In yet another conference in which Christians spoke at LGBTQ people instead of with us, The United Methodist Church hosted a panel last weekend to discuss the pastoral approach to LGBTQ individuals. The eight straight panel members were all contributors to “Finding Our Way: Love and Law in The United Methodist Church,” a recent publication aimed to change the conversation on the LGBT community. The two hour long panel, which was closed to the public, affirmed LGBTQ individuals by noting that the church has done harm to the community.
At its face value, the message was encouraging. The Bishop’s overall tone was loving, encouraging “unity and diversity” in the church. The Bishops recognized that the Church is deeply divided theologically but they advocated to have mutually respectful dialogue about this issue despite the differences. This seems encouraging and I’m certain the event organizers thought this was a step in the right direction — and in some ways it was. But we can’t make steps forward while leaving the LGBTQ community behind.
In the very beginning of the panel, Bishop Hope Morgan Ward of North Carolina explained that her chapter was urging for dialogue. “When we create safe and hospitable spaces for engagement, we are inviting the work of the Holy Spirit,” she said. “We are able to find better words than the words we have used. We are able to move forward together. Remarkable things will happen if we’re sufficiently bold and humble to create a circle of chairs and to talk with one another.” I couldn’t agree more. Remarkable things do happen when we meet together — I’ve seen it happen. But this panel was not the “safe and hospitable space” she spoke of.
According to News Ok, “A trio of women representing a United Methodist LGBTQ advocacy group called Love Prevails said they arrived at the hotel at 7:15 a.m. and were barred from entering the room where the panel discussion was to take place by local police. The Rev. Julie Todd, a United Methodist minister from Lawrence, Mass., said the group wanted to sit and watch the panel discussion and hold up signs that referenced the exclusion of LGBTQ from the event.” Talk about mixed messages.
The Bishops spoke of unity and conversation, about creating a circle of chairs to talk with one another. They said they wanted to listen to LGBTQ voices, yet three LGBTQ women were physically removed from the premises. Where is the safe space they spoke of? How is the panel going to call for conversation while keeping LGBT people in the margins? They opted to “engage” on twitter using the hashtag #cttalks and through pre-submitted videos—are we intimidating in person? How can we have a conversation if the church keeps us at a digital arm’s length?
The panelists responded to the concerns of the exclusion of LGBTQ individuals by claiming they specifically chose to to center the conversation on the aforementioned book, Finding Our Way. Quite frankly, this is a cop out. There are plenty of LGBTQ organizations that have been working in the United Methodist Church for decades who would have been better equipped as panelists. Inviting only those who wrote portions of the book, as if they were lone, authoritative voices on this subject, is offensive to the LGBTQ individuals who have worked and lived as LGBTQ members of the United Methodist Church for years. No one knows our stories better than we do.
Reverend Sara Thompson-Tweedy submitted a video as the chair of Methodist in New Directions. She really gets to the heart of the matter saying, “We are consistently left out of the conversation. Progressives love to talk for us, conservatives love to talk against us. We have been called the issue, and we have been called the problem, but we’ve never seem to be called to the table. How can there be real dialogue if the church won’t talk with us? If you want to have dialogue talk to us LGBTQ United Methodists about how our church’s stance contributes to ostracism, oppression, and marginalization, reducing us to second class members of our own church.” When LGBTQ people in your church are telling you they feel silenced and shunned, we must listen.
I feel like a broken record, continually calling for LGBTQ voices to be invited to the table. In just the last few weeks, as seen at the Southern Baptist convention’s ERLC and The Nines, conferences continue to speak about us instead of with us. In order for the Church to move forward on this, our voices must be included. We are the context for the conversation. Our stories shift the debate from a theoretical subject to a discussion about human lives. I’ve seen the spaces that can be created when people from different theological stances have a respectful dialogue with one another. After all, engaging and loving those who are fundamentally different than us is what the gospel calls us to do.
Watch the full video of the panel: