There have been differences of opinion in the United Methodist Church on the inclusion of LGBT folk in the life of the church since before I was ordained a deacon and probationary member of the Tennessee Conference in 1974. I have kept up with the wrangling at General Conference and our inability to even admit that we disagree when our very unwillingness as a Church to state that truth indicates both that we do disagree and the depth of that disagreement. (Full disclosure: I have been in loving disagreement with my Church and in favor of the full inclusion of LGBT persons in the life of the Church including marriage and ordination my entire time in ministry.)
Recent events have set me thinking about the reasons for the deep disagreement and hostility generated by this particular subject. I do not see the same level of hostility on other so-called hot button issues. Plenty of observers have offered their ideas and opinions on this ongoing division, but mine begin with this question. Why ordination and marriage?
First of all, we do not withhold the sacraments from LGBT people. We do not make being heterosexual a condition of baptism and we do not rescind someone’s baptism if they come out, nor do we turn them away from the table when they come to receive the elements at Holy Communion.
On the other hand when it come to two church rituals which we as United Methodists do not consider to be sacraments, marriage and ordination, our United Methodist Discipline does not allow LGBT people to be married or ordained in our churches, and prohibits our clergy/bishops to participate in either.
Since LGBT folk are “people of sacred worth” according to the UM Discipline why would we choose to welcome them to take part in our two sacraments and not allow them to be married or ordained, two rituals that are not sacraments? As I have considered this question it has come to my mind that this may result from the way we view marriage and ordination as positions of privilege rather than opportunities for service. People who are married are afforded legal and tax privileges that unmarried persons do not enjoy. Ordained elders especially are seen as standing in positions of privilege (although sometimes it doesn’t seem so to us). It appears to me that this is not the case with deacons, whose ordination is typically seen as an opportunity to serve.
In 2010 we had a devastating flood here in Nashville. Not a single person interviewed after they had been rescued from the roof of their house by volunteers in a boat had asked about their rescuer’s sexuality before they climbed into the boat. I don’t know of a single person who indicated that only “straight” people would be allowed to donate food or materials to repair their homes or to work at the tasks of cleaning up and repairing those homes.
If we really viewed marriage as an opportunity to serve “with all that I am and all that I have” as the wedding service says, then would not anyone willing to take on that role of faithful service to another be allowed to marry. If we as elders (I will let the deacons speak for themselves here.) were to take on the role of a servant as Jesus did (rather than aspiring to positions of privilege), would not anyone who was willing to serve be allowed to serve, especially if that service was to those in the greatest need.
Perhaps it is our understanding of and expectations for marriage and ordination that stands in the way of full inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the United Methodist Church. Just an idea to throw into the mix.