Not long ago, I wrote about the recent removal of openly partnered lesbian activist Cynthia Meyer from United Methodist ministry. Among other things, I said that she “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.”
Well, we didn’t have to wait long!
In accordance with the clear teaching of Scripture and 2,000 years of consistent global Christian teaching, our United Methodist Church’s governing Book of Discipline forbids our clergy from conducting same-sex union ceremonies or from being sexually active outside of a marriage between one man and one woman.
However, we have repeatedly reported on how an active disobedience movement has been going on for many years and repeatedly challenged our denomination’s collective willingness to enforce our own standards. Among other things, I have urged folk to remember that these clergy openly betraying their ordination vows to follow our standards may be extremely loud, but they are a really, really TINY fraction of the whole.
The latest test came when Anna Golladay, who was co-pastor of both St. Mark’s UMC and St. Elmo’s UMC in Chattanooga, Tennessee, performed a pastorally harmful same-sex “wedding” service.
In late February, someone sent Golladay’s district superintendent (DS) a photo from this ceremony. Her superior moved quickly to confirm the information, and Golladay was stripped of her pastoral license by the end of the month.
Because she was a licensed local pastor rather than an ordained elder with an M.Div. degree, Golladay did not have the same level of protection in our church-law system. There are often serious concerns about the vulnerabilities licensed local pastors have under those bishops who are more heavy-handed. But in this case, this allowed accountability to come with refreshing swiftness, avoiding the energy of a more drawn-out process.
Interestingly, Golladay’s PR promoters at the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) are reporting that her DS first called a meeting with her back in January after hearing about what she did. But RMN reports that “Golladay neither confirmed nor denied” that she had done the union “and at that time [her DS] said he would not proceed any further.” While perhaps all of RMN’s reporting should be taken with a grain of salt, this detail does raise several questions. If Golladay was truly so committed to her professed values, why would she lack the courage back in the January meeting to stand by her convictions and honestly own up to what she did?
In any case, the way in which someone finding the photograph apparently made all the difference indicates that this may be a case of social media being a helpful tool for accountability.
In a blog for RMN, Golladay recounts being part of a leadership team focused on revitalizing St. Mark’s UMC, to which she was eventually appointed as licensed local pastor in 2016. The record confirms that congregation initially enjoyed dramatic growth during the first years of this “revitalization process.” However, the record also shows that in the year after the congregation formally affiliated with RMN, worship attendance plummeted by 24 percent, while giving plunged by 29 percent.
After driving away such a huge portion of its people and money, it apparently became financially necessary to yoke St. Mark’s with St. Elmo’s UMC, another declining congregation in Chattanooga. The record shows that the latter congregation lost a whopping 42 percent of its reported worship attendance in the year it joined RMN and then another 38 percent of its remaining worshippers over the next two years, all the while misleadingly inflating the number of church members it claimed.
Social media comments and Golladay’s dubious claims that the UMC “has irreparably harmed” these already-troubled congregations by the defrocking of their co-pastor suggest that these congregations may decline further, and that many of those who remain will now be especially unhappy about staying in a denomination like ours.
Of course, all the rhetoric from Golladay, RMN and company portraying this move as “unnecessary” and such a horrible surprise is little more than dishonest bluster intended to intimidate area denominational officials from doing their job, even though Golladay’s defrocking was the only commonsense outcome. Kudos to all relevant leaders in the Holston Conference for not falling for it.
For Golladay’s part, she is not thrown out on the street. Instead, she is apparently employed by something called the Center for Progressive Renewal while also reportedly running a little side business of selling T-shirts, several of which are rather foul-mouthed.
Pastors and congregations who choose to affiliate with the UMC know our biblical rules, which provide invaluable spiritual protection against the actual “irreparable harm” that results from serious sin if people never repent. A truly compassionate Christian pastor would not seek to shallowly pander to members’ temptations to engage in sinful behavior, but would do the much more difficult work of walking with them in encouraging them to self-sacrificial lives of Christian discipleship.
And if someone is determined to be completely close-minded against even listening to or considering the UMC’s biblical, Wesleyan values, then perhaps they’d be happier if they had their own new denomination, or simply joined the Unitarian Universalists.