Confessions of a Deserter

By Bill Mefford

Last year I wrote a post about my leaving the United Methodist Church. I had ended my membership several months prior to the post I wrote so I was a little surprised it caused a minor uproar, but so be it. 

I was so tired of the bureaucracy, the over-reliance on institutionalism, the complete lack of leadership in the "upper" levels of the church, the lack of concern about the nature of the church, the obsession of upward advancement at every level of the church, and the complete dissonance between where the United Methodist Church is heading and what I understand we are called to focus on as followers of Jesus that I could no longer walk with Jesus and remain a United Methodist. 

I do not regret my decision. 

The past couple of weeks has been an especially difficult one for many of my friends who remain in the United Methodist Church and who are committed to Jesus and justice. It was during this time that two amendments to the church constitution failed to get enough votes. One stated, “men and women are of equal value in the eyes of God,” and that the UMC will “seek to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, whether in organizations or in individuals, in every facet of its life and in society at large.” The other amendment would have added gender, ability, age and marital status to the list of characteristics that do not bar people from membership in the church. These are the amendments that for some weird reason, United Methodists could not vote for and some folks, like the Institution for Religion and Democracy, even taking joy in their failure. 

The conservatives are so fearful of anything having to do with sex that they have effectively made it official that the United Methodist Church does not value women. 

Also happening in this time is the recommendation from the Council of Bishops regarding the inclusion of LGBTQ people into the leadership of the church and whether the church will continue to dehumanize people in its discipline by declaring them "incompatible" with Christian teaching. Confusion surrounded the recommendations of the bishops as they could not agree on one plan, though the one with the most support, called the One Church Plan, allows for local churches to make their own decisions. This would, of course, not legitimate LGBTQ people as equal partners and sisters and brothers in the Body of Christ. Instead, the plan would necessitate a faithful and committed United Methodist queer person to move from say, Marrietta, Georgia to Seattle, Washington in order to continue in their calling to serve the church. 

This "plan" is entirely unsustainable and inhumane. They had one job to do and they blew it. 

To top off a crappy couple of weeks, a deeply committed and gifted United Methodist pastor in Cincinnati, who is also in a same-gender marriage, had his office broken into and the only things stolen were his certificate of ordination and seminary diploma. This was a hate crime pure and simple and meant to drive him out of leadership in the church. 

Sickening. 

I watched all of this from the safe confines of the sidelines and felt deeply troubled. I was troubled not only for the deep pain that continues to be inflicted on many people I care about and deeply respect. But even more, I felt troubled because even though I had left the church I still felt responsible for what was happening; for the pain that was being caused. 

I have realized since I have been gone, that my reasons for leaving are very different than the reasons of others who have been chased out by conservatives seeking to theologically and sexually "cleanse" the church. When I read back over my reasons for leaving - the second paragraph above - I realize that those reasons, as legitimate as they may be, are all trapped in my own privilege. As easy as it was to leave the church I had spent my life in, it would be just as easy to go back. Even more, if I felt so inclined, I could even attempt to go through the process of ordination. There is nothing about me - besides my tendency to be an ass - that would cause the Institute on Religion and Democracy, Good News, the Confessing Movement, and the Wesleyan Covenant Association to systematically persecute me through bringing charges and hounding my essential humanity and calling from God as they have routinely done and continue to do so against LGBTQ leaders in the church. 

I did not have to worry about any of this when I was in the church or now that I am out of the United Methodist Church because I have a privilege my LGBTQ sisters and brothers do not enjoy. As a male, there is no constitutional amendment process to decide whether or not I am an equal member of the church. That comes automatically. 

As a white man, I can come and go into any church I please, without a second thought or worried look. Even more, as a white man married to a white woman, I am considered quite a catch for most churches. This is how we are trained to view church. This is what I failed to address more forcefully when I was in leadership in the United Methodist Church. 

I was troubled, and remain so when I read about the group called Uniting Methodists who have called for such a plan known now as the One Church Plan because it is steeped in hetero privilege. It is a hetero-dominant effort to get the church to ignore the "extremists" who demand equal treatment for all and to instead advocate for an "incremental" approach to justice, which is the same as saying justice for some and not for all. I really hope my liberal friends who signed this misguided statement will take their name off of it. 

I am troubled that the privilege I enjoyed in leaving the church is the same privilege being used to lessen rather than eliminate discrimination, thereby making discrimination more palatable. I feel troubled because there is little I can do to bring about change. 

I am troubled because I am not sure what to do. I am vowing to renew my commitment to do no harm, especially to my queer friends and colleagues, and to love others and to love God. I am vowing to keep at the center of my mind my own privilege and how that has benefited me and continues to insulate me from any harm; and to not make decisions that continue that privilege and accompanying benefit. 

But I remain troubled and saddened and a little ticked off. The United Methodist Church is a mess and is creating so much hurt right now and that alone makes me angry, but I have to confess that in my time in the church I did far too little to work for full inclusion. Far too little. I stayed far too close to the center. I promoted gradualism and incrementalism, thinking I was reaching out to both sides, while I was in fact actually caving into the sin of maintaining comfort for the existing powers at the expense of the powerless. I sinned and repented too late. 

So, I remain troubled. 

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