From My Warm, Gay-Marrying Fingers
Just in case there's any doubt at all about the intent of my last post, the one in which I announced my availability to perform gay weddings: Yes, I know it's against the Discipline (that's the United Methodist Constitution, for you muggles out there); no, I don't wish to do it in secret (no back alley weddings); and yes, I am not only willing, but eager to face whatever penalties may be imposed on me by the church that formed me as a spiritual being, ordained me as first a deacon and then an elder, and ultimately decided it had had enough of me, an antipathy I concluded within a year or two was and is quite mutual.
As Robyn Morrison has eloquently detailed in the blog she shares with her husband, Gerry Hill, the covenant United Methodist elders enter into at ordination is fundamentally twisted. To be true to our vows, we elders must espouse and practice doctrines that few of us believe or consistently apply to our own lives. Elders flaunt their creatively adapted understanding of the vows all the time, whether it is the standard of "celibacy in singleness and fidelity in marriage" or the directive to never be "in debt so as to embarrass [us] in [our] work." (If anything, the entire denomination ought to be embarrassed at the level of student debt accumulated over the course of a seminary education.) Like any proof-texting fundamentalist, the United Methodist Church is excruciatingly selective in the rules it chooses to enforce. When it comes to the church's attitude toward homosexuality, it has been increasingly strident, but sadly consistent, in that enforcement: perform a gay wedding, go on trial. Be gay and ordained and either spend your entire career in the closet, or go on trial. And still Methodism claims to be a church of open doors, hearts, and minds.
Robyn continues in her blog to point out, as I have on many occasions, the cowardice of church leaders whose hands are "tied" by the Discipline, who claim to disagree with the homophobic rules it contains and the draconian actions taken by the denomination to enforce them while simultaneously, whenever called upon by that denomination, being willing participants in that enforcement. There is a perverse code of silence in conferences like Oregon-Idaho, in which gay pastors or pastors performing gay weddings are told that the Cabinet supports them in who they are or what they are doing, but cannot be explicitly told about it. The hairsplitting literalism of this--I will only be held accountable for my contra-Discipline actions or identity if I confess to a superintendent or bishop using exactly the right language that I am, in fact, "guilty"--provides all involved a convenient work-around, a way to both flaunt and adhere to the letter of the law. And there is simply no integrity in this.
Which is why I am willing and eager to flaunt the anti-marriage rule in as public a way as I can. This corruption needs to be pushed to the breaking point. Part of breaking it is having elders of good character surrender their orders in disgust, as clearly working from the inside is getting us nowhere; as Robyn points out, the denomination has, if anything, retreated even further down the homophobic rabbit hole in the last decade, even as the nation is undergoing a cascading shift in public opinion in favor of greater acceptance of gay marriages. Unless these self-proclaimed insider activists are willing to become missionaries to United Methodist congregations in Africa, and convert them wholesale to pro-gay attitudes, there protestations of support are so much window dressing.
It's time to break this controversy open, to bring it out into public and forswear, once and for all, the cowardly hypocrisy of "I disagree with the position, but my hands are tied." Nothing is tying our hands but fear. And yes, I realize I have nothing to lose but a scrap of paper: I made the break, I'm now a public school teacher, and as much blood, sweat, and tears may have gone into the acquisition of that paper, the stakes are very low for me. I have a career, I have a roof over my head, my children are grown and out of the house. It costs me nothing to put my ordination on the line.
But seriously, you who are my brothers and sisters in the Order of Elders: what about that other vow you took, the one that was not with the institution, but with God? The vow to be a prophetic voice, to "proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19) For the gay and lesbian community, this is the year of God's favor. Across America, the walls are coming down. Marriage equality is coming; for many of us, it is already here. When two women who are pillars of your church walk into your office with their marriage license, issued by the county registrar, asking for a wedding in the sanctuary in which they have been worshipping together for years, what are you going to tell them? "I'm sorry, but my hands are tied. You'll have to find a justice of the peace. But I'll continue to work to change this from within, so that someday, perhaps your grandchildren can be married in this building."
Yes, it may cost you job security, may force you to change denominations (the UCC, which employed me for the last two and a half years as a musician, is particularly gay-friendly, and very compatible liturgically), may mean you actually have to look for a job instead of just being appointed to one by the bishop. But how long can you continue in a position which, according to your own stated principles, requires you daily to live within an ethical and theological paradox?
For United Methodism to change, I am convinced, for it to really become a part of the new millennium, it is going to have to break. The unity is a lie. If enough pastors, superintendents and, dare I say, bishops flaunt the Discipline, marrying and ordaining according to the leadings of the Holy Spirit rather than the bigoted parsing of a book of administrative rules, then eventually the system will be so clogged with show trials, and the publicity will be so negative, that the church will either have to change those rules--or finally divide along mostly geographical lines, liberating the West and Northeast from the tyranny of the reactionary majority.
Somebody has to get this ball rolling, and this is why I'm not surrendering my orders, as much as I am sickened by both the bigotry of my denomination and the timidity of my fellow elders and bishops. To any gay or lesbian couple with a state-issued license, I extend the invitation to look me up. I'll marry you. And to the United Methodist Church, I say: You can have my ordination when you pry it from my warm, gay-marrying fingers.