News and Views

Queer clergy celebrates removal of restrictive language

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By Eleanor Meeks

At the recent General Conference, delegates voted to remove all restrictive language on homosexuality from the Book of Discipline. This historic decision ended decades of oppression in The United Methodist Church. There is no doubt that this had a widespread international impact on the church and it is creating waves of hope and change in the Baltimore-Washington Conference.

Bishop LaTrelle Esterling opened the Annual Conference session this year by recognizing this monumental change in her sermon, saying, “The time for division is over. The time for refusing to love one another is over. … It’s time for us to live into this liberated future together.”

While many members of the Baltimore Washington Conference have been making strides in LGBTQ+ advocacy for many years, ordaining its first LGBTQ+ clergy in 2022, many clergy have expressed great relief and joy that this language has finally been removed.

“It’s a relief to not have your basic humanity called incompatible with Christian teaching,” said the Rev. T.C Morrow of Foundry UMC and a member of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT). Morrow was the first openly lesbian Deacon to be ordained in the BWC. Her journey is similar to many other LGBTQ+ clergy in The Methodist Church. She finished seminary in 2005 but waited 15 years before putting herself forward as a candidate for ordination.

 She said this decision has brought her great joy, but because of the tension of sadness and grief that has impacted LGBTQ+ clergy in the church, this decision has come too late for many people. However, Morrow recognizes the impact of this decision, saying that it allows the church and its people to move forward in a new way.

“We don’t have to be spending time debating my humanity,” she said. This decision brings a lot of hope for the church and how we can continue to be in worship together. “It allows people to feel good about being Methodist.” 

Vice-chair of the Baltimore-Washington Area Reconciling United Methodists (BWARM) and a part of the Queer Clergy Caucus Leadership, Rev. Angela Wells of Christ UMC, experienced a similar struggle being a part of a church that she felt didn’t allow her to be her “full self.”

“There was always a sense that something could happen,” said Wells.When the language was finally removed, Wells was sitting with other queer clergy at General Conference, and she sobbed.

“The feeling of the weight of all those years was released, and the sense of dread was no longer there,” she said. However, the same as  Morrow, Wells expressed grief for those queer clergy who weren’t able to make it to this moment.

“You couldn’t separate the joy and the lament of all those who didn’t make it,” Wells said.

Rev. Leo Yates of Magothy UMC of the Deaf was also at General Conference when the language was removed. When that moment finally came he embraced his husband as they cried in each other's arms. He said that this decision allows the BWC to be a conference where we can offer a space to all queer people without fear of repercussions. He said that we need to offer grace to all people in The United Methodist Church.

“If we don’t offer grace how will they be in relationship with us? A relationship fosters understanding,” Yates said.

Rev. Chet Jechura, who pastors Good Shepherd UMC and was ordained at this year's annual conference, described the General Conference's decision as liberating. It gave him faith in a hopeful future where the church can now reach more people.

“Being inclusive makes us free to be bolder in proclaiming God's love,” Jechura said.

Neal Christie, the executive director of the Federation of Indian American Christian Organizations (FIACONA) and co-convenor of the Love Your Neighbor Coalition, had a key role in the rewriting of this language.This multi-year process involved international listening sessions that included people from all points of view and diverse opinions. He said that now their language has been changed and we have entered a time for education and affirmation that the church is not against anyone, no matter if we agree with them or not.

“We can offer the love and nurture of the church no matter the relationship,” Christie said. “The Social Principles are supposed to challenge the notion that one group ought to be privileged over the other.”

While this decision was groundbreaking on an international level, many clergy believe this is just one step towards the future of the conference and the church.

“We want to celebrate, but also this is just the beginning,” said Morrow. “The work to eradicate racism still continues as does the work to confront homophobia and transphobia, but this is a good first step.”

Wells agrees with this notion, saying, “Changing laws is one thing; changing hearts and minds is another.” However this decision has brought forth a new day for the church and the conference. And, in Yates' words, “the work is not done.”