I’ve sat in the same pew — or close to it if somebody had the audacity to get there first — at my United Methodist Church for nearly every Sunday for 28 years.
The church does a slew of outreach, which is one of the main reasons I love it. We feed and clothe children in a local elementary school that has a 100 percent student poverty rate; thanks to an out-of-touch school board that voted to warehouse the least of these.
We send mission teams to Sierra Leone, not to screech about hell like the church I grew up in, but to build hospitals, staff classrooms and nurture frail bodies and hungry souls.
We get that part right. Yay us.
But when it comes to LGBT rights, we Methodists are stuck in 1972. That’s when the United Methodist Church declared homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching. As far as the voting majority of the denomination is concerned, nothing has changed on the LGBT front since the year a handheld calculator cost $378.
The UMC’s first openly gay bishop, married lesbian Karen P. Oliveto of Denver, Colo., was recently found to be in flagrant violation of this 45-year-old church law.
Methodists are choosing sides, digging in and deeply divided. Openly gay senior pastor Alex Souto of Connecticut told the New York Times, “The only way I will leave this denomination is if I’m dragged out.”
We hope it won’t come to that. United Airlines would probably advise prayerful consideration before action of that kind.
For now, Bishop Oliveto gets to stay put. But her future’s anything but certain. When the issue of homosexual marriage came up for a vote last year, it was decided to punt further discussion to a special session in 2019. We Methodists like putting off controversial issues almost as much as we like Tater-Tot Casseroles.
While we dithered, the Episcopal and Presbyterian (U.S.A.) denominations voted to support same-sex marriage and welcome openly gay ministers. They’re probably vegan, too.
I have Christian friends who are gay. You do, too, even if you don’t know it. Every time I hear Southern evangelical Methodists slamming gay church members and clergy I want to remind them that the qualities they admire the most about the genteel South can be witnessed every day among the LGBT community: kindness, loyalty, showing up when things get tough, devotion to family in the broadest sense.
I am a Christian raised in the rural South whose heart breaks when I think about the minister of music who, until the day he died, lived a lie because no one from his Depression-era generation would understand or accept him.
How can a Christian support a gay lifestyle? That’s easy. If you believe in God, then you believe he doesn’t make mistakes. The loudmouth anti-LGBT forces peddle their politics of fear, but a wise pastor friend always said to me faith is the opposite of fear. It’s time we Methodists showed a little more faith.
Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and humor columnist who frequently writes about politics. Visit www.celiarivenbark.com.