Prizm News / April 1, 2019 / By the Rev. Laura J. Young

The Rev. Laura J. Young was most recently the pastor of Summit on 16th United Methodist Church in Columbus. (Top photo by Diane Jaquish. Above photo by Jeffrey Horvath)

The Rev. Laura Young calls herself an ‘unrepentant lesbian pastor.’ She’s not handing over the United Methodist Church to its anti-LGBTQ forces.


By the Rev. Laura J. Young

The Sunday after the United Methodist Church’s global lawmaking body met in St. Louis and voted to strengthen bans on same-sex marriage and LGBTQIA+ clergy, I spent a morning wearing my rainbow stole outside of Reynoldsburg United Methodist Church telling people in suburban Columbus that God loves even me.

I wanted them to look at a lesbian pastor and see who their pastor, Rev. Dr. Jeff Greenway, board chair of the anti-LGBTQ, self-proclaimed ‘traditionalist’ Wesleyan Covenant Association, is working to effectively oust from the UMC.

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Citing “traditional biblical sexual ethics” and “biblical marriage,” my colleague thinks my queer siblings and I are not fit to serve as ordained ministers in the UMC or to be married. He says God loves people like me. He even says “all are welcome” in his church.

Well, I say no thanks to that kind of love and welcome. A transgender woman told me this same church turned her away, saying, her “kind” was not welcome there.

Let me remind the Rev. Greenway and his likeminded brethren that traditional biblical marriage often included polygamy, rape, concubines, handmaids and goats. Nothing about biblical marriage rules out modern, egalitarian same-sex relationships.

I am an unrepentant lesbian pastor. Why? Because homosexuality is not a sin. It’s really not. It doesn’t say so in the Bible. And, regardless of religion, it’s just plain not wrong.

In fact, it’s completely a-OK. I stake my life, my experiences with queer love and my years of New Testament Greek study on that.

And yet there are powerful religious and societal forces trying to rain on our Pride parade.

But why should anyone in the United States in 2019—particularly gay-marrying, out-elected-official-serving, gal-couples-at-Target-registering, Nina-West-on-“RuPaul’s-DragRace”-competing modern queers—care what judgmental Christians in a dying church are saying?

Because the same forces that have taken over the United Methodist Church have put the extreme religious right into positions of power and influence in all levels of our government. We have ignored this insidious fear- and hate-mongering movement for far too long, to our personal and societal harm. Now we are suffering the effects of a faux-conservative-Christian president, a radical “evangelical” Christian vice president and their ilk spewing out policies that harm us.

I still say what my sign said in the late 1980s and ’90s: “Keep Your Laws Off My Body!”

Discrimination disguised as religious freedom is harming women and LGBTQ people. Of course, the church and government have a brutal history—and present—of doing grievous harm to black and brown people. But if my queer siblings and allies have anything to say about the current harm being done to LGBTQ people—and I believe we will—we will stop it.

In fact, Methodist founder John Wesley’s first rule was to do no harm. Also, do good. And love God.

Three simple rules.

We queers might seem like a secular bunch when we’re singing show-tunes on a Sunday night at Union in Columbus, but there are a great many of us who were raised in church and are pulled toward religion or a spiritual community.

All people should be welcome in a loving religious community, and yet, that has not always been the case.

Isn’t it our greatest human fear that if people really knew us, they would reject us? Imagine the pain the United Methodist Church and other religious
groups have inflicted on the bodies, minds and spirits of queer people.

Religious bigots must imagine it, and then they must atone for it.

Stop the harm, UMC! Stop the harm, evangelical Christians! Stop the harm, Institute on Religion and Democracy! Stop the harm, “Good News” Movement! Stop the harm, Southern Baptist Convention! Stop the harm, Catholic Church! Stop the harm, radical religious right!

Whoever is telling us to stop being who God made us to be needs to shut the hell up. And eventually, when they mean it, apologize.

Why did this United Methodist Church action grip so many of us, whether we’re in church or not? “It feels like a slap in the face,” a gay Columbus friend told me. Apparently, people thought the Methodists were further along than we are.

