Content warning: Church trauma toward LGBTQ+ people.
“Liddy! I'm short on communion servers. Would you mind helping out?”
Christmas of my freshman year, I remember feeling relieved to be back at my home church. I had only just begun worshipping with Duke Wesley, the United Methodist campus ministry that has since become my home. That first fall, I ached for the comfort of the community that raised me.
I grew up loving church, and that hasn’t changed in the last four years. But I have. And church has.
My friends at Wesley and I are United Methodists. Last February, our church’s worldwide decision-making body met for a special conference to decide whether the United Methodist Church (UMC) would continue barring pastors from performing same-gender weddings, and LGBTQ+ people from being ordained as ministers. Though this conference seemed like it would guide the UMC toward a split along these lines, it instead strictly reinforced the current exclusion of LGBTQ+ people from full church life.
We were crushed. Several of us queer, several of us thinking about becoming pastors, all of us connected deeply to this church, we gathered the night of the decision for our weekly communion service. Our voices broke as we repeated the prayer of confession of the church that had raised us, had gathered us together here at Duke, had betrayed our trust and our love: We have failed to be an obedient church. We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy. Forgive us, we pray.
Nearly a year later, leaders from across the spectrum of belief about LGBTQ+ identities have formed a plan to be voted upon, among other plans, at the General Conference this May. This plan, endorsed by both LGBTQ+-exclusionary and LGBTQ+-affirming leaders, would remove the LGBTQ+-exclusionary policies from the UMC and create a new denomination for churches who oppose full LGBTQ+ inclusion.
If implemented, it would ensure that places like Duke Wesley would maintain both their strong connection to the church body and their strong affirmation of the sanctity and beauty of LGBTQ+ people. But it would mean that the UMC would move forward without many of the people that call themselves Methodists today.
Communion is a big deal for us Methodists. When we offer one another the body of Christ, broken for you, and the blood of Christ, shed for you, we are saying to each other, the God we share loves you so much that he gave up his own life so that all of us could learn how to be together and take care of each other in the middle of our brokenness. We are saying, we belong to God and we belong to each other.
At my home church on the first Sunday of 2020, I offered beloved mentors, sweet acquaintances and total strangers the body of Christ, broken for you. Over and over again I said these words to hundreds of members of a community that I grew up loving and that grew up loving me, but whose stance on LGBTQ+-inclusion is unclear. I know and love this church dearly, and yet I have no idea whether it will be part of my denomination this time next year.
But I could not ask each of the people with their hands outstretched, will you love and protect the queer and trans people in your midst? I could only say, the body of Christ, broken for you.
I know well how much it hurts people to grow up in a church only to find out that it does not love them back, how deeply a church’s conditional love can wound. I also know that communion reminds us that our love for one another simply cannot be conditional.
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The people and institutions hostile toward LGBTQ+ people have loved their neighbor with conditions, breaking the promise of unconditional love and trust that Jesus modeled for humanity. And I never want to stop working toward creating a world where it is easier for oppressed people, including my LGBTQ+ siblings, to breathe. I just don’t think my church dividing is a step toward that world.
I think it’s important to note here that I do not think LGBTQ+ people should be forced to be in community with people who would cause them harm. Historically marginalized people and people who have experienced trauma should be free to make whatever choices help them feel safe, loved and whole, and I want to prioritize their wellbeing above all else.
I also want to push back against any narrative that would offer a moral equivalency between LGBTQ+ people and the people who hurt them. Holding an identity and holding a belief about an identity are two different things. There are no “two sides” to this issue, no two righteous ways to love your neighbor here. There is a group of people who are marginalized and a group of people doing the marginalizing. And, in the Gospels, Jesus always shows up on the side of the marginalized.
But I know that when I refuse to look someone in the eye with whom I disagree at the most fundamental level and say, God loves you and I love you, I lose the very essence of what Jesus has compelled me to do. The precious and terrible reality of being a follower of Jesus is that Jesus is always pointing us back to the people we feel good about hating—even when we feel good about hating those people because they harmed people we love.
If the UMC were to remain tied together in community, LGBTQ+-exclusionary Methodists would owe their LGBTQ+ siblings a posture of repentance, a willingness to do the hard work of repairing the trauma they inflicted on their neighbors. Even then, this church may never feel safe again for some LGBTQ+ people. That reality is painful. And it is a reality because predominantly white-led, predominantly male-led, and predominantly straight-led institutions have, for centuries, sanctioned their followers’ hatred and exclusion of other people.
That history of harm is precisely why church needs to be a place where I hear, over and over again, that I belong to both my LGBTQ+ siblings and those who have hurt them, or I will risk living with the same hatred compelling the very people I have the hardest time loving to tell queer and trans people that they are not beloved children of God.
If my church is going to split, which it almost certainly is, I am glad that it will likely split this way, centering the LGBTQ+ community. But the last thing homophobic and transphobic Christians need is a church that teaches homophobia and transphobia.
The creation of a new church that loves with conditions will not help us learn how to love unconditionally. LGBTQ+ children will still grow up in churches that teach them they are unworthy of love as they are. Christians in this new church will learn that breaking bread in a community without queer and trans people is acceptable, even holier. Those of us in the UMC will have lost the ability to show folks rejecting LGBTQ+ people that they belong to the very people they hate. And we will have lost some of our ability to teach one another that we belong to the very people we hate, too.
Liddy Grantland is a Trinity senior who promises she’ll get back to her very uplifting usual programming about chronic pain very soon. Her column, feel your feelings, runs on alternate Tuesdays.