Last month, a special session was called within the United Methodist Conference to specifically address the issue of LGBTQ individuals serving in clergy positions and performing same-sex marriages, which has not been allowed. Being raised in a Japanese American Methodist church and still a member of one, I was very interested in this special convening, hoping to hear that the church I was raised in would finally let LGBTQ clergy serve and marry same-sex couples.
From what I had heard from Methodist LGBTQ individuals there was great hope, especially since many of their churches were becoming more welcoming to the LGBTQ community. At Okaeri 2018, a short documentary was unveiled that featured Rev. Allison Mark from Faith United Methodist Church, who talked about the need for acceptance for LGBTQ individuals.
And so I joined all the hopeful who believed that the Methodist church would move toward a more inclusive stance called the One Church Plan. This plan gave churches latitude to decide what this stance would look like. Many churches within the denomination (like in Africa and Russia) are decades behind in this issue, so this would give them the opportunity to slowly move to a more inclusive position.
That wasn’t to be the case. Although it was a relatively close vote (a 50-vote difference), the Methodist conference voted to stay with a more Traditional Plan, which would not allow clergy to marry same-sex couples or serve if they were LGBTQ. It was a heartbreaking message to send to their LGBTQ clergy, the LGBTQ community and the families that love their LGBTQ children.
Many were devastated and deeply hurt. I heard from different sources how toxic it was to be at this event, how tears flowed from the vote of nonacceptance and how clergy both LGBTQ and allies walked away stunned and grieving from the experience.
In a Facebook post, Rev. Mark shared, “I humbly apologize for the harm that the UMC denomination has inflicted on the LGBTQIA community. Everyone is of sacred worth, no matter what anyone else may say to the contrary. In the Western Jurisdiction and at Faith UMC, I can speak with confidence that our doors are always open to all because ALL MEANS ALL.”
West Los Angeles UMC, a church that became reconciling in 2017, posted this comment on its Facebook page: “In the midst of a painful and divisive General Conference, the Western Jurisdiction will lead the way in demonstrating One Faith, One Church, One Commitment to Serving Christ, and an Inclusive Welcome to All People.”
Both Rev. Gary Oba and Rev. Janet Cromwell have been amazing advocates for the LGBTQ community, inviting Aiden and I to speak and hosting an event where people from their church vulnerably shared their experiences being LGBTQ.
Finally, I received an email from the Sage Granada Park UMC, which is the church where our PFLAG San Gabriel Valley Asian Pacific Islander group meets. Rev. George Marsden reached out to me after the vote and said, “Please be assured, that the SGVAPI PFLAG still has a home at Sage Granada Park UMC. I want to continue providing space and support for the important conversations that PFLAG encourages.”
After the news came out about the vote, I texted Aiden to see if he was OK. He said he was fine, since he has no ties to religion any longer. This was a child that loved church and God so much that at one time he wore a bracelet that said WWJD or what would Jesus do. But today, he doesn’t feel connected to religion. For now, I think that is OK … at least he is not hearing hurtful messages that tell him he is unworthy of love and belonging.
It is so hard for me to see LGBTQ individuals choose between church and their own well-being, when the church is where we go often go for comfort, strength and a place that fills a special part of who we are.
I met a young gay individual recently who shared with me that he has moved away from his conservative Asian church. He grew up in the church and really misses it, but like Aiden, he no longer trusts it to be a place where he is unconditionally accepted and embraced. I find that heartbreaking and wonder if God’s heart is breaking, too.
It is also hard for me to see churches asking parents of LGBTQ individuals to choose between their church and their child. My child did not choose to be who he is, but I have a choice and so does the church. I choose to love him and stand by him, like many Methodist churches.
I am so grateful for the Methodist Western Jurisdiction, who are taking an inclusive stand despite the United Methodist conference vote. They are choosing to love not judge, to welcome not reject, to be open to change, not guided by ways of the past, but looking forward to what will bring greater humanity to the world in the present and the future.
“And now these three remain:
faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 13:13:
Marsha Aizumi is an advocate in the LGBT community and author of the book “Two Spirits, One Heart: A Mother, Her Transgender Son and Their Journey to Love and Acceptance.”