over, including LGBTQ poverty statistics, cultural insensitivity toward Cherokee Indian peoples, and prosecuting Bishop Melvin Talbert while still attempting to praise him for his good works. Please read and share this important letter.

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Catherine Bailey

My husband and I have made the difficult decision to leave Northwest Hills UMC in Austin, TX, and The United Methodist Church in search of a faith community that is inclusive of all people. We have been active members and leaders at NWHills for 25 years, but cannot continue to support the UMC policies of exclusion, oppression, and discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people.

The UMC stance that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” flies in the face of medical, scientific, psychological, and other professional disciplines who agree that same-sex attraction is a perfectly normal expression of human sexuality.   Bigotry is all that stands in the way of fully embracing gay and lesbian clergy and weddings, just as bigotry was overcome to denounce slavery and to welcome women into the clergy.

Our children and youth in the UMC are taught to follow the example of Christ and to oppose racial, ethnic, and sectarian prejudice. Simultaneously, the church sends a conflicting message of subtle oppression and outright exclusion. Locally, Mary Ann Kaiser has been deprived of completing the path to ordination at University UMC. Nationally, the continuing condemnation of Bishop Melvin Talbert, Pastor Frank Schaefer and others leaves us disillusioned by our church that claims to have “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.”

Consider the LGBT kids, youth and adults worshiping in fear and secrecy within the church, and those outside the church who feel rejected and condemned. Between 30 and 40% of LGBT youth continue to attempt suicide. Ninety percent of LGBT students were harassed in the last year, and 40% of homeless youth are LGBT having been physically or emotionally forced from their own homes.

We do not take this decision lightly. My family’s affiliation with Methodism goes back for generations, including Methodist circuit riding preachers when Texas was the wild frontier. I was raised, baptized, and confirmed in the Methodist Church. My 80 year old mother is an active, dedicated member at NWHills.

I pray that someday very soon the radical, courageous leadership and unconditional love of Jesus Christ will overflow from within the UMC for all people.  I pray that anti-gay language and practices will be eliminated from the Book of Discipline. I pray that children and young people in the UMC will learn from modern-day, courageous role models within the church to strive for social justice and equality.

On that day, I will invite my younger brother and his life partner to come back to the church with the assurance that all of God’s children are welcome, regardless of their sexual orientation.

Mary Lou Taylor

Mary Lou Taylor is a member of the Love Prevails team. As someone I consider to not only be a role model, but a friend, I take this divestment both as a serious commitment to the cause as well as a beacon by which we as LGBTQ members of the church and allies can follow. I am honored to know Mary Lou and proud to call her a friend – Alison Wisneski, social media coordinator, Love Prevails

After a lifetime as a Methodist and 28 years in the same church, where I served at one time as chair of the Church Council, Missions Committee, Environmental Committee and LGBT Advocacy Ministry, taught Sunday School and Adult Bible Study, organized mission trips and sang in the choir, I left my church this week. It wasn’t easy, but it felt right. I had to divest.

The homophobic, discriminatory language and rules against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender United Methodists must change. But power structures only change when it is too painful to stay the way they are. And as long as I stayed and gave my tithes and talents, there was no pain. It didn’t matter how much I did within my own church to make it a welcoming congregation—children who grow up in my church and discover they are not heterosexual still cannot answer God’s call to serve as a pastor; they cannot walk down the aisle of the church of their birth to marry the person they love; and they cannot be united by the pastor who nurtured them throughout their lives. To me, staying felt like belonging to a country club that lets blacks and Jews be members, as long as they don’t use the golf course or the locker rooms. It’s just not right.

Until all Methodists who believe that God welcomes us all, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity, speak out with their voices, their tithes and their actions, or until enough pastors and congregations and bishops decide to follow Christ’s teachings over the flawed Book of Discipline, nothing will change. So I have withdrawn my presence, gifts and service from the United Methodist Church. I will continue my witness, by working with Kairos Co-Motion and Love Prevails. And I will continue my prayers, praying that the United Methodist Church will stop discrimination in all forms and become truly welcoming. I pray that one day I will be able to come back to the denomination of my birth without being complicit in harming others.

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

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