Being Welcomed In Action, Not Just Words

rainbow flagby Mike House

This past Sunday, I found myself choking up as I sang the “Doxology.” I’m not sure that has ever happened to me before, in part because the words are so familiar. But something had just happened at Northaven, the church where my partner Cody and I worship, that caused the familiar liturgical formula “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow … Praise Jesus Christ, the source of all our gifts” to break over me with their full meaning. I was suddenly not just singing a phrase I’ve sung more times than I can count, I was expressing what I had just experienced. My congregation, by majority vote, had just given me a precious gift. They had made it clear, not just in words, but in action, that my partner and I, and our LGBTQ sisters and brothers, matter.   Whatever the future may hold, Northaven made a statement of faith, a missional statement, that God calls them to be in ministry to and for all people, including me. And I found myself moved at a fundamental core of my being, at depths I’d learned to guard to prevent being hurt and disappointed. That feeling of wonder and deep gratitude continues as I write this.

Why?   It’s not just because I am gay, though that obviously is a large part of the answer. It’s also because I am a life-long United Methodist. I was baptized as an infant. I was raised in First UMC of Commerce, which also sponsored a Boy Scout Troop which was very important in my growing up. Church and Scouts instilled in me a deep idealism and belief in the importance of service to God and to others, which strongly shaped my call to ministry. I was aware of the stirrings of that call as early as junior high, so that by the time I graduated from Commerce High School in 1972 I knew the ministry would be my vocation. Ironically, the statement that the practice of homosexuality was “incompatible with Christian teaching” was added to the UM Book of Discipline that same year, but I didn’t pay much attention. For one thing, I didn’t consciously accept my orientation until I was midway through seminary. For a variety of reasons, it was relatively easy to stay closeted, perhaps in part because I knew I had gifts that could be used and had no real doubt I was called. That sense of calling kept me relatively content in what’s in effect a “don’t ask/don’t tell” system for many years. But just prior to the 2012 General Conference the closet finally became untenable.   In my 50s, I was well past the age that being “single” could be viewed as “normal.” But, more importantly, the dialogue on gay issues had become more heated, both nationally and ecclesiastically.   Social justice (I was a kid in the 60s) was always central to my understanding of church and ministry. The Wesleyan ideal of living out Christian love in justice-seeking action was central. And I finally reached a point where I had to remove the mask, leave the closet, and work for the truly inclusive and just church I believe the UMC can be and is called to be, not just as a supposed “ally,” but as a gay man standing proudly with and for my gay sisters and brothers.

During the four years since, I’ve been blessed with a life-partner, and a growing sense of my own strength and integrity. Unfortunately, those four years have also been a time of spiritual struggle, as my disappointment and disillusion with the UMC I love and have served all my life has grown. I’ve become steadily more aware of how much anti-gay discrimination is fueled by religion, including the statements in our own Book of Discipline. I’ve become more aware of how we are hurting both the faith and self-worth of many in the church, both gay and straight. We who are gay and many of our straight allies see the church talking love but living something quite different. For many, becoming people of integrity has meant turning their backs on the institution which condemns them. I can identify. There were many Sundays when I was more comfortable out of church than in it … the contradictions between words and action ran too deep, and I wasn’t ready to reopen those wounds.

Yet I find I’m not willing to let go of the United Methodist Church.  It is the church that raised me, that baptized me, that ordained me. It is the church where I learned to value grace and social justice and to love the story of Jesus. It is the place where I have touched lives, and lives have touched mine. So I’ve been doing what I can. I signed RMN’s “Coming Out” letter. I post on Facebook. I took vacation days from my secular job in order to attend all of this year’s Annual Conference. Cody and I returned to worship. I want to be part of those working for change and a deeper place of justice, even if we fail.

Which is why Northaven’s statement of faith is so important to me. There have been times when I have felt alienated and spiritually homeless. I have felt “welcomed,” but only up to a point. I have felt the hollowness of words, frustrated by glib prayers never backed up by action. I’ve longed for the Church of the Civil Rights era, when clergy and laity would march side by side for justice, because they believed that is what following Christ compelled them to do. I’ve longed for my beloved UMC to take risks for justice, because it was and is the right thing to do. That’s what happened for me at Northaven this past Sunday. My church, by an overwhelming majority, made a faith statement that lets me know I am not alone. I have a church family, willing to risk being misunderstood or misinterpreted in the cause of justice. I have a church home willing to make the teachings of Jesus more than just nice words, but a lifestyle that puts love ahead of law … as I believe Jesus did and does. I have a place to keep trying to live out my call, if not as ordained minister, as Christian … and Cody and I aren’t alone. I think we’ve always known that God was with us. But it’s nice to know we have a Church that is, as well.

 

Read More: Northaven UMC takes historic vote to celebrate same-sex weddings

 

13624731_10208016869552604_1388488765_n

Mike House is a graduate of Perkins School of Theology and an elder in the North Texas Conference. After serving for close to 40 years, Mike retired prior to the 2012 General Conference. He is currently employed at Barnes and Noble. Mike and his partner, Cody McMahan, live near White Rock Lake in Dallas.

Special Contributor to UMR

Special Contributor

This story was written by a special contributor to The United Methodist Reporter. You may send your article submissions to
editor@circuitwritermedia.com
.

22
Leave a Reply

applications-education-miscellaneous.png
The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
avatar
5 Comment threads
17 Thread replies
1 Followers
 
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
8 Comment authors
Paul RoarkCharles HarrisonTed HollandDaniel WagleKevin Recent comment authors
  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
Wes Andrews
Guest
Wes Andrews

Very well written…. and very persuasive. The reality is different. Each individual story can sound like any love story, but this is really not about love. We are asked, “What could possibly be wrong with two people loving each other?” The question begs us to respond by saying, “Nothing is wrong with love…” What the LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered, Queer, Intersex) folk are asking is not merely for us to embrace two good people with same sex attraction who merely love one another. They are requiring full inclusion of sexual chaos in the church and in society. This is… Read more »

Daniel Wagle
Guest

Is it really true that “The Lesbian, Gay, Transgendered, Queer, Intersex community is telling us there should be no boundaries?” Since when do we claim that it is OK to have sex with children, or to rape other people or to have sex with someone where there is a power differential, such as between a supervisor and an employee? Most people who argue for full acceptance of gays in the Church mean mainly committed, adult and validly consensual monogamous relationships. I also say that people should not engage in gay relationships while they are married to someone else. And if… Read more »

Ted Holland
Guest

Pedophiles have sex with children, not gays. The vast majority of pedophiles have been heterosexual men, like you.

Daniel Wagle
Guest
Daniel Wagle

I am not heterosexual. I am a Gay Man who actively campaigns for full LGBT inclusion in the UMC. My point was that the vast majority of LGBT persons do not engage in nor condone pedophilia. Did I say anything that implied anything else?

Wes Andrews
Guest
Wes Andrews

Daniel, I don’t wish to be unclear. I am truly curious about your thoughts on this. What authority do we now use to determine the boundaries of human sexuality for the church?

Daniel Wagle
Guest

I wasn’t trying to avoid you. I was going on this website while procrastinating about going on my long bike ride for the day. I finally did my ride for about 2.5 hours to Stone Mountain and around the mountain and back. I need to exercise a lot to maintain my 105 pound weight loss. I have kept off all this weight for 6 years now. As for you question. I will bet that you will disagree with my assertion that the Bible does not speak with one voice about sexuality or about marriage. The only boundary on Males in… Read more »

Wes Andrews
Guest
Wes Andrews

Daniel, thank you for your response. I know that we don’t agree on the Scripture. There is actually much more in Leviticus about the boundaries of sexuality. My question was not really about the specific verse in Scripture. You know the source I choose to follow in regard to this and all topics, Scripture. My question is, if I am a Christian and don’t agree with Scripture, then what becomes the source and authority for my (our) values? There is no trick here, I really am seeking understanding. If I or any depart from Scripture, then were does one go… Read more »

Wes Andrews
Guest
Wes Andrews

Ted, I do not think in any way that people with same sex attraction are any more or less inclined toward pedophilia than those who are heterosexual.

The point of my post is that we are being required by the LGBTQI folk to reject boundaries for sexuality found in the authority of Scripture. The Christian community for 2000 years as considered the witness of Scripture on this an other topics as objective that transcends inferior and subjective standards that are based on the whims of culture.

Charles Harrison
Admin

Ted, it is not ok to attack other people who post as you have done here. Please edit your comment.

Wes Andrews
Guest
Wes Andrews

Just curious Charles. How do we edit our posts?

Charles Harrison
Admin

Wes, You should have 3 choices on your post next to the thumbs up/down – Reply – Share – Edit

Simply click on Edit.

Daniel Wagle
Guest

I only see Reply and Share, no Edit.

Charles Harrison
Admin

Let me check the plug-in and see if I can duplicate the problem. I apologize.

Wes Andrews
Guest
Wes Andrews

Charles, FYI we (or I) still don’t seem to have the “edit” option next to “Reply Share”.

Charles Harrison
Admin

Yes, thank you Wes. I am still trying to figure out how that is turned on for some and not for others as part of a Word Press plug-in by a 3rd party. I apologize for the inconvenience.

Wes Andrews
Guest
Wes Andrews

Daniel, you posts are always respectful, thank you for that. My question for you is what authority do we now use to determine the boundaries?

Ted Holland
Guest

Ive often said the person complaining the loudest is often disguising their inner most feeling of lust. Why do you immediately go to the sexual aspect of a gay relationship? We are no different than any hetero married couple. My partner and I havent had sexual relations in three years. It doesnt mean we dont love each other, it means its not that important. I can get as much from a simple kiss as all out sex and I wholly satisfied that he is there for me physically, not just sexually. I think youre actually just jealous.

Charles Harrison
Admin

Ted, please find a way to express your opinion without attacking other people who post comments. Please edit your comment here. This is simply a friendly warning. In the future please follow our comment policies. Thank you in advance for your thoughtful consideration of our other readers.

Paul Roark
Guest
Paul Roark

Mike was my pastor for a while. His words consistently moved me and were responsible for much of my spiritual growth. There were several occasions that I was moved to tears hearing him. His is a gift given by God, and he would not have been given that gift if something else about him was “wrong”.
I’m sorry that he can’t be himself and preach in our church. A lot of people are poorer for it.

Kevin
Guest
Kevin

I am sure we will be seeing a plethora of such love stories here on UMR. Then they will be tied in with the experience pillar of the quadrilateral and on and on. All part of the “conversation” we must have leading up to the bishops’ solution to our problem. Why am I still unconvinced? I must be a homophobe. That is the only answer.

Paul W.
Guest
Paul W.

Sadly, many love their own sin more than they love Christ. Not one word about sin, repentance, or salvation in the entire piece.

Jay
Guest
Jay

Beautiful story. Thanks UMR for this article. When we are able to see the humanity and person hood of God at work in people like Mike, we are able to see God in a new way. Redemption is the undertone of this story. God redeems us despite the persecution and pain that the church (which is following cultural behavior) has caused these beautiful children of God.

Google+
%d bloggers like this: