Union Theological Seminary responds to United Methodist anti-LGBTQ vote

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In response to the United Methodist Church’s recent decision to continue to disallow the ordination and marriage of LGBTQ people of faith, Union Theological Seminary is telling the stories of its students, faculty and staff who are part of those communities. Their words and photos are published online as Queer Faith.

After the United Methodist Church voted to entrench its rejection of LGBTQ people, the pain in our community was palpable. We knew we had to respond. We could talk about how homophobic theology is damaging. We could condemn bigotry masquerading as God-talk. But that’s not the story we see every day at Union. We see a vibrant queer, community of faith—alive and flourishing. We see radical love that transcends every sinful boundary humans create. And we thought we’d tell that story instead, in their own voices.

If you’re growing up in a Church that isn’t affirming;
if you’ve ever been told that who you love or how you identify is sinful;
if you were taught that God rejects you;
if you struggle to fully love yourself—in all of your God-given beauty:

This project is dedicated to you.

Some of the voices:

Hannah Ervin, M.Div. student

My name is Hannah, I’m a queer person of faith currently discerning ordination in the United Methodist Church. I fell in love with the Wesleyan quadrilateral, which urges Methodists to consider tradition, reason, and experience alongside a deep respect and love for scripture. The UM communities I have been a part of are fiercely committed to creating justice and joy in their congregations and in the world.

Recently, the institutional church voted to uphold and further restrict LGBTQ inclusion in the church, in all ministries, including ordination. The institutional church is leaving out a crucial part of the Church, it is distancing itself from its commitment to lived experience. Queer ministry, as a queer United Methodist, looks like working for justice and full inclusion of all people in a tradition that is working to leave out people like me, and committing to recognizing the sins of racism, colonialism, and white supremacy in our church. It is working to fulfill the faithful promise of my baptismal vow to accept the power that God gave me to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms the present themselves, especially within the church I call home. Queering faith means trusting in God when systems fail to assert the worth of all peoples. My faith in God keeps me going when institutions and denominations fall short.

Christina Ellsberg, M.A. Student

Throughout my life, I practiced prayer in my daily communion with animal life. While refilling water buckets floating with hay, while scrubbing out tanks that housed breeding frogs or nickel-sized turtles, while feeding peanuts, one at a time, to my fat, curious rats, I knew my hands were praising God.

It felt like a cosmic joke when I felt the undeniable call to a Roman Catholic priesthood that would not accept me. I still long for the vows that would make my body a cloister and my soul a row of Dogwood trees shading the throne reserved for God—vows which are doubly unattainable to me as a gay woman. People tell me all the time it’s as easy as switching denominations. But I love my communion of Saints. I love my Pope. And I am never closer to God than when my hands are busy in the care and study of animals.

So I defer to that old Catholic maxim: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary use words.” I’ll never wear a collar, but I can wear barn boots. I’ll never break the eucharist, but I can scoop grain into a trough. While the institutional Church may reject the form of my love, the form of my body, and the forms of my prayer, I will live out my ministry by living fully into all three. And I will live out my ministry by continuing to share and rejoice in the diversity of small perfections that abound in all creation.

Miguel Escobar, Director of Anglican Studies

Working for the church as a Latinx gay man, I come face-to-face with hateful individuals and theologies that aim to circumscribe the lives of LGBTQ people. Through this, I’ve come to believe that the most important thing we can offer one another are our unvarnished stories about how we are – or aren’t- making it through. Yet this feels like such a radical and even dangerous act because so much of our safety has depended on keeping secrets. As the Methodist Church reaffirms its commitment to sidelining the lives of its LGBTQ members, I pray that people can find safe places where they can simply be who God made them to be, and that we start sharing stories of how we are making it through.

Union is inviting others to contribute: “If you feel called, post a photo and reflection on social media, and tag it #queerfaith.”

Episcopal Cafe stories on the UMC decision:

Early reactions to UMC GC2019

UMC Special Council comes to a close

UMC on the precipice of a major split

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JoS. S Laughon
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It seems inevitable that each mainline Protestant tradition (Lutheran, Anglican, Methodist, Reformed) will all have this fight and a split seems likely in each.

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Joseph Flanagan
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Joseph Flanagan

While the vote by the UMC for the Traditional Plan is difficult for many, it does set up conditions for a controlled experiment of sorts. Many conservatives have tried to argue that the adoption of liberal social policies have played a role in the declining memberships of mainline denominations. With the UMC being the one mainline church that is not taking the step of relaxing rules on gay clergy and gay marriage, we will be able to compare how the various denominations do with regards to membership going forward. Some Methodists may decide to join the Episcopal Church, (or UCC or PCUSA) over these issues, and perhaps some conservative members of the other mainlines will migrate to Methodism. We will be able to see how people vote with their feet to answer the question of whether or not liberalizing social teaching helps or hurts a denomination.

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John Rabb
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John Rabb

As a trustee of the Episcopal Divinity School at Union I am moved by these stories. When I try to unpack my own story of being both a fairly tradtional Episcopalian and one who believes in full inclusivity for LGBTQ persons I always come back to it as a matter of the heart. As a Franciscan I can speak of this, but more to the point is that our dialogue and actions come from the hearts of us all; telling stories does this because it all moves from heady conversations to the reality of faithful, lived Christians affirming their faith and, most of all, God's love.

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Kurt Hill
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Kurt Hill

I believe that the Episcopal Church has to do some seriously re-thinking of any kind of “inter-communion” or further association with the UMC denomination. Remember, it was the original Methodists who rejected unity with the Protestant Episcopal Church—and fomented our first major schism—even rejecting the 1784 proposal that a bishop could be consecrated especially for the American Methodist Societies if unity was maintained. The coming General Convention should put a closer relationship "on hold," at least for now...

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