I love the United Methodist Church — but I might not stay.

A beautiful stained glass spiral with light shining through at Thanksgiving Chapel in Dallas, Texas

I love the United Methodist Church — but I might not stay.

The UMC has taught me the power of an open table — but I might not stay.

Through the UMC, I learned how to ask questions and I learned how experiences, mine and others, matter in shaping how we approach Scripture and allow Scripture to form us — but I might not stay.

The UMC’s Social Principles taught me that I have a part to play in earth tending and that I have profound responsibilities to care for my neighbor — but I might not stay.

I’ve been an active UMC member since I was 12 (math says that’s 15 years). I’ve said the baptismal vows both as someone being baptized and as a committed community member —

Through baptism
you are incorporated by the Holy Spirit
into God’s new creation
and made to share in Christ’s royal priesthood.
We are all one in Christ Jesus.
With joy and thanksgiving we welcome you
as members of the family of Christ.

— but I might not stay.

Or maybe it’s because of all this that I might not stay.

As delegates gather for the UMC’s special General Conference, I’ve been thinking about the right words to say. The right things to do. I love my church. I love my denomination. I am thankful for my Methodist identity. I am thankful for all it has meant and for all it has taught me. And that love, that gratitude, compels me to say that I might not stay.

It grieves me that the UMC has put our siblings who belong to the LGBTQIA+ community on the margins of our denomination and held them there for years and years. We have not valued their sacred worth. We have said that God’s call has limitations, that God’s love has boundaries, that the church has a box — or is a box.

To those siblings, I say: I’m sorry. I’m sorry I haven’t stood up for you. I’m sorry that I might be one of those “white moderates” that Martin Luther King Jr. wrote of, pleading for patience and quiet.

1 Corinthians 13 tells us all about love. Love doesn’t fear. Love isn’t happy with injustice. “Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things”(13:7). Tell me, Church: How are we loving when we do not trust God to be at work in our neighbors? How are we loving when we are fearful? How are we loving when we ask others to endure while we go on with our comfortable lives?

It’s time for us to follow Jesus’s example, learning to erase the lines that humanity tends to draw. It’s time to do what he did, in Mark 7, when the Syro-Phoenician woman claimed her place in his presence and asserted her worth. It’s time to do what he did: He listened. And he was moved.

I have encountered Jesus in the sermons of siblings who happen to be LGBTQIA+. I have been moved to tears as they baptize and serve communion. I have watched them create holy and faithful ministries. I have witnessed them following their God-given calls — calls made more difficult to answer by outsiders who have deemed them unworthy. I have seen them shine light into this world, the light of God, even as others tell them that they live in darkness.

We in the UMC are missing out on the full experience of sitting at the extravagant table that God has already set. By closing “our” table, we are missing out on the full celebration of all people in Christ’s presence. By excluding the rich diversity already present within our denomination through the divisions and restrictions we have placed in our book, we do not reflect the divine love and sacred value reflected in God’s good book — the very stories that proclaim the beauty of the table.

I admit I’ve been afraid in the past. There was a time when speaking publicly about being affirming would have cost me my job. The pressures of a simple Facebook affirmation used to keep me up at night.

I’m sorry for my fear. I’m sorry for all the times I didn’t have the courage to show love. I’m sorry for the part I’ve played in oppression of my siblings, for my complicity in denying how God is already at work in the lives of LGBTQIA+ Methodists — and through them, in the world.

As much as I love my denomination — for the ways it taught me to approach Scripture, for the baptismal covenant, for the support I have felt as I’ve sought to answer my own call to ministry — I might not stay. As Methodists, we believe we are to do all the good we can. To me, doing all the good means affirming the call of all those God has called. Doing all the good means open hearts, open minds, and open doors. Doing all the good means not just toleration but also celebration.

I have vowed to do all the good, do no harm, and attend to the ordinances of God. So that means I will love my neighbor. And that means I will follow the call I believe God has placed on my heart and in my life. And that means I might not stay.

I want to stay. But I want to stay in the Church I’ve always dreamed of, a Church that is willing to recognize the harm that it has done to real, human lives even when it thought it was doing good, a Church that attends especially to the ordinances of God in a spirit of love, especially when it seems costly. My faith has been shaped by the idea that there’s nothing that can hinder God’s love for God’s children, that we can’t stand in the way of God calling ordinary people to do extraordinary work, and that we are actually invited to participate in bringing God’s kingdom now.

I dream of being part of a Church that is creative. A Church that equips all people to be ready for God’s call. A Church that celebrates our full humanity and our full welcome. If the UMC decides that moving “forward” means understanding God’s call and God’s love to be limited by sexuality, well, I might not stay.

Originally posted at adventuringashleyblog.wordpress.com on February 20, 2019

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AshleyBrooke

Princeton Theological Seminary, MDiv/MACEF 2020 Aspiring advocate, learner, and United Methodist. she/her/hers