A Marietta church choir director says he was forced to resign from his job because he is gay.
Ira Pittman, who worked at Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church for more than 20 years, filed a federal complaint against the church with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as a result, according to a WABE report. Pittman reportedly kept his sexuality (and his partner of 16 years) hidden other than telling a few trusted co-workers. Then he threw a Christmas party last December.
“This whole thing evidently revolved around the fact that I had a gathering of my music staff, 10 people and their spouses, at my home with my partner, just to have an enjoyable meal and fellowship together,” Pittman said.
A day later, Pittman said the church’s senior minister invited Pittman and his partner to his dinner party. “I just felt like the heavens had opened up, and he’d had a new realization,” Pittman said. “We had a great time, and nothing but positive was said until he called me up and said, ‘We have a problem.’”
Pittman says that after the parties, someone complained that he had purposely thrown a “coming out party” and that by doing so he was in defiance of Methodist doctrine. He says that during the meeting where he got fired, the senior minister told Pittman he knew he was gay when he hired him. More from WABE:
“If it were up to [him],” it wouldn’t be an issue, Pittman said the senior minister told him. Pittman said the minister even said congregation members were “circling as wolves” that “could no longer tolerate this.”
One church that didn’t have a problem with Pittman’s sexuality was East Cobb United Methodist Church in Marietta, who snapped him up almost immediately after he left Mt. Bethel. East Cobb UMC’s senior pastor Nanci Hicks told WABE that Pittman being gay is not an issue.
“I consider a huge part of my life’s work to remove barriers for people from God and from love,” said Hicks. “And anytime there is a barrier, it kind of breaks my heart.”
And she doesn’t buy the claims of many anti-LGBT people of faith across the country who say they are victims of “religious persecution.”
“I have to wonder, when people say we’re under attack because of cultural things that make them uncomfortable,” Hicks said. “Just look at history to see what real persecution is about, look across the ocean to see what real persecution of Christians is about. In our nation, Christians are not persecuted.”
Meanwhile, the United Methodist Church is meeting now in Portland for their quadrennial conference, where they are expected to make a decision on LGBT exclusions by the end of next week.
Mt. Bethel has so far remained silent on Pittman’s claims.