Opinion by Amory Peck
Several weeks ago, I became aware of a group calling itself the Uniting Methodist Movement (UMM). Its website describes the group as “Called to be a unifying and clarifying voice in a divided conversation and a polarized culture.” Acknowledging that “Faithful United Methodist Christians who love God and follow Jesus hold differing views concerning same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ clergy,” the UMM proposes a way for us all to move forward in unity.
The leadership of the group consists of people I admire. Friends I respect in the PNW are urging everyone to sign on. It took days of praying, walking the Oregon coast, and reading the words of my LGBTQ heroes before I could put my thoughts into words. Here’s why, as a lesbian, lifelong member of the United Methodist Church, I’m declining to sign.
“You just have to tell your story.”
For the past twenty years I’ve been doing that. Not nearly as long as some have been sharing, way more often than closeted LGBTQ people feel safe in doing. Disclosing where I can, most every time I have a chance (not always, though; it does get tiring). Sometimes talking one to one, many occasions to hundreds at a time.
“You just have to tell your story – however you can.”
I’ve preached my story, written columns about my life, sat on countless panels, (early on they were designed to “give both sides,” and so I talked, as did representatives from Exodus International, convinced they could fix me with just a bit of reparative therapy) and marched wearing rainbows and waving placards. I’ve taken my life and my story to General Conference five times.
“You just have to tell your story – because it will make a difference.”
The PNW Annual Conference in 1996 included time for our delegation to share reactions to the recently concluded General Conference in Colorado. Three hundred clergy and lay people were listening to our head delegate talk about the turmoil swirling around issues of human sexuality. I can still recall people’s questions and responses to what was repeatedly called “the issue.”
That triggered my first public outing. I rose to my feet and stated, “You are not talking about ‘an issue’; you’re talking about my life.” As I concluded, a man I’d worked with for years on church committees rose and said. “I don’t like homosexuals, but I do like Amory. Never have liked homosexuals, but I do like Amory.” That day was a huge step for me, and a small step, but a step, none-the-less, for him. And so, the public story telling began. The next five General Conferences became a significant part of my truth-telling.
2000 – I was so low on the reserve list that I was free to come and go as I wished. I aligned with the LGBTQ activists and joined in the Shower of Stoles march around the balcony of convention hall. We were marching and singing as 30 of our compatriots on the floor were arrested, and a young lesbian, in despair, threatened to throw herself from the balcony’s edge.
2004 – I had regular duties to attend to, so I was often at evening meetings. They were held at some distance from the hotel, so I chose to buddy up with another delegate for the dark, slightly scary walk through nighttime Pittsburgh. My walking companion was a District Superintendent from the South, with opinions and positions different from mine.
As we walked home together each evening, our conversations became more and more personal. I knew he didn’t agree with my wish for LGBTQ inclusion in the church, but I also know he grew to enjoy my fellowship. And I grew to enjoy his. Following General Conference, I mailed him one of the rainbow stoles the LGBTQ participants and their allies had been wearing. He wrote back to tell me he’d keep that stole in a sacred space.
2008 – The PNW elected its delegation a year before this General Conference in Fort Worth. Prior to a vote, one of our conservative members called me aside and said, “I’m trying to decide if I can vote for you. May we talk?” Her question to me was, “Do you repent?” My answer was, of course, “No.” Despite the grimness of the votes on human sexuality during General Conference, one demonstration was a joy. With one clergy person officiating and dozens of others standing with him, two of the activist women were married in the park outside the convention hall, in the presence of hundreds of stole wearing supporters.
2012 – I had the honor of delivering one of three laity addresses in Tampa. My biggest impact, though, was at the press conference afterwards when I announced that I was the first out lesbian to deliver a lay talk at General Conference.
I also became part of an iconic photograph from the plenary, as a small group of us stood in protest of the small groups designed to be “listening times” between gays and straights that had actually become times of accusing LGBTQ participants of illness and devil possession.
2016 – I was in Portland as an observer and again – as I had in 2000 – I aligned myself with the activists and advocates for singing/marching/disrupting. It was hard, hard, work. The atmosphere at General Conference was tense, on edge, and ready to deconstruct over the issue of homosexuality. Only the Bishops’ call for an end to all discussion on sexuality issues and the creation of a group to determine a Way Forward for the denomination rescued the gathering.
I remember a time about 15 years ago when a number of us had gathered for a demonstration. A newbie there said, “I don’t know how you do it. I’ve been doing this work for three months now, and nothing has changed!” Just as I laughed inwardly at her, others are certainly looking with dismay at my discouragement, for they have been working at this much longer. I can’t imagine their tiredness, their discouragement – I can only name my own feeling of “that’s it. I’m done.”
Since 1972 all United Methodists have lived with the language “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” Forty-five years of language – and practice – weighing down and beating up LGBTQ believers.
“You just have to tell your story – however long it takes.”
That’s the rub. Story telling just hasn’t made enough difference.
I greeted the creation of the Uniting Methodist Movement (UMM) with cautious optimism. The list of members on the Leadership Team was – with one huge absence – impressive. The group’s desire to forge a way for The United Methodist Church to remain unified was welcome. But, then I read, and thought, and prayed – and my heart sunk.
There are no self-identified LGBTQ leaders on the UMM planning team. The Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) has been using the powerful phrase “about us, without us” to describe the process of decision-making without including those whose lives are being decided. That seems unbelievable and unforgiveable.
The plan creates unity in the church through discrimination against LGBTQ persons. True, it neither compels nor prohibits clergy officiating at same-sex weddings. It neither compels nor prohibits the ordination of gay clergy. It neither compels nor prohibits the interpretation of scripture as a call for full inclusion of all people in God’s kin-dom. This proposal would allow our part of the country, the Western Jurisdiction to continue, without threat of censure, being the church we believe we are called to be.
However, it also allows any part of The United Methodist Church that wishes to continue the hateful, hurtful practices of exclusion. It would demonstrate that excluding LGBTQ persons is the moral equivalent of inclusion. It seems that many who were once strong allies and supporters have chosen unity as the greater good.
That’s why I can’t support the proposal being circulated by the Uniting Methodist Movement. Its overreaching call for unity in the church is done on the backs of too, too many children of God.
“You just have to tell your story – and I just did.”
Amory Peck is a member of Garden Street United Methodist Church in Bellingham, Washington and a former Conference Lay Leader for the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference.