Come this May, I’ll have been in Washington for 13 years. That is, 13 years ago, I was teaching history in a small college in my hometown. I turned in my grades at the end of the semester, packed the car and left. Since then I don’t make it home much. Maybe once or twice a year. It’s so far, you know.
But I do try to make it home at least for Christmas. As the gay child, you’re sort of counted on to do so. My brothers have their own families now and people are generally busy. But the gay kid sort of parachutes in and keeps many of the family traditions going. One of ours is cramming in the old family pew in our Methodist Church downtown — the same church my parents were married in, the same church I was baptized in. One of my earliest memories is laying my head in my mother’s lap, looking up at the colors in the stained glass. I must have sat in that same pew close to a 1,000 times.
Last week, the United Methodist General Conference, after several days of dramatic testimony, voted 438-384 to reinforce the United Methodist Church’s stance against ordaining gay clergy and performing same-sex weddings. A fairly shocking move for the church, really. One that will certainly drive the church to split, just as some of the other more progressive denominations have already done over this very issue.
To be clear, I’m not particularly religious. I wouldn’t even consider myself to be a Methodist, really. As I noted, I go to church seldom and that’s driven more by tradition and to please my parents. Nevertheless, I took the news from the Methodist conference fairly hard. Mainly because my father did too. A sweet southern man, he invested a great deal in his church’s future on this issue. Having come around on it himself he became one of his local church’s strongest advocates and most impassioned voices for inclusion, love, and acceptance. His Methodist heritage runs deep. His father, my grandfather, was a Methodist minister. Dad was heartbroken over the news. Now in their 70s, he and my mother are trying to figure out what to do next.
And you have to remember that back home, and in many other small towns I suspect, at one time there were really only two main protestant camps. The Methodists could always hold their heads up a little higher, knowing we weren’t nutty, knee-jerking Southern Baptists, screaming about abortion and fixated on Hell. Valuing education, reason, and decorum, Methodists always were the calmer, more dignified alternative.
Again, I’m not sure why I took it so hard. Maybe it’s because I feel somewhat cheated out of my birthright. Maybe I’ve come to realize that part of my childhood that I look back on with fondness isn’t quite how I remember it. The old Methodist church in downtown Conway, Arkansas, is truly a beautiful building. Large columns, oak railings, stained glass — built long before evangelical tin metal churches with prefab steeples dotted the southern landscape. But how will the old church seem now on my next visit home? I’m afraid less a place of warmth, tradition, and family heritage. More of stodginess, silliness. Arkansas can be hard to get back to. A little far, really, for more than a once-a-year visit. But things like this make it seem a little farther.
Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based writer. He contributes regularly to the Blade.