One week after more than 100 United Methodist clergy collectively came out as LGBT, hundreds of their colleagues called for the church to end discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation.
“We, the undersigned clergy of The United Methodist Church, believe it is time: time for us to end the practice of requiring LGBTQI clergy and clergy candidates to hide their most authentic selves,” says the open letter to the church, composed by the Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, the Rev. Gil Caldwell, and the Rev. Frank Schaefer, and released by Reconciling Ministries Network.
As of Monday, 1,592 clergy members had signed the letter.
“The current language prohibiting LGBTQI people from serving as ordained clergy is discriminatory, unjust, unChristlike, and inconsistent with both holy scripture and the best of our United Methodist heritage,” the letter states.
The letter adds pressure on the church to modify its position that holds that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” Current policies bar “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from being ordained, and prohibit pastors and churches from from performing or hosting same-sex weddings.
Last week, as the top church policy-making body was set to begin its 10-day conference in Portland, Oregon, to consider roughly 1,000 legislative petitions, more than 100 pastors, deacons, elders and candidates for ministry in the United Methodist Church released a letter publicly coming out as LGBT. The General Conference is reviewing 100 pieces of legislation relating to LGBT inclusion, including changing the wording on human sexuality and amending the qualifications for ordination.
Thus far, almost all of the LGBT-related legislation has been voted down in subcommittee meetings, Schaefer told The Huffington Post.
“I was so hopeful going into the General Conference and the way it looks now that we have a week of subcommittee work under our belt is not good,” Schaefer said from Portland.
“The homophobic language is so strong here” at the conference, Schaefer added. “It’s very disheartening.”
A United Methodist Church representative didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
I’m putting my career on the line for all the LGBTQ people in the church who are continuing to be harmed." Rev. Frank Schaefer
The letter draws a comparison between church discrimination against LGBT people and past discrimination against women and African-Americans.
"Our history attests to the ways that we have allowed scriptural interpretation to justify discrimination against beloved children of God in the past," the letter reads. "The Bible has not changed; interpretations of it have."
Until changes are put into place, the open letter's signatories pledge not to fill the positions of any LGBT clergy removed from their posts, to examine all candidates for ministry regardless of sexual orientation, and not to support any action to place an LGBT clergy member on leave of absence if a complaint is filed based on sexual orientation.
Any of these actions, the signers recognize, may cost them their jobs and credentials.
Schaefer is well aware of the consequences that can come from standing up for LGBT inclusion. In 2013 the church defrocked him for officiating his son's same-sex wedding. A regional appeals committee reinstated his ministerial credentials less than a year later.
Schaefer said he's willing to put his job on the line again for what he believes is right.
"The first time I did it, I did it for my son and my gay children," he said. "This time I’m putting my career on the line for all the LGBTQ people in the church who are continuing to be harmed. I am willing to lay down my life for it if I need to."