My Broken United Methodist Heart

The Op-Ed Page

By Paul V. DeMarco
Guest Columnist

I was driving towards Johnsonville from Marion on a recent Sunday to make a home visit and had to make a detour because of a wreck on the Highway 378 bridge. The glory of the early spring afternoon mitigated the inconvenience and took me to parts of the Pee Dee I had never travelled. As I passed Good Hope United Methodist Church in Hemingway, an irregularity in the large marble sign in front caught my eye. I circled back and parked to investigate. The word “United” had been covered over with duct tape. (See image below.)

This, sadly, was not the work of a prankster. It was an indication of the schism that is dividing the United Methodist Church (UMC). Like many denominations, we have struggled with the role of the LGBTQ community in the church. After years of discussion by our leadership and in local congregations, the break has finally come. Those churches who are unwilling to see LGBTQ people as full human beings, able to be ordained and to marry each other, are leaving. Many are joining a new conservative denomination, the Global Methodist Church. Others will remain independent or join older denominations with similar views about homosexuality. But whatever road they choose, they have given up on the United Methodist experiment that began in 1968.

I passed two other small, formerly United Methodist Churches on my detour back to Johnsonville, Ebenezer and Old Johnsonville, both of which are disaffiliating from the UMC. They had both removed the “United” from their premises, the former by pulling metal letters out of its brick sign, the latter by painting over the offending adjective.

Disaffiliating pastors and members commonly cite the half-dozen biblical verses that pertain to homosexuality as their reason for leaving. But we in the UMC have for decades routinely ignored biblical teachings about the role of women, adultery, and slavery, among other topics. Our Southern Baptist brethren interpret the Bible such that it excludes women from the pulpit. We in the UMC treat women as equals and allow them full access to roles as ministers and bishops. Disregard of verses such as those that condemn adulterers to death (e.g., Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22) and verses that condone slavery (e.g., Exodus 21:20-21) is standard practice in the UMC.

The Bible is a big, complicated book which is often contradictory. Every denomination and all Christians must use their best judgment when interpreting scripture. It is therefore disheartening and surprising that so many churches would use such scant scriptural logic to split the church. But an astounding number have. Nationwide, the UMC is losing about 25% of its churches (roughly 7,500 out of 30,000). Most heartbreaking to me is the trapping of good friends of mine in unwelcoming churches. I’ve been shocked by the good people I know who have voted to leave, including a friend I greatly admire.

She is a beautiful human being, one of those people who treats everyone with genuine respect no matter who they are. I have seen her work with the very poorest and the very richest, and with people of all races, religions, and sexual orientations. She treats them all with the dignity they deserve.

I knew she had worked with many LGBTQ patients with full acceptance, so I asked her if she would be willing to talk with me about her decision to leave. She agreed, as I knew she would.

It was a quiet, deep conversation between a Christian brother and sister struggling to discern God’s will. She told me that she was deeply ambivalent about the decision, and that it had moved her to tears. She has gay members of her extended family that she loves. Her congregation includes a family with adult gay siblings. The vote to leave the church was unanimous except for the siblings and their mother. She knew that she would likely never see them again in church, which was upsetting to her.

When I asked her why she voted to leave, she expressed some fears. She mentioned a fear of extremists in the UMC leadership moving the church in a direction that was counter to her understanding of the Bible. She raised the possibility of a cross-dressing or transgender minister as something she could not tolerate.

She mentioned her teenage son and conversations they had had about LGBTQ people. He was accepting of his gay friends and relatives. My friend said without hesitation that if her son turned out to be gay, she would be unconditionally supportive of him. “I know that’s true,” I responded. She is such an open, loving mother that a gay child would be blessed to have her as a parent. “But,” I said, “now you have guaranteed that you will not be able to show that love to a gay member of your church.” We were silent for a few moments. I thanked her, and our conversation ended.

There will be some shuffling of congregations over the next few years as Methodists sort through how they want to express their values. In my church, which remains a United Methodist Church, we have seen some new faces that have come from disaffiliating churches. Perhaps we will lose some of our more conservative members.

