Over the years I have come to admire and respect the work and ministry of Foundry, UMC in the District of Columbia. Under various leaders, it is a congregation that has practiced what the Bible says and helped their fellow man. Today, under the leadership of Senior Pastor Dean Snyder, it is moving one step further and working to influence the United Methodist Church (UMC) General Conference, which will begin work on April 24 in Tampa, Fla., to pass a resolution allowing other churches to do what Foundry already does, celebrate the marriages and unions of gay and lesbian couples.
The members of Foundry have asked the UMC General Conference to add language to the Church Book of Discipline that would allow congregations to celebrate same-gender marriages or civil unions, and delete existing, anti-gay language that states: "... 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."
Under the resolution conceived and promulgated by Foundry, the new marriage language would apply to congregations located in areas where these marriages and unions are already legally recognized. It would not force congregations that are not ready to take this step to do so but would allow those who are to move forward.
Recently, the courageous Foundry members received support for their work from a large number of retired United Methodist Episcopal leaders who have spoken out in favor of the resolution. They have done so with knowledge of their church through generations of service. They said,
With increasing frequency we observe and experience the following disturbing realities and know them to be detrimental to the mission of a Church of Jesus Christ. These realities include the Laity and clergy, gay and straight, withdrawing membership or absenting themselves from the support of congregational and denominational Church life in order to maintain personal integrity. Young adults, especially, embarrassed to invite friends and expressing dismay at the unwillingness of our United Methodist Church to alter its 39-year exclusionary stance. Closeted pastors currently called and ordained in our church, living divided lives while offering effective appreciated ministry. Bishops being drained of energy by upholding Church Discipline while regarding it as contrary to their convictions. Bishops caught between care for the Church by reappointing an effective gay or lesbian pastor and care for the Discipline by charging them under current legislation. Seminary leaders desiring greater flexibility and openness from the church in order to advance their mission of identifying, recruiting, enrolling, educating and spiritually forming Christian leaders. Christian gay men and women understanding themselves called of God to seek ministry opportunities within their United Methodist family Church home, but having to decide between: leaving to go to accepting denominations, or staying and praying for change, or challenging Church law and accepting punitive actions. Our United Methodist Church, ashamed and repentant in the past, ended official and unofficial restrictions on candidacy, ordination and appointment for reason of race, gender and ethnicity. We believe the God we know in Jesus is leading us to issue this counsel and call -- a call to transform our church life and our world.
In February, at its 44th annual meeting, the Black Methodists for Church Renewal also endorsed this statement.
Although not a Methodist, I am immensely proud that a church in my city is leading this fight. Proud to know Pastor Snyder and so many others who are part of Foundry are working to make not only their church fully welcoming but in doing so making everyone in the LGBT community feel more welcomed in our city. Foundry's staff now includes a coordinator for LGBT advocacy, Matthew Mustard, and my good friend Paul Hazen, who has worked hard to make Foundry the welcoming place it is today, is the chair of its Financial Development Committee.
The fight for full civil and human rights for the LGBT community continues in our city, the nation and around the world. It is gratifying that some churches are working to not only recognize the LGBT community but to embrace us fully.
The support of church leaders for our rights is important as our fight for civil marriage equality continues. In the District of Columbia's fight we were helped by the unstinting support and outreach of clergy such as Drs. Christine and Dennis Wiley of the Covenant Baptist Church of Christ in Southeast. Support from leaders such as the Wileys and Dean Snyder may be even more crucial as we come together to win the expected referendum on marriage equality in Maryland. The time to thank and support the work of those who stand with us is now.
This column was first published at the Washington Blade.