Dr. Dorothee Benz, a prominent LGBTQ activist in the United Methodist Church (UMC), is leaving the denomination after many years of leading resistance efforts. Dr. Benz publicly announced her decision to resign her membership from the UMC by publishing a letter she handed to Bishop Bickerton of the New York Annual Conference.
In the letter, Benz, who is lesbian, describes her identity as a lifelong United Methodist and her years of both personal and public struggle with a church that does not support the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals.” She currently works as Chief Communications Officer for Lambda Legal, a national legal organization that advocates and litigates for LGBTQ causes. Benz said she has dedicated the last 15 years of her life “to right the immense wrong that the UMC has done to God’s creation with its theological lies and spiritual violence aimed at LGBTQ people.”
Benz was a founder and served as the first chairperson for Methodists in New Directions (MIND) from 2006 to 2014, a regional organization of United Methodists based out of New York that advocates for full affirmation and inclusion of LGBTQ people in the denomination. Benz also wrote for Reconciling Ministries Network, wrote and gave sermons for MIND, and was a frequent speaker at progressive United Methodist conferences.
In the comments of Benz’s Facebook post, Chett Pritchett wrote “Welcome to the club.” Pritchett was until 2016 the national director of the UMC’s oldest unofficial liberal caucus, the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA). But he recently quit the denomination in protest of his group’s failure to overturn the church’s traditional, biblical standards on marriage and sex. Time will tell how many other hardline liberal activists will follow suit. As of this writing, his comment was the most liked one out of 86 made.
Elected as a lay General Conference delegate for 2016, Benz helped coordinate not only workshops and retreats for like-minded liberals, but also planned and led well-publicized disruptive protests at the global gathering. In 2016 she also disrupted a meeting of the Council of Bishops with a bull horn, to make demands concerning the Commission on a Way Forward.
She represented New York again in 2019 at General Conference and backed the Simple Plan, even giving a speech that led to the highly progressive plan getting a fair amount of attention despite having no chance of passing. After the passage of the Traditional Plan, she and other liberals protested on the stage, again unwilling to accept the body’s vote.
However with the passage of the Traditional Plan, Benz has had enough and is giving up the fight. Her statement notes how “the energy and time and resources of thousands” of liberal United Methodists is now “being poured into electing 2020 General Conference delegates and looking, delusionally, at that gathering for hope.” But for her part, she “can no longer participate in this charade.”
It is rather striking to see a liberal United Methodist leader of her prominence describe current efforts to overturn the Traditional Plan at the next General Conference as a “delusional” waste of time, in what she characterizes as a denomination unable to learn.
She accuses bishops of leading an institutional idolization of unity to that harms LGBTQ people such as herself, saying that they have “perverted the ideal of unity as to make it synonymous for queer Methodists with injustice.” To conclude she wrote, “I can no longer put my time and energy into a church obsessed with its own self-interest while injustice around me rises like flood waters. My call to follow Jesus is no longer compatible with my participation in the United Methodist Church.”