Building an Altar for All
I am a United Methodist by choice, since I did not grow up a Methodist. I am a Minister of the Gospel by calling, and that calling originates in my relationship with God. It is a calling I received before choosing the Wesleyan path of discipleship for my own. It is a calling to serve a higher purpose of bringing a message of reconciliation and hope to a broken and hurting world. It is a calling to bless and not to curse, to heal and not to harm, to speak and not to be silent to injustice!
There is a crisis of conscience in my beloved church. Although we say that we discern matters theologically using the lenses of Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience, I believe that on the question of whether homosexuality is compatible with Christian teaching we disregard everything but a few select verses of Scripture. We certainly disregard current and historical understandings of human sexuality, we disregard the prevailing views of major mental health associations, and most importantly we disregard the profoundly painful experience of exclusion that is resident within the voices of LGBT Christians. These are our sisters and brothers in Christ. We effectively slam the doors of our churches on them when we say that their sexuality is inconsistent with being Christian.
In recent days, with a formal complaint being considered against a retired bishop of the church for conducting a same-sex wedding and a trial and punishment of a clergy colleague for officiating at the marriage ceremony of his gay son, it is clear that traditionalists within the church will not even allow ministry to all persons regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression. The Book of Discipline is being lifted up as the ultimate rulebook for appropriate forms of ministry, and within its pages it explicitly states, “Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.”
Yet they have been and will continue to be because for some of us there is no way to be true to our calling as Ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ while excluding some from the means of grace expressed through our ministry.
Indeed more than a thousand United Methodist clergy across the United States have signed a statement (see Altar for All) committing themselves to fulfill their vow to be in ministry with all people by offering the grace of the Church’s blessing to any prepared couple desiring Christian marriage regardless of their gender. It is a form of biblical obedience for those of us who do not consider Scripture to be error-free truth devoid of cultural context.
So along with other United Methodist ministers I face the daily question: Do I follow the immoral remnant of discrimination written into the Book of Discipline decades ago or do I follow the words on the very same page under the heading Responsibilities and Duties of Elders that make me duty-bound “To build the body of Christ as a caring and giving community, extending the ministry of Christ to the world?”
I don’t see how I can do both!
Words (c) 2013 Mark Lloyd Richardson