Love and Frustration at the United Methodist Conference
Johnny Gall’s Facebook profile picture encapsulates his spiritual homelessness in blue paint on a plywood silhouette: “God called me. The church won’t have me. Now what?”
As a gay man and a Methodist pursuing ordination, Gall is trapped between vocation and frustration. He received a Dean’s Fellowship to Boston University School of Theology just months before the United Methodist Church’s General Conference voted down a resolution that would allow for a diversity of thought regarding gender and sexual minorities. However, after participating in a protest meant to draw attention to LGBT Methodists, Gall left the conference — and its decision to reaffirm anti-gay platitudes in the church — with a renewed faith in his God.
Organizers of the protest, MOSAIC and Affirmation (two queer groups that advocate for increasing acceptance of LGBT people in the Methodist church), have urged the denomination to grow in its acceptance of sexual minorities for forty years, and both initially felt that this could be their time.
Two measures introduced at this year’s convention — both aimed at allowing fluidity in the church’s perception of gay people, and to affirm lesbians and gay men as beloved children of God — could have softened the official doctrine in the Methodist Book of Discipline, which calls homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Both failed a majority vote.
The first few days of the convention looked promising, with a large turnout of supportive delegates. As debates transpired and the dynamics shifted, it became apparent that the large conservative-evangelical influence in the Methodist church would win out. Gall and those with him planned for disappointment, but also for a chance to make their stand.
“It aimed to show we were hopeful, wanted a new church — letting people see the genuineness of our faith, and that we do all worship the same god,” Gall told Campus Progress. “I definitely feel compelled by what I read in the Bible to advocate for social justice, and I didn't like letting [anti-gay Conservatives] always have the Bible on their side.”
When the votes were in, Gall and his fellows spilled into the hall and gathered around a central communion table in a pre-planned worship service. Bedecked in rainbow outfits, they sang hymns and prayed. As he took communion, Gall began to cry.
Despite earlier plans, when the worship ended, the LGBT Methodists stayed in the hall in defiance of their church’s repudiation. “Since we stayed there and talked back, and showed that we weren’t going anywhere, that gave me a sense of power,” Gall said. “They cannot take our communion, and they cannot take our faith away from us.”
In the wake of the vote against greater gay and lesbian acceptance, the General Conference did not hold a referendum on the church’s ban on performing same-sex marriages and ordaining non-celibate gay ministers. Recently, Minnesota's United Methodists voted 400-169 to reject a November ballot measure that would enshrine a same-sex marriage ban in the state's constitution — seemingly rejecting their denomination's proscription against homosexuality. Like most Protestants, the United Methodists are increasingly divided on their acceptance of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people; unlike the Presbyterians, they voted against affirming gay people as part of their church community.
Rejected by his denomination, Gall nonetheless left the conference with renewed commitment to the Methodist church. The real spirit of the faith, he said, was in the people around him who bore out the witness of love. Part stubbornness and part calling, Gall’s devotion to the church, like that of many LGBT Methodists, is one based in a refusal to concede a spiritual home to the forces of intolerance.
“I want to be part of making change happen that will help people,” Gall said. “Ever since I was young, I've always wanted to be part of some revolution. As luck would have it, this is the one I got caught up in.”
Shay O'Reilly is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @shaygabriel.