News and Views

A statement by Bishop LaTrelle Easterling In response to matters of the Clergy Session of the Baltimore-Washington Conference

Posted by Bishop LaTrelle Miller Easterling on

This denomination has been wrestling with the matter of human sexuality since 1972. The restrictive language was written into our Book of Discipline at that time, and we have been dealing with the ramifications and repercussions ever since. Men and women of deep faith and good intention have debated and conferenced about this on both sides of the theological aisle and have sought to bring into manifestation the scriptural and christological views that inform their faith. I lament the deep divisions this has caused, the persons who have been harmed, and the members who have left our denomination. Being so deeply divided is not God’s will for us.

No matter what one decides in these cases, there will be those who feel they have won, and those who feel they have lost. As far as I am concerned, there are no winners here today. We all lose when we cannot reach agreement and live together in unity without causing another harm. Let me repeat, there are no winners here today. For those who believe I have erred, please remember that if I had decided differently, you would have felt vindicated, and perhaps as though you prevailed or won. For the third time, there are no winners here today.

I believe the United Methodist Book of Discipline is wrong when it states that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. I believe that all persons are of sacred worth, and all persons who genuinely love another in a healthy, respectful showing of mutual care and affection are living out who God has created them to be. I do not believe persons choose to love same-gender partners; rather, I believe God has created them with the gift of love, just as God has created persons who love those of the opposite sex with the gift of love. I pray that in 2019, we move away from the restrictive language in our Book of Discipline, and allow for all to really find a full and complete home within the United Methodist Church.

I also believe that the Book of Discipline, written by human beings and therefore fallible and subject to the error of human intellect and understanding, has at times legislated discrimination, bias, and inequality. Failure to ordain women and accept them in the full life of the church, and the creation of the Central Jurisdiction, are just two additional examples. And yet, it is the book upon which we order our work together, and live in covenant with one another. I have not and do not take it lightly. It has guided my work as an episcopal servant, and enabled me to respond to many issues as the spiritual leader of this conference. In my opinion, when we pick and choose how and when we will uphold it, we begin the slippery slope towards chaos. While disobedience on the conference level may allow for some persons to seek the outcome they desire, it does not provide concrete systemic change. That only occurs on the General Church level.

I have encountered those who state that they simply want to follow the Book of Discipline, they disparage those who won’t follow it, and criticize leaders who stray from it. And yet, when you ask them what they will do when the Book of Discipline changes, they state emphatically that they will leave. So, for them it cannot be about the Book of Discipline. I believe the Book of Discipline is wrong, and I have remained. I love this denomination, warts and all. My parents remained through the Central Jurisdiction. My mother remained although when she first felt called into ministry, there was no place for her here. She remained until she could find both her voice and her credentialing to preach.

We are on the verge of perhaps just the change many have prayed for and worked towards. The Commission on A Way Forward has worked diligently, and the Council of Bishops has received their report, held sessions of holy conferencing, and labored to listen to one another, and the will of God. A plan will be presented to the Special Session of General Conference that allows us to remove the restrictive language, and pave the way for all persons to serve and be married within this great denomination, regardless of sexual orientation. That opportunity is just nine months away. I will not upend that process to impose what I believe the right and just outcome to be.

In my decision today, I cast no dispersions upon those who have decided differently than myself, or those who have reached different conclusions. I am answerable to Almighty God for my actions, not those of others, and I am amenable to The United Methodist Church for my actions, and not those of others. I have always believed that one should be prepared to accept the consequences of their behavior, and I am prepared to accept the consequences of mine. As a bishop of this denomination, my consecration was to uphold the order and discipline of this church.  

Therefore, in good conscience and against what I believe to be an error in our Book of Discipline, I will not violate its current law. I reserve the right to reach a different conclusion if the circumstances change in the future. To those who feel harmed and violated by my decision, I offer my deep and sincere apologies, and hope you can at least understand my rationale. Again, there are no winners here.

Bishop LaTrelle Miller Easterling