Over the years, Tamed Cynic has grown far larger than I ever countenanced when I first began blogging by Tony Jones’ urging— several thousand readers a day. I get a lot of correspondence, much of which I regrettably don’t have the time to engage. Sometimes, something catches my eye and its worth reposting here.
As the UMC nears its global gathering to debate a way forward through the impasse over sexuality, I received this note from a UMC pastor in the MidWest:
Every United Methodist pastor since 1773 has answered the same nineteen questions in regard to entering the life of ordained ministry.In the Conference I serve in, every candidate for full membership is paraded in front of the entire clergy session at the beginning of Annual Conference and are asked, as a group, to answer those questions. Some see it as a profoundly holy moment in which we are tied to the clergy of the past who answered similarly, whereas others treat it as a mere formality before kneeling in front of, and being prayed over by, the Bishop.During my time as a provisional candidate I did whatever I could to serve God at the local church to which I was appointed, and when I received word from the Board of Ordained Ministry that I was to be fully ordained I rejoiced.But then I worried.I worried because for a very long time I was afraid about one question that I would have to answer before the clergy session:
“After full examination, do you believe that our doctrines are in harmony with the Holy Scriptures and will you preach and maintain them?”For months I desperately prayed for a way forward. On one level I thought that just saying yes would be okay because then I could get ordained and keep doing the work I love. But on another level I knew that I couldn’t faithfully say yes.There is a particular doctrine of the UMC, one that has driven us to the point of schism, that I believe runs counter to a full and canonical reading of the Bible. That doctrine is as follows: “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.”Until the day of the clergy session I was still wrestling with what to do, and I finally resigned myself to say “yes” and continue to work from within the church to change our doctrine. It’s how I felt years ago when I first felt God calling me to the ministry, and it’s how I still feel today.But then when I stood in front of all my clergy peers, and was asked the question, I was physically unable to open my mouth.I really felt like God was preventing me from speaking.I stood there with my eyes on the floor while all of my soon-to-be fully ordained brothers and sisters shouted, “Yes.”And I said nothing.The service continued and the room erupted in applause, and the next night I knelt before the Bishop and was fully ordained in the United Methodist Church.The following Monday I received a voicemail from my District Superintendent. “You need to come to the District Office today for a meeting.”So I did.And within the first few minutes my DS cut straight to the chase:
“I watched you during the clergy session, and I saw that you didn’t answer the question about our doctrine. So I need you to swear to me right now that you will not marry two men or two women at your church.”For years I feared having this sort of question being placed before me, and perhaps I felt a new boldness from the stole having so recently been draped over my shoulder that I answered simply, “No.”We went back and forth for awhile about the ins and outs of the church’s current theological position, and my disagreement with it. I expressed that at the moment there were no gay couples at the church I was serving, but if a couple did arrive and demonstrated the same qualities of a faithful and monogamous relationship as a heterosexual couple I would not say no to presiding over their marriage.———————-
When I was a teenager one of my best friends came out to me before even telling his parents. They disowned him and so did his church.And when I was at my first appointment I discovered that a former pastor had told that church that if anyone was gay in the pews they needed to come to his office where he would “pray the gay away.”When some of my friends outside the church discovered the doctrine of the UMC in regard to homosexuality they all asked me the same question, “How can you believe that?”I don’t.I never have.Before I got ordained I had hope that we would’ve repented of our wrongness and hard-heartedness before I had to stand before the clergy session. But I was wrong. And even in the moment of my silence, I believed in the possibility that the United Methodist Church could change.But when I was called into my DS’ office, my heart grieved for my church.I don’t know what will happen at the Special Session of the General Conference toward the end of February.We might change, we might stay the same, and we might be ripped apart.I am not ashamed of the Gospel, and I love getting to do what I do.But sometimes I sure am ashamed of the church.-Anonymous