My friend will likely stay in her disaffiliating church because of all the ties she has to it, even if it doesn’t represent who she is in her life outside the church. In her work, she lives out the parable of the Good Samaritan. But she has voted to be part of a congregation that, if you are gay, passes by on the other side.

A version of this column appeared in the April 18th edition of the Post and Courier-Pee Dee.

16 thoughts on “My Broken United Methodist Heart

  1. Carol Smith

    I think Paul sounds like a good friend to have. I wish I had someone like him to speak up as his convictions are mine but he is much braver!!

  2. Ken

    These disaffiliations are bigotry masquerading as faith.

    So-called Christians need to direct serious soul-searching at their own base prejudicies — or disaffiiate themselves from Christianity altogether.

      1. Ken

        It’s in the nature of a masquerade that it is unwilling to take things as they are.

        To paraphrase Elizabeth Hardwick, society — or a part of it, like religion — runs into difficulty when it fails to scrutinize the many pieties and hypocracies that claim the aspect of the eternal but which are, in fact, mere prejudice or matters of unexamined convenience.

  3. Robert Amundson

    Thanks Paul; I was proudly raised a United Methodist, but even though I am no longer active in any single church, when I returned to my childhood home I was drawn to my beautiful church. Immediately I felt something was very wrong, and Paul describes what I noticed. My Wesleyan beliefs were “uncomfortable” with the more Calvinistic actions of the minister (a recovering female Catholic in training) and leanings of the congregation.

    So as I pass this wonderful church with an unbelievable pipe organ and stained glass, as a Developer, I will buy it as it fails. As I travel (18,000 miles according to Google for March) I see too many failed, vacant, HISTORICAL churches. Right across from my used to be UMC Church is a beautiful old Presbyterian church, now a food bank, etc.

    All religions are failing in attracting our children. They have failed me. I was a Junior in the local high school in 1971. Jethro Tull – Aqualung – Wind-up: “And I asked this God a question, and by way of firm reply, he said: ‘I’m not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays.’ … I don’t believe you! You had the whole damn thing all wrong; he’s not the kind you have to wind up on Sundays.”

    Immigration and abortion – Cultural issues that have divided our Country. I am so frustrated that my wonderful family cannot travel from the Philippines to the USA. 42 countries have VISA “Deals” with Homeland Security, and the Philippines is not on the list. So I have to pay $800 to Homeland Security, with a three to six month investigation period, to bring my family to the United States. Then we have 90 days to get married.

    I tire of our Country’s current pattern of “getting it wrong.” I am hopeful that “the Silent Majority” spoke through the House of Representatives this weekend. We must stand up to bullying, in all its forms. It causes so much trauma. Think about this please.

    From my time in the Navy I have a cartoon with a black sheep going against the flow of white sheep falling off the cliff. The black sheep is saying “excuse me, excuse me.” I love it when a plan comes together, but note by initials are BA. Bad Attitude. Bad A**. Without darkness there is no greatness nor light.

    But let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me. I learned to sing that in my lovely church.


  4. Judy

    I’m so very proud that MY United Methodist Church is remaining United. There has never been any doubt that we would stay so.

  5. clark surratt

    At least one good thing about this nation: If you don’t like the church you are in, there’s another one just down the street and many more beyond.

    1. Barry

      Yep- and the one right down the road usually believes the one you came from is pretty much crazy- or is way, way wrong.


  6. DougT

    With mainline Protestant Church membership shrinking already, a 100 member church becomes two 50 member (or 60/40 whatever) churches. It’s happening in my community. They are hastening their demise.

    1. Barry

      Typically, when a 100 member church splits, you don’t end up with 100 members to split up.

      a health percentage of those folks will just stop going to church altogether. Seen it happen a lot of times.

      1) You have the newer folks that are so distressed about the split, some of those just decide not to try again.

      2) You have the folks that have been through this before and they can’t take it again. They are gone.

      3) You have a few younger people that were only going out of habit. They see the ugly stuff and decide they don’t need it or want it.

  7. Doug Ross

    Wondering how Brad will thread the needle to explain why the Catholic Church will never allow women to be priests or Pope is acceptable…


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