FROM MY SAMPLE SOCIAL ACTION TARGET MAP
- Social Action Target: Humanity
- Connection: Church Possibilties – Love
- Activity: Promotion of The Way Forward
- Organization: Reconciliation Ministries Network
2018 and every female minister in the United Methodist Church I know still recounts an occasional cold shoulder concerning women as ordained clergy. This can come from outside the United Methodist denomination. I have delivered the message one time as a lay servant and also felt it in my peer group at work. That is now.
Four decades ago in the 1970s, I can only assume that female clergy were more outside the expected and more subject to that polite chill – or more direct opposition. However, our small church in small-town Colorado welcomed our new minister. In fact, she is the one who baptized me in my tender years of adolescence and brought me through the confirmation process into a professing membership with the United Methodist Church. Her two sons were my schoolmates. And her husband – wasn’t.
My minister was a female clergy member having experienced a divorce. That was a tough one in the 1970s. More complicated was the reason for her divorce. Her ex-husband, Rev. Julian Rush, had become the first opening gay minister in the United Methodist Church and subsequently unemployed. As my mother tells it, his family was tucked away in our small town and loving congregation as a shield from the national spotlight surrounding that descended on Julian and his process of re-launching his career and life.
Understand that the 1970s did not provide an ideal time for a girl to learn much about puberty or sexuality. My school separated boys and girls one lesson of one day. For our part, we were terrified with a demonstration of a tampon exploding in a clear glass of water. That was supposed to happen inside us! My parents covered the topic more thoroughly by giving me a book on the subject.
Yet, through my relationship with the family of Julian Rush came through it all knowing not only that homosexuality existed but that it was perfectly natural and okay. So when I moved to North Carolina and formed a new group of friends in the ninth grade I didn’t even blink when Steve liked the guys.
It did not take very long to understand that other people do blink. Rejection from family, discrimination in jobs, bullying were all things I witnessed prior to my employment at Western Carolina University. It became easy to understand why a man would try to repress his feelings and marry a woman in hopes that everything would change, just as Rev. Julian Rush had done.
While working at Western Carolina University I became part of the Safe Zone Program and eventually one of the trainers. In this program, participants placed a symbolic sticker on their door and information that it was a safe place. The training involved understanding the history and causes of not everywhere being safe to talk about being gay, bisexual or transgender or any other associated variation from what is considered normal as well as solid scientific information about how all of this is very much normal. From the Safe Zone program I also became one of the first faculty advisors for the campus BGLAD organization. I got an education. I met students kicked out of their homes, struggling to align who they are with their faith, and statistics. Too many statistics. Up to 50% of teen suicides are related to issues of sexuality and gender not conforming with surrounding expectations.
And another friend’s marriage ended as he came to acknowledge he was gay. He also entered rehab as trying to pretend had led to a significant drug addiction.
When I returned to the United Methodist Church I reviewed the Book of Discipline with the UMC Policy on pretty much everything. I agreed with most. But still – the denominations forbade LGBTQ individuals from becoming ordained clergy and only allowed same-sex marriage. You cannot and should not agree 100% with any organization. I was upfront with my minister when I joined the church that I would be working to change this.
The United Methodist Church is currently in deep prayer and conversation in preparation for a special called general conference to address these issues. I am involved in this conversation at my local church and am committing work beyond my congregation. This is really a temporary activity of sorts. After the General Conference in 2019, this level of involvement will back off and I will move more into Mental Health Advocacy as a targeted action. Currently, this is brewing in the background. The Way Forward has an immediate intense need for attention.
I know Rev. Julian Rush loves his children dearly. And I know stigma and discrimination will stretch far beyond any decision a denomination can make. But right now there are children in our churches who are realizing their feelings and lives are an experience of normal that many people do not understand. I do not want any of them to feel they need to marry a more traditional partner than their hearts know is right. I do not want anyone who experiences the call to ordained ministry to be rejected because of the limitations of human bystanders. And any suicide, for any reason, is unacceptable.
I am encouraged that despite the current policies of clergy and marriage limitations, the United Methodist Church does welcome everyone to participate in our most important activities, the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion.