75 GLBT ministers send letter to council members one week before meeting describing fears engendered by life in the closet
On Tuesday, one week before the United Methodist Church’s Judicial Council was set to meet in Overland Park, Kan., 75 GLBT clergy issued a letter to Methodist Church leaders to once again ask for full inclusion in the life of the church.
The letter also explained that the clergy members fear that if they come out of the closet they will be stripped of their ordination credentials, as was former minister Beth Stroud, a lesbian.
Stroud, who had been associate pastor at First United Methodist church in Germantown, Penn., was defrocked by a Methodist trial court in December 2004 for violating church law which forbids the ordination and appointment of “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals.” An appeals court overturned that decision, but the Judicial Council, meeting last October, reinstated the trial court ruling.
During that same meeting, the Judicial Council also ruled in favor of a pastor who had refused to administer membership vows to a gay man. That ruling unleashed a firestorm of controversy throughout the denomination, and the Judicial Council will debate whether to reconsider the matter.
The council meeting begins Wednesday and continues through April 28.
The list of signatures on the letter, collected by the Reconciling Ministries Network, includes clergy from every signature in the United Methodist Church. It signifies, network officials said, a unified voice of hundreds more who serve the church in silence.
The Rev. Troy Plummer, a minister based in Chicago who is executive director of the Reconciling Ministries Network, said the denomination has been on a “slow but steady course to exclude LGBT people from the life of the church as a whole” since a 1972 declaration that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Quoting from the letter, Plummer added, “Many in our denomination support this dismembering of Christ’s body. Yet even while our sister Beth Stroud was stripped of her ordination credentials, hundreds of LGBT clergy continue to serve the church faithfully at every level of leadership.”
The ministers signing the letter also notes that the church denying them full inclusion is the same church that had called them to the ministry in the first place, and that they have “embodied God’s presence in worship and in your lives, blessing your marriages, responding to midnight calls, holding your hands, wiping your tears and laying your precious loved ones to rest.”
The Rev. Joretta Marshall, chair of the Reconciling Ministries Network, said the letter represents “hundreds of clergy” whose “voices and experiences are silenced out of fear” of losing their credentials and their “ability to respond to the call of God for their lives.”
Marshall, a professor of theology and care at Eden Theological Seminary in St. Louis, added, “It is a tragedy that so many good pastoral leaders have to hide and live in fear when they have gifts and graces in abundance to share.”
The letter also reminded the Judicial Counsel that even as the denomination continues the debate around homosexuality in the church, and “even with the most restrictive legislation, LGBT people will still be raised up through the [denomination's] Sunday School and youth programs. They will hear God’s voice calling them into ministry, and Boards of Ordained Ministry will continue to find them called and gifted candidates, regardless of their sexual orientation.”
Network officials said the signatures already on the letter will remain confidential to protect the ministries of the signers, and that other clergy members are invited to add their names confidentially to the list. To add a signature, call lawyer Jennifer Soule at 312-616-4422 and identify as an “RMN confidential respondent.”
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition, April 21, 2006.