By CHETT PRITCHETT
The United Methodist Church recently defrocked Rev. Frank Schaefer, a United Methodist pastor in Pennsylvania, for refusing to stop officiating wedding ceremonies for LGBT couples. I heard my friends ask again and again, “Why do you stay in The United Methodist Church?” Sometimes I ask it of myself.
Why do I stay in a church that, since 1972, has called homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching?” Why do I stay in a church that affirms my call to ministry yet says “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” (whatever THAT means) are not to be ordained or appointed to positions as clergy? Why do I stay in a church that considers a pastor presiding at a holy moment in the life of a couple to be a chargeable offense because that couple happens to identify as the same gender?
Hundreds, maybe even thousands, of friends and acquaintances have asked themselves these same questions. We haven’t always answered them in the same ways, and I affirm their decision to find hope and home in other religious traditions (or for some, none at all).
But my reasons for staying United Methodist are many: the United Methodist pastor’s kids who were the first people I told I was gay; the clergy and laity who nurtured my ministerial gifts; the seminary professors who challenged and strengthened me; the congregations who let me stand in their pulpits and parishioners who allowed me to be with them in emergency rooms; the queer United Methodists who both dispute and affirm my ideas on race, sex, class and gender identity.
Even though I’m “seminary trained, but not ordained,” I stay in the United Methodist Church because I’ve found a home: both a congregation that welcomes and affirms my gifts (Dumbarton United Methodist Church in Georgetown) and a family of choice with the Methodist Federation for Social Action and Reconciling Ministries Network. This circle of advocates is working for change in the denomination’s policies and practices.
Many other LGBTQ United Methodists have found congregations across the country where they are not only welcomed, but affirmed in their leadership skills and spiritual growth. More than 12 United Methodist congregations inside the Beltway have publicly declared themselves welcoming of persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities — I was welcomed, you will be, too. And not just at Christmas, but at every time of year.
Sometimes I’ll be confronted with the notion that staying in the United Methodist Church and advocating for change on the inside is tantamount to being complicit with my own oppression, and to be honest, it’s not an invalid point. The church’s current policies are homophobic, and I’ve had ample opportunity to leave for more gay-friendly denominations. It would be a pretty simple thing to do. And yet, if I and thousands of others left, there would be no one left to declare to the young queer people growing up in the church: “God loves you no matter what!”
Where will they hear those voices in Sunday School or in the church choir if we become Episcopalian or Lutheran or Presbyterian? Where will they find themselves in Scripture if we aren’t there to whisper, “See, we’re in these stories, too!” Where will they learn the ideals of hospitality and service if we aren’t there to lead work teams and altar guilds and make casseroles for potlucks?
I stay in the United Methodist Church, but, like Frank, I do not stay silently. This is far from complicity. I stay as a loud noisy gong because I love the United Methodist Church, a denomination that can be so much more than it is today — a church that increases in love and decreases the number of queer youth committing suicide; a church that increases in hope and assures all people that housing and employment discrimination are a thing of the past; a church that increases joy and works for a day when all people are welcomed and affirmed.
Chett Pritchett is executive director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action and a member of Dumbarton United Methodist Church in Georgetown.