News and Views

Where do we go from here? Full inclusion, division or what?

Posted by Anthony Hunt on

By Rev. Dr. C. Anthony Hunt

I am a fifth-generation Methodist. I was baptized, confirmed and nurtured in the Christian faith at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Oxen Hill, Md., and Gibbons United Methodist Church in Brandywine, Md. I sensed God's calling on my life to offer myself in service to the church in the ordained ministry as a young adult at Gibbons Church.

I am a United Methodist by birth and by choice. I was born into Methodism, and I remain a Methodist because the Methodist church has been where God has been most extant and real for me - a place of invitation, welcome and radical hospitality.

In many of the places that I have travelled and served in ministry over the years, I have experienced the face of God through such radical hospitality. I have experienced the rich diversity of the church while serving as a district superintendent of two diverse districts, as a denominational executive across the diverse expanse of the Northeastern Jurisdiction, and as a seminary professor where all of the places I have taught have been diverse culturally and in other ways.

I have served as a pastor of churches that have been diverse culturally and in other ways. The congregation that I now serve, Epworth Chapel in Baltimore, is blessed with persons who were born in at least 11 different nations, and is diverse in other ways as well. I am also blessed to serve as the chairperson of the Baltimore-Washington Conference Board of Ordained Ministry.

I choose to remain a United Methodist as an African-American, and I am fully cognizant of the fact that racial segregation persisted in the American Methodist church's structures for over 100 years. I am cognizant that the church practiced discrimination against women for over 170 years by denying women the opportunity to serve as fully ordained ministers in the life of the Church.

Today, in the Baltimore-Washington Conference, many people in our local churches, like our denomination and our society, are not of the same mind on a number of important matters that affect persons who are a part of us, including on matters pertaining to the full inclusion of LGBTQI+ persons in the life of the Church.

At the 2017 Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference Executive Clergy session, one of my colleagues, Rev. Dr. Phillip Wogaman, decided to surrender his clergy credentials in protest of the United Methodist Church's current stance prohibiting the full inclusion of LGBTQI+ persons in the life of the Church, and in protest of the Baltimore-Washington Conference Board of Ordained Ministry's decision to delay a prior decision to recommend one of its candidates for commissioning as a provisional member.

I am among those who grieve Wogaman's decision to relinquish his clergy credentials. I have known him since my time as a student at Wesley Theological Seminary, where he was then the academic dean, and throughout my entire 25-year career as a pastor in the Baltimore-Washington Conference. One of the highlights of my ministry was having the opportunity to sit together and engage in Holy Conferencing with Wogaman during the entire 2008 Northeastern Jurisdictional Conference, to which both of us were delegates.

Wogaman's book, Christian Moral Judgment, and his method of positive presumption have shaped my teaching in Christian theology and social ethics. What have continued to resonate with me from the method of moral presumption are his assertions pertaining to: (1) the goodness of created existence; (2) the value of human life; (3) the unity of the human family; and (4) the equality of all persons in God. 

In relinquishing his clergy credentials, Wogaman's reference to Dietrich Bonhoeffer's beckoning us to practice "costly discipleship" leads me to deeper introspection as to what it would mean and look like - what it would cost each of us - to be a part of moving the church farther along toward becoming fully inclusive of all persons. 

At our Annual Conference Session, we were asked by one of the speakers to share with others what we see as an image that characterizes the church today. My response was that I see the image of a fault line that lies just below the surface. The fault line is something that might not be seen, but it is there with the potential of coming to the fore and dividing and breaking apart that which is already cracked.

With the work of our denomination's Commission on the Way Forward underway, my hope and prayer is that our denomination and its structures will see in the Commission's proposal ways that we can invite, welcome, offer radical hospitality and affirm God's gifts in each of us who are created by the same God, serve the same God, and are called into the ministries of the lay and clergy by the same God. 

My hope and prayer is that we will somehow find ways to move toward becoming what the prophet Isaiah envisions as God's peaceable realm (Isa. 11:6), God's Beloved Community.

Rev. Dr. C. Anthony Hunt is the lead pastor of Epworth Chapel UMC in Baltimore and chair of the Baltimore-Washington Conference Board of Ordained Ministry.