She stood before the microphone of our subcommittee and discussed her support of mandatory penalties for pastors who perform same-gender weddings. With trembling in her voice she said, “You know why we need this. It is because of actions in this very region of the church, all the misconduct with no consequences that goes on HERE!”
I pondered her statement in my heart for the next hour until our lunch break. We sat at table next to each other. As folks got up to leave, I turned to her. “I heard what you said about the West. You are right. There are a lot of pastors who perform weddings here. Have you ever asked yourself why? Why do these things happen here?”
We don’t do what we do in the West because we want to break the rules we pass at General Conference, I told her. But our diversity in the West has been a gift. Through the differences in our racial, ethnic, sexual orientation and gender identities, we have come to see the face of God in ways we wouldn’t otherwise. Our ministries are informed by what we each bring to the Body of Christ.
We don’t do what we do to break rules. We do what we do because it is what faithful ministry looks like in our social location.
My tablemate started to cry. “The Bible is clear. Homosexuality is a sin. I can’t take this any longer. It is too painful. I want to ask the General Commission for an amicable separation.”
I was stunned. We may read the Bible and through our use of the quadrilateral come to different understandings, but when we commit to engaging through our differences the Holy Spirit moves anew. I told her, “As a lesbian clergywoman, I certainly don’t want that. I want to remain as one church. If we can’t figure out how to live together with our differences, what hope is there for the world?”
But my heart has been crushed since that conversation. I think of pastoral counseling sessions I have had with couples struggling in their relationship. When one turns to the other and says, “I don’t want to be in relationship with you anymore”, there is usually no hope for reconciliation.
I have taught United Methodist History/Doctrine/Polity at Pacific School of Religion for the past 12 years. At the beginning of the year-long class, I tell my students, “I may be preparing you for a church that might not exist in the future.” I say that because of our polity: every four years we get to renew our church through the actions of General Conference. Old Books of Discipline are thrown out or stored away as we purchase the latest edition, containing our structure for the next four years. But those words haunt me now.
Is it time for the UNTIED Methodist Church? God help us.
The Rev. Karen Oliveto serves as senior pastor of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco. This essay is republished with the author's permission from the California-Nevade Annual Conference website.