April 5, 2012 | by Dionne Walker
Leading the way

Palm Sunday at Foundry United Methodist Church. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Washington church hopes a campaign using video testimonials from gay and lesbian Methodists will help push through a resolution sanctioning marriage equality in the church later this month, reversing more than 30 years of anti-gay sentiment in the nation’s third largest denomination.

DoorsToEquality.org, described as a national, laity-led campaign for marriage equality, uses personalized stories and grassroots advocacy to encourage church leadership to revise what some are calling discriminatory language included in the Book of Discipline, according to organizers at Foundry United Methodist Church.

The book, which lays out the tenets of the faith, prohibits United Methodist ministers from performing same-sex marriages and churches from hosting them. Foundry leaders and campaign supporters say they don’t want a sweeping change to the tenets, rather, a compromise.

“Our resolution was what we thought was the most modest resolution that we could present, which is simply where marriage is legal, our clergy can conduct them and they can be held in their church buildings,” says Rev. Dean Snyder, senior pastor of Foundry.

The campaign, introduced in February, comes as delegates from across the globe prepare to attend the church’s General Conference, a denomination-wide planning meeting, later this month.

Snyder, who’s straight, believes the simple resolution could be a first step for the church, likely to bend further as more states legalize marriage.

“If that happens, four years from now we believe a resolution would pass allowing all churches to conduct the ceremonies,” he says.

For now, organizers are focusing on influencing some of the 1,000 delegates set to gather in Tampa from April 24 through May 4 to discuss church policy and vote on any revisions. That push includes building awareness through Twitter, Facebook and traditional press, as well as calling delegates and holding coffee-shop discussions.

But perhaps the campaign’s most impactful arm is its most visible one: a series of YouTube videos featuring gay and lesbian Methodists sharing their experiences with building families, coming out and the importance of their church and faith in their lives.

In one video, soft music plays as a transgender man describes a warm childhood relationship with the church and its painful end.

“As I got older, into middle and high school, I started to feel somewhat alienated because of my sexual orientation also just my gender expression and so I kind of walked away from church,” Ty Trapps tells the camera. “From there, I just sort of searched knowing that I wanted to go back to a church but not really finding the right fit.”

In another video, a lesbian couple embraces as they describe feeling invisible without the church’s recognition of their year-old marriage.

The women close the video shouting in unison “As Methodists, we believe that unity of love will open the doors to equality.”

“One of the things we strongly believe is that personal stories are very powerful here,” says Ann Brown Birkel, convener of Foundry’s LGBT inclusion advocacy group. “We need to connect with these people in parts of the country who don’t think they know any gay people. The more you personalize an issue, the easier it is to understand.”

If the campaign is successful, it will bring to an end an anti-gay doctrine that’s persisted since the early ‘70s.

At the time, “there was a group of bishops who knew that they had gay pastors serving in their areas, who suffered from the homophobia that much of society suffered from and they began to become worried that their service would be a problem,” Snyder says, adding the result was the 1972 statement that homosexuality was not compatible with Christian teaching.

The topic has since become the perennial subject of debate at the conference, with delegates voting related resolutions down every time, according to Wayne Rhodes, director of communications at the General Board of Church and Society for the United Methodist Church. The language persists, but Rhodes says there’s evidence Snyder and his supporters’ cause could have a shot.

“It has been getting closer and closer in the votes,” Rhodes says.

Surprisingly, a major hurdle has come as the faith spreads. A large percentage of the church’s expansion is in Africa, where conservative attitudes about homosexuality persist, Rhodes says.

“They get more delegates and if they are not in favor of homosexuality-positive language, they have more votes with which to defeat it,” says Rhodes. “But this all started long before Africa had as many delegates.”

Indeed, Snyder estimated much of the ground-level opposition is longstanding and is linked to baby boomers raised in a more conservative era.

Among younger people, however, Snyder said attitudes are more liberal. That combined with pressure as smaller denominations like the Episcopalians and Lutherans become more gay friendly could help trigger change.

“Larger organizations often change much slower,” Snyder says. “But when it changes, the larger the institution is, the more impact it has on the society.”

Foundry has always had a higher-than-average number of LGBT members, which church staff attributes to its location near Dupont Circle and 14th Street. The church has been “open and affirming” for years.

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