ColumnistsD Kevin McNeirEditor's ColumnOpinion

EDITOR’S COLUMN: Welcome Mat Removed as Methodists Split Over Gay Clergy, Marriage

After decades of internal strife and debate, often bitter and divisive, the second-largest Protestant denomination in the U.S., the United Methodist Church [UMC], has decided to split into separate factions over an unresolvable theological dispute.

The bone of contention, the legitimacy and appropriateness of gay marriage and gay clergy, has already led to a mass exodus of congregations from Presbyterian, Episcopalian and Catholic churches in recent years with young evangelicals also leaving the pews.

What makes me so disheartened is how much I hoped, thought and believed that that the UMC was different from other denominations in the U.S. in its treatment of those considered “others.” In my own story, upon accepting my call to the ministry, I chose a United Methodist Seminary, Emory University to secure my theological training and degree. I would make the difficult decision to leave the AME Church where I had first learned about God, align myself with the UMC and even accept a charge as pastor for two years in a small town just outside of Philadelphia, Lawnside, New Jersey at Mt. Zion UMC.

Throughout those years, it was a foregone conclusion that both our annual and general conferences would include arguments from the two vehemently divided factions on the “gay issue.” One side favored tightening the ban on same-sex marriage and denying self-professed gays and lesbians from being ordained or allowed to serve in any capacity in the church. The other side with more liberal notions wanted to lay down the welcome mat for everyone.

For a while, the welcome mat remained — a decision which I supported if for no other reason than my understanding of how the Christian church was established and my belief that since God loves and accepts us all, those who profess to follow Christ should do likewise.

But there were other reasons as well based on experiences from my past.

I have witnessed leaders of the church who shaped my faith refuse to embrace a promising youth minister, married with a beautiful daughter, after he became infected with HIV and died. He had become involved with another man in secret, we would later learn. But the church officials chose denial and lies instead of taking advantage of a potential teachable moment for others.

Decades ago, I said farewell to three close friends from college and graduate school — each of whom died in silence and pain — too ashamed to tell me that they, too, had fallen victim to the dreaded virus. Too ashamed to trust me with their “secret.” And I was angry because I could have been with them in their struggles had they not feared what others would say about them.

I have celebrated with same-sex couples as they exchanged their wedding vows. I have saluted my fellow theologians who bravely “came out,” determined to exercise their right to serve their church and community like anyone else called to the ministry, sexual orientation notwithstanding.

But I have also listened with incredulity to folks who danced with joy to the harmonies sung and played by more than a few ministers of music or choir directors — only to later ridicule and mock them in hushed whispers because of their feminine demeanor.

And I would see respected church officers and ordained ministers use their bully pulpits as they rebuked and humiliated those who embraced such a blasphemous, alternative lifestyle. But behind closed doors or within the confines of secret closets, they would attempt to manipulate young men or women to engage in illicit trysts — youth so enthralled by their power that they were willing to do almost anything.

The church is filled with people, each of whom comes bearing their own crosses. But we are all seeking guidance, direction, healing and salvation. None of us knows all the answers.

Even with all of our prayers and supplication, theological studies or walks along Damascus-like roads, we will never fully comprehend the ways and will of God — the whys or the why nots that make the Creator the sovereign one in whom we trust.

Thus, I’m led to wonder if we have the right to ban those committed to the faith, to the community and to our God simply because they ascribe to a same-sex lifestyle?

Perhaps, the UMC has made the right decision and should split so that those who are allegedly more astute as to the differences between “big sins” and “little sins” can sequester themselves and others like them within their own cathedrals — houses of faith where welcome mats do not exist.

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D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Award-winning journalist and 21-year Black Press veteran, book editor, voice-over specialist and college instructor (Philosophy, Religion, Journalism). Before joining us, he led the Miami Times to recognition as NNPA Publication of the Year.

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