They resigned before church officials learned they were gay
The Rev. Michael Piazza was a youth lay leader in the United Methodist Church in 1972 when he was elected to attend the denomination’s General Conference. One of the speakers at the conference that year was an African-American minister named Cecil Williams, who used the opportunity to speak out and stand up for the rights of gay and lesbian people.
“It was the first time I ever heard those words, and it was so very powerful” recalled Piazza, now dean of the Cathedral of Hope and executive director of the Foundation for Peace and Justice.
“Of course, he was run out of town on a rail,” Piazza added. “But he spoke out.”
Thirty-two years later, Dawson Taylor was elected as a delegate to the 2004 General Conference in Pittsburgh.
“I saw people there stand up and do just the opposite, speak out against gay and lesbian rights,” said Taylor, who was the youngest person ever elected in Texas to attend the General Conference.
Taylor is also the newest minister on staff at Cathedral of Hope. He graduated from the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University and was set to be ordained at First United Methodist Church in Richardson where he was already on staff.
But Taylor left that church and the Methodist denomination earlier this year. Like Piazza and the Rev. Jo Hudson, pastors of the Cathedral, Taylor said he could no longer go on trying to hide the fact that he is gay from Methodist church officials who would kick him out of the ministry if they found out.
Taylor, Piazza and Hudson all said they left the church before it could leave them.
Piazza was an ordained Methodist minister in Atlanta in 1984 when he decided to leave the denomination and become ordained as a minister in the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches.
Piazza took over in 1987 as senior pastor of what was then the Metropolitan Community Church of Dallas and is now the Cathedral of Hope. He surrendered his UFMCC credentials when the cathedral withdrew from the fellowship in 2003.
Hudson was outed as a lesbian in 1995 and “had to do some fancy footwork” to keep her job as a Methodist minister long enough to find a new job. She left that job and took a position as a professor at Texas A&M University before being ordained in the United Church of Christ.
Hudson came to Cathedral of Hope two years ago, in August 2004.
Hudson said she, Piazza and Hudson “all saw the writing on the wall.”
“And what it said was, “‘Goodbye!'” Piazza added.
The ordination of gays and lesbians has long been a contentious one within several mainstream denominations. In fact, the Episcopal Church USA, part of the worldwide Anglican Communion, is facing the possibility of a split after delegates to the denominations recent General Convention elected a woman, Katherine Jefferts Schori, who supports ordaining gays and lesbians as ministers as bishops was elected presiding bishop.
The United Methodist Church has continued to deny ordination to gays and lesbians, and has already defrocked a number of previously ordained ministers who came out as gay, as well as non-gay ministers who have performed holy union or commitment ceremonies for same-sex couples. The denomination’s Book of Discipline condemns same-sex sexual behavior as incompatible with Christian teaching.
But on the flip side of the coin, the Book of Discipline confirms the “sacred worth” of gays and lesbians. There is a strong progressive faction within the church that continues to push for a change in those policies, and its Book of Resolutions urges Methodists to fight against anti-gay discrimination in housing, employment and health care.
The three former Methodists now at Cathedral of Hope believe the denomination’s contradictory policies are hurting the church.
“Riding the fence this way is doing tremendous damage,” Hudson said, while Piazza referred to biblical passages condemning “lukewarm” believers.
“They are neither hot nor cold, and they are pleasing no one,” Piazza said. “In the Bible, God says to those who are lukewarm, “‘I will spit you out of my mouth.'”
Piazza added, “The biggest mistake the Methodist church has made was violating its own policy. The policy has always been that who to ordain or not ordain has always been left up to the local churches. But 30 years ago, they went against that and said one this one issue only, the ordination of gays, the General Conference would get to decide who could or could not be ordained.”
Piazza also recalled his own ordination in the Methodist church when another minister was ordained at the same time an older man who had been released from prison after serving time as a convicted murderer.
“They ordained him without question,” Piazza said. “But they will not ordain someone who is gay.”
Conservatives within the church warn that allowing the ordination of gays and lesbians would jump-start a mass exodus of members who believe it would violate God’s teachings. But Taylor said he thinks the church’s continued refusal to change its policy is already causing membership to dwindle.
For Taylor, who will be ordained and installed as a pastor at Cathedral of Hope on Sunday, the policy against ordaining gays and lesbians stood in the way of what he believes has been a life-long call to the ministry.
Taylor grew up in the Methodist church, and his father, his uncle and his aunt are all ordained ministers. His brother, he added, is in the process of becoming a minister in the denomination.
Taylor said that he “began to feel the call to the ministry” when he graduated from college in 2001. So he took a lay ministry job with Memorial Drive United Methodist Church in Houston. When he was offered the opportunity to preach there on a regular basis, Taylor said he felt he had to be honest with the pastor and reveal his sexual orientation.
The Houston church, he said, was “wonderfully accepting and supportive,” and he spent three years there. His position as a lay staff member hired by the local church did not conflict with the denomination’s ban on ordaining gays, he said.
But then Taylor decided to move to Dallas to attend seminary at Perkins. He sought out a job with a local church, and when he was hired, Taylor said he realized that since he would be there under appointment, he would have to go back into the closet.
As he neared the end of his days in the seminary, Taylor said he “did everything he could” to avoid the ministry, including applying to 11 law schools around the country. But when his application was rejected by all 11 including five for whom his grades fell well within the acceptable range Taylor said he knew God was sending him a message: He was supposed to be a minister.
But Taylor also knew he could not continue to live the lie that would be necessary if he were going to be ordained in the Methodist church. So he called his aunt, who put him in touch with Hudson. Taylor’s aunt had been Hudson’s mentor in school, and the two had eventually become friends as well as colleagues.
Through Hudson, Taylor met Piazza, and eventually the three of them began discussing the possibility of Taylor leaving the Methodist church to become a minister at the Cathedral of Hope. Now Taylor’s addition to the cathedral staff is forming another link in the chain that connects the past to the present, they said.
Piazza left the Methodist church for the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches in 1984 after slowly but surely coming out as a gay man and building a support system for himself within Atlanta’s GLBT community.
When Hudson was outed in 1995, she turned to Piazza, who she had met while attending Perkins School of Theology in Dallas, and it was Piazza who helped her make her decision to leave the Methodist church for the much more open and welcoming United Church of Christ.
This year, when he faced his big decision, Taylor turned to Hudson and recently, he said, he saw another link added to the chain when he got a call from a lesbian in Mississippi who said she felt a call to the ministry. The woman was referred to Taylor by her minister, who also happened to be a friend of Taylor’s.
“That’s why we are here, why this church is here,” Piazza said of the ever-lengthening chain of connections and coincidences. “We’re here to provide a safe place and a spiritual home for people who need us because they have been rejected by their own churches. Today, that’s the GLBT community. Who knows who might need us tomorrow.”
The Rev. Dawson Taylor will preach on “Believing in a place called Hope” at the 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. services Sunday at Cathedral of Hope.
He will be ordained as a minister during the 9 a.m. service and installed as a pastor at the cathedral during the 11 a.m. service. Taylor also preaches at the cathedral’s contemporary worship service each Wednesday at 7:17 p.m.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, July 7, 2006.