“I think we have to realize that there could come a time when staying may not be healthy…That it may be better to make a change.” These are the words of a distraught United Methodist pastor forced to leave her position by the Great Plains Conference of the United Methodist Church.
The Rev. Cynthia Meyer, the soon-to-be former pastor of Edgerton United Methodist, was cited by Methodist officials due to her honest appeal to her congregation of her sexuality. Her honesty and humanity towards those she was guiding and caring for has now condemned her. Meyer, 53, holding no prior disciplinary record has been stripped of her clerical duties and “may be [only] hired to perform functions equivalent to those of a lay staff person” within the United Methodist Church. This ruling is based on church law and the Book of Discipline, “the denomination’s book of policy and teachings, since 1972,” which states that all individuals are of sacred worth but the practice of homosexuality “is incompatible with Christian teaching.” This issue concerning LGBT clergy could have been resolved like it had been in so many other Christian denominations, yet the general conference held in Portland, Oregon, in May this year, deferred the issue for another time.
Despite knowing the risks, Meyer came out to her congregation; her vulnerability displayed to the congregation, very similar to the crosses we each carry in our own lives, and for that she was shamed. But Meyer isn’t alone; she, like many others, LGBT clerical and lay people, still struggle within many mainline and Evangelical churches holding on to a conservative outlook of leadership and ministry in the church. This outlook suffocates the diverse voices needed to make the church whole. Each member of the church, like Paul said, is an extension of the Body of Christ. For this reason alone, denominations should praise diversity and seek to discover the hidden talents within their congregations. If we are to “Be The Church,” we must actively seek out those lost, abandoned, disgraced, widowed, divorced, and embrace them with the greatest message of all: love. This should be the message of all churches. Displayed on the United Methodist’s website are the words, “Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.” The inclusivity of these words would suggest an “openness” to diversity of ministry and clergy, yet it seems only to apply to those of a heterosexual preference. Clergy, gay, straight, bi-, or transgender, are called to ministry by some innate nudge, unknown to humans and thus should not be scrutinized by disciplines based on poor scripture interpretation. Reality renders these words ironic, and makes them not a message of love, but simply a veneer to seem whole.
I applaud the Rev. Meyer and many like her who have shown their vulnerability to the church. I praise her colleagues and others for supporting LGBT clergy, yet I understand the risk they take in their support for the cause of equality within mainline churches. Old First and friends, to “Be The Church” means we actively seek out those who are vulnerable and embrace them with love.
John Owens, Program Assistant