Tuesday, May 24, 2016

What Voices Have Not Been Heard? - An Open Letter to the Council of Bishops of the UMC

Dear Council of Bishops,

I read your letter to the church this morning. In it you claim that your proposal is a way forward that commits to “having a different kind of global conversation that allows all voices to be heard.” I have to admit that every time I hear this statement I am puzzled. With respect, Dear Bishops, What voices have not been heard?

I ask this question because prior to General Conference I listened to the Connectional Table conversations which were taken over by the ironically named “Love Prevails” group. I followed almost every word of the livestream at General Conference and saw the demonstration by the LGBTQI supporters on the floor of General Conference – within the bar and therefore supported not only by the Marshalls who were supposed to protect the bar, but the bishops who allowed the demonstrators access. I watched the feed from the RMN coalition as they “ordained” Sue Laurie and as they presented various people who told their stories from an LBGTQI perspective. I have listened to the voices of the African delegates on the floor and in previous years I have listened to them in person (having been a recorder and transcriber at the two previous General Conferences). I also followed the videos and blogs put out by the Renew and Reform Coalition. All of these were loud and clear, so I ask again, What voices have not been heard?

We have at least four Annual Conferences in the United States that have vowed to break their vows of ordination and ignore the Discipline. We have 120 clergy and clergy candidates that have “come out” and have acknowledged that they lied to their own Boards of Ordained ministry. We have 2000 and counting clergy who have signed a letter of support for those who have and will in the future come out and/or break the covenant by performing same sex weddings. So I ask again, What voices have not been heard?

I have a Facebook friend who suggests that the chair of the commission should be a Ph.D. level ethicist and that it should contain “at least one scholar trained in the behavioral sciences who has done research on persons with a same gender orientation.” I have my own suggestion: that the commission contain at least one biblical scholar who has worked on developing a theology of sexuality based on the whole bible and not on either the “7 clobber passages” or a vague “God welcomes all” reading of scripture. If there is any voice I have not heard, it is this one.

I haven’t heard a lot of voices like mine, either. I have spent the last twenty-five years or so listening to the voices of those who are LGBTQI. Being scientifically trained, I have been keeping up with the scientific research into gender, reading not just the popular literature, but the scientific journals. As a biblical scholar, I have looked at both sides of the debate from a biblical point of view, reading and listening to scholars with a wide variety of hermeneutical and exegetical approaches. As a pastor, I have welcomed LGBTQI people into my congregations and made it clear to the congregations that all are welcome to come to the table. I have come to my conclusions after a great deal of study, listening, and prayer. I deeply resent being labeled “homophobic and evil” as I have been on numerous occasions, though I have tried to respond graciously. I also resent the attitude that I am just not as far along in my thinking as the “progressives.” I am usually represented in debates by those who are clearly far more conservative than I am and who do, in fact, lean toward a homophobic attitude. All of this to say, that if there are voices that are not being heard, they are voices like mine from people who have agonized over this issue for years and have come to some conclusions that the LGBTQI community doesn’t like. Honestly, I don’t like them either; I would rather be one who just goes along with the culture and lets people do what they like. But I can’t. All of that study, listening, and prayer has led me to the conclusion that I can’t.

So, Dear Bishops, though I really think that the voices which claim to have been silenced have spoken loud and clear and that this commission is an attempt to wait out those of us who are not “progressive,” I beg you to hear voices like mine. I beg you to place on your commission people who have listened with compassion, studied diligently, prayed fervently and yet still believe that 1) while love is from God, not all love must be expressed as sexual intimacy, 2) that one does not have to express oneself sexually to be a whole person, and 3) that sexual intimacy between two human beings is a gift from God to be shared only within a covenantal marriage between a man and a woman.

Along with many in the United Methodist Church, I will be praying for the work of this commission.


Rev. Dr. Martha Myre
Elder on Leave of Absence
North Texas Annual Conference