There is a superficiality to American spirituality that makes me doubt the average Methodist could explain what differentiates his or her denomination from Lutheranism, Presbyterianism or even Catholicism. Lent, the closest thing Christians have to a ritual sacrifice, has become culturally akin to the keto diet, with believers from every branch fortifying their relationship with God by giving up PornHub or processed sugars for 40 days.
Upwards of 90 percent of my family and friends consider themselves Christian, although I couldn’t tell you which denomination any of them belong to since most are not flamboyantly pious, and I’ve adopted a love-the-worshiper-ignore-the-worship attitude toward my folks’ relationship with God. I don’t mind whatever their afterlife preferences are, so long as they don’t flaunt them or try to recruit me.
Reading about the general conference of the United Methodist Church recently affirming its opposition to same-sex marriage and gay or lesbian clergy was as dispiriting as getting uninvited to a party where a bunch of accountants celebrate the fiscal new year. Until they replaced their grape juice with wine, I hadn’t really planned on coming, anyway (full disclosure: I’m ignorant of whether Methodists take communion, and they’re not worth Googling … though still worthy in God’s eye).
Yet, there are thousands of LGBTQ Americans whose understanding of themselves, this world and whatever salvation awaits when they return to dust has been shaped by Methodist gospel and grandmothers, by UMC choirs and summer bible camps. However much I advise them to worship the god within themselves, and despite my droll regard for most matters of faith, I appreciate how a person’s religion can bring calmness and clarity to their spinning, disorientating universe.
Having thousands-of-years-old rules proclaiming you ungodly is a different kind of trauma than your brothers and sisters in Christ, the people who pray and pass out spaghetti dinners beside you, the people who you thought knew you as something more than an abomination, reminding you that you remain apart from God’s plan. I am saddened for LGBT Methodists who feel wounded anew.
The sense that we’re in that transitional period where historically anti-LGBTQ scripture will soon be reinterpreted as era-specific or allegorical a la passages about slavery and genocide, ought to be some type balm for those who are hurting. More than 250 UMC pastors and church leaders purchased advertising space swearing an oath to fight for the full inclusion of LGBTQ Methodists, and I’ve seen clips of the general conference’s actions being denounced from pulpits in Alabama and southwest Atlanta.
“What happened [at the general conference] will not affect how it is we do mission and ministry here at Cascade United Methodist Church,” preached the Rev. Kevin Muriel, senior pastor at the mostly black congregation in Atlanta. “If you are straight, we love you; if you are gay, we love you; if you are questioning, we love you, too; if you are skinny, we love you; if you are trying to get skinny, we love you, too.”
There is a risk, and in some cases even a temptation, for progressives to treat something like Pastor Muriel’s loving outreach the same as the anti-LGBTQ vitriol we’re long used to hearing from the ministers, perhaps because his list did not enumerate lesbian and transgender worshipers or fat-shamed people who don’t want to lose weight. May the god within you not want to be the type who shames the earnest when they are naked.