- by an anonomous first year UM seminarian, writing for MoSAIC -
Esteemed readers, every so often, I am called upon to write about queer United Methodist things for the internet. And, because I’m petty and opinionated but also afraid of confrontation, I usually take the opportunity to write about things said to me in private conversation, and why they’re wrong. So, with your permission, I’d like to take a moment to do that.
I’ve spoken to several lately on the topic of the Book of Discipline, and why we must obey it even when it’s wrong (as it tends to be on issues relevant to the lives of queer folks). Reasons for this argument typically fall somewhere along the lines of
- “if we disobey the Discipline now, what’s to stop conservatives from disobeying it once homophobic language has finally been excised?”
- “clergy who disobey the Discipline become a law unto themselves”
- “if you took a vow to uphold the Discipline, and you break that, it’s just wrong.”
Let me make this clear, readers: I have immense respect for those who feel called to uphold the Discipline. There is a degree of honor in holding to one’s word, even when you’d rather not. However, I also disagree with this sentiment.
If the Discipline were only ever wrong in its treatment of queer folks, I could agree. If we were certain that the Discipline were to be changed very soon, without doing irreparable harm to our denomination and to many queer-identified individuals, I could agree. If clergy weren’t forced, essentially, to decide between holding firm to the Book of Discipline and the spiritual well-being of their parishioners, I could emphatically agree. But that is not the state of affairs in which we find ourselves.
The willingness to stand by one’s word is a beautiful and honorable thing. But a clergy member’s obedience to the Discipline should never stand on a higher plane than their obedience to the people in their care. And rest assured, the harmful language in the Book of Discipline, and the restrictions it places on clergy, do tangible harm to queer United Methodists every day. When a Christian is told that their very identity is incompatible with the God who sustains them, it does harm. When a Christian is told that their marital union is not fit for the church in which they worship every week, it does harm. When a queer person is told that their call to ministry cannot be fulfilled unless they lie about themselves, it does harm. In such cases, the beauty of a vow taken before God becomes turns ugly, because that obedience is founded upon a church which tells certain members that God loves them less than others.
So, yes, I am concerned that queer-affirming disobedience now will only lend itself to queer-oppressing disobedience in the future. I am concerned that disobedience of select passages in the Book of Discipline will form a precedent for disobeying it in all manner of things. I am concerned for the integrity of our pastors, and the vows they take. I am fully aware of all the slippery slopes in this situation.
More than all of these, however, I am concerned for the spiritual well-being of queer United Methodists who do not want to have to leave the denomination they love to find acceptance. I am concerned about the brokenness which results from harmful language in denominational statements, and they ways in which queer United Methodists internalize this language every day. And I firmly believe that a clergy person’s first loyalty should always be to the people of God, and to the oppressed, marginalized and the poor of spirit. And, if our church no longer exists to serve those, I am, above all, concerned for the UMC.
. . .
The author is in his first year at a United Methodist seminary, and hopes to become an ordained elder. He likes sweaters, folk music, queer things and Jesus, but is somewhat ambivalent about Paul.