It’s Time for Change in The UMC: It Starts With Love

The United Methodist Church (UMC) faces yet another critical test in determining what if any action to take against Rev. Cynthia Meyer, who came out to her congregation at Edgerton UMC in Edgerton, Kansas in early January. Rev. Meyer, a devoted pastor for 25 years and a mentor and counselor to so many of us during her years at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, simply preached a message of inclusion and love, that she “shares her life with another woman.”

Her public announcement of her authentic self was filled with the presence of God. She talked about hiding parts of herself for years, but finding that no longer possible, and incongruent with what she and her committed partner believe is the true nature of God’s love.

Tragically and in spite of an overwhelmingly warm embrace by her congregants, Rev. Meyer’s future in the church she loves faces an anti-LGBTQ doctrine. In fact, just days after her truth telling, a formal complaint was filed against her. Rev. Meyer’s fate now rests with Bishop Scott L. Jones of The UMC’s Great Plains Conference who will bear the responsibility of deciding whether or not a faithful Kansas woman will be allowed to continue in her ministry as an ordained clergyperson.

At a time when our communities long for signs of God’s presence, Bishop Scott Jones is presented with a very public opportunity to show the church, and the world, what we mean when we sing the beloved and well-known hymn, “They’ll Know We are Christians By Our Love.”

The United Methodist Church towers as the largest of the mainline protestant denominations and remains thoroughly homophobic and transphobic in both policy and practice with the exception of the nearly 800 churches and communities across the country that now form Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN). Rev. Meyer has joined with RMN’s “It’s Time” campaign to amplify the message of inclusion and justice for LGBTQ congregants and ministers as The UMC’s policy-making body prepares to convene in May at the General Conference.

Meanwhile, Bishop Jones, from a position of great privilege and responsibility, has power to dismiss this complaint and arrive at a “just resolution.” He has been given a public opportunity to show the world what it looks like to be a bishop who shares in the priorities of Jesus Christ. To do this, he will have to commit himself to equality and justice. We pray that he does.

Over the next few weeks, a supervisory process will unfold in which both Rev. Meyer and the complainant will attempt a “just resolution.” That’s unlikely to happen because Rev. Meyer will not deny her identity. That means the complaint will be sent to a “counsel of the church” who, acting as a prosecutor, will build a case against her. The culmination will be a trial adjudicated by a jury of peers. And because she is, by The UMC’s The Book of Discipline, a “self-avowed and practicing homosexual,” Rev. Meyer faces possible removal and de-credentialing as a minister in The UMC.

But it doesn’t have to end this way. The United Methodist Church has an opportunity to embrace love. A woman who mentored countless future pastors at the Candler School of Theology, who has given 25 years of her life to advance the cause of love in the world and asked for no fanfare or applause, a woman who has faithfully served congregations and who has organized her life toward the building of a just and peaceable society, should be lifted up as an example of what the church can accomplish. She should neither be targeted nor punished.

It’s way past time for The UMC to make a choice. Instead of spending resources on adjudicating the permissibility of love and commitment, The UMC could instead focus its gaze on welcoming the stranger, creating a table of justice, offering bread to the hungry, reaching out to the marginalized and oppressed and living into the gospel of Jesus Christ — lover of humankind and the same yesterday, today and forever.