March 2, 2019
I am deeply troubled by the actions of the 2019 General Conferenced. I am grieved. I am angry. But I do not write this letter out of anger. I write it out of deep convictions that have been growing in my spirit for quite some time.
By its actions, the General Conference has said once again “NO” to same gender weddings and to openly gay clergy serving in our denomination unless they are single and celibate. Some are saying we should wait and see if our Judicial Council rules the actions of General Conference to be unconstitutional based on our own United Methodist Constitution. Friends, even if the Judicial Council rules some or all of the actions to be unconstitutional, the United Methodist Church’s official stance will STILL be one that exludes same gender weddings and “self avowed practicing homosexuals” from serving in ordained ministry. Regardless of how the Judicial Council rules, our denomination will STILL state that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. The harm continues.
A few years ago, Bishop Melvin Talbert called the church to what he called “Biblical Obedience.” For Talbert, this obedience is rooted in Micah 6:8 and Mark 12:28-34. We are called to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. We are called to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbors as ourselves. Let me quote:
“Biblical Obedience call us to a deep relationship with God that is resourced by daily habits of personal prayer, meditation, scriptural reflection, life in the Christian community, and acts of mercy, justice, and love that bear witness to our growing relationship with the Holy One. In this life of faith, we find that we are changed into persons for whom God’s justice becomes a part of our own inner life. By growing in our relationship with God, we find that we are able to do justice internally, to do the work of self-acceptance, to love ourselves as God has loved us and to commit our lives to seeking that justice for everyone – within and outside the walls of the church.
“Living into Biblical Obedience has broad and expansive expressions. While The United Methodist Church maintains a structure of oppression which dehumanizes LGBTQ people within and outside its walls, we are called to discern the ways in which being obedient to the scriptures and to our faith require of us disobedience of church laws in conflict with the gospel.
“Biblical Obedience means we do not ask for permission before living into our calling and it recognizes that the call of Christ is superior to any other calling on our lives.” (https://rmnetwork.org/biblical-obedience/)
Today, I am announcing that I will no longer use the excuse that the Book of Discipline prohibits me from performing the wedding ceremony for same gender couples. I will treat all couples who come to me equally. I will meet with them, hear their stories, and talk to them about the commitment of marriage and why they seek the church’s blessing. We will explore the costs (if I do the ceremony) to me, the couple, and the church. And only then will I make a decision, on a case-by-case basis, of doing a wedding. Let me remind you that our Book of Discipline also states that one of the duties of an elder is “To perform the marriage ceremony after due counsel with the parties involved and in accordance with the laws of the state and the rules of The United Methodist Church. The decision to perform the ceremony shall be the right and responsibility of the pastor” (paragraph 340).
Friends, I do not make this decision lightly. I know some may not agree with this decision. Some may not understand this decision. Some will say wait for the rules to change. Friends, we have been waiting since 1972 for the rules to change. I refuse to withhold the church’s blessing from our lesbian and gay members and friends.
Last week, M Barclay, a United Methodist, reminded us:
The solution for the church will (still) not be top down.
Hope does not trickle down.
Love does not hand itself out like privilege.
Justice will not be birthed from the complicit.
Good News is born from the margins
Vulnerable, despised, free.
Friends, we have looked too long for our denominational leaders and processes to create change. I have learned I cannot change anyone. I cannot change any institution. The only thing I can change is myself. And change begins here and now with me.
It was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr who reminded us “One has not only a legal, but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws” (Letter from the Birmingham Jail).
I believe the prohibitions regarding same gender weddings in our Book of Discipline to be unjust. Dr. King also reminded us in his letter from the Birmingham jail that Jesus “was an extremist for love, truth and goodness.” I humbly stand today in the tradition of the prophets and of Jesus. I will be an extremist for love, truth, and goodness.
I will not discriminate against our LGBTQIA+ siblings and friends.
Pastor, Mosaic United Methodist Church, Oklahoma City