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Homosexuality and the United Methodist Church

Commentary by Rev. Dawson Taylor

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The following is a commentary by Rev. Dawson Taylor. He was a UMC minister and co-chair of its Division on Ministries with Young People of the General Board of Discipleship until he left the UMC in 2006-AUG to become a minister of the United Church of Christ.

It was excerpted from his address on 2007-MAY-28 at the Texas Annual Conference "Breaking the Silence" luncheon. Reprinted with permission of the United Methodist Reporter (http://www.umportal.org), where this commentary first appeared.

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As a gay man, some people call me strange, unnatural and—dare I say “incompatible with Christian teaching”—because I want everything my parents have. 

What is the church so afraid of? 

Is the church afraid that my love for someone of the same sex will somehow threaten heterosexual marriage? I do not understand how my desire to be in a monogamous, loving relationship threatens anyone. Heterosexual people seem to be doing a good enough job of threatening marriage on their own without any help from me! 

Is the church afraid that my calling is somehow destructive to the church? I have never had a church member—when I arrive in a hospital room, officiate at their wedding or bury their loved one—ask me if I was heterosexual. 

Or is the church afraid that if they accept me, then they’ll truly have to accept all people as Christ commanded us to do? Isn’t it time that we finally embrace the diversity of God’s creation and the diversity of the church? 

My time in seminary was a very difficult time in my life. The opening hymn at my commencement was “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” On that particular May afternoon at Perkins School of Theology, these words had a different significance in my life: “O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come, our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home!” 

Tears welled up in my eyes as I thought about the journey that I had been on. I thought back to the first day of seminary. 

We had gathered in Perkins chapel for a brief worship service and words of welcome. The associate dean said that we, as students, had the responsibility of bringing our voices to the table of theological education; we needed to bring our stories and share them in the community, so that we could all become better ministers and pastors through it. 

I felt a knot in my stomach form. I began to wonder how, I, as a gay man—who, if outed would no longer be able to continue toward ordination in the United Methodist Church—was supposed to share his story. 

The story of my faith and journey can be summarized this way: I cannot speak to nor preach about the love and grace of God without talking about my life as a gay man. 

When I graduated college, I was not ready for graduate school, so I began looking for a job. I had thought about sales or non-profit work. But there was a yearning deep in my soul for something different. 

I e-mailed a friend, Dr. Chuck Simmons at Memorial Drive UMC, and told him about struggling with my call to ministry. I had grown up in a parsonage, but I wanted to see what ministry would mean for me. 

Chuck invited me to join his staff for one year while I figured out what I wanted to do. I stayed three years, and what I discovered was my deep love for the church. I discovered that I looked forward to going to work each morning and that a bad day in ministry felt better than a good day in any other job. 

It came time for me to have the education that was needed. I was hesitant to leave a place that I loved and that loved me. One year after my arrival at MDUMC, I “came out” to Chuck, who has never done anything but love, accept and support me. 

We knew the inherent dangers in sending me off to seminary, but both of us felt confident of God’s call, and Chuck encouraged me to be faithful and take the next step. 

I left Houston and moved to Dallas. My boyfriend of two years moved with me and we settled into our life together in Dallas. However, I was not “out” to anyone at my new church, and I quickly learned the pain of being in the closet again. 

Time and again, I would have to ask Matthew to stay at home while I attended a church event or ask him to leave after church so that people wouldn’t figure out our relationship. 

If you are married, imagine what it would be like to deny that you have a spouse. I could never acknowledge this integral part of who I am, nor could I acknowledge someone I loved very much. 

I also began to wonder what would happen with my career. I knew that I would eventually be sent to my own congregation at some point, more than likely in a small town. What was I to do? Tell my partner to remain living in the city and hope that he could sneak in and out of town on the weekends so we could see each other? 

I knew that I could not bring children into a situation where I had to hide. What was I to do? 

All of this doubting and questioning took its toll on my relationship with Matthew. After three years together, we broke up. We had shared a home, a checking account and our very lives. No matter what happened in the eyes of the government, we were going through a divorce. 

In the midst of this pain, I could not say a word at church. I simply had to go on as if nothing was happening, while falling apart inside. That was when I realized I could not continue in my path to ordination. It went against everything I stood for. 

When people are asked to hide who they are, it is a sin. 

When people cannot express their pain, doubts and fears in church, it is a sin. 

When talented, young, liberal clergy begin to wonder if there is a truly a place for them in ministry and leave the church, it is a sin. 

When I am elected to General Conference as the youngest delegate in Texas Conference history, serve on a General Board of the church, travel the world on behalf of the church and four years later am no longer United Methodist, it is a sin. 

When a father must defend his gay son to members of his congregation, it is a sin. 

When, on my last Sunday under appointment in the United Methodist Church I am told that I cannot consecrate Communion, it is a sin.

But hear the gospel of our faith: We have the assurance that when Christ is present, repentance and reconciliation are possible. 

In the words of Frederick Buechner, “Resurrection means that the worst thing is never the last thing.” We are a resurrection people. God’s grace will always have the last word. 

I have spent far more time as United Methodist than anything else and I am certain of one thing: Christ is present in the United Methodist Church. 

As we continued to sing that great hymn at commencement, I thought back to the first time I ever visited with Dr. Jo Hudson, the senior pastor at the Cathedral of Hope. She, too, is a product of the Texas Annual Conference, and she understood so much of my struggle. 

After hearing my story, she looked at me and said: “Dawson, I know that the United Methodist Church is the origin of your faith, but I want you to know that there is an adoptive family that wants you fully for who you are.” 

Indeed, that is what I have found in the United Church of Christ. 

On the last verse of the hymn, I began to think about all of my gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters who have either left the church or who serve in silence and fear. And I wondered how they would experience the love of God in the midst of their struggles.
 
Following graduation, I took the final step and left the United Methodist Church. I accepted a position as associate pastor for congregational life at the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas. Shortly after my arrival, our congregation was accepted into the United Church of Christ after a three-year stint as an independent congregation. 

I was ordained by the Cathedral on July 9, 2006. When the music director asked what I wanted as the opening hymn, you can probably guess what I requested: “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” This time the fourth verse resonated with me: “A Thousand Ages, in thy sight, are like an evening gone; short as the watch that ends the night, before the rising sun.” 

I knew that my ordination was my rising sun. I am clear that I am one of the lucky ones. I have found a place where I can serve openly, honestly and authentically. I have a family and a community who support and love me for exactly who God created me to be. 

The march for justice is long and tiring. I am certain that there are times when you can begin to wonder if it is making any difference whatsoever. 

But hear me out: When Michelangelo was asked how he was able to carve his great sculpture of David he responded, “I saw the angel in the marble and chiseled until I set it free.” 

My friends, we see the Church that God intends in the marble and we must continue to chisel until we set it free. 

Every time you stand up to a heterosexist joke, you chisel another piece. 

Every time you tell someone that it is impossible to love the sinner and hate the sin, you chisel another piece. 

Every time you look into the eyes of a young gay person and say “I believe in you,” you chisel another piece. 

Every time you make a stand that my Annual Conference, the birthplace of my faith, will not be in the grips of fear or untruths, you chisel another piece. 

I know at times you must grow tired and weary, but in that moment of doubt, hear these words: “O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come; be thou our guide while life shall last, and our eternal home.” 

May it be so. Amen.

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Originally posted: 2008-MAR-21
Latest update: 2008-MAR-21
Author: Dawson B. Taylor

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