Caught in the Vortex of our Denomination
Rev. Caleb Hong is the pastor of Faith United Methodist Church in Orland Park, IL. And he is a good pastor. He cares deeply for the people of his church, including Ann and Holly Cook-Graver whose marriage he agreed to perform in spite of the fact that the Book of Discipline prohibits United Methodist clergy from doing same-gender marriages. (Actually the Book of Discipline is so out of date in just two years on this matter, that it says “holy unions” instead of “marriage” which is now legal in 17 states plus the District of Columbia.)
As the time approached, Pastor Hong realized that he couldn’t make this decision on his own. He needed to have the church be a part of the decision because they too are involved and potentially impacted by having a same-gender marriage at the church. (The Book of Discipline also prohibits such “holy unions” from being in United Methodist church buildings.)
He was caught in the vortex of our denomination’s contradictory statements on homosexuality. While The Cook-Graver family (which also includes a son) was welcome to worship, provide leadership and support the church, they aren’t welcomed to celebrate their legal marriage in the state of Illinois in the church home where they are comfortable and loved by many (including their pastor).
As a result, everyone is hurting. The couple feels betrayed that they can’t be married in their church home by the pastor they know (although Pastor Hong has connected them with another church). The church is reeling with the need to both reach out to the Cook-Graver family with care as well as decide what to do in this vortex now that it’s not an abstract “debate” in the denomination. And Pastor Hong? He is deeply sorry that he has hurt both the couple and in essence the congregation because a Chicago Tribune article appeared on Sunday, May 11, 2014, making many feel like Faith UMC and the UMC is “anti-gay.”
Quite frankly, I would suggest that Pastor Hong and Faith UMC find themselves in a place where just about every clergy and church now find themselves with the legalization of same-gender marriage in Illinois: needing to have some conversations and soul-searching together. I encourage every clergyperson to consider that they really don’t know what they will do when the time comes and they are asked to marry a couple they know and love; thereby defying the Book of Discipline. Some of you may think, “I’d never do that!” but when it’s someone you know and love, you’ll think twice. Some of you may think, “Of course, I’d do that!” but when the time comes and you also have a congregation that stands to be hurt by your individual decision, you may think twice. It’s not just a personal decision that we make; being a pastor of a congregation means that we also have to keep the church in mind.
I tell this story with Pastor Hong’s approval to encourage everyone to hold such conversations if you haven’t already, not to act on your own, but to bring the clergy decision and church along with you in the dilemma that you will face…sooner or later.
There are more options than “to do it” or “don’t do it.” So I have committed myself to work with some others in this annual conference to put together a day of “what we can do” around these issues. To learn from each other. For me to describe where the “line” is to honor such requests of the clergy and congregation. To explore ways to have these conversations with the leadership and the membership of our churches. And to grow in our capacity to provide pastoral care to GLBTQ families. I hope to be able to have such a day sometime this fall (2014).
A vortex is a whirlwind. I grew up with whirlwinds that could knock you off your feet, blind you with all that it had picked up along the way, and, as a child anyway, make you feel like you were going to end up in Oz. We need to be in ministry in such a way that we walk together, see clearly where we’re going and where our decisions lead, and help us end up in a better place than we presently are—in the vortex of our denomination.