“The special called 2019 General Conference [of the United Methodist Church], set for Feb. 23–26 in St. Louis, will focus on moving the denomination past its decades-long struggle with issues around homosexuality. Proposed plans offer ways to stay together and ways to split.
The One Church Plan, Traditionalist Plan and Connectional Conference Plan and several other pieces of legislation related to homosexuality will be considered by 864 delegates from around the globe.
Katie Matson-Daley is a United student (class of 2019) and a United Methodist candidate for ministry, below are her reflections before General Conference this weekend:
Saint Louis, Missouri, is one of my holy places. For two summers in college, I experienced a dynamic multi-racial ministry that took the charge to take care of orphans, widows and immigrants. Saint Louis is a place where I experienced the life-changing love of being accepted as God’s beloved daughter. In my geography of faith Saint Louis, Missouri, on the edge of the Mississippi River, is a place where I would, like Joshua and the Israelites crossing the Jordan, stack stones together and say, “Look at what God did here.” My call to ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church, and my call to United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities is deeply rooted in what God did in my life seventeen years ago as a college student in Saint Louis.
My beloved church is heading to my beloved city this weekend. While I am in the Twin Cities, a part of my heart will be in Saint Louis this week.
When I interned in an educational enrichment and immigrant/refugee resettlement in Saint Louis with an evangelical church nearly two decades ago, my understanding of scripture was rooted in literalism.
Some of that literalism was life-giving and electrifying. The words of the prophets were clear that we should care for orphans, widows and immigrants. We spent days playing with preschoolers who lost parents in the conflict between the Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda. Other interns did yard work for low-income widows in the Saint Louis summer heat. The words of Paul were clear: you have been adopted as a full son or daughter of God through Christ, you are worthy because of who God is, nothing you do can make you more or less worthy of love or belonging.
Other aspects of taking the scriptures literally were less liberating, but I accepted them. Paul was clear that he did not permit a woman to preach, so while I felt alive in the church office, and loved studying scripture and had a gift for communication, it was clear that I was NOT called to the ministry of the pastor. I had known amazing gay and lesbian people, but scripture was clear that we were to love the sinner but hate the sin. So LGBTQ+ people were outside of God’s kingdom.
Feeling a strong call to ministry, but certain that God would not call someone like me (a woman) to pastoral ministry, I enrolled in the Community Ministry Leaders program at Bethel seminary in 2008. When I graduated in 2011, I had recognized two things and started to question a third.
First, there is no pure reading or interpretation of scripture. We all have a hermeneutic, we all have biases. As one professor put it, knowing God fully and interpreting God’s will perfectly is “beyond my epistemological ceiling."
Second, my first journey to seminary, while carefully designed not to prepare me to be a pastor, revealed that I was called to pastoral ministry. I love preaching, offering pastoral care and leading congregations.
Besides these realizations, I also started to question what I had previously believed about LGBTQ+ people. I made a commitment to pray for wisdom, study and discern whether my theology needed to shift. As my understanding grew I was drawn to United to complete my MDiv and pursue ordination as an Elder in the United Methodist Church.
As Methodist Christians, we believe, like other Christians that, “The Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation" (Methodist Articles of Religion, Article V), but unlike other Protestant denominations, we are not a “sola scriptura,” tradition. We read the scriptures through what twentieth-century scholar Albert Outler calls the Wesleyan Quadrilateral: scripture forms the base of our understanding, but we interpret scripture through reason, tradition and experience.
Reason and scripture influenced my transformation on LGBTQ+ rights and inclusion, but it was experience and tradition that convinced me. Jesus says, “They will know you are my disciples by your love,” and “a tree is known by its fruit.” Over the years, I have seen faithful gay and lesbian Christians whose lives are marked by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness and self-control. These folks love Jesus and have chosen to stay in the body of Christ in the face of lots of hurt. I also experienced the pain as beloved friends and students found my beloved church too traumatizing for them as trans, gay and bisexual people.
Our tradition has a history of splitting, often because of racial segregation and slavery. The parallels between the mistreatment of people in black bodies, and the mistreatment of people in queer bodies are too eerily similar. Our tradition’s sin of excluding people ought not be repeated, not on the basis of race, nor on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation. An elderly African American woman, who remembers the racial segregation of the United Methodist Central jurisdiction (from 1939 to 1968), recently told me, “God doesn’t make junk. It was wrong to keep Black people out of the larger body then, and it is wrong to keep gay people out now.” I had to say, “Amen.”
As Methodist Christians, we are called to the spiritual practice of the General Rules. The first of these rules, is “first, do no harm.” Exclusion, hurtful language and forcing clergy to live closeted and semi-closeted lives are doing great harm.
I have compassion for those in favor of a traditional understanding of marriage and ordination. I’ve been in that space and understand how a more progressive understanding seems to offend God’s holiness. It is no longer a belief that I hold, but I have compassion for those who believe differently than me. I also have compassion for clergy and lay people around the world who live in countries were homosexuality is against the law, and the challenge of contextualizing decisions made in the United States to their ministries. I understand that we will not all think alike, but like John Wesley, I wonder if we could not love alike. My prayer for the coming week is that we will remove the harmful language from the Book of Discipline, and that if we split or if we remain the United Methodists, we would continue to love one another. But I cannot ask that our unity be built on the oppression and exclusion of LGBT+ people any longer. I have compassion for people with traditional beliefs, but I do not have patience for the Traditionalist Plan. We may read scripture differently, but we ought not punish one another or push each other out based on our reading.
My invitation to the larger United body is that you would be in prayer for my United Methodist Church this week. That you would offer extra compassion to both the LGBTQ+ people in your life and the Methodists you know (many of us are both). My invitation to the UMC is that we would make sure that there is a place for everyone at the table.
Katie Matson Daley is one of several students pursuing ordination in the United Methodist Church at United as part of Methodist Studies program.