As a minister in the United Methodist Church, a denomination that is deeply divided over how we are to be in relationship with our sisters and brothers who are LGBTQI, I have on more than one occasion heard persons who are in favor of the current exclusionary language of the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church say that they hold to their beliefs because they are “just trying to be faithful.” The implication is that their faithfulness is somehow tied to their holding the belief that people who are LGBTQI are living lives that are incompatible with Christian teaching and that their faithfulness is somehow tied to keeping persons who are LGBTQI from participating in the full life and ministry of the church by not allowing them to be married in the church or to serve as ordained ministers.
This year multiple annual conferences decided to no longer conform to the exclusionary language and practices prescribed by the United Methodist Book of Discipline. They decided to celebrate marriage equality by joyously including all persons in the gift of community by having their vows of marriage celebrated within their churches. And they decided never to use sexual orientation or gender identity as a factor in decisions about ordination of clergy. This week the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church elected and consecrated Rev. Karen Oliveto as bishop. She is the first openly lesbian clergy person to be a United Methodist Bishop.
For many of the persons who see adherence to the exclusionary language and exclusionary practices in relation to persons who are LGBTQI as an expression of their faithfulness, there is a perception that the conferences and jurisdictions who are ignoring these exclusionary practices somehow are not being faithful. They are creating a crisis in the denomination, a break in the covenant that they see as binding the clergy in the church to continue to practice the exclusion that the Book of Discipline prescribes.
Bishops, clergy, and laity in the southern jurisdictions are openly admonishing these conferences and jurisdictions for not keeping the covenant, and from their perspective this is “not keeping the faith.” From their perspective the full inclusion of persons who are LGBTQI by these conferences and jurisdictions is a threat to the existence and integrity of the church, because the existence and integrity of the church from their perspective requires the continued exclusion of persons who are LGBTQI from the full life and ministry of the church. Their work to continue to this exclusion is justified with their belief that they are “just trying to be faithful.”
“When ‘just being faithful’ becomes justification for treating others unjustly, just exactly to what is one being faithful?” It seems that the “just” in the words “we are just being faithful” rarely has anything to do with justice, and too often these words are used to perpetuate injustice. As we move forward in the United Methodist Church seeking to do justly, to love kindness, and walk humbly with our God, an important measure for “just being faithful” is to discern whether we are actually practicing a just faith.
As a United Methodist minister in the South Central Jurisdiction, I give thanks to the witness of the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church. May we all live and love into your witness of nonconformity in response to injustice against our sisters and brothers who are LGBTQIA.