Greater NW Pride: From Toxicity to Grace


From Toxicity to Grace

            The contrast couldn’t be greater when looking and reading the two groups of stories on Facebook this morning. The first set of stories reflected the current toxicity within The United Methodist Church, in which many out-LGBTQ+ and allied clergy are facing charges for simply being out and LGBTQ+ or supporting LGBTQ+ members of their respective churches. The first story in the Tampa Bay Timescovered the Rev. Andy Oliver of Allendale United Methodist Church, who officiated at a same-sex marriage of two women, both members of his church, at the Dr. Carter G. Woodson African American Museum. Then, “(t)en days later, the Rev. Brent Byerman of Lake Magdalene United Methodist Church in Tampa, lodged a formal complaint against Oliver with the bishop (Ken Carter) of the denomination’s Florida Conference.” Rev. Oliver’s offense was officiating at a same-sex wedding ceremony, which is in violation with The Book of Discipline. https://www.tampabay.com/news/religion/same-sex-wedding-lands-st-petersburg-methodist-pastor-in-hot-water-20190503/

            The second story concerned the Rev. Anna Blaedel, who will resign as the director of the University of Iowa Wesley Center because she is both openly queer, and because she officiated at a friend from seminary’s same-sex wedding in 2017 as well, just like Rev. Oliver did. Both are considered by The United Methodist Church to be in violation of the Book of Discipline,in which no UMC minister may officiate a same-sex wedding, and no self-avowed practicing LGBTQ+ person can be ordained.  https://dailyiowan.com/2019/05/02/wesley-centers-openly-queer-pastor-to-resign-amid-church-tensions/
            Contrast those two stories with the current Time magazine cover story, with Pete and Chasten Buttigieg on the cover, arms around each other, standing tall and proud, with the title, “First Family” written across the picture. One of my friend’s commented: I can only begin to conceive how life might have been different for me if this had been a cover of Timewhile I was struggling to accept myself as the way God had created me…I pray that those who continue to live blindly in heterosexual privilege have their blinders removed, stop looking for ways to oppress others, and learn to celebrate God’s gifts of love.” And another friend wrote: “I grew up in silence. No one spoke plainly or with respect about LGBTQ+ people, much fewer gay couples back then. May this Time cove of 'First Family' with Mayor Pete Buttigieg and his husband Chasten Glezman be a signal to all of the LBTQ+ kids out there that it is OK to be who you are. And may this help us expand what it means to be family.”http://time.com/longform/pete-buttigieg-2020/
            Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word “toxic” is poisonous substance; very bad, unpleasant, or harmful. The first set of stories reveals a toxicity that is moving and poisoning parts of The United Methodist Church as a denomination. Clergy lodging charges against other clergy, with the possibility of spending time and money and energy against each other, while the world is grappling with far more serious, critical issues, seems to be wasteful at best, and falling for the temptation of simply hurting each other because someone decided who is and isn’t worthy of God’s grace at worst. As a Presbyterian clergyperson, I can’t help but see how the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Church of Christ, and the Episcopalians—who have all moved on from the LGBTQ+ issues—are attempting to address the major concerns of God’s justice and Christ’s peace locally and globally.
            That’s why the story of Pete—a gay Episcopalian—and Chasten Buttigieg is incredibly refreshing, cleansing the palette from the toxicity that has infected some parts of the UMC. Granted, both Pete and Chasten have dealt with their own struggle of coming out of the closet, fighting off bullies, faced the loss of home, let alone jobs, because of being out and gay. And both are surprised to find themselves in this time of their lives on the cover of Timemagazine, with an image that instantly became iconic, stirring hope and joy in and among many LGBTQ+ people, whether or not the LGBTQ+ person votes for Mayor Pete or not. Another glass ceiling is broken. Another taboo has been breached. 

            More importantly, evidence of the beauty of God’s grace was shown on the cover of Timemagazine, in which two men in love with each other, still in their first year of marriage, showed how normal two people in love looks, acts, sounds, and feels like. In my relationship with my partner Christian, along with all the other gay, lesbian, bisexual, pansexual, transgender, queer, intersex couples we know, we are moving forward, thankful that we have found the other person we were meant to be in relationship with at this time, knowing that we have the privilege of relaxing and simply being in the relationship, in which we know love, joy, peace, and happiness. And in the end of it all, love wins over hate and toxicity, as it will in the new form of Methodism that is emerging in light of the General Conference of 2019. My prayer is that the new form of Methodism emerges sooner rather than later. 

Brett Webb-Mitchell
Rev. Dr. Brett Webb-Mitchell is an openly gay Presbyterian pastor in the Portland area serving as the part-time LGBTQ+ advocacy coordinator for The Oregon-Idaho Conference of the UMC. He can be reached at brett@umoi.org. Become a subscriber to the Greater NW Pride blog to get Greater NW Pride in your email box!