Should we end the ban on gay clergy? Yes
By the Rev. Thomas A. Summers
The bishops’ statement that urges removal of the ban on the ordination of
homosexual clergy in the United Methodist Church represents no less than a
resounding and prophetic call for justice.
The UMC has long put to rest its negative restrictions as related to race,
gender and ethnicity. However, a 39- year-old Disciplinary stain still
exists as a reminder of a major inequality.
The ban on gay ordination dreadfully enslaves our denomination’s journey
toward a more complete inclusive integrity in its corporate soul.
The continued actions to keep gay persons on the margins and away from the
table of ordination maintain severe consequences.
For instance, the ban diminishes a significant historical aspect of the
Wesleyan tradition: the strengthening of fellowship bonds between persons.
John Wesley once claimed that there was no holiness but “social holiness.”
His passion for social care ran as a constant thread in such sayings as,
“The Bible knows nothing of a solitary religion.” In its counsel, the
bishops implicitly place themselves amidst this cherished social tradition.
In God’s creation, no one is left out. We are reminded by Wesley: “Indeed,
nothing can be more sure than that true Christianity cannot exist without
both inward experience and outward practice of justice, mercy and truth.”
The ordination ban disconnects the gifts and graces of our gay brothers and
sisters from this treasured Wesleyan legacy.
A further lingering effect from this divisive prohibition is the
perpetuation of anguish for gay persons and their loved ones. The mere fact
of the presence of this unjust barrier is an affront to gay persons
everywhere. It is sensed by them as one more constant symbol of an
institutional disowning and rejection.
Its existence is akin to a drumbeat that pumps out a continual message so
often heard by gays from segments of society and the church: “You are
unnatural. You are sinful. You are perverse.” Many gay persons have been
literally banished from their families and churches. Even caring parents of
gay children live daily with the sting of painful loneliness because of a
fear of talking with anyone about their beloved offspring. Suicide is the
third leading cause of death for young persons between the ages of 15 and
And gay teens – many of them harmed by prejudice and bullying in their
social environment – are four times more likely to attempt taking their
lives than their heterosexual peers.
Gays constantly are forced to contend with the fixation that society and the
church places on the sexual dimension of their lives. Often left behind in
this preoccupation is a greater awareness of the deep heart-hungers that all
persons – gay or straight – have for companionship, partnership and love.
In terms of the toll that anguish takes on the spirit of human lives, even
the symbolism of the UMC’s ban on ordination plays its part in helping to
increase that human misery.
In addition, the non-removal of the discriminatory language in the
Discipline pushes the UMC further into interreligious and community
The highest bodies of some other mainline denominations have already spoken
and embraced equality on the matter of gay ordination. Most notably, they
are the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church of
America, the Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ. Our UMC
regretfully lags behind in the growing religious march toward releasing gay
men and women from the shackles of oppression.
The dominoes that once restrained this human striving for freedom are now
toppling all around us. How much longer can the UMC afford to stay shielded
behind some protective moat? There now is a plethora of other surrounding
institutions like the military, business, municipalities and educational
systems that have already instituted non-discriminatory policies on sexual
Another regressive feature of the ordination ban’s continued presence is
that the additional restrictive language added to the Discipline
since 1972 possesses a heightened negative quality to it. In those early
1970s, the clause stating homosexuality’s so-called “incompatibility” with
Christianity interestingly appeared during the national era of political
protest, the agony of Vietnam and the early stages of gay liberation as
spurred on by the Stonewall Revolution. Could it be that the later more
stringent restrictions grew out of this earlier seedbed of fear – a fright
over the yet homosexual “strangers” no longer willing to stay in the shadows
of oppressed closets?
To demonstrate further how an increased human fearfulness can aid in
creating inhumane ironies, a 1996 prohibition was adopted denying ministers
the pastoral act of conducting celebration services in blessing the
relationship between committed gay partners.
Paradoxically, ministers continue to provide rituals of blessing for
animals, a fleet of boats, a new home, a ball game, the planting of a tree
or what-have-you But blessing the devoted love and companionship existing
between two gay persons is to be denied! It was a sad day when the church
cast its lot toward boats and cats and not all persons.
If indeed these Disciplinary restrictions got historically and largely
birthed from fear, then it’s time we untangle its destructive stranglehold
that it has placed for so long on our precious UMC. We stand in need of a
more graceful light of hope – one that might melt the darkness of our fright
and ongoing contentions The UMC needs forgiveness for its human sin of
having hurt so badly a wonderful part of God’s creation: the countless
number of faultless gay brothers and sisters.
The bishops’ wise document is a trumpet call for a transformation.
Amos’s words (5:24) echo the same: “Let justice roll on like a river and
righteousness like a never-ending stream.” May justice roll through the
veins of our critical candidacy, ordination and appointment life so that
truly welcomed to a fuller table are all of God’s children.
Summers is a retired minister in the S C Conference of the UMC He served
as a full-time chaplaincy director and clinical pastoral education
supervisor in the public mental health system for 40 years before his
retirement in 1999.
Carolina United Methodist Advocate;
Date: May 2011; Page: 5