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    Gentle Methodists, Where’s Your Anger?

    By Dr. Tim Seelig–

    Once again, we return to Holly Near’s iconic lyrics, “We are a gentle, angry people.” Well, one group of people should be firmly in the angry category. Who, you ask? The Methodists, and every single progressive person who has any connection with organized religion.

    My message? Forget the gentle. You need to get angry. And the countless thousands—hundreds of thousands—who’ve been hurt by your denomination’s recent actions will be encouraged by your outrage. The worst part of this current situation is that the Methodists have been inviting LGBTQ people into their fold, their home, as it were.

    But once inside, they are not allowed at the dining table. They are not allowed to really be accepted into the family. And now, they have, once again, been told, “We’re so glad you’re here. You can stay as long as you pretend to be something other than who you are.” And they voted on it!

    On March 10, over 60 members of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus traveled to the Los Altos United Methodist Church to give a concert in protest of the UMC’s recent vote. The idea of a protest concert emerged from the church’s Artist in Residence, singer/songwriter Bobby Jo Valentine ( http://www.bobbyjovalentine.com/ ). We were thrilled to be included.

    It was a big deal for a UMC in the South Bay to host SFGMC in protest to the vote. As many of you know, we have been knocking down walls and using the stones to build bridges for our entire history. This time, it was at the church’s invitation—much like our recent musical pilgrimages into the battle grounds of the Baptists, Catholics and, yes, Mormons.

    To be informed and factually correct about the recent decision, I decided to go to the source ( http://www.umc.org/ ). Let me summarize briefly from their own site. Oh my, what a venture that was. Mid-way through I took a break for more blood pressure medication. Here you go.


    Last month, the global UMC met in St. Louis. The “Traditional Plan” was passed with 438 “yes” votes (53 percent) to 384 “no” votes (47 percent). “This means our current statements about homosexuality, same-sex marriage and the ordination of LGBTQ persons have not fundamentally changed from The 2016 Book of Discipline.”

    Now, that’s a lovely, warm, inclusive document. Love the title. I may have seen a copy of The Book of Discipline at Folsom Street Fair. Anyway, it says:

    “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore, self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church. ‘Self-avowed practicing homosexual’ is understood to mean that a person openly acknowledges to a bishop, district superintendent, district committee of ordained ministry, board of ordained ministry or clergy session that the person is a practicing homosexual.”

    Wow, people. I say practice makes perfect! Keep doing just that. And, even more importantly, keep “self-avowing” all over the place!

    Seriously, this is a travesty for a huge denomination that has been attempting to move in the direction of love for all. It is a huge set-back for all believers, not just Methodists. Growing up Southern Baptist, we always thought the Methodists were uber-liberal in comparison. They even allow women in the pulpit. Not so liberal after all. On the inclusion scale, from Mormons on the far right and Metropolitan Community Church on the left, the Methodists just took a not-so-small “step to the right” in this very rocky horror show.

    But wait, there’s more. From the UMC site, these words of understanding and condolence:

    “We acknowledge that many LGBTQIA people, their loved ones and allies were hurt by the speeches, rhetoric and decisions of the General Conference. We pray for healing and forgiveness.”

    What? OK, I’ll stop for a moment. T & P. Thoughts and Prayers. Not enough.

    Before I continue to rant, please allow me to share some of the thoughts of the wonderful members of the staff of Los Altos United Methodist Church who invited and hosted us.

    Rev. Kathi McShane, Senior Pastor

    “I have never felt so proud of the church I am part of, and I have never felt so ashamed of the institution that I have given my professional life to building. We are sorry, and we are glad to stand firmly on the side of change.”

    Sam (Samantha) Blewis, Associate Pastor

    “Sunday evening’s worship with the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus was a beautiful opportunity for our congregation to state emphatically that we are a people working to erase the barriers which divide those who are ‘in’ and those who are ‘out.’ What was most meaningful to me was being able to gather with my wife, after a devastating vote against us, and hear such personal affirmation and love in this act of singing, sharing and testifying to what God’s love looks like.”

    Bobby Jo Valentine, SFGMC Artist in Residence

    “In the midst of the denomination’s turmoil, the stage was filled to overflowing with the men of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. They sang about love, acceptance, and what it means to be different in a fearful world that treasures sameness. Even though the church has found itself flailing in a storm of pride, tension and dysfunction, this heartfelt group of talented singers drove down with a profound message of acceptance and forgiveness. Undoubtedly, one of the best sermons ever delivered were the songs sung on March 10th. I’m humbled at the outpouring of love that night. It won’t soon be forgotten.”

    The concert was an important moment in time and a powerful statement. Performing an average of 50 to 60 times a year, it is most often the case that we receive more than we give.

    One of our own singers wrote this:

    “I grew up in the United Methodist Church. So, the parting benediction in Los Altos on March 10 broke me a little bit. The pastor didn’t bless the congregation. She and the entire congregation faced and blessed us. I’ve been an out gay man for decades. I’d like to think I’m pretty comfortable with who I am. Yeah. I’d like to. Turns out that down deep, I still hunger for acceptance from the UMC, a tribe that helped raise me. Their support moves me to tears. Although I’m no longer a churchgoer, I’m deeply glad to have Los Altos UMC and other welcoming congregations as allies. I’m also grateful beyond words to each of you, and to SFGMC as an institution for fighting and singing to bring acceptance everywhere. There are lots of hungry hearts out here.”

    In conclusion, I can only imagine how devastating this vote was for those who have been working towards it for decades. Sounds as if perhaps the Methodist electoral college went against the majority of the people. If 47% of Methodists are really serious about change in their denomination, I hope they will embrace a deeper sense of indignance and urgency. I would love to see more anger, and less gentleness, toward the unforgivable actions that have sent countless loving people reeling. Gentleness and anger are both necessary in our fight, but right now, Methodists everywhere need to rise up and say, “No, this is not who we are or who God wants us to be.”

    Or, better yet, to the 53%, not just no, but “hell, no.”

    One of the songs the chorus sang was a mash-up of the Emma Lazarus text, “Give me your tired, your poor” and Stephen Schwartz and Alan Menken’s “God help the outcasts,” which ends with, “I thought we all were the children of God.” Perhaps we are. Just not welcome at the Methodist table.

    If nothing else, I hope this article encourages us all to think. I hope it encourages pause to reflect on where we really are in this journey toward equality and inclusion. I know for myself, tolerance is no longer enough. I’m even done with acceptance. I expect to be celebrated!

    Most of all, I’m going to keep on “self-avowing” and practicing my homosexuality every chance I get. And singing about it, too!

    Dr. Tim Seelig is the Artistic Director of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus.