Our organizational structure indicates a cooperative hierarchal leadership model strikingly similar to a biblical understanding of church leadership. Our democratic nature empowers members, and holds leaders accountable. Our missional focus engages the world in experiencing the presence of God through service and social justice. Our connectional system creates a faith community that reaches beyond the local church.
But our unjust doctrinal statements in the Book of Discipline ostracize and prevent many people like me from living out God's call to ordained ministry.
For over eighteen years I have been serving the church in ministry, the last two as a licensed local pastor in the Oklahoma Conference. Not long ago, a federal judge ruled Oklahoma's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional. Debate over the morality of homosexuality erupted. In an interview our own bishop was quoted as supporting a "biblical view" of marriage, stating we must hold to what the Bible teaches. The interviewer failed to include the bishop's comments about leading with grace. The barriers had been erected. On one side we find those who seek equality and inclusion. On the other are those clinging to what they view as the orthodox beliefs of old. I find myself caught in the middle.
My heart breaks for those hurt by the church's policies against full inclusion based on sexual orientation.
My soul longs for the day all people are welcome without derision or limitation. My tears flow for the sorrow and pain of those caught in the middle. I can no longer remain silent. In the past couple months I have gone from a promising career as a pastor to a forced withdrawal from candidacy because of the exclusionary policies of The UMC. Even with the support of friends and a few church members I know full well how it feels to be discarded and declared unfit for ministry. I stand as a voice for all those living silently in fear of reprisal because they happen to be attracted to someone of the same sex. I stand as a voice for all those who have been forced to suppress their homosexuality as if it is an illness to be cured or decision to be made. I stand as a voice for all those who long to let the LGBTQ community know "You are welcome here." I stand as a voice for the church to bring reconciliation.
"They crush people with unbearable religious demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden" (Matthew 23:4, NLT). The warning Jesus gave the scribes and Pharisees is a warning to us all. We are slamming the door to the Kingdom of Heaven in people's faces. We focus on maintaining a flawed system, but can't see the damage we dispense on people's souls. We pour our resources into buildings and programs thinking people will start coming back to church. How blind we really are. Woe to us!
We are not all of the same mind, but we can be of the same heart. Through Christ we are a new people. Through Christ we partner with God in the ministry of reconciliation. Through Christ we can eliminate the false categories that act as a barrier between us. We are in this together. Let us join together in humility and the love of Christ.
I love my church, and want to live out my calling to ordained ministry in The United Methodist Church. Because I am gay I can't.
Systematic structures will not be changed overnight. It will take work and sacrifice to reshape understanding. Boldness and humility need to work hand-in-hand. As my bishop reminded me, we need to lead with grace, respect, and civility.
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Tony Clyde is a former United Methodist pastor who lives in Lawton, OK. He spent 18 years in ministry, launching new children's ministries, youth ministries, a college ministry and second-site worshiping community. He is now launching a new ministry, Wide Open, to connect LGBTQ persons with the hope of Christ. Other accomplishments include organizing and leading a church-wide leadership summit, consulting with churches on ministry and technology, writing curriculum, speaking to youth, leading and speaking at Summer camps, writing for www.youthministry.com, and contributing to the book “Answers to Teenagers’ 50 Toughest Questions” by Simply Youth Ministry.