A pro-LGBT caucus of the United Methodist Church (UMC) continues to blog on behalf of their cause. Last week, Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) posted a particularly emotional piece about a pastoral ordination gone awry. Michael Overman, a Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary senior, shared the heartaches springing from his abandonment of the UMC ordination process. Earlier, he had left his Baptist church after declaring his identity as a gay man. After a six-year sabbatical from church, he attended Holy Covenant United Methodist Church by invitation. He soon found a home: “I was welcomed to the table as a broken but whole person, never asked to leave a part of myself at the door.”
During a gay pride parade in Chicago, Mr. Overman’s fellow church members recommended he attend Garrett seminary. At first, he was hesitant. He believed that his sexual orientation and his now-husband’s neo-pagan faith precluded him from ministry (presumably the ordained kind). Overman decided to enter seminary anyway and pursue United Methodist ordination. He came to recognize that, though his particular congregation does not see homosexual behavior as sin, the UMC official policy is that it is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” This confused Mr. Overman even more because he had “known gay clergy, gay partnered clergy, in our denomination.” “In order for me to be ordained in the UMC, I would quintessentially have to go into a professional, vocational closet,” he concluded. His district review committee essentially recommended he keep his marital status carefully hidden since “[t]here are people at the board level who will rip you apart if there’s even a hint of you being, well, you know.”
The postulant offers quite the indictment: “While it was never articulated so directly, the message was clear: You cannot be ordained here as a whole person. You have to split yourself. We don’t want all of you. Only part of you is truly worthy of this calling. You have to hide. You have to lie. You have to be someone other than you.” Unable to live in a lie, Overman decided to switch to the United Church of Christ / Disciples of Christ (UCC). Nevertheless, he prophesied, “Change will come. There will be a day when all God’s children are welcome at the table, both receiving God’s blessing and presiding over God’s gifts of meal and water, regardless of who they love.”
I am saddened but appreciative by this article. Any orthodox Christian would be saddened with someone struggling with homosexuality and yet feeling called to ordained ministry. The same will also be upset to see that an active gay man would be a pastor of any church. The biblical standards for ecclesiastical leadership are quite clear on this point. Titus 1:1-9 and I Timothy 3:1-13 both lay out the particular requirements for various offices (including “husband of one wife,” for what it’s worth). Additionally, clergy are not to live in open, unrepentant sin nor are they to be unequally yoked to non-Christians. Evangelicals and traditional Christians of various stripes realize that the Bible is quite clear in its condemnation of homosexuality as a sin, and thus they could not accept someone like Mr. Overman for office.
It’s not as if as though he couldn’t serve others in the church (though he may in fact fall under church discipline if he is a member); he simply could not hold a position of clerical leadership. Homosexuality isn’t (or at least shouldn’t be) the only sin to bar one from office, but it is still enough to do so. Those responsible for ordination need to be aware that they need to apply a consistent standard of holiness and blamelessness, regardless of cultural “ick” factors.
Speaking of consistency, I really appreciate Mr. Overman’s. At first gloss, he seems to be obeying at least the spirit of “holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience,” to use St. Paul’s language. In this instance, he cannot in good conscience submit to the ancient standards of the United Methodist Discipline and has sought different pastures in the UCC. Though we radically differ on sexual morality and church teaching, Mr. Overman and I agree on something that seems to clash with our elder mainline predecessors.
The problem with “don’t ask, don’t tell” Christianity is that we’re not allowed to engage in it.
The Christian life is one of honesty. Hiding disobedience “under a bushel” conflicts with uprightness. This is not about a fluffy “being true to self”; this is being truthful with one’s neighbors.
This means warring against hypocrisy, pursuing consistency, confessing to whom we need to confess, and a myriad of other practices are key to the church’s witness. Mr. Overman gets it (albeit with a caveat for his active homosexuality); others obviously don’t. The latter spirit has been rather active as of late. When Rev. Amy Delong was found guilty of officiating a same-sex wedding ceremony by a church court, she received a ludicrously light sentence. Later on, she revealed that she felt like Brer Rabbit thrown into the briar patch. After the 2012 General Conference upheld the UMC’s sexuality standards, retired Bishop Talbert made a call for ecclesiastical disobedience in Tampa and later on at a California-Pacific ordination ceremony. Thus, the strategy of revisionist clergy has been one of defiance—mostly in rather shameful secrecy, but also in the more insolent open.
We are supposed to love, support, and entrust ourselves to the Church, not subvert her. The correct response is to either conform to her teaching or leave. Revisionist United Methodists have worked hard to alter such teaching, but their efforts for liberalizing sexuality will be foiled by international votes for the foreseeable future. Instead joining other like-minded bodies, they live double lives. This is an unacceptable position. Mr. Overman realizes that, and perhaps other United Methodists on all sides could learn from his example.