January 14, 2014 | by guest columnist
Why do I stay in the United Methodist Church?
Frank Schaefer, United Methodist Church, gay news, Washington Blade

The Rev. Frank Schaefer of Lebanon, Pa., appeared at Foundry United Methodist Church in December. (Washington Blade photo by Damien Salas)

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. 

6 Comments
  • Chett,
    Thank you for this article. As a gay man pursuing ordination in the UMC, I too struggle with being complicit in the oppression, injustice, and evil the UMC is actively a part of in the USA and in Africa regarding LGBTQ people (people–not issues!) Each day is a suspension of my own ethics and morality to remain. But like you, I do remain for those LGBTQ children and youth who would have no affirming voices in their conservative Methodist churches if all LGBTQ and allies went elsewhere (or if there were a schism, no matter how amicable), and for the African LGBTQ (LGBTI) UMs and victims.

  • Jesus too stayed, albeit complicit in his own oppression. And look what happened to him!

  • Thank you for this, Chett. I'm a former United Methodist candidate for ordained ministry and licensed local pastor. In the end, I was not successful in seminary, and I left the UMC for The Episcopal Church. I left because of the liturgy and weekly Communion, not LGBT issues. I commend everyone who is staying in the UMC and working for a more just and affirming church. I am also sympathetic to Episcopalians who take a conservative view of same-sex relationships because I know how hard it is to be in the minority in a denomination you love.

  • There are many LGBT lay AND Clergy alike also working within our broken system in the UMC to be active advocates for change …. sadly the change will occur slowly as the most vocal opponents, also pass slowly… I am hopeful that we will have enough of the younger generation left to make the turn… In the meantime we continue to answer God's call to Love and minister to ALL.. in spite of the B.O.D…

  • I too feel we must remain to remind others that LGBT folks are loved by God and should be treated as one of us.

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