Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer-affirming United Methodist Church (UMC) current and aspiring clergy were recently featured by the church’s unofficial LGBTQ caucus to discuss their hopes for a “sexually liberated” and “queer denomination” following the model of the liberal and declining Episcopal Church.
Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) Executive Director Jan Lawrence hosted the Rev. Lyssette N. Pérez, the Rev. Dr. Cedrick Bridgeforth, and J.J. Warren for an online seminar in which the panel were asked about their “wildest dreams” for a post-separation UMC.
The UMC should become a “queer denomination” that is capable of continuously questioning themselves to move forward to perfection, proposed Warren, a certified candidate for ordination who identifies as gay. As a lay reserve delegate representing the Upper New York Annual Conference at the 2019 General Conference, Warren made an impassioned plea for the affirmation of persons who embrace LGBTQ identities.
“Queering is a process of perpetual subversion,” Warren favorably quoted the Rev. Dr. Brandon Crowley, lecturer in Ministry Studies at Harvard Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The young UMC clergy candidate believes that the UMC could progress to perfection through a continuous re-examining process. “I hope we will be a church that challenges its own assumptions…a church that is sexually liberated…” Warren insisted.
Bridgeforth, director of Innovation and Communication for the California-Pacific Annual Conference, proposed that the UMC become a church that includes “every hue, every shade, every thought, every idea.” He emphasized that the UMC actively engages in social issues “around voter suppression and affordable housing, an equitable economy…inclusion and embrace for all of us who identify as queer; LGBTQ…” He firmly believes that “if we’re not focused on impact, we’re… wasting each other’s time…”
“I also dream for the church that is for all-inclusive and for everybody,” Pérez, pastor of the OASIS United Methodist Church in Pleasantville, New Jersey, affirmed.
Only eight percent of local UMC congregations come from minority ethnic groups, Pérez noted, urging the UMC to reach out to those groups. “That’s a big problem…we can share with them this theology that we have that reaches out to everybody,” Pérez insisted.
Lawrence questioned: “What do you think the UMC has to learn from our ecumenical siblings this season?”
Warren answered that the post-separation UMC should learn from the Episcopal Church’s precedent. In 2015 the Episcopal Church’s General Convention voted to revise its constitution and canons regulating marriage, permitting any couple access to a gender-neutral trial rite of Holy Matrimony. Warren believed the UMC could even learn from Episcopalians’ mistakes.
Pérez claimed that ecumenically-minded churches should work together to make a community “where all the different traditions of faith can work together.”
“If we truly want to transform our communities…we have to work with our ecumenical churches…we can still work together with people who have different traditions of faith,” Pérez reiterated.
The California-Pacific Annual Conference director was concerned that the UMC has isolated itself from ecumenical churches, making it difficult to talk with other denominations. He declared that they need honesty in facing their reality to move forward.
At the end of the seminar, an audience member asked: “Our wildest dreams are possible. But not everyone shares those dreams…What do we do about that?”
New Jersey Minister Pérez answered: “I have seen people change their mind, ultra-conservative people who somehow have changed and understand the dynamics of…an inclusive church.”
While Pérez believed people could change their views through conversation, she felt a strong need to tell those who think being LGBTQ is a sin what God is doing in their lives.
Bridgeforth clarified that the affirming churches could not force other people into something they were not ready to understand. He believed that it is possible to be in the right relationship with people who have a different view, “but there has to be mutual respect for folks to believe, to grow, to experience what they need to experience along the journey.”
“As we think about the church and people who don’t share our vision, just knowing that…we [queer-identifying members] live in a big connection and that there are people with so many gifts,” Warren stated.
Warren said that engaging in conversations where he has to defend himself as a gay man is spiritually harmful, arguing that there have to be “some core principles about what it means to be the UMC.” He declared that the principle should be a welcoming doormat that affirms the goodness of everyone to come into a conversation about LGBTQ identity.
“So, I think there’s some room…to have tough conversations; set a safe bar,” Warren concluded.