"You shall love your neighbor as you love yourself." Matthew 23:39
I went on a run with my friend Carol Sunday morning. The day before, she had travelled with a volunteer group from our church to help flood victims. As we ran, Carol told me how they helped remove soaking drywall from the home of a Methodist pastor in Denham Springs. The pastor told them the story of his grown son who had been stuck in his own house for five days before flood waters receded enough for him to wander out and try to find relief. The pastor’s son was relieved when he made his way to a nearby Baptist Church that had food and supplies. However, his relief was short-lived. Someone there shoved a plate of food and a bottle of water at him and then told him, “We’re not used to faggots around here, so you’ll have to leave.” The pastor’s adopted son is a gay black man.
There are so many things wrong with the way the pastor’s son was treated that it’s hard to know where to begin. After five days of hell in which his property was flooded and he feared for his life, he was treated as less than in a place of worship by the very people who Jesus charged to love their neighbors as themselves.
It might be tempting to say, “He was discriminated against because he was in a rural parish,” or, “That could only happen in churches of certain denominations. That would never happen at my church.” But what if discrimination is happening in your denomination?
The United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline contains discriminatory language toward people who are gay. Gay people are relegated to second-class church status and are not offered the same level of participation as non-gay members in services such as marriage and ordination. The United Methodist Church has been grappling with this issue publicly for a while, and things came to a head at the General Conference this past spring. Many of us hoped that our denomination would embrace inclusion and equality for all, but that’s not how it turned out. Due to the international nature of our denomination, there are many delegates to General Conference who are from countries and cultures where homosexuality is strongly condemned. Combined with more conservative conferences in the United States (including in Louisiana), delegates at the conference were on their way to placing more, not fewer, restrictions on individual churches, pastors, and church members around the issue of human sexuality. In response to the very real threat that our united denomination would break irreconcilably over this issue, the Council of Bishops decided to delay taking any action and instead appointed a committee to look at the issue and make recommendations for moving forward over the course of the next two to four years.
So where does that leave those of us who want to move forward NOW? Local churches, including my own, are faced with either aligning with the current discipline which includes discriminatory language or following a higher calling by embracing ALL of our members fully into ALL aspects of church life and risking sanctions against our pastors for non-compliance.
My church is considering our next steps now, and I have been asked to be on the committee that helps our congregation explore this issue. I am sad for the deep hurt that these discriminatory practices have already caused. But I am hopeful that we can move forward with courage and love.
What is my role in ending discrimination in my community, in my church, and in my own heart? What is yours? I would love it if you shared your thoughts below. And thanks for reading!