Dear Bishop Johnson,
Greetings in the Name of Jesus Christ, who proclaims, “to set the oppressed free!” (Luke 4:18)
Again, thank you for your quick reply.
In your response you say, “I deeply appreciate the pain and rejection of LGBT people in the UMC as the Discipline is written right now. I also see a whole generation of people who are more conservative and have sincere beliefs that are grieved in the opposite direction… I am committed to dialog and making a way in the wilderness but it will come slowly.” You hold these two groups up as though they present two equally valid claims. I must insist that those who are oppressed by discrimination are not equal to those who are holding, teaching, and affirming oppression. If that is the case, I cannot believe that you really “appreciate the pain and rejection of LGBT people.”
Are you aware that LGBT youth are 4-6 times more likely to commit suicide because of factors like rejection by family, friends, and our church? These same youth are 7 times more likely to be physically attacked and injured with a weapon. Half of all LGBT youth report to have been verbally abused for being who God created them to be, and a third miss at least one day a month from school due to extreme bullying, contributing to a High School drop out rate among LGBT youth nearly three times the national average. These statistics are just the start of the deep and continued oppression of LGBT people that the United Methodist Church affirms by our slow movement, silence, and overwhelming inaction. Worse yet the UMC enshrines in her laws, passages that proclaim these youth are “incompatible with Christian teaching” and that God has no intention of calling these youth to a place in our denomination, or the Kingdome of God, since; “self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.” (Paragraph 304.3) This is a much larger issue than a simple disagreement among kindred folks on marriage equality; these practices, beliefs, and teachings do actual harm to countless men, women and youth.
Maybe the “generation” we need to be concerned about is not the one whose “conservative beliefs” have contributed to and supported the oppression and rejection of LGBT people, the same conservative views that upheld racial segregation and to this day close pulpits to women, like you, called by God to proclaim Good News. Instead, maybe we need to look to future generations of the church; generations that the UMC is hemorrhaging daily due to legally codified discrimination and hypocrisy.
In his book, UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks abut Christianity… and Why it Matters, David Kinnaman reports that, when asked what it means to be Christian, 91 percent of non-church going youth today, almost an entire generation of people that we hope might still hear and respond to the Good News of Jesus Christ, think the most common attribute among believers is that they are anti-gay. Worse yet, more than 1 in 4 say that Christianity looks nothing like our Lord, Jesus. You see, they (the “unchurched”) want to get Jesus, they just don’t get the hate we teach in His name. I regrettably cannot help but agree and question how did a movement founded on the example of Jesus, who welcomed and partied with the poor, hurt, and oppressed, become a bureaucracy laden organization that repels these very same people in the name of self preservation, especially self preservation of a generation that puts legality above love?
Bishop Johnson, with respect, our bishops, elders, deacons, licensed pastors and congregations who continue to proclaim they love, welcome, and accept LGBT people, but then uphold the unjust, discriminatory, and oppressive laws in our Book of Discipline are being hypocritical… a term more than 80 percent of youth surveyed in Kinnaman’s book use to describe the believers who make up the church. This double speak by our leaders and congregations does real harm to individuals, and to the Gospel message we attempt to proclaim, a direct violation of one of Wesley’s “three simple rules” or “General Rules” as we call them in the Book of Disciple; “Do No Harm” (Paragraph 102).
Rather than patronizing and pacifying a generation bound in the sin of discrimination and pure hate, leaders in our denomination should use your prophetic voice to proclaim, and act out, that these “conservative beliefs” are in error, that these beliefs, while long held, are simply wrong, that these beliefs, strung together with bad exegesis of biblical texts, stand against the Good News proclaimed by Christ and the Apostles. Leaders must say, not only with words but also with actions, I will not uphold discrimination, even if it costs me my job. It is quite literally a matter of life and death… If you do not believe the urgency of this please take time to visit the Trevor Project’s website and take a moment to click on and watch the YouTube link at the bottom of this letter.
When I served at the United Methodist Publishing House I received a call from one of my store managers saying that an Anglo-American church had said they believed that their choir would be more comfortable if African-American members of the staff did not come to the church to measure for choir robes. The manger asked what to do and I told them to let the church know we do not honor such discriminatory requests and if they had an issue with that policy they should look for another company to provide their choir robes. The church did not persist in their blatant prejudice, at least on this issue, and shortly thereafter I joined one of my African-American staff members as we went together and measured their robes. By allowing people to continue in their incorrect beliefs, without bringing them in direct confrontation with truth, is as bad as teaching those beliefs from our own mouths. Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel reminds us, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” If we fail to speak and act, at the risk of our very lives, careers, and fortunes, the blood of a generation that is falling away from the Good News of Jesus Christ, due to our hypocrisy and our lack of prophetic love, is on our hands.
So, since in your second response you again did not respond to my questions, I will ask yet again; will you appoint ordained elders, deacons, or licensed pastors who openly perform same-gender marriage in Maryland and Delaware, where marriage equality is legal? I also ask, will you continue to allow ordained or licensed clergy brought before you, for performing such ceremonies, to face ecclesial trials for living out your own admonition of “speaking up for [our] LGBT brothers and sisters” by laboring in “protecting the rights of all people” by performing marriage legally and equally in the Peninsula Delaware Annual Conference? Will you as Bishop continue to stand behind, and for, unjust laws that promote hate and discrimination in our Book of Discipline or will you live out other duties assigned to you in Paragraph 403.1a,b,c,d as an “appointed officer of the church”?
I, and an entire generation being displaced by our church’s discrimination, await your clear and direct reply to these questions.
Soli Deo Gloria
Asa David Coulson
October 23, 2013 – The Feast of Saint James the Just, martyr