“Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors?” James Hanby Reflects on the United Methodists’ Recent Closed Doors to LGBTQIA+

Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors?

Hon. James Hanby

As I sit down to finish writing this, having given a week’s time to process the results of the special called General Conference of the United Methodist Church, I find myself reflecting on that tag line, which has been the main branding line of the UMC for the last several years.

Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors?

United Methodists

As David Farmer mentioned, I write this as a member of the United Methodist Church. Some months ago when I did the sermon for David, I told you that the issue of the church’s treatment of LGBTQIA+ members and friends was one of several reasons why I was at Silverside in the first place.

The General Conference held in St. Louis last week voted down the plan supported by the Council of Bishops that was called the One Church Plan. This plan while not perfect represented a dramatic step forward in how the Church viewed the LGBTQIA+ community.

Instead, the General Conference supported the plan, which was called the “Traditional Plan”; however, this plan goes far beyond simply maintaining a ban on officiating at same-gender weddings or the ordaining of self-avowed, practicing homosexual clergy. This plan requires basically a witch hunt to identify and drive these folks out of the Church.

I was baptized into the United Methodist Church when I was only two and a half months old, in September 1971; I have been in the Methodist Church my entire life. My family has been Methodists since there was such a thing in our area. From the beginnings of Methodism at what is now Chester-Bethel UMC (United Methodist Church) and then later at Siloam UMC, just a short half mile up Foulk Road from Chester-Bethel, my ancestors have literally built the church stone on stone. Over the years I served as President of the United Methodist Youth Fellowship, Chair of the Finance Committee, Chair of the Church Council, member of the Staff Parish Relations Committee, and most important to this debate as the lay member from Siloam to the Annual Conference of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church.

As lay member of the Annual Conference I have been in the room and heard the debates among our own local Methodists over this issue. I have been shocked at the public comments of some whom I had heretofore considered loving Christians. They were hurtful and demeaning and beneath anyone who professes to follow the teachings of Christ. But I have also seen the gentle movement towards a more progressive stance. The makeup the Conference’s delegation to this General Conference reflected that movement.

Bishop Peggy Johnson

I waited a week to finish this because I wanted to hear from Bishop Peggy Johnson. She is Bishop over the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference and the Peninsula-Delaware Conference. She released a statement, which professes hope that the United Methodist Church might still find a path to remain United. She quoted Dr. Martin Luther King when he said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” She reminded us that it was there in St. Louis that Dred Scott first filed his case for freedom, which led to the Supreme Court deciding on March 6, 1857, 162 years ago today, that black people weren’t American citizens and could not sue in the courts. She reminded us that it was there in St. Louis that Virginia Minor sued the state in 1874 for the right to vote, which was denied; and the Supreme Court upheld it. She states these examples of great injustices done in St. Louis to attempt to explain that victory may yet be had, that the church is still moving forward; that slavery was ended, that women did get the right to vote.

But I and others look to Dr. King’s letter from a Birmingham Jail in which he rails against those white supposed supporters of the civil rights movement who kept saying, “Wait! Don’t move so fast!” As he wrote then

For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

Martin Luther King Jr.

To us, the vote last week says that the good people of the United Methodist Church are saying “never” when it comes to meeting all people where they are equally. It is saying that the Church we have loved so long is headed for a split, whether it be a formal split or one that results from an entire generation of young progressive clergy and lay leaders simply leaving the Church for other church homes that actually act as they speak in openness.

It has been a long and disheartening week for many of us who still call ourselves Methodist, but who have waited for years now for the Church to embrace those among us who are LGBTQIA+, those we love in our churches, workplaces and homes whom the United Methodist Church just affirmed are not welcome in spite of their saying they have, “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” We say “wait” too often meaning never, and we will not wait patiently any longer.

To Bishop Johnson, we say thank you for your message of hope, and yes the slaves were freed; but it took a long bloody war. Yes, women got the right to vote, but it only happened when the women rose up and took to the streets to demand it. And yes the LGBTQIA+ community will find a church home elsewhere if the United Methodist Church doesn’t reverse this path. Over 15,000 young United Methodists signed a petition to the General Conference asking for acceptance of the LGBTQIA+ community; they represent the future of the Church, and they heard what the Church was telling them loudly and clearly last week.

I grieve for the Church, but I grieve even more for the friends and family who have been directly hurt over and over again by their Church. I accept them, and I continue to pray they may find church homes that will accept them for who they are.