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sometimes you gotta be defrocked in order to live with integrity.

20 Dec 2013

do you remember this post of mine from about a month ago? i shared with y’all my views, thoughts, and experiences over some of the injustices happening in the united methodist church (UMC), my home denomination. i was not a happy camper – and i’m still not.

at that time, there was a church trial for a UMC minister, frank schaefer, who had performed a same-sex marriage, which goes against one of the rules in the book of discipline, the UMC rule book. he was tried and convicted: guilty, as charged. and i was pissed. then, he was sentenced (yes the UMC works like a government in an attempt to be democratic). his sentence was suspension for a month, whereby at the end of the 30 days he was to decide if he would fully uphold the book of discipline or surrender his ordination credentials.

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well, the 30 days is up. and here is what he had to say to the court yesterday:

“1. My honest answer has to be: No, I cannot uphold the Book of Discipline in its entirety. In fact, I don’t believe anybody can. It’s impossible to uphold the Discipline in it’s entirety because it is filled with competing and contradictory statements. It reflects the diversity of convictions we hold as United Methodists. In the words of Prof. Thomas Frank: “The UMC is a big tent!” And that’s reflected in the Discipline.

For instance, those who perform same-sex weddings are in violation of para. 2702, but those pastors who refuse ministry to same-sex couples are also in violation of other provisions of the Discipline that demand of our pastors to be inclusive and to provide equal ministry to all people (para. 140, 161).

Frankly, my conscience does not allow me to uphold the entire Discipline because it contains discriminatory provisions and language that is hurtful and harmful to our homosexual brothers and sisters. It denies them their full humanity. I simply cannot uphold those parts of the Discipline.

2. I also cannot in good conscience surrender my credentials voluntarily as I feel called to represent, minister to, and advocate for tens of thousands of LGBT members and their families within the United Methodist Church. I have received hundreds of petitions from LGBT members, colleagues, and even three bishops, not to surrender my credentials. By surrendering my credentials, I feel as though I would abandon those under my spiritual care and especially those I feel called to advocate for.”

i could not have said it any better myself. in fact, i said almost the same types of things three years ago, when i sat in front of my district committee on ministry and uttered the words “my wife”, which changed everything.

i was given a choice by that committee three years ago, somewhat similar to frank schaefer. because i had “broken a rule” in the book of discipline and was “not longer fit” to be ordained, the committee told me that i had a decision: i could

a. remove myself from the candidacy process… or

b. remain a candidate, whereby the committee would then have to kick me out – to put it in plain words.

i chose “b”. there was no way in hell that i would have taken myself out of the ordination process = surrender my credentials in frank schaefer’s case. i could not do that and live the rest of my life with integrity, because i felt called to be in ministry, specifically to ordained ministry within the UMC. my calling was not erased when i married lina. in fact, when i married her, my life became whole. so, in order to be true to the whole person that i was, i was not going to surrender my marriage or my calling. and i told the committee that.

i was still called to the ministry and i hoped to complete my ordination process. i would not surrender and remove myself from the process.

so, the committee wrote a letter to the UMC and reported that i had broken a rule, and therefore was no longer a candidate for ministry. the end. life change.

but, i left that meeting with my integrity in tact. and three years later,  i am still married and called to the ministry – it’s just that i have grown to understand that my ministry is bigger and wider (because the divine is bigger and wider) than any denomination’s ordination process. just because i am not ordained in the UMC does not mean that i am not ordained to and engaged in ministry every single day of my life. no freaking rule book can ever give, or take away, who i am.

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yesterday, lina and i had the joy of meeting with a UMC minister friend of mine for fika (coffee). he was in town for a meeting and made time to stop and chat with us for about 2 hours on his way home. it was a glorious time together… catching up, laughing, and theologizing. throughout our conversation, he reminded me of this calling to ministry – and he told me that he believes i am ordained to my ministry of writing and presence just as much as anyone else in the UMC. and you know what? he’s right. i am.

in the UMC, there is the belief that one is inwardly called to ministry = one feels that this is their passion, their desire, their destiny, if you’d like to think of it that way. but, there is also an outer calling as well = others around you and in your life, see your gifts and encourage you to follow your calling to be in ministry. it is a good balance, i think. something that i completely agree with. it means that no one person just wakes up and says… i am an ordained minister today because God told me to be that. that may happen, but it is also affirmed by other people as well, making it balanced – respected and strong.

i had these two callings back when i was on the road to being ordained in the UMC, and i had been affirmed by the people of the church until i said i was married to a woman. so, then end of that process.

but, you know what my minister friends last week and yesterday reminded me of? not only do i still feel called to my specific ministry of writing and spiritual direction/mentoring = i still have the inner call; but, i also still have an outer calling = there are people who still believe that i am called to ministry and see me engaging in ministry with or without the blessing of the UMC. some of them even see  me as ordained by God now.

and that, my friends, means the world to me… because we all need affirmation, a reminder that others see and believe in us.

so, what happened to the minister when said those things to the church court yesterday? well, he was defrocked = lost his rights and credentials as an ordained minister in the UMC. but, i am certain that he, like me, will still be engaged in ministry… in everything he does.

because who we are, is who we are. if you are an artist, you can be nothing else. if you are a teacher or a business person or a stay at home parent, it is who you are. if you know who you are, and you simply are who you are, then what you do will be made manifest in every moment of your life. it is not preordained, it is simply being true to your inner soul.

whoever you are in the deepest part of you, be true to it. live your life on your terms, and just be. and when you live with integrity, honesty, and in truth, who you are will shine through every bit of your being.

it may not be easy. you may be shunned and excluded and disappointed and pissed off. i am all of those things. but, you & your calling in life are much bigger than any institution that seeks to define you and put you in a box. so, just be you. leave the boxes, the assumptions, the pain, and the societal “expectations” behind. be brave and be yourself. be true and honest and real. besides, there really is no box. there is only love.

peace and love and equality. xx

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  • Reply Meghan 26 Jan 2014 at 20:48

    Your courage and integrity are inspiring, Liz. You don’t need me to reaffirm anything, but I too believe it is clear that you are called to minister, and on a scale larger than the box of the church. The truth in which you live is a shining example to all of us, thank you.

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