The Real Choice for LGBTs in the UMC

choice-matrix

False choices in the UMC

Whenever we talk about the LGBT debate within the United Methodist Church, there word “choice” comes up a lot. When it refers to LGBT candidates for ministry, the “choices” are pretty painful:

  1. LGBT Candidates for ministry can choose to be celibate and not enter into partnered relationships…ever.
  2. LGBT Candidates can choose to hide their orientation from the religious authorities and do ministry for as long as they can.
  3. LGBT Candidates can choose to leave the ordination process and seek ordination in another denomination.

There’s more insidious choices: A fellow clergy was brought before the Board of Ordained Ministry. As a prerequisite for ordination, he was given a document to sign stating that he was “not gay” (Fun fact: he wasn’t gay–just single! That’s how hawkish people are in the Bible Belt!).

However, in Southwest Texas, we have an interesting reversal of choice that helps put the LGBT debate in a new–and in my opinion, more authentic–light.

Mary Ann Barclay (formerly Kaiser) is a candidate for ministry in the SWTX conference. Mary Ann refused to choose any of the above three options. And yet her local DCOM (a pre-ordination board comprised of mostly the only good part of Texas Austin area) recommended her for Ordination. After being illegally barred from an Ordination interview (a decision that was reversed by the Judicial Council), she has finally been granted an interview. Her Board of Ordained Ministry Interview is May 13.

To many in SWTX (especially the United Methodist Men in SWTX), there’s only two choices for Mary Ann:

  1. Mary Ann should stop being a candidate for ministry. OR
  2. Mary Ann should divorce her partner and choose celibacy.

However, it is my assertion that those are not the only choices. Indeed, those are not choices at all.

The Real Choice in the UMC

The only real choice in this situation lies with the Board of Ordained Ministry. History helps us see that the choice isn’t in the candidates, but rather is in the Board itself.

In her research into arguments made against women’s ordination around the turn of the 20th century, Mary Ann dug up a quote by Anna Oliver, a Methodist who attempted for decades to be allowed to preach, that has a haunting parallel to today:

I am sorry to trouble our dear mother Church with any perplexing questions, but it presses me also, and the Church and myself must decide something. I am so thoroughly convinced that [God] has laid commands upon me in this direction, that it becomes with me really a question of my own soul’s salvation. If [God] commands me to just the course I am pursuing, as only they that do [God's] commandments have right to the tree of life, I have no alternative.

Anna Oliver, on seeking ordination as a woman in 1880.

There was no choice for women who feel a call to this particular ministry before the Church allowed them to serve in this way. Likewise in Mary Ann’s blog post, she articulates having the same lack of choice:

I have argued with the voice of God in my life. I have tried to convince myself I do not want to and am not called be ordained. And yet, I still return to this place. The United Methodist Church is my church. I was raised in it and I believe in it – in the best of our past and the best of what we can be in the future. And I am called to be a minister within it. And I can’t help that.

I am convicted by experience and reason that LGBT persons have no choice to be who they are. And LGBT candidates for ministry that have an authentic call on their heart do not have a choice of whether or not to follow that call. God is persistent and will have them follow it eventually.

There’s no choice for Mary Ann and other LGBT candidates for ministry. They have to do what they have to do. Even the most Traditionalist of the “Defenders of the Faith” on a Board of Ordained Ministry (and I’ve been interviewed by several such persons in my process) would say that any Candidate–LGBT or otherwise–have to test, authenticate, and pursue their calling.

The Way Forward in the UMC

So then the only choice actually resides in another place: the Board of Ordained Ministry.

The Board of Ordained Ministry has the only choice in this scenario (and many like it). They can choose to discern whether LGBT candidates can serve without the three choices (outlined above) made for them. They can choose candidates who, according to the handbook, have the fitness, readiness, and effectiveness necessary to serve in this particular way. There are no automatic disqualifications for LGBT persons seeking ordained ministry: only peer discernment and votes.

My hope is that they realize that the choice lies with the Board of Ordained Ministry. That Mary Ann and other LGBT candidates have no choice in their call. That any candidate before the Board has a call to serve and it is up to the Board to determine whether that service is in this particular area of ordained ministry. They have the choice. And my prayers are with them on May 13th.

