We, the undersigned Deacons, Elders, and Local Pastors of the East Ohio Conference, are called in this moment in the life of The United Methodist Church to offer you this open pastoral letter. We offer this letter as clergy members of the East Ohio Conference, and not as representatives of our local churches or appointments.
You have shared publicly that you are committed to work with us, alongside us, and journey with us as we continue to learn and think creatively and strategically together about the future of our church. You’ve stated that this future church, embodies the full inclusion of all persons, including our LGBTQIA siblings and that you will continue to journey with us as we all work forward and advocate forward God’s inclusive love for the world. We believe your heart is with us. Know our hearts are with you. We stand with you as our Resident Bishop.
We join you in acknowledging that the special General Conference inflicted deep harm on our LBGTQIA colleagues, church members, friends, and family. Many of us have spent hours offering pastoral care to those harmed. We’re struggling to convince our members to continue to tithe or at the very least to stay. We’re also saying broken hearted farewells to those who cannot.
We lift up these laments and confessions in the wake of all that has happened:-- We confess the ways our silence, privilege, and concern for the preservation of the institutional church has for too long harmed LBGTQIA people, excluding them from the life of the East Ohio Conference.-- We confess this is part of a long history of harm perpetrated by the church. We have and continue to struggle as a church with racism and sexism, and we continue to find need to broaden the conversation to include these systemic sins that still plague our connection.-- We lament the current state of The United Methodist Church. We confess the institutional church was unable to move us forward as it was called to do. It is stuck.-- We lament the narrowly passed, overtly punitive, and constitutionally suspect petitions in search of a legislative win at the Special General Conference. The General Conference, as a governing body, is broken.-- We lament the marginalization of the Council of Bishops as an institution. Its leadership and recommendations were disregarded at the Special General Conference.
Over the past weeks, we have made space and taken time to listen to members of our congregations and ministry settings. They have told us they no longer recognize their Church. They are wondering how they can, with any integrity, share the Gospel of Jesus Christ and invite people, especially young people, into the life of their congregation or ministry setting. Our members are calling for action. They are saying, “Enough!” “The harm is too much.” “It is time to decide who we are and where we stand.”
These words convict us.
Because of our convictions and those with whom we serve, we refuse to accept the United Methodist stance that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm the rich diversity of sexual orientations and gender expressions as part of God’s good creation. No one group of people are inherently more sinful than another. All people are ensnared in sin and need God’s prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace.
We can no longer abide by the restrictions the Book of Discipline has placed on inclusion of LBGTQIA people in the full life of the UMC.
We will take our authority as clergy to perform marriages per our consciences for our congregants and our communities, whosoever they are. We will not perform these marriages in our churches unless they agree to do so, but we will perform them as licensed to do so by the state.
We call upon our District Committees on Ministry and the East Ohio Annual Conference Board of Ministry to recommended qualified candidates for ministry, whosoever they are.
We affirm your authority as a Bishop, to consecrate, commission, and ordain all qualified and elected candidates for ministry — Bishops, Deacons, Elders, Local Pastors, Mission Personnel — whosoever they are.
Out of the ashes of the Special General Conference we sense the Holy Spirit moving. A new day is dawning – in our local communities, not in legislative maneuvering. We commit to following the Spirit’s lead. We invite you to join us.
We stand ready to chart a way forward for United Methodism – in East Ohio and around the connection. Now is the moment to unite in confessing the harm we have done and continue to do to our LBGTQIA siblings; covenanting to faithfully keep our baptismal vow to follow Jesus Christ in resisting “evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves;” and boldly sharing the good news of God’s abundant grace.
In the grace of Jesus Christ who calls us,
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