Editor’s note: When it comes to the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in the life and ministry of our United Methodist Churches, is ordination fair and equal yet or is it still something to which we aspire? Throughout the month of March, we’ll hear stories from LGBTQ+ clergy and laity. Each of these stories is unique to the individual who was invited to share their perspective.
In a journey of faith there are a lot of questions: “Who or what is God? Who was or is Jesus? My mom believes in God and Jesus, but my dad is agnostic. What do I believe? What should I believe? Does God have a plan for my life? Is it wrong to question whether or not God even exists?”
For each of us, even if we don’t recognize it, those questions of faith and belief lead us to a place of calling: “Well, I believe all life is sacred and worth saving. So… should I be a doctor, a lawyer, or a therapist? Or should I follow a passion for health and fitness and be really active in my faith on the side? Food pantries and volunteering and mission trips and what not?”
Some of us receive the epiphany that we are called to ministry. It could be a single event, or phrase, or answered prayer, or a thought we knew was not our own (or all four). Our reactions are all different, too. Some of us get uber excited and can’t wait to delve into conversations about what comes next with our pastors. Some of us just sit there in stunned silence when the revelation hits, quietly asking, “Who? Me?” And some of us plead to be called to something else… until the burning of God’s compassion in our own hearts convicts us.
The thing is, not one of us, when we receive that call to be ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to preach the word of God’s love to the people, to lead God’s people in loving neighbor, stranger, and even enemy alike, have ever heard God say, “I’m calling you into professional ministry. First, though, I need you to stand still and pray hard while I burn away the gay in you.”
When God calls us, our orientation, sexuality, gender identity, or whatever you want to call it, doesn’t come in to play. God already knows who we are. God already knows because that is how God created us. God loves us as we are for who we are… God’s own.
The questions of my sexuality didn’t come into play until I began to understand what I would have to admit to myself and the world around me: I would have to be honest. I would have to be vulnerable. I would have to be out.
This was the scary part. I knew I was accepted for who I was in my church community. If I could stay there, ever in their embrace I would have. Instead, as I worked through the process, the 2019 special General Conference loomed over my fate. New questions of faith formed. “Will the denomination I grew up in decide to accept me and the LGBTQIA+ community I belong to, or will the denomination reject us? Will I have a place? How will I answer God’s call if the church abandons me?”
Then the ball dropped. The denomination failed to act in the love of God. They voted, narrowly, to remain blinded by archaic and misrepresented passages in scripture. They voted to retain the patronizing language in The United Methodist Book of Discipline claiming we who identify as other than straight have sacred worth while denying that God could ever call us to a life of ordained service. They voted to cut us out entirely from the ordained leadership of the church, telling those of us already ordained to resign.
I had a choice to make. Would I live a lie, trying to hide my fiancé (now husband), ultimately losing him completely along with pieces of myself as time ever moved onward? Or do I stand firm in who I am in the love of God, as God made me, answering the call in a denomination that had just summarily rejected my freedom to be me and teach and preach the love of God.
Thankfully, the Oregon-Idaho Conference made that choice easy. I am lucky. So far, in this conference I have never felt the scrutiny or the second guessing, the inappropriate questioning, or pressure from a superintendent or bishop to hide the fact I am gay. On the contrary, I have felt supported and affirmed in my call to ministry. Additionally, I’ve had very little resistance from the congregation I’ve been appointed to pastor. Aside from one family who left the church before my appointment began, they’ve fully accepted my husband, Romulo, and myself from the get-go.
Sadly, I know this is not everyone’s experience. I also know there are challenges ahead I have yet to face. While I feel supported by this conference, we are far from perfect. We are not all on the same page as a conference, let alone a denomination. Our churches do not stand united on LGBTQIA+ acceptance. Our congregations live in mixed realities. They lean either toward God’s full embrace of all persons, or God’s “righteous” practice of exclusionary inclusion – saying God’s love is for everyone, but only everyone we approve of.
In this time of conflicting perceptions of truth, there needs to a push for transformation and awareness, awake-ness even. There needs to be open dialogue between persons on both sides of the issue. There needs to be conference wide training of LGBTQIA+ issues and how to support us. There needs to be unwavering support for advocacy and initiatives toward programs that support LGBTQIA+ youth. There needs to be bold action and leadership from the conference on the denominational stance. There needs to be congregational education on LGBTQIA+ issues balanced between faith, historical context, and the biological/psychological science around being queer.
While this goes beyond the scope of the ordination of queer pastors it is necessary when talking about ordination. You see, the process, at least from my experience, is inclusive and accepting (in this conference). It’s after the ordination where support needs to continue. Out in the congregations of our conference, the theology becomes diverse and the environment can very quickly become toxic and abusive. We are willing to teach and preach in ways that educate and inspire the transformation we seek. Being surrounded in conference support makes that a whole lot easier.
Rev Thomas Orquiza-Renardo is a provisional elder serving in the Oregon- Conference of The United Methodist Church.