By Ellen Bachman
Member of National UMC in Washington, D.C.
I am grateful for the recent announcement of the Baltimore-Washington Conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry (BOOM), that they “do not view race, gender, sexual orientation, marital status or age” as barriers to ministry, and further stating that they “will not consider or evaluate sexual orientation or gender identity, nor see them to be sufficient reasons to deny a candidate’s ability to live up to our United Methodist standards.”
As a member of Baltimore Washington Area Reconciling Methodists (BWARM), I have worked, for many years, for a more complete acceptance of LGBTQIA+ people in our denomination, that we might fully live up to our motto of “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” In my view, the BOOM’s policy on consideration of candidates for ordained ministry amplifies our denomination’s witness to God’s inclusive Love and Grace.
The Bible tells a story of the long journey of God’s people through history to learn that God was not limited to one tribe, or one place, or one country, or even one religion. God revealed in Scripture is the God who has compassion even for those who are alienated from God, and who calls us to embody that compassion in our own lives.
Christ proclaimed that he was sent to preach good news to the poor, proclaim release to the captive, recovery of sight to the blind, set at liberty those who are oppressed and proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4: 18-19) It is in response to that injunction that our Baptismal vows call on us to “resist evil, injustice
Our denominational rules that define the practice of homosexuality as contrary to Christian Teaching have caused harm. That harm is expressed in the enhanced risk of suicide among LGBTQIA+ youth who have experienced rejection by their families, have been subjected to discredited conversion therapies, or even been told by pastors and members of the faith community that they and their parents are damned if they don’t give up their innate identity, as has happened to members of my family.
It is manifested in the challenge experienced by those already ordained, who are enjoined from revealing their full authentic selves to their congregations. And it is seen in the rejection of gifted candidates for ministry who are rejected on the basis of who they are, rather than on the integrity of their lives and their call to ministry.
The Board of Ordained Ministry has a sacred responsibility to assess the validity of a candidate’s call to ministry. The announced policy simply affirms that, like other immutable aspects of personhood, sexual identity and orientation are not sufficient in and of themselves to disqualify a candidate for ministry. The ways in which our polity has so often reduced LGBTQIA+ identity to a matter of “practice” negates the sacred worth and personhood of individual children of God. I celebrate that this new BOOM policy sees candidates for ministry as their full selves, beautifully and wonderfully made in the image of God, each with unique gifts, graces and calling.
By Rev. Chris Owens
Pastor of Trinity UMC in Annapolis.
Right now, the clergy and laity of the Baltimore-Washington Conference are digesting and interpreting our Board of Ordained Ministry’s October 2017 policy change to “not consider or evaluate sexual orientation or gender identity nor see them as sufficient reasons to deny a candidate’s ability to live up to our United Methodist standards.” To their credit, they have been fully transparent while acknowledging that, to a significant degree, they are operating outside of church law established by the Book of Discipline and interpreted by the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church.
The question for me, however, is not so much over the substance of their policy but its timing. On the one hand, we Christians come from a long tradition of civil disobedience. We began our life together proclaiming, “Jesus is Lord” — both a Christological and a subversive political pronouncement, as in “Jesus is Lord… (and Caesar is not).”
Time and again, we have defied subsequent incarnations of Caesar-like injustice by sacrificially, prophetically and lovingly standing against unjust laws and powers, both civil and ecclesiastical, in order to advance the Kingdom of God.
On the other hand, we are awaiting the Commission on a Way Forward’s recommendations to the Council of Bishops, leading up to the February 2019 General Conference session. Their work is a delicate, precarious process that needs space and time if it has any hope of success. Given that our United Methodist connection sits on a knife’s edge, one could argue that moves like the one taken by the Board of Ordained Ministry
While I agree with BOOM’s biblical and theological conviction that sexual orientation and gender identity should not be a barrier to commissioning and ordination, I also believe their move drives a further wedge into the heart of the unity we’re trying to preserve. Admittedly, one could argue that a unity which prolongs injustice is a false unity. However, if
that long arc of the moral universe that bends towards justice is forcibly bent and unintentionally crimped by ill-timed action, then the fully inclusive church we want — one that includes all United Methodists — could be snapped and shattered.
For the sake of the whole church, we must take a longer view that supersedes the crisis of the moment to realize that a year from now, with God’s help, we could be a part of a more inclusive, undivided United Methodist Church. That is a fragile dream that could be easily snuffed out by rash action.
As much as I respect and admire our BOOM and share their heart for a more inclusive church, their policy change at this time in our history is a perilously rash, short-sighted action that will only throw our Conference and General Church into further complication, endangering the Commission on a Way Forward’s work and heating up our institutional friction leading up to next year’s General Conference session
Just as the Commission on a Way Forward (COWF) is completing its work, and before the Council of Bishops (COB) has had a chance to review and discuss their report, the BWC Board of Ordained Ministry (BOOM) has taken it upon itself to toss a Baby Ruth candy bar into the proverbial swimming pool.
An April 6 news article revealed the Board of Ordained Ministry couldn’t wait for the COWF process to be completed, and (BOOM) issued a revised policy which does not comply with the Book of Discipline, about the highly sensitive matters The United Methodist Church has been struggling with.
In so doing, BOOM has demonstrated it has no confidence in the work of the COWF, the leadership of the COB, and does not trust the Special General Conference scheduled for February 2019. This action by BOOM will complicate already difficult conversations.
BOOM should immediately withdraw the new policy and wait like the rest of us for the COWF process to play out. If BOOM refuses to withdraw the new policy, Bishop Easterling should exercise her authority and rescind the policy. Silence by UMC leaders about this decision will be construed as pre-emptive support for the view espoused by the BOOM and poisons the COWF and special General Conference processes.
If this policy revision stands, how can anyone be expected to take the COWF or anything else in the Book of Discipline seriously? If the BOOM and BWC couldn’t wait for the conclusion of the COWF process, why should anyone else?
Trinity UMC, Germantown