While it took a while, another lesbian activist clergywoman has been essentially defrocked from United Methodist ministry!
It is especially noteworthy to see this effective accountability come in one of our denomination’s more liberal annual conferences. The Great Plains (i.e., Kansas-Nebraska) Conference is probably the most liberal in the South Central Jurisdiction. Its 2015 conference session voted, with some resistance, to call for removing the UMC’s standards against homosexual practice.
In January 2016, the Rev. Cynthia Meyer, who had previously served as the longtime Assistant Dean of Students at the UMC’s Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, used her Sunday sermon to “come out” as a partnered lesbian. She promptly wrote a blog for the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN), an unofficial caucus demanding UMC support for homosexual relationships as well as other forms of extramarital sex, in which she described some of her previous time of ministry as being “in hiding.”
This was a calculated publicity stunt. The United Methodist News Service (UMNS) described Meyer’s announcement as a “public action aimed at influencing the 2016 General Conference” performed “in partnership with the Reconciling Ministries Network’s ‘It’s Time’ campaign.” Recently Meyer herself shared that her “bold action was deeply intentional” and that she had coordinated with RMN “to present my reality as a challenge to discriminatory denominational policies as the 2016 UM General Conference loomed.”
At the time, Meyer had only been pastor of Edgerton UMC for about six months. That was hardly sufficient time to develop deep trust and “relational legitimacy” before dropping such a bombshell on her new flock. Edgerton UMC is not among those congregations that have declared themselves supportive of RMN, so it likely had members who do not. And such a small congregation lacked many margins for enduring major upheavals.
Jesus said that the Good Shepherd self-sacrificially lays down His life for His sheep. In contrast, Meyer seems to have selfishly used this small gathering of sheep as a mere platform for her activism related to her own refusal to practice biblical standards of self-control.
The record shows Edgerton UMC losing over a third of its people in the pews during Meyer one-year tenure (2015-2016), despite inflation of the membership rolls.
Eventually, in August 2016, Meyer and Bishop Scott Jones agreed to a “just resolution.” The basic terms were that Meyer was paid $37,000 and suspended from ministry until the aftermath of the next General Conference, after which:
- If General Conference liberalized our standards, she would go back to appointive ministry; or
- If a new structure was created for homosexually active clergy, she could transfer there; or
- If our ban on “self-avowed, practicing homosexual” clergy remained, she would face a church trial.
Interestingly, Meyer rejected an earlier “just resolution” offer from Bishop Jones in which he would have allowed Edgerton UMC to leave the denomination and keep Meyer as its pastor, if it wanted. Perhaps she said “no” to such an extraordinarily generous offer because she did not find the congregation to be all that supportive of her or her cause.
Then earlier this year, the Great Plains Conference announced that Meyer had transferred to the United Church of Christ (UCC).
Several media reports have claimed that Meyer now has some sort of “dual status” in both denominations.
But that’s just plain wrong. Our church law forbids United Methodists from simultaneously holding “dual membership” in another denomination. The aforementioned Great Plains report makes clear that Meyer surrendered her UMC ordination credentials on January 30 of this year, shares that she now has “full ministerial status with the United Church of Christ,” and quotes her as saying, “I no longer have any formal relationship to the United Methodist Church.”
In response to some inquiries from me, the new Great Plains Bishop, Reuben Saenz, confirmed that Meyer withdrew her clergy membership from the annual conference per Paragraph 360.3 of the Book of Discipline (the procedure for surrendering one’s UMC clergy status upon facing disciplinary charges) and that this completed the complaint process. Thus, for all practical purposes, Meyer was effectively defrocked from the UMC without a church trial, like Phil Thomason before her.
I emailed Meyer to offer her a chance to share her side on some questions, including why she chose now to leave the UMC, after choosing not to at so many earlier points. But over two weeks later, I have not heard back.
You may be interested in measures of Meyer’s UMC pastoral career other than her disastrous one-year tenure at Edgerton. Before that, she was from 2014-2015 pastor of Bonner Springs UMC, which declined slightly in membership and attendance. Before that, she was pastor from 2009-2013 of Atchison UMC, which held even in reported attendance while having very inflated membership rolls.
Another measure is how much her congregations paid of their assigned share of denominational apportionments. Atchison UMC’s apportionment payments plummeted from 100 percent to 50 percent over Meyer’s four years there, Bonner Springs UMC’s apportionment payments dropped from a low 27 percent to a lower 22 percent, while Edgerton UMC increased its apportionment payments over the course of Meyer’s one-year pastorate, but only from a negligible two percent to a paltry 11 percent. I won’t hold my breath waiting for liberal criticism of Meyer’s failure to lead her congregations in fully paying to support our connectional system.
It’s not clear how promising Meyer’s career in her new denomination will be. Her latest gig is at Central Congregational United Church of Christ, a congregation founded in the 1890s by the Rev. Charles Sheldon, author of that classic, enjoyable Social Gospel novel, “In His Steps.” However, Meyer is only interim pastor there, and the congregation has already dwindled to the point of having to sell the building they could no longer afford to maintain. Its website reports, “We average 45 on a Sunday morning.”
Yet it seems like a better fit for Meyer. The very first sentence of the “About Us” page on its website declares, “We teach the scriptures seriously but not literally,” before going on to further outline its liberal commitments.
Interestingly, the purchaser and new occupier of the historic church building is a Hispanic Pentecostal congregation called “El Shaddai Templo de Alabanza.” In contrast to its UCC predecessors, this congregation’s online self-description stresses (in Spanish) its commitment to evangelism, its belief that the Bible is “the holy word of God” and a “perfect revelation” of God’s will, its understanding of Christian discipleship as a total life commitment, and its insistence that “the Word of God does not change” to accommodate itself to any culture or time.
Cynthia Meyer is far from being the first unfaithful clergy expelled from United Methodist ministry for betraying our biblical sexuality standards. She will not be the last.
In the meantime, may God continue to bless and bear great fruit through the ministry of the El Shaddai Templo. And may God use Meyer’s new time apart from her now-former denomination to soften her heart, and draw her to a true repentance and eventual restoration.