I’m tired of being saddened, sickened, and outraged by the denomination that gave me so much love and so much life during my formative years: the United Methodist Church. It has, without realizing the horrific nature of its irony, trumpeted the slogan, “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.” It has, without blushing at its hypocrisy, proclaimed in its Social Principles: “We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All persons need the ministry of the Church in their struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self” before going on to declare that certain of these “individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God” are not permitted to have a sacred calling from this God in whose image they are created. Of course, these individuals who must be excluded are not gossips, bigots, or liars–they are “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.”
In 1986, I was ordained in the United Methodist Church and, ultimately, I voluntarily surrendered my credentials–not because I believe that I was doing the “right thing” in terms of my vows to be a faithful minister to God’s people, but because I was encouraging my congregants to do that which I myself was not giving myself permission: to lead faithful lives, to become fully who they have been created to be, to put greater trust in God’s stamp upon their lives than in what friends, neighbors, society, or even the United Methodist Church might have to say (imagine having more faith in God the Creator than in any of these others!). To this day, I believe that my greatest act of faith is to be “as Tim as I can possibly be at every moment of every day”–thereby trusting myself-as-created. So indeed I gave up my credentials to be a United Methodist pastor: I was not forced out, no charges were even being considered regarding me, and I was not especially interested in avowing anything other than my own authentic self: experiencing the prevenient grace of God, repenting of anything less than or other than the full embrace of that grace, finding justification in that choice, experiencing an assurance that passes understanding, and discovering the sanctifying work of Holy Spirit in my life–helping me to shed that which is false, that which is death-dealing, that which is dishonorable. And, coming down on one side of a long-standing, internecine feud among those from Wesleyan denominations, I do not self-avow total sanctification yet and do not regard that as a qualification upon my acceptableness unto God.
Well, there is a woman whom the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church selected and consecrated as a bishop: the Rev. Karen Oliveto. A United Methodist laywoman from Kansas, Dixie Brewster, did not believe that Ms. Oliveto should be allowed to be a bishop for any United Methodists and began a movement to gain a declaratory judgment (think “injunction”) from the Judicial Council of United Methodism to put the kibosh on the Rev. Oliveto’s episcopacy. The Judicial Council concurred in deciding that this married lesbian was in fact ineligible to rightly serve as a United Methodist bishop. In its Judicial Decision No. 1341: http://www.umc.org/decisions/71953, the Council expended a lot of verbiage about standing and jurisdiction to dip into the Western Jurisdiction’s decisions based on complaints from Kansas, but, shorn of all legalese, the Council ruled (and then refused an appeal) that a bishop is a bishop of the whole church, and that a bishop in California thereby affects a laywoman in Kansas. Thus, unless Ms. Oliveto could bring convincing evidence that her marriage did not involve any sexual activity (!), she was sufficiently immoral to prevent her consecration as a bishop. In the Judicial Council’s own words: “To meet the requirements for certification, licensing, ordination, and remaining in good standing ministerial candidates and ministers must agree to make a complete dedication of themselves to the highest ideals of the Christian life, including but not limited to, upholding the Church’s stance on marriage and homosexuality. ¶ 310.2(d).”
It is one thing to say “If you want to be in our club, follow our rules or get kicked out.” But to equate club rules with “the highest ideals of the Christian life” is a pride so great that it can only presage a fall of tragic dimensions.
So the “highest ideals of the Christian life” include upholding the Church’s stance on fill-in-the-blank, huh? So then it was once the highest ideal of the Christian life among those in the Methodist Episcopal Church to take no stance regarding human slavery. And it was similarly the highest ideal of the Christian life to have a separate Conference comprised of African-American churches, under the rule of the larger Methodist church. And, similarly, it was the highest ideal of the Christian life for many decades to withhold the ordination of women to full connection and ministry. Again, sensing no irony and blushing not at its hubris, United Methodism has actually equated the “highest ideals of Christian life” NOT with the love of God with all one’s heart, soul, and strength, or the love of one’s neighbor as oneself, but with “upholding the Church’s stance”–determined by a simple majority vote of its elected, representative members meeting at quadrennial General Conferences–“on marriage and homosexuality.” THAT is the United Methodist view of the highest ideals of Christian life.
The hurt in my heart is even greater than my outrage.