- by Anonymous -
It was the night of my ordination as an elder in The United Methodist Church. After the service, I went back to my hotel room and walked out on the balcony where I saw the city lights and felt the summer breeze blowing off Corpus Christi Bay. Looking down at the hard asphalt ten stories below, I almost … almost … but not quite, quietly jumped. The only thing that stopped me was the fact that my parents were staying in another room a few flights below, and for an instant, I had a horrible image cross my mind of what would surely be my mother’s horrorstruck face when she heard the news and possibly saw whatever would be left of my body stained on the pavement below. I credit her with unknowingly saving my life that night.
No doubt, an event of great joy for many, the successful culmination of years of study and candidacy, ordination was, instead, a painful, emotional, and spiritual burden for me that I carried alone and silently. I felt my ordination was a horrible mistake that night. If not outright dishonest, then I was certainly less than authentic with myself, my Board of Ordained Ministry, and my Bishop, all because I happen to be gay, something I suspected as early as the fifth grade and have known since the seventh grade when I broke down crying in the shower one night, praying, “Okay, God, if I’m gay, then fine; I’ll just always be single and celibate for the rest of my life.”
In all my ordination interviews and psychological testing batteries, no one ever asked about my sexual orientation, and at that time in my life, I did not have the courage, nor felt I had the support from family, friends, and the church, to admit it to myself, much less tell anyone else. Professionally, I felt my ordination was a fraud and the Reverend in front of my name meant nothing. Personally, I felt I had forever locked the closet door on myself, condemning myself to a life without love – a life of singleness and celibacy. And so, I almost jumped ….
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Several years later, as a closeted pastor, I remember leading a Bible study when an outspoken church member made a homophobic comment, unintentionally wounding my soul. I lost hope then that the church would ever change, and I knew that the constant fear and secrecy of the closet was no way to live. I wanted the chance to find someone and fall in love. A good friend and United Methodist lay member told me, “Well, you got nobody but yourself to blame if you’re unhappy with your life,” and while I knew her sentiment was problematic, it stirred me to action, as I began to make changes in my life. I explored options in other denominations, but I just could not bring myself to fully resign or transfer my clergy credentials. I just could not, and still cannot, leave my Wesleyan connection.
Ours is a denomination of grace. I remember once asking a friend from another denomination how his church understood grace. He looked puzzled for a moment and then said, “We don’t talk much about grace.” His was a denomination of judgment, but John Wesley was such a believer in grace he had three forms of it, prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying, one form for each part of the Trinity. Grace upon grace (John 1:16). I feel I have received it in my life. We all have. Let us share it in the name of Christ, who comes to give life and give it abundantly (John 3:16; 10:10).
The United Methodist Church has done wonderful things, built amazing churches, hospitals, and schools, but its policy that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” is not graceful and not life-giving. It is harmful, causing needless emotional, psychological, and spiritual pain, not only for those who are LGBT, but also for their heterosexual families and friends. How does an otherwise healthy and intelligent young man come to the brink of stepping off a ten story balcony? It is well known that LGBT youth have increased rates of suicide. What has been and continues to be the church’s role in that sad fact? Where does a seventh grader, naked, crying, and praying in the shower, get the idea that God wants him to forever be single and celibate? God never asked me to make that lonely choice. The church made that rule, though few would accept it for themselves. Jesus never said anything about this topic, though he spent much of his time with the outcasts of his day and told us to love our neighbors (Matthew 22:39). What kind of church denies people the joy of love and romance in their lives? Why would we want to deny that happiness to anyone? It is inhumane to do so.
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And so, it is time to stop limiting people’s lives in this way, for that is what the church’s policy does: It limits people’s ministerial potential and their ability to be honest and authentic with themselves and others. Even today, I write anonymously, limiting myself and wondering why. To overcome these limits, we must overcome our legislative quagmire that keeps us in our prejudicial polices for quadrennial after quadrennial. To do this, we need more heterosexual allies to stand up and do the right thing just because it is the right thing, for at our most fundamental and humane level, we United Methodists are, indeed, good people of grace who truly do have open hearts, open minds, and open doors.
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