Why I encouraged my gay friends to remain in the church
After the United Methodist Church voted last month to continue its policy of excluding gays from marrying in the church or being ordained into ministry, my gay friends were heartbroken and in a quandary. Should they leave the church or should they stay? In response to a blog post on Medium, I mentioned that I had tried to talk my friends into staying. Here is just a little of the backlash I received:
“Worse was the pain of having a woman who thinks she’s progressive, who counts herself as loving and kind, tell me (with no apparent consciousness of how her words would wound me) tell me right here on Medium that she was counseling her “gay friends” not to leave the Church. I had to stuff a dish towel in my mouth. That’s how horrified and angry her callousness made me.
How can people be so evil? I don’t get it. I can’t wrap my mind around it.
I’m tagging her here, because I want her to try to understand how much anguish she put me through today.”
Another respondent wrote:
“Remind me the ‘banality of evil.’ But my guess is that she probably denies how much pain and hurt she is causing. She probably thinks that “she is helping” and that staying in the church is the right thing to do even if the church is “imperfect”. Or even worse, she might even think that if you correct your ways you would be much better off.
Her reason doesn’t really matter.”
Some Reasons for Staying
Although the writer says my reasons don’t matter, I feel compelled to explain why I encouraged my gay friends to remain in the church and why I don’t believe I’m evil for this.
One of my reasons is, admittedly, selfish. I serve in ministry with my friends, and they are a vibrant, important part of that ministry. I would miss their insight and leadership.
I realize there are many who would argue, “You both should leave the church.” But this overlooks the fact that our particular church has been one of the most accepting, affirming and loving churches I’ve ever attended. The Episcopal Church I used to attend was more liberal in official church policy, but the individual church was less mission-oriented, less friendly and less open.
The Methodist Church I attend now has fully embraced our gay members. They serve in positions of leadership, teach Sunday School classes and are active in numerous ministries. Some of our church members approached the senior minister with their objections, threatening to leave the church (which they ultimately did), but the senior minister didn’t budge. He explained that our gay members were fully welcome to participate in all church ministries.
Other members who initially disapproved but chose to remain in the church have completely changed their opinions about gay marriage and ordination since then. One woman said, “I used to believe gay marriage was wrong, but my heart has changed on this issue after getting to know our gay couples.” The magnitude of this change shouldn’t be underestimated, given the conservatism of these members.
One of my gay friends told me he is conflicted. As he explained it, “I love this church, I was baptized here, I serve here.”
I understand why gay members are choosing to leave. I would consider leaving a church that didn’t allow women to teach or preach or assume a leadership role. But if someone tried to talk me into remaining, I wouldn’t consider that person evil. Many people are opposed to some of the positions taken by their denomination but remain active in their individual church. There are a variety of reasons for their decisions. For some, the church has become a close-knit and supportive family.
One my friend’s children is severely autistic and has thrived in our church’s special needs ministry. When my friend’s husband had cancer, church members rallied around. They provided food, prayer, transportation for the kids to after-school activities, and any other support they could give. My friend would have done the same for other church members, and we all celebrated when his husband was pronounced cancer free.
A Close Vote and a Church Divided
The UMC vote in St. Louis was a close one. Because we are a global church, delegates from other countries weighed in. Adam Hamilton, senior pastor at The Church of the Resurrection, a United Methodist Church with over 20,000 members, was instrumental in trying to introduce a more liberal stance into the United Methodist Book of Discipline. He wrote this in a blog post following the conference:
“At General Conference this week in St. Louis, Missouri, the leaders of the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) orchestrated a defeat of the bishops’ proposal for a way forward for the UMC. In its place they passed a way backwards, a regressive and punitive plan that leaves no room for those who interpret scripture differently, harms gay and lesbian people and their families, diminishes the witness of the church and serves to push not only progressives, but likely many centrists, out of the church. I wonder if they counted the cost to their victory?
One final word to Resurrection’s LGBTQ members, their family and friends: I love you. I feel great pain for the hurt the General Conference has caused you. I’m working with many others to address this, but I need your help, not your departure.”
No church organization is perfect, because every church and every organization is made up of imperfect people. Many of us, including me, are confused and conflicted about what to do. This doesn’t make us evil. It makes us human. We are in it together, struggling to follow Jesus and his command to love each other. The best way to express that love will be different for different people. Some will choose to leave the church, and some will choose to stay.
The Need for Dialog
Too often dialog is shut down because a difference of opinion leads to personal attacks. If we’re to respect each other and remain open to positive dialog, we must acknowledge that in most instances, there is more than one side to an argument.
Regarding the previous writer’s opinion that I think of myself as progressive, loving and kind, I need to point out that I never described myself this way. Those were his words. On some issues I’m progressive, and on others I’m not. Sometimes I am loving and kind, and sometimes I’m not. When I’m not, I regret that I’ve fallen short of my own best aspirations. But this doesn’t make me evil. It makes me human.
The writer’s other statement, “Or even worse, she might even think that if “you correct your ways you would be much better off,” is simply not true. It would never cross my mind to believe anyone’s ways need correcting. Scripture says “We are fearfully and wonderfully made,” and I believe we are. All of us.
It’s not my desire to hurt or offend anyone, but I believe acceptance and love also applies to those who differ in their approaches and opinions. Who is to say if it will be better in the long run for my friends to leave or stay with the church? That’s a decision they will make, and I don’t believe either decision is right or wrong. It is deeply personal, and there are many things to consider.
We are all full of faults and failings, we all fall short, but we are all in this diverse, chaotic life together. Most of us are not evil or good. We are just trying the best we can. For these reasons, we should extend each other a lot of grace. I don’t blame my friends for wanting to leave the church. But there are some reasons for staying, and I’m not evil for wanting them to stay.