DEAR UNITED METHODIST CHURCH: What If the Church Gave a Trial and Nobody Came?

The Rev. Kathryn Johnson's pointed memo, below, to the United Methodist Church is in response to charges being brought against the Rev. Dr. Thomas Ogletree. He is facing charges in a possible United Methodist Church trial because he performed a same-sex wedding in New York City, where such marriages are fully legal. The wedding was his son's. RevKathrynJohnsonSince her ordination in 1985, Kathryn has served as a United Methodist missionary in the Philippines, the pastor of Bethany United Methodist Church in Roslindale, MA and the West Roxbury United Methodist Church in West Roxbury, MA, Executive Director of the Church Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines, Executive Director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action and Interim Executive Director of the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. MEMO

TO: The United Methodist Church

FROM: The Rev. Kathryn Johnson

DATE: May 9, 2013

RE: What If the Church Gave a Trial and Nobody Came

OgletreeThe Rev. Dr. Thomas Ogletree. Seriously? This is just becoming silly.

In the event that this is for real, I just want you to know that I’m done. I am so far over this whole “charges and investigations and trials thing” that it isn’t even funny.

I’m not done following Jesus. In fact it’s because I intend to keep following Jesus and his word and example of loving God and one another that I’m done with spending any more time even thinking about church trials, something so contrary to the Gospel and so utterly devoid of love and grace. Let this serve as my notice that I intend to totally ignore the unjust laws of the church related to sexual orientation and same-gender weddings from here on out.

For the record, I have never and will never disclose my own sexual orientation. I mean, it’s just so irrelevant. How did we ever get the idea that it had anything to do with being qualified to be a pastor? It seems kind of funny when you think about it. I mean, why in the world would you care?

As one who has mostly served in appointments beyond the local church it has never been something I’ve done all that frequently, but whenever I’ve been asked to preside at a wedding I’ve done so with a sense of joy and humility. I performed my first holy union in 1988 when I was the pastor of Bethany United Methodist Church in Roslindale, MA and I have been performing holy unions and weddings between same gender persons, once that became legal, ever since.

FreedomToMarryNow that’s something worth caring about. That’s something worth shouting from the rooftops. In a world where there is so much hurt and pain, I have been honored to stand with couples affirming their covenantal love before God, the community of faith and their families. And to pledge with those present to uphold these couples as they continue to care for and to love one another.

At first I was discreet about performing holy unions and same-gender weddings because I understood that many in the church needed time to study and dialogue and reflect. I’ll never forget the night my 80+ year-old organist called and said that she figured homosexuality was ok with God after all. But what she really didn’t understand was anal sex. We were in the middle of a six-week study about homosexuality and she had clearly taken it to heart! After I picked myself up off the floor of the parsonage kitchen I told Virginia I didn’t really get anal sex either, but that I really didn’t think that mattered. She allowed as how she agreed and that was that. Virginia just passed her 100th birthday and as far as I know has been fine with same-gender marriage for these past 20 years.

mayflowerNot that pastors won’t still get that kind of call from parishioners struggling to figure out where sexuality fits into the picture, whether it be opposite or same gender, but the point here is that that call came 25 years ago. When it comes to sexual orientation being a determining factor in whether one can be ordained, and the gender of two people seeking the blessing of the church when wanting to get married, the ship of “time for study and dialogue” sailed a long time ago. The institutions that support and surround physicians, psychiatrists, teachers, police officers, business people, politicians….have all come to a place of understanding and acceptance. Will the church, those of us who gather in the name of Jesus to be about the business of sharing God’s love, really be the last bastion of rejection and ignorance?

Together 33 years, Gay Marriage in Brooklyn, July 24, 2011 -- fabulous photo by Diane Greene Lent

So, for what it’s worth, I’m just “over it” when it comes to anything related to charges and trials. Not that I was ever going to stop marrying people, same or opposite gender, as I have been honored to do for the entire length of my ordained ministry. But now, and here’s what feels different, I don’t think I’ll even participate in discussions or strategy about how to outwit or change the injustices in the polity of the church that provide for charges to be brought and trials to be had.

designingwomenIt’s just all so 20th century….kind of like shoulder pads in women’s suit jackets. It’s time to clean the UMC closet. It’s embarrassing every time we wear one of those things out in public. Should someone file a complaint against me I think I’ll just ignore it. Should my bishop call me in to account for my actions (in so far as it relates to performing same-gender weddings) I have a hunch I just won’t go. Should a trial be scheduled, I’ll be hard pressed to participate and would ask my clergy colleagues to refuse to serve on a jury to convict me for breaking a law which is so clearly unjust to begin with. In fact, let’s have a pot luck clergy party. I’ll bring the chocolate chip cookies. Anyone else in?

I don’t want to sound cavalier about this. I know that many are in positions far more vulnerable than mine. I do want to share, however, the sense of joy and freedom that I have experienced of late in coming to this place.

I have a strong sense of peace, of realizing that this battle is won. There will still be some casualties, but it is becoming wonderfully clear that the unjust laws of the church have lost their power. United Methodist clergy are declaring in large numbers that they simply will not follow the law when it comes to performing same-gender weddings and living openly in loving, covenanted same-gender relationships.

gay-pride-marchAnd so, I join the thousands of clergy across the country who are now saying to same-gender couples wanting to get married in a United Methodist Church and/or by a United Methodist Clergyperson, “you are precious and loved by this representative of the church and I will gladly celebrate your love and your desire to enter into the covenant of marriage before God, the community of faith and your family.” I will do so as long as I am able. And should I lose my clergy orders and be unable to do so in the future, another clergy person will take my place. And another after that and another after that. We have reached the tipping point. The tide has turned and there is no holding it back.

Love is far greater than fear, so fear not. Thanks be to God.



Rev. Kathryn Johnson, Elder New England Annual Conference