Commentary: The Simple Way to “Do No Harm”

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Rev. Austin L. Adkinson

When queer clergy began coming out in large numbers before the 2016 General Conference, part of our hope was to put human faces on the harm caused by United Methodist stances on sexual orientation and gender identity. Maybe the denomination would no longer be able to debate about an “issue” with our lives more clearly before them. Maybe it would be different if people had to look us in the eye as they talked about us and the numerous faithful United Methodists who see us as their spiritual leaders—not just as incompatible outliers.

The harm caused by United Methodist positions on sexual orientation is all too often left in the shadows, as Rev. Gregory Gross identified in his recent article about working with homeless LGBTQIA+ youth. We are here and we all can speak to the harm that has been done to us and other children of God.

The first of John Wesley’s general rules is to do no harm. If we’d had governance motivated by our most basic Methodist faith statements rather than hate and institutional preservation, we would have been one of the first denominations to stop causing the harm of homophobia and heterosexism. Instead, we’re bringing up the rear. The harm continues, and we are prevented from doing our best at the second rule (“do good” for the uninitiated).

Our denomination has been too busy criticizing and policing people’s private lives to listen clearly to the good God calls us to do. What good could we have done with the money and time we’ve wasted on church trials and legislating condemnation? What good could we have collaborated on with the queer Methodists and friends who left the church because they could no longer stand the abuse? What of those who took their own lives because the voice of their church was judgement instead of love?

It’s now clear that unless we choose to do even greater harm, a new, more anti-queer Methodist denomination will lure away some United Methodists. In efforts to appease those who are already leaving, the institution concocted a plan that would create and lock in provisions of how anti-queer United Methodists are allowed to discriminate.

When I was volunteered by other caucus leaders to craft the Simple Plan, I had to write and submit it before we knew how much harm would be contained in the One Church Plan—turns out it’s quite a lot. The Simple Plan, on the other hand, simply removes condemning and discriminatory language from The Book of Discipline—nothing added.

In exchange for the removal of explicit condemnation and restrictions on how “self-avowed, practicing, homosexuals” can participate in the life of the church, the One Church Plan outlines the acceptability of continued condemnation and discrimination anywhere there is enough desire to do so. It conspicuously affirms those who condemn us, and merely says that it might be ok to think we’re not abominations. It still prohibits progressive conferences and agencies from spending money to care for queer lives and makes it harder to make The United Methodist Church more inclusive in the future.

Every compromise moderates and progressives make at General Conference in a misguided effort to save the institution is quite frankly bartering with queer lives. “How much harm are we willing to cause?” is not a faithful response to the question before us. May we heed the warning admonished to the faith community in Laodicea (Revelation 3:15-20).

If the Simple Plan passes as written, churches and conferences can continue exclusionary practices if they choose. Discrimination and condemnation will continue in some form or fashion, but we don’t need to endorse and codify the right to do so. The Church bartering with queer lives must stop.

Love is simple. Discrimination is complicated. We have a choice to make.


Rev. Austin L. Adkinson is a leader in the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus, but is not a “homosexual.” They are the primary writer of the Simple Plan submitted by the caucus leadership and the pastor of Haller Lake UMC in Seattle.

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