A minister of the United Methodist Church came out to her congregation as a lesbian this past Sunday, telling congregants that “the Lord has led me here to share my whole truth with you.”
On Sunday, Rev. Cynthia Meyer delivered a sermon to her congregation of Edgerton United Methodist Church in Kansas, something she has done every Sunday since she became the rural church’s pastor last July. Her first message of 2016, however, was a bit different from most: She announced that she was in a relationship with another woman — a practice currently forbidden for pastors her in denomination.
“It’s time!” she said in her sermon, which focused on the Christmas story of the wise men who visited Jesus after his birth. “I have been an ordained United Methodist Church (UMC) pastor for 25 years. At last, I am choosing to serve in that role with full authenticity, as my genuine self, a woman who loves and shares my life with another woman.”
Meyer told ThinkProgress that the reaction among her small congregation, which hails from a deeply conservative state, was largely positive.
“I’m in this fairly rural church in Kansas, and the overwhelming response to this sermon from the congregation was we ‘hope you can continue as our pastor,’” she said. “There were lots of hugs and words of support as they came through [after the sermon]…It lead people to tell stories from their own families. It opened up a dialogue, I think.”
But Meyer’s denomination may not welcome her announcement with such positivity. The UMC currently prohibits the ordination of LGBT people and the blessing of same-sex marriages, and defrocks pastors who break church doctrine on sexuality.
Meyer said she understood the possible implications of coming out, but felt “called by the Holy Spirit” to tell her story.
“I understand possible consequences. I’m wiling to accept those consequences, and I would want to be in dialogue with the bishop,” she said.
Other Methodist LGBT advocates also reject the church’s position, arguing that the biblical Jesus’ welcoming message should extend to LGBT people. A number of activists have engaged in a sustained grassroots movement for the full inclusion with in the UMC: When Methodist minister Frank Schaefer was defrocked in 2013 for officiating a same-sex wedding, for instance, 36 United Methodist pastors from Eastern Pennsylvania jointly officiated a same-sex wedding in a show of solidarity (he was later reinstated on a technicality). Meanwhile, progressive UMC bishops have simply refused to take up trials against ministers who perform same-sex marriages.
Pro-LGBT Methodists are now pushing for the denomination to take action on the issue at its upcoming General Conference, which is held every four years and scheduled for this May. Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN), a Methodist LGBT advocacy group, has launched an “It’s Time” campaign ahead of the convening, encouraging LGBT clergy and church members to use online tool to publicly share stories like Meyer’s and reach out to delegates who will vote on whether or not to allow for LGBT ordination and same-sex marriage.
“[Meyers’] brave decision to live her truth will reverberate beyond her church and touch many Methodists who have long admired her gifts to the UMC,” said RMN Executive Director Matt Berryman, who studied with Meyer at Candler School of Theology, in a press release. “While the Supreme Court has made marriage equality the law of the land, it is still not an option for all people of faith, nor is it possible for LGBTQ persons to serve authentically and openly as ordained clergy.”
Meyer and other advocates face an uphill battle at the conference, which includes delegates from regions outside the United States. When the denomination voted in 2012 over whether maintain the belief that same-sex relationships were “incompatible with Christian teaching,” delegates voted 61 to 39 keep the statute.
But there is reason for optimism: Several other mainline Christian denomination such as the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA) recently voted to embrace both LGBT clergy and same-sex marriage, and an April 2015 Public Religion Research Institute poll found that 67 percent of Methodists said they backed same-sex marriage.
“The voice the pews is not the way it is sometime portrayed,” Meyer noted.