Friday, March 14, 2008

Julie A. - Atlanta

Julie A is yet another United Methodist member who spoke at one of the North Georgia Listening Sessions. Her comments follow.

Grace and peace to you in the name of Jesus Christ. I speak to you today as an ally, yet one who experienced both rejection and acceptance from the first days of my life. Born into this church, but not in the traditional way – born to an unwed mother and given up. I found a temporary home in a Methodist Childrens Home and from there, a loving family that adopted me, and I continued to be raised in the Methodist and then United Methodist Church.

From this church I learned love of God and neighbor, to take the word of God to people unable to come to the church, that God gives us strength in our faith to say and do what others might not be strong enough to do; so, I chose it as my own in 1974. I was an ally for inclusion before I even knew such a phrase existed. I had a number of friends come out to me in high school and met others that were openly gay. I was at friends’ sides as they recovered from suicide attempts and grieved with another’s family and friends at his death. I fought with my last husband over his treatment of his twin sons when they came out to him. I encouraged a friend to come to church more often, when she only felt comfortable hiding in the crowds at Christmas and Easter. And I despaired with my daughter when she was raped. At 14. In the church. We of the church are not comfortable talking about sexuality at any level. In speaking to some of my gay and lesbian friends, I have found the treatment my daughter & I received in and by the church after her rape was much the same as theirs as GLBT persons: discomfort, whispered words of ugliness and hate, ministers who wouldn’t look you in the eye, being made to feel less than welcome, and bold statements of you should leave. All this from the church that I loved – I learned first hand rejection at its worst over something that didn’t involve choice: my friends did not choose to be LGBT anymore than my daughter chose to be raped. At that point, I decided to become more involved in working for inclusion in the UMC. I was not going to let my church reject anyone. Our discomfort should not be the basis to determine another’s worth.

Our church is clear that homosexual persons no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth. This part of our Discipline lets us all know we are beloved, forgiven children of God and valued in His eyes. No one, straight or GLBT, can find fault with considering themselves of sacred worth.

Yet at the same time this book claims that what is of sacred worth in God’s sight is incompatible with the teaching of the church. This one sentence gives permission for the more close-minded of our members to state one is an abomination, discounts or ignores God’s word, has been lead astray, is a so-called Christian, a heretic, a reprobate, and a minion of Satan – all of these I have heard spoken by sisters and brothers in the United Methodist Church. The speakers apparently believe that the incompatibility clause gives them the right to doubt and question another’s faith. We have become less than hospitable to the stranger and even more so to our own members. The incompatibility clause authorizes our current policies and practices of the denial of membership rights and prohibitions against funding, ordination and marriage for LGBT persons.

I’ve lived in 5 Jurisdictional Conferences and 8 Annual Conferences and been a member of 3 local churches. I have seen that we have great differences between them and even within them. A year ago I accepted an invitation from a person I’d never met to join them in worship at St. Mark. That invitation changed my life. I felt the presence of God as I stepped through the doors, felt the joy of the congregation as they worshipped, saw a church that I had thought only existed in my head and dreams. One where diversity is visible; where all are truly welcome; of faith in action. A church I transferred my membership to 5 months later. A church that is a shining example of what we can be as a UMC if we open our hearts and minds and doors to the possibilities of all God has created.

We as a church need to recognize we are all God’s children and created as intended. We are losing our credibility as Christians without change. 8 million voices strong allows for a lot of change. We can make Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World if & when we start in our own pews. “Open hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors.” should be a reality in all churches, not just a select few. You, as our delegates, have the power to vote to remove the incompatibility clause throughout the Discipline, ensuring sexual orientation and gender identity are no longer barriers to membership, funding, ordination and marriage. May your hearts be warmed and opened to the reality of full inclusion for all God’s children. If it is so, your voices and votes may continue to be a minority but know that you will be in the prayers of unnamed thousands and have power in your votes to take a bold step towards a better future for our UMC and the entire church of Jesus Christ.

Thank you for allowing me this time to speak to you and blessings on the journey ahead of you to General Conference.

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