The United Methodist Church Decision on GLBT Policy: An Open Letter

I have written the pastor of my United Methodist Church in Hayward, Wisconsin resigning my sixty-year membership in the United Methodist Church (UMC). I have sent this letter to my pastor, to two area Bishops, and to the President of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, with copies to thirty-five pastor friends. This is not an easy decision for me, but I see no other option. Put simply, I cannot in good conscience be a member of any organization that endorses unlawful discrimination by policy.

In extending the 1972 UMC exclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people from full participation in the United Methodist Church, by reiterating the Church declaration that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, by excluding GLBT individuals from ordination to ministry, and by making sanctions against UMC pastors celebrating GLBT marriage more punitive, the United Methodist Church has made it impossible for me to remain a member. I am not abandoning the Church; rather, the Church has abandoned all GLBT persons and their allies, of which I am one.

Through the General Conference decision the UMC has become a church endorsing discrimination and abuse rather than one providing sanctuary to victims of oppression and discrimination. The Methodist Church of my youth was at the forefront of progressive social change. The UMC of today lags behind progressive social change. In fact, the UMC of today seems determined to reject the same-sex marriage laws of many states, laws that have been enforced by a very conservative US Supreme Court, even in states not having legalized same-sex marriage.

Like most mainstream Protestant denominations, the United Methodist Church has lost nearly a third of its membership over the past forty years. Part of this loss is due to the proportionately small numbers of young people joining UMC churches. Many young people today easily accept GLBT individuals and wonder what their parents and grandparents are worked up about. I say this based on a great deal of experience with young people. I taught at a United Methodist University (Hamline in St. Paul, Minnesota) for forty-one years, took my Ethics of International Development classes to Jamaica through the MN UMC ‘s Operation Classroom (four times, each hosted by Jamaican Methodist churches), and I received the national Teaching Award from The United Methodist Foundation for Higher Education. It seems to me that UMC exclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons may be a significant factor in explaining the small number of young people joining UMC churches.

While the UMC in America is shrinking, UMC membership in Africa is growing. The UMC of Africa is not sympathetic with GLBC concerns yet they made up nearly a third of delegates voting at the General Conference, and they were courted by conservative American UMC delegates. The coalition of African and conservative American delegates defeated the progressive delegates. In order to avoid an international schism, UMC leadership invited an American schism. Ironically, a divided and thus weaker American UMC means fewer resources to aid developing UMC churches in Africa. So, the conservative coalition “won” the vote on GLBT policy yet will ultimately lose support for African churches.

The decision of the General Conference amounts to a self-inflicted wound to United Methodism, a wound that may be fatal. As one pastor friend put it, “The Church has ripped out its own heart.” I see little prospect for the Church to retain the “United” part of its name, the coming Judicial Review notwithstanding. If the Review overturns the vote, the African Church will separate. If the Review confirms the vote, the American UMC will fragment. I believe that, eventually, the United Methodist Church will accept gay, lesban, bisexual and transgender persons to full and equal status. Until such time the UMC is on the wrong side of history, against the moral curve that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. believed to bend toward justice.

My home church of twenty-five years became a reconciling congregation in 1989 in hopes of urging the denomination to eliminate exclusion of GLBT people. Now, thirty years later, the UMC has gone the other way. I have spent half of my life-long membership as part of the struggle for progressive change. I don’t have another thirty years to continue. I doubt that many GLBT UMC members can hold out hope for equality within the denomination. On what basis would they?

I expect to continue attending and pledging at the church from which I just resigned my UMC membership, at least for now. It is a welcoming congregation where “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” is not merely a slogan, a church where “all” means all, despite the official view of the denomination. At the same time I will explore other communities of faith, those with values closer to my own.

I have written only to explain why I have resigned my membership. I am not trying to persuade anyone else to make this decision. Each of us must follow our own heart, soul, and mind, remembering the central message of Christianity: to love one another –all others– as we are loved, to love our neighbors as ourselves –including our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender neighbors– and to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.