I never thought I’d feel the need to apologize for the United Methodist Church.
Being raised in the UMC fold, and pastoring in it for four decades, I’ve always felt a sense of both comfort and pride. I still do. Pluralism. Emphasis upon grace. Encouragement of people to develop a faith authentic to themselves. Respecting a person’s unique experiences and reflections. Doing works of justice and compassion. That’s why I’m a United Methodist.
So, what happened on the night of January 28, 2019, came as a surprise.
It was an informational/prayer meeting for my congregation in preparation for the 2019 General Conference. Held in my church’s sanctuary, I was leading this session and reviewing the different plans that may be presented at the GC. Those plans are intended to help our denomination move forward regarding human sexuality/LGBTQ.
It was important to start the meeting by letting people know the exact wording of United Methodism’s current stance regarding homosexuality. So, I read aloud from the Book of Discipline, the official book of our denomination. It states that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. That no same-sex wedding is to be performed by a United Methodist pastor or in a UM church. That no self-avowed, practicing homosexual is to be ordained.
I found it difficult to quote these passages. In the audience was a lesbian who has been married to her partner for many years. In the same pew sat a couple whose son had come out as gay; that had been a watershed moment for them.
It struck me that these people were hearing a church policy that categorically judged them or their loved ones to be sinners. It was denying them fullness of participation in the life of United Methodism. They might as well have walked around with a big “S” for “sinner” slapped onto them by their own denomination.
When was the last time you were bold enough to call someone a sinner? Yet my denomination was putting the words in my mouth as I quoted those texts. People hearing them were hurt.
My Apology for the Church
After the meeting concluded, I went to the lesbian spouse and said, “I want to apologize to you for what I read tonight. The church should never have had those passages in there in the first place. It’s just not right.” She was polite, thanked me, and said she understood. Still, that couldn’t erase the fact that in the sanctuary of the church she and her partner now call home, she’d been harshly judged.
It’s sometimes easy to forget people when we argue over social principles and Biblical interpretation. But when you see those who are affected by the Discipline’s words in person, hear their stories, learn of their faith and struggles, and appreciate their acts of generosity and compassion…well, that should change things.
Whatever comes from the General Conference, where the Book of Discipline will be rewritten, I hope at least those condemning words will be excised. United Methodists are divided over the issue; Christians struggle with it and come down on differing sides. The Discipline should acknowledge that.
My prayer is that the United Methodist Church will ultimately make a statement more in tune with its affirmation of the supremacy of grace, which is the fruit of honesty and humility. It can make a statement by simply deleting those passages.
I don’t want to have to apologize again.
9 thoughts on “The Night I Apologized for the Church”
I was always proud to be apart of Manchester United Methodist Church because we never excluded or pointed out that one person’s difference makes them unacceptable to be a part of our church. We are all unique and God made us that way on purpose. His Design is why we are what we are. His Design is perfect. Only humans find the fault.
I’ll pray that UMC understands this. They’ll continue to decline in membership until they do.
Thank you for this, Greg. I look forward to the day when the UMC apologizes.
Thank you so much for your apology. I think it was extremely thoughtful for you to reach out to the lesbian in the church . Your thoughtfulness has served as an excellent example of the openness and acceptance we should all strive for. Let’s hope General Conference can lead us forward in a loving way. The words in the Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality do not show us how to” love our neighbor as ourselves”.
Thank you for your words. Thank you for accepting the LGBTQ+ community in many ways.
I wish we could have made it to hear this in person. Nice job and a fine essay.
Thank you so much, as always, for your thoughts and your great way with words. As a life-long Methodist, I’ve been so very saddened and embarrassed by the UMC stance on human sexuality. I’ve stayed a Methodist because I believed the church would evolve and I’ve done my best to let church leaders know how I felt. For most of my adult life I was part of Reconciling congregations to show my solidarity with humans/Methodists who happen to be LGBTQ. I keep trying to explain and apologize to friends outside of my church who wonder how I could remain a part of intentional exclusion that undermines and negates the church’s good works. When the UMC motto became “Open Doors, Open Minds, and Ooen Hearts” I naively thought that meant we were aiming to go in the right direction. I’ve ferverently prayed that THIS time, we’ll get it right. If not, I’m not sure where I’ll go. I just know I can’t raise my child in a denomination that can’t seem to sort out what acceptance, love, and grace mean in the context of the teachings of Jesus. Or in any definition of those word anywhere, really.
“It struck me that these people were hearing a church policy that categorically judged them or their loved ones to be sinners. It was denying them fullness of participation in the life of United Methodism. They might as well have walked around with a big “S” for “sinner” slapped onto them by their own denomination.”
It is not the church policy that judges. Only Jesus can judge us, and while He calls us to love one another, He also commands that we worship Him in Spirit and Truth. The Church must abide by God’s word if we are to be faithful witnesses for God’s love, and our integrity hinges on our willingness to introduce people to the only One who can forgive their sins and make them whole. When we believe that we ourselves can absolve persons from their sin, we are assuming Jesus’ role. Not a good place to be!
When people ask me my denomination I tell them that I am a Christian. I follow the teachings of the Bible, whether in the Old Testament or New Testament, it is given to us by God. We are to follow His teachings. The creator of religion was man, not God. Men made the rules for the church, what we were to do and how to accomplish that. God does give us grave and love and there is nothing we can do to earn it except believe that God sent His only son for us , to die for us, taking on our sins. We,if we accept Him, are to turn away from our sins, repent. Jesus spoke of this in the gospels. ” Go and sin no more.” We are only a church divided by our human tendencies and our interpretations of what we think God wants. We are not God or Jesus who does the judging. We are His children if we follow Him and give our lives over to His will. Not our will or what we think is right. Who are we to determine God’s will. I know what Jesus said about marriage. He said exactly what was said in the beginning when God created the Heavens and the earth. What we do with that is our choice. As someone said we have been given free will. God will not force us to do as He has said. That’s the choice, believe in God or don’t. There is no one who can make the decision but you. I believe “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son , that whoever should believe in Him would not perish but have everlasting life. ” Let all who want to hear the word of God be in church where He is preached about with truth and love. We don’t have to apologize for what God says only for what men say that God says if it is not biblical. Read your Bible, the truth will make you free. John 8:31-32 says. “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”
TO JEANINE’S COMMENT