Do No Harm: a Motto the United Methodist Church MUST Live Out
by Brit Blalock
This week at the United Methodist Church’s Special Session General Conference, the denomination has taken up the topic of LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church. Pro-LGBTQ+ policies are not expected to prevail, which has led to sharing by many LGBTQ+ Methodists and ex-Methodists. This is Brit’s reaction to it.
In a few short minutes, leaders of the United Methodist Church will begin debating the fate of LGBTQ individuals within the constructs of the denomination. As a gay woman who grew up in a loving UMC church body — one that helped form me into the person I am today — there are a few things I’d like to share.
I grew up singing songs from the Methodist hymnal. When I hear short phrases from them in everyday conversation, I automatically begin singing the full hymn in my head (or out loud if I’m feeling spunky). It’s amazing how those words have stayed with me and still soothe me. Outside of school, I spent the majority of my waking adolescence at my church. I was an acolyte, went through confirmation, served as the student leader of the youth group, voted at church board meetings, sang in the choir, played hand bells, helped lead contemporary worship, went to Sunday School, tithed, led prayer in what we called “big church,” and so much more. My church was a place where I felt safe, happy, appreciated, and loved. I belonged.
Over time, I became deeply attached to the Methodist value of service to others. I took Matthew 25:40 to heart: ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ To me, service to others is the simplest and best way to enact the teachings of Jesus in my daily life. I strive to live out the UMC motto “Open hearts, open minds, open doors” in every aspect of my life. I am far from a perfect person, but giving of myself, of my time, and of my means to people who are in need is a priority in my life. That seed was originally planted by my parents and by my childhood church.
Eventually, a time came when I needed my church to be of service to me. I went off to college, grappled with my identity, and realized that I was born beautifully and perfectly as a gay woman. It was a long, confusing, and difficult journey for me as I have always been a ‘thinker’ — someone who needs to see an issue from every angle that exists. At the end of that period of searching, I knew in my heart of hearts that if I were to believe the teachings of the Bible, then I was wonderfully made just as I am.
After struggling to make my identity known to others, I hoped that love would surround me. And it did — most of my family and my friends lifted me up and asserted that I was still the same Brit in their eyes. But from the church…I received silence. And not just silence, I became keenly aware that I was not the same Brit to them. I was not the little redheaded acolyte they knew and loved anymore. I was an other, a broken thing, someone who became the punchline in many mean remarks. And it broke my heart. For 20 years, I’d lived and breathed inside this world that was supposed to be woven together through love and service, but in my moment of deep need and fear, the church did not come to hold me. The mentors who I had cherished did not reach out to reaffirm their love.
I left the UMC shortly after that time. I could no longer see the actions of Christ reflected in that body. Sure, there were many individuals who I knew still loved me, but no one spoke up for me. No one lifted their voice to do what I feel Jesus would have done, which was to go to me and shelter me in a difficult time.
As I’ve been reading articles and tweets surrounding the General Conference, I’ve been saddened to see that so many people think this is a “two-sided” issue. Some folks are running the numbers and wondering what a split in the denomination would cost financially rather than what it would cost in humanity. Others are entrenched in what they call the “traditional” plan. I ask you now, when was Jesus ever traditional? When he sat with and dined with the outcasts of society, was that traditional? When he stepped in to protect the weakest among us? When he flipped over tables in the temple…traditional? No, the message I found in the Bible as a child was a message of absolutely revolutionary love — love that filled all spaces regardless of which people filled them.
I am a living breathing child of god. I am kind and strong. I am beloved. My LGBTQ brothers and sisters and I are deserving of the full inclusion that the United Methodist Church has to offer and nothing less. I pray that those who are making these decisions today will pause to think about which path will “do no harm” as John Wesley encouraged. I tell you now that enough harm has already been done.
About the Author:
Brit Blalock is a professional writer based in Birmingham, AL. She was born and raised in a small town on Alabama’s coast and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from NYU. Brit is an LGBTQ activist focused on efforts in the Deep South.