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Jeanne Audrey PowersThe Rev. Jeanne Audrey Powers
Jeanne Audrey Powers
Bishop Ken Carter of the Florida Annual Conference recently made a statement at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church near Orlando where they are intentionally welcoming and affirming LGBT people. After many years of either silence or painful words about persons like myself by church leadership in Florida, I’m heartened to hear Bishop Carter’s words advocating welcome and inclusion of gay and lesbian people in Florida UM churches.
Bishop Carter has inserted himself into the conversation not because he was required to make a ruling or respond to a trial, but because he wanted to be Bishop of the entire church—including those gay and lesbian people who continue to be marginalized. For that, I am thankful. While I am pleased that Bishop Carter may be signaling beginning steps for greater love and welcome of LGBT people in the state of Florida, I hope he understands that The United Methodist Church already does belong to LGBT persons and that they need no “permission” to be fully involved in the life of the church. There is still much to be done to address homophobia and heterosexism in Florida.
I’m most troubled by Bishop Carter’s encouragement to gay and lesbian people to have patience. Bishop Carter says, “Patience is here understood not as a false tolerance of difference,” but instead as a Christian virtue and fruit of the spirit. As a lesbian woman, I find this deeply problematic. I first struggled with my sexuality in the 1950s while I was in seminary where the church assumed LGBT persons were not fit for a Calling because of a particular “sin” by virtue of being born in a certain way (like being left or right handed). In the 1970s, they named it “incompatible” and it is still taught to seminary students because “it is in the Discipline.”
As I said in my sermon at the 4th Convocation of the Reconciling Ministries Network at Augsburg College in 1995, “As long as the phrases ‘homosexuality’ and ‘the Christian faith’ are incompatible and ‘celibacy in singleness’ continue to stand in our Discipline, no matter how these phrases are introduced or framed, our church is on record as perpetuating heterosexism in its life and homophobia in its teaching.”
I have been an ordained clergywoman for 55 years. It has been 41 years since The United Methodist Church adopted the policy that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” How long am I expected to be patient? How long am I expected to be patient with, as Bishop Carter says, my “brothers and sisters in the church who have not walked [my] journey”?