An Open Letter to the United Methodist Church re: being generally disappointing
When I was fifteen I started serving on the United Methodist Church Conference Council on Youth Ministries as the representative for Hawai’i, Guam, and Saipan (despite the fact I had never actually been to Guam or Saipan). It was a young experiment with leadership and I loved it. Partly because meetings were held quarterly in California, so I got to skip school to fly off my home island of O’ahu, and partly because I had early policy wonk tendencies, and it was fascinating to experience church governance and politics and decision making in action at our Annual Conferences.
I still remember my first Conference. I stayed in a college dorm for the first time and had a booze-less toga party. I developed a major crush on a tall freckled kid. I gave a sermon to a room of 1000+, which to this day remains my largest public speaking engagement. I met Auntie Edna, a badass Filipina feminist who organized the church against domestic violence. And I witnessed my first disturbing and enraging debate about welcoming gay people into our church.
It’s my best memory from that week, I remember it distinctly. There was a plump gray haired man sitting next to me in sparsely filled rows of fold-out chairs that made noise when you moved. The session was opened and he courageously stood up, cleared his throat, and with a slightly shaking voice began his story. He had a son. A wonderful son, who he loved with all his heart. He raised his son in the church. His son was gay. And with great emotion he shared that despite being an active, avid United Methodist for all of his life, he didn’t want to be a part of a church that didn’t accept his son. He asked us, his church family, would we please accept his son? He sat down.
Then some douchebag stood up and angrily, intensely lectured us about sin.
I’ve never forgotten that graceless interchange, so devoid of compassion I couldn’t believe I was at church. And over fifteen years later, it appears the douchebag is still winning. Reverend Karen Oliveto, my former pastor and the first openly gay Bishop in the United Methodist Church, has been found in violation of church law and sent to trial by the highest court in the Church (and yes we should note how creepy religious “trial” and “high court” sounds).
So now I address you, that “high court”, with a perspective of a former youth/current millennial that possibly reflects your best chances of avoiding the sad descent into self-righteous irrelevance that you’re currently on. Your lack of compassion, courage and Christlikeness, coming from a faith which I (oddly enough now) largely credit for my passion and commitment to service and social justice, is why I’ve mostly left the church. I’ve dabbled over the years. I’ve wanted to come back, yearned for it even. I miss the inter-generational community, the opportunity to spend an hour a week thinking intentionally about how I’m living. Privately I miss the moments of peace I found in communion. I don’t talk about it much. I’ve had to find other outlets for spiritual practice because it feels wrong to support a church that has the audacity to deem some but not all of God’s children worthy. We used to be the church of peace poles, of jubilee, of abolition. What happened?
Your decision is disappointing. You are disappointing. The future of the church was on the line, and in your bigotry you have failed. History will judge you for it. Luckily you’re already forgiven.