Recommended candidates offer open letter to leaders and colleagues
Six candidates for commissioning or ordination at the upcoming Annual Conference Session have offered a letter to church leaders and colleagues about their reaction to the decisions of the 2019 General Conference session and passage of the "Traditional Plan." They have asked their letter be shared as an open letter to the church at large:
In April the Board of Ordained Ministry released a statement about resisting discriminatory policy.
To Bishop Elaine Stanovsky, the Board of Ordained Ministries of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference and clergy-colleagues of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference,
We, the undersigned, are the six candidates in the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference who were recommended for provisional commissioning and full membership at this year’s annual conference in Eugene. In the spirit of our connectional system, we see our candidacy, ordination, and ministry as one that occurs in relationship. We are not called as individuals but as a fellowship of clergy, committed to the making of disciples and to the transformation of our world through justice, grace, love, and mercy. In light of this, we are addressing you, the leaders of the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference, as a communal voice.
Recently, delegates to the United Methodist Church’s special general conference chose to further the exclusion and stigmatization of LGBTQIA+ people through the passing of the Traditional Plan. In so doing, this body reinstantiated harmful theologies and practices, solidifying their already detrimental impact on our LGBTQIA+ clergy, congregants and neighbors. The Traditional Plan targets LGBTQIA+ people with weaponized theologies of homophobia and patriarchy, shaping negative perceptions about queer people and reinforcing shame, taboo, fear, and stigma. These patterns are manifest in each of our ministry contexts, resulting in lost employment and benefits, the neglect of gifts and graces among queer Methodists, the stripping of funds for ministries that challenge discrimination and violence, and a lack of physical, emotional and spiritual safety within United Methodist churches. It has also been felt within our families, where those of us with children are struggling to share the resources of our faith tradition-namely the Wesleyan Quadrilateral and Wesley’s Three Simple Rules-to a generation recovering from the harmful and lasting decisions of their predecessors.
Echoing what Bishop Stanovsky has already said, we are “ashamed that the Church has turned its back on so many people who Jesus has loved and called,” and we “cannot abide by or enforce the new rules in conscience.” We believe in a God whose love transcends human laws of exclusion, affirming LGBTQIA+ individuals to ordained ministry and the sacred covenant of marriage. We believe in a Jesus who spent his life inviting, not gatekeeping, and in response to Jesus’ Gospel we feel called to ever-expand the invitation toward spiritual community and leadership.
Over the last few months, we have been grateful for the Western Jurisdiction’s leadership toward full inclusion and de-stigmatization. Led by Bishop Stanovsky and reinforced by members of the Oregon-Idaho cabinet and the Oregon-Idaho Board of Ordained Ministry, this region has been a sign of hope in the midst of fear and pain, motivating us to add our voices to the chorus of clergy and lay people who feel compelled to resist the Traditional Plan. We want the Oregon-Idaho Conference to know that it is not just their most senior leadership who cannot in conscience support these policies. It is also their least senior leaders who denounce structures that target, exclude and stigmatize LGBTQIA+ people. Though we do not have the experience that comes with years of leadership we do represent the future of this denomination, and in that humble capacity we are announcing our dissent from the Traditional Plan and its reinforcement by recent Judicial Council rulings.
Dissenting from the Traditional Plan means committing to acts of solidarity alongside LGBTQIA+ colleagues. It means forming alternative communities of emotional and spiritual support, challenging “don’t ask, don’t tell,” resisting the tokenization of queer people, affirming the broad spectrum of gender identities and supporting marriage rights for couples regardless of gender or orientation. At this time, it also means struggling with what it means for us to take vows at our coming ordination and commissioning service. The stakes of inaction are varied, and the impact on pastoral care and spiritual formation have already been evident. For those of us ministering within particularly marginalized communities, this is yet another instance of parishioners being chained to harmful theological language that could outlive our generation, perpetuating damning socio-cultural-political messages.
As we name our own commitments, we also ask the Western Jurisdiction and the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference to enhance its witness by articulating an explicit policy of inclusion and affirmation, ordination and compensation of “out” queer clergy. This statement would reveal the unsatisfactory nature of “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies, offering further support to LGBTQIA+ people who wish to practice ministry within the fullness of their identity. We ask that the Bishop name this vision to the entire conference, and that District Committees on Ordained Ministry (who act on behalf of the Board of Ordained Ministry) clarify whether they will participate in the ordination of “out” candidates who have arisen from their respective regions.
Such an action would challenge the Church’s pattern of queer discrimination and violence, preparing our communities to better affirm the evidence of God’s call among the entire Body of Christ, inclusive of our LGBTQIA+ members. It would also function as a clarion call to the rest of the connection that moderate forms of inclusion are still grounded in injustice. If the Western Jurisdiction is indeed working to birth a “new thing,” we are hopeful that conference leadership will push for inclusion and clarity as it relates to the positions and policies of our various leadership bodies.
Despite the grief and disappointment that we have felt since February, we remain confident in our decision to serve The United Methodist Church. Even though we went before the Board of Ordained Ministry during a season of uncertainty, hoping for the best and preparing for the worst, we maintained that God was at work in this Church for the sake of love and justice. Even though we have continued to answer for the discriminatory decisions of this Body, and even though many of us have children who do not understand why the UMC would exclude their LGBTQIA+ friends, teachers and mentors, we remain committed. Because we are not only called to the Church’s “unity,” we are called to its conflict as well. Because discerning a denominational home does not necessitate that we affirm its unjust traditions and cruel systems.
As Ugandan theologian Emmanuel Katongole says, “…in the midst of suffering, hope takes the form of arguing and wrestling with God.” In this moment, amidst the suffering of LGBTQIA+ Methodists, hope takes the form of arguing and wrestling with the Church. Not in anticipation of its destruction but in the hope that it will become what it already claims to be, a site for personal and social transformation. A community that sees the justice of God in the gifts of our entire denominational body. Most especially, in our LGBTQIA+ colleagues, neighbors, friends and selves.
To our leaders and colleagues in the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference, we look forward to collaborating in ministry and working to ground this movement in justice, inclusion, and affirmation. To our colleagues outside of Oregon-Idaho, especially those in non-affirming conferences and jurisdictions, we grieve with you. The pronouncements of this denomination do not represent God’s Word for you. May you know your sacred worth and may you be empowered in your call to transform the world. Whether that means changing the Church from the inside or leaving its spiritual abuse behind; becoming all that God has called you to be.
In God’s grace,