Open Door Policy?
On Saturday I met my good friend, Chris, and his fiancée Cristi, who were visiting New York. The three of us went to college together and unlike many of the people I met in college, I’ve managed to maintain in contact with them. We’ve spent New Year’s together in different cities, visited each other near and far, and I’ll be a guest at their wedding in November.
To think that I would have met these people when I attended an extremely conservative, evangelical university is nothing short of a miracle. Although “homosexual activity” was against the university’s rules, I was able to come out to these friends of mine and be completely transparent about who I was. What’s more is that these friends not only accepted me for who I was, but they affirmed God’s love for me.
Flash-forward almost 10 years later and here we are, living completely differently from our undergrad days. As we sat in the charming lounge area of Millesime, each with a cocktail in hand, we caught up on what was going on in our lives. Since I had just come home from our COTV Easter Retreat and had an awesome experience, I shared my excitement and lessons that I had learned while with my church family. Chris, who is a pastor’s son, was very interested in my experiences with church since I had graduated from college, so I told him about the journey I went through after coming out.
After college I moved to Chicago and didn’t think I’d ever be interested in going back to church because of all the pain growing up Southern Baptist had caused me. However, as much as I didn’t ever want to go back to that place of pain, there was a part of me that missed the community of worshiping with other people. After about a year of living in the area, I decided I wanted to try church again, but on my own terms.
At the time I worked at the Gap with a young lady named Kristin who I knew was studying to be a pastor. Although she was a Christian, I knew from speaking with her that she was progressive and liberal(?!). I took her aside one day and asked her about finding a church that would accept me and she graciously created a list of places for me to visit. It was through this list that I became familiar with both the Episcopal Church, and then when I moved to a different part of town, the United Methodist Church.
As I explained my journey to Chris, he made a few statements which really affected me. The first statement was that he was surprised, that of all people, I found a church to belong to and he didn’t. Considering that he is a pastor’s son and I am a gay man, it speaks volumes to the experiences that we have had. Of course, me being the person that I am I couldn’t help but ask, “Well, what’s holding you back?”
“Well, I wouldn’t join a secular organization that excludes people, why would I want to join a religious organization that does so?”
It was with those words that I felt the wind knocked out of me. Not because I went to a church that excluded people, but because even though there are Methodist churches throughout the US that include all of God’s children, the governing body of the United Methodist Church still allows for an exclusionary stance on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) persons. And people like my good friend Chris, who love God and truly love others, are turned off and tune out what our church has to say because it is more exclusionary than many secular groups. Ouch!
I love my church and I love the denomination to which it belongs. United Methodists have been thoughtful champions of so many social issues in its history. When I think about the care and consideration the church has taken to communicate sacred worth to those deemed “less than,” I am hurt and saddened that, at least on paper, the UMC still considers me “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Where are the “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” that the UMC advertises in its marketing? I fear that this “Open Door Policy” may only be lip service when it comes to LGBT persons.
But I love my church and I love the denomination to which it belongs, and I won’t be silent about this. Together with my COTV sisters and brothers and other Methodists in New Directions (MIND), we will gather in White Plains this weekend to find ways to fully open the doors of the UMC to LGBT folk. I will support the work of churches like COTV and the growing numbers of UMC churches who are part of the Reconciling Ministries Network. And most importantly, I will open my heart, open my mind, and open my doors to those who are different from me.