Coming to college, I shoved my religion forcibly to the back of my brain. For once I didn’t have to look for the twinge in my father’s eye as I declined his grey slacks, button down and trips to church with our grandmother, and in turn ate his eggs on an orange ceramic plate, balancing on my bare knees, curled up in the corner of the couch.
I watch many of my friends pack up their backpacks at 9 p.m. on Sunday nights to leave the library and walk to church service. Every week, parentless, rule-free college students prioritize their faith over their studies, over their sleep, over an extra hour of late night conversation with friends.
But this summer, noise around homosexuality in the United Methodist Church compelled me to return to 10 o’clock service on a 90-degree morning, to join individuals who believed our church’s mission statement should change, and propelled me to examine the finite meaning of how I stand as a Methodist.
The United Methodist Church today is at a crossroads. Among all participants, from individuals sitting in the pews, to pastors of churches, to clergy of the Office of the Bishop, the discipline is being scrutinized and changes are manifesting in some of the largest, most tangible ways. The advocacy group, Reconciling Ministries Network, is mobilizing United Methodist Churches across the country to rewrite their mission statements and be open and affirming of all LGBTQ persons.
Reverend Frank Schaefer, a United Methodist minister, lost his ordination credentials after marrying his own gay son to another man. After three phases of his trial in front of the United Methodist Church’s Judicial Council, Schaefer was defrocked for violating his pastoral vows. Six months later an appeals panel of church officials overturned that decision and welcomed him back into his role. This is one case among hundreds that lacks fluid consensus. Some bishops punish clergymen and women who have openly performed gay marriages with preventing them to work for a day or a week. Other bishops revoke their credentials entirely, shaming them and stripping them of the job they passionately believe in. The differences in their approach to the issue are immense and incoherent.
My church’s motto, “Open Minds, Open Hearts, Open Doors,” which had been engrained in every pamphlet, Sunday school activity and sermon growing up, did not hold true. In Ann Arbor, I found that the Wesley Foundation, a University of Michigan campus ministry of the United Methodist Church, was worlds ahead of my church back home. One evening, I questioned Reverend Rob Roth, the current chaplain of the Wesley Foundation, about how his church transformed into a reconciling one — and as I did my own resistance to Methodism morphed.
It didn’t come from the facts that stood clear in my mind consistently. There are seven major passages in the Bible condemning homosexuality in some form — none of them are Jesus speaking, and more importantly — none of them speak to how we understand homosexuality or bisexuality in 2014. Modern psychology hasn’t recognized homosexuality as mental illness for decades and Methodism respects the science of its time. Methodism stays consistent to its interpretations. If we take Leviticus 18:22, “thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination,” that would mean we would need to take every passage, every sin and punishment, literally.
But where my identity evolved was where I learned that being Methodist did not mean standing with a list of beliefs every one of my fellow Methodists believed. Issues of homosexuality would not be on that list, because Methodism, unlike so many religions, does not have a list. We have articles of faith in our discipline that we respect but we are not a confessional church. Instead, we have a quadrilateral scripture that embodies: scripture, tradition, reason and experience. Methodists, by definition, means the person sitting next to you in the pew takes scripture, tradition, reason and experience in any form they believe. We are not taught or directed, we are enlightened and given the opportunity to interpret. And today not enough have interpreted and understood that those seven passages should not keep gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender or any other humans out of the church. We must continue to interpret so others can continue to stand as Methodists.