May all our prayers be with Boards of Ordained Ministries as we live in the “in-between” times. I don’t envy them. Like the 19th century boards who recognized the call that God had placed on women to preach BEFORE the church culture had accepted them, may our 21st century boards also make the bold choice and evaluate on readiness, fitness, and effectiveness rather than this prohibition that will not stand the test of time.

Thoughts?

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Comments

  1. Jenn says

    A great post, Jeremy, and I am grateful for your calm and thoughtful analysis about a decisive issue. Prayers w Mary Ann and ALL those who can make decisions.

    • says

      I grew up, was educated, and served churches in the Bible Belt. Sweeping generalizations, while inaccurate, come from a place of familiarity not stereotypes.

    • Ben Hanne says

      I’m fairly certain that’s a false equivocation. Speaking from the experience of being raised and serving churches within the culture of the Bible Belt is not the same as suggesting that you understand something because you were in proximity to it.

      While it may not be truth you like, it is Jeremy’s experience.

      Coming from a similar background myself I feel comfortable making observations about my experiences no matter where I currently live.

      • xxclarchgyxx says

        Drew’s right. Authenticating one’s sweeping generalizations with the “my personal experience” tack is never legit.

  2. Holly Boardman says

    Another, more positive choice that an annual conference and BOOM may make is to begin advocating for those of us who HAVE decided to be celibate and single for the sake of the Kingdom of God. At this point, celibacy is treated with suspicion, incredulity, and outright disrespect. If celibacy were viewed as valuable to the church, I believe we might see a genuine renewal in the church.

  3. says

    “Sweeping generalizations, while inaccurate..”

    Why didn’t you just stop there? I caution the clergy under my care not to make sweeping generalizations, particularly in this debate. How is this helpful to the matter at hand – except to add to the name calling, demonizing, etc.

    Sky+

    • says

      I think another great sweeping generalization I’ll make is:

      “all the comments so far are about two phrases that are irrelevant to the greater points or the overall argument (which have not been challenged).”

      I think that would be accurate.

      • Gary Bebop says

        You are on the record. Sky was right. You should have cropped your commentary earlier. Now it descends into denigration.

        • says

          *shrug* the argument is stock, put out there to see what comes of it. Months from now, people will see unchallenged arguments not these quibbles. So thanks for spending your time here while the argument remains unchallenged.

  4. Josh Blanchard says

    The brethren side of us has some history in Ordaining controversial populations. The very first ordained women brethren elder was in the 1880’s . Perhaps we should look to that side of our DNA for the courage to move forward.

  5. xxclarchgyxx says

    But every BOM must ask candidates if they will fully uphold the Discipline, right? And then every candidate will make such vows in the clergy session before being voted on there. I’m just saying the BOM isn’t the magic path to change. It has the responsibility to vet/approve candidates but DCOMs and BOMs have no authority over ordination or appointment. Really her DCOM seems to open itself up to disciplinary action by approving her candidacy in the first place.

    As a side note, people key in on your degradation of an entire region of the country because, as has been said, it’s not pertinent, it’s unnecessary and harmful. I think you’re distracting us from your own central arguments by including that sort of thing.

    • says

      Thanks for addressing the argument of the post: it is appreciated and apparently rare on this topic.

      I’ve addressed previously how “upholding the discipline” is a tactic that ignores the Top 25 Ways Methodists Don’t Uphold the Book of Discipline. To require such things of all candidates needs to also outline those top 25 ways as well. Or is fidelity to the letter of the law not as important as fidelity to our pet letters of the law?

      BOMs and DCOMs have every authority over ordination–they have authority to determine who is eligible to stand before the Bishop. The Bishop has no say, and I haven’t heard of a Bishop being unwilling to ordain someone who was legally before them (I may be wrong). Bishops, of course, have full authority over appointment, so we agree there.

      If a LGBT clergy candidate was approved from the DCOM to the BOM to the Clergy Session, there is no reason why s/he shouldn’t be ordained. We are a peer-authenticated call system when it comes to ordination, with the Discipline as our guide, not our crutch.

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