Editor’s Note: As we’ve see many times, “The Church” in all its iterations, can get hung up on rules. Here’s an account of how the United Methodists are struggling with members and leaders who are not heterosexual.
By Fernando Alcántar
I read an interesting article about a former colleague from my days in the United Methodist Church. I met Cedrick when he was a district superintendent, and as the article mentions, he was about to become bishop – that is, before his “gayness” got in the way.
I worked with Cedrick when I served as director of leadership development for young people for the California-Pacific Conference of the United Methodist Church (Cal-Pac). I didn’t know he was gay at the time; I didn’t know I was gay either. I first reported to Grant Hagiya, who is now the Bishop for Cal-Pac. I tell the story in my book, To the Cross and Back.
The United Methodist Church has a manual, The Book of Discipline, which is a guide for every UMC congregation around the world about what to do and how and when to do it. It is treasured, cherished and revered. I used to call it, the “Methodist Book of Mormon.”
In this context, the Book of Discipline says:
“While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world. The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”
The very first thing I saw when I stepped into the Conference office in Pasadena, California for my first interview during the summer of 2008 was a copy of their (now out of print) newspaper which covered the great divide the denomination suffered because of the issue of homosexuality, which many believed it would be the issue it would “once again split the church in half,” as it had done between the Free and United Methodist.
During the three-and-a-half years I served Cal-Pac, I struggled being caught in the middle of a toxic divide over racial and ideological issues, not to mention being criticized for not being a “born and raised Methodist.” I experienced from the very top how reverence to tradition and fear of change not only scared people away, but brought people to tears because of the stubborn clinch to the old ways. I suffered through an internal debate about what’s true and what’s not and what’s real and what’s not. The result was one of the darkest seasons of my life. I kept it secret from everyone at Cal-Pac until my book came out.
I love the community at Cal-Pac. I fondly remember times with people like Cedrick, the youth and young adult leaders and the young people who made me the proudest I had ever been. But this stubborn clinch to the old ways, to protect a tradition for its own sake, is scary. Reason must supersede old beliefs. New evidence must supersede old myths. Love must supersede old laws.
I just celebrated my first Pride Day this year, and let me tell you, as I look back at my journey, though I have lost almost everything and everyone in the process, I have gained the most important part–myself. When it comes to reliving old rifts about who I am and who I love — geesh, ain’t nobody got time for that.
Bio: Fernando Alcántar is a former leader of the Foursquare (evangelical, Pentecostal) denomination in Mexico and senior coordinator of North American Partnerships at Azusa Pacific University, where he oversaw hundreds of churches in Mexico and helped to mobilize thousands of missionaries a year from all over the United States and Canada. He is now a gay atheist activist, spreading a message of tolerance, introspection and understanding. He lives in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania. He is a member of The Clergy Project and author of To the Cross and Back: An Immigrant’s Journey from Faith to Reason, with a foreword by Dan Barker. This essay is lightly edited and reposted with permission from his blog, Gospel of Reason.
>>>Photo Credits: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B017GH5DPQ/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1
By Thomas Coke Ruckle, painter; A. Gilchrist Campbell, engraver – Drew University Methodist Collection (Madison, New Jersey), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=29066451
By Guanaco and subsequent editors – SVG source (version of 17:56, 30 Sep 2011), Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=479191