If you’ve attended a service at my previous church, Summit on 16th UMC, or another of our reconciling, LGBTQ-inclusive congregations, you’ve probably felt completely welcome. Maybe you’ve been at King Avenue United Methodist Church in Columbus for Transgender Day of Remembrance, or Summit on 16th for a Pride Interfaith Worship, or Maynard Avenue UMC for an immigration rally, or Broad Street for summer Freedom School.

These are some of our most LGBTQ-welcoming congregations. But it’s hard to know a congregation is queer-affirming unless it’s obvious. So the ones that aren’t are insidiously dangerous to a queer person.

Unless there’s a rainbow flag flying and the pastor says the words and the letters, you just don’t know. It’s like bait and switch. Religious “consumers” who think we Methodists have progressed get misled.

Many of us have progressed, but not enough to stop the harm done by the organized and well-financed forces that orchestrated a hostile takeover of my UMC: a denomination that grew up with this country, a church of powerful social witness that participated (sometimes late to the game) in abolition, women’s suffrage, civil rights, women’s rights, women’s ordination and, now, LGBTQ civil rights.

They cannot have my church.

Why would a radical feminist like me have anything to do with the church?

Because Jesus was a radical feminist. Because I can’t help but be drawn to Jesus of Nazareth, who embodies a message of love so radical that it got him nailed to a cross.

This is not the perverted message of Jesus used to launch the Crusades or protect pedophile priests or declare “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” as it says in the United Methodist book of church law.

My Jesus is the Jesus of the Gospel of Love, the Jesus that instructs us to turn the other cheek and pray even for our enemies. That Jesus would never vote out queers.

Jesus would have welcomed us. We can easily extrapolate a radical welcome of queers from the gospel stories, because Jesus welcomed people the religious authorities of the day put out.

I can’t help but be gripped by the story of Jesus, who welcomed bleeding women and lepers and the poor and children and women and others cast out.

So many of us LGBTQ people can relate to craving a real welcome, because many of us have been put out of our families, jobs and communities of faith.

So why would I want to be a member of a club that doesn’t (officially) want me? Because this club needs me and other LGBTQ clergy and non-clergy.

This club needs people who are willing to be like the welcoming, boundary-crossing, wider-circle-drawing Jesus.

This message is irresistible to me, and I must share it. Now that’s some queer evangelism!

They cannot have my church.

They cannot have the church that in the 1950s put a growing seed in the mind of my dad that racism is wrong and not of God.

They cannot have the church of my aunt, his sister, that put a seed in her that grew to a deeply passionate expression of Judaism. In fact, my Aunt Sandy and I agree that Jesus probably just wanted us all to be better Jews! (But that’s another story.)

And she found that radically loving Jewish Jesus in the Methodist church of her childhood and mine.

My Methodist-formed faith is the kind that compelled me to support the #BlackPride4 after the 2017 Columbus Pride debacle, and to speak up for reproductive healthcare access, and to march in the rain to police headquarters to demand fair policing, and to preach that police need to stop killing unarmed black men, which nobody in a system built on racism, sexism and homophobia wants to hear, believe me.

But it is faithful to speak truth to power, and that is what I learned from my UMC.

This is a message worth reviving. I say let’s bring back an early-style Methodist movement and combine it with the best of how we’ve learned to be a church. From there we can celebrate our belovedness and build ourselves up for the fight.

Pardon the militaristic language when I say traditionalists might have won the battle, but they have not won the war. The conservatives might have doubled down on their exclusionary and punishing policies, but recall the words of Nelson Mandela: “In the end we must remember that no
amount of rules or their enforcement will defeat
those who struggle with justice on their side.”

As police led me out of the Rev. Jeff Greenway’s church, I added: “It is blasphemy to ask us to be something other than exactly who God created us
to be.”

My hope is that, like my Chillicothe UCC pastor friend, the Rev. Terry Williams, we all just be relentlessly queer if we’re queer—and relentlessly
otherwise if we’re otherwise.

May it be so.

The Rev. Laura J. Young is the former pastor of Summit on 16th United Methodist Church in Columbus and was an observer at the UMC General Conference in February. She calls herself a “tent-making pastor,” earning her living outside the church. She is currently on personal leave from the UMC’s local conference.

FIND OUT MORE

Equality Ohio maintains a directory of welcoming houses of worship across the state. To find an LGBTQ-affirming religious community or to add yours to its database, visit equalityohio.org/our-work/faith.