Jesus said, “I came that they might have life and have it abundantly."
In previous episodes:
Ginny Mikita, a Michigan attorney who was at that time a candidate for ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church, officiated at the marriage of Rev. Benjamin Hutchison and his partner Monty. She did so using credentials obtained online through the Universal Life Church.
Three United Methodist clergypersons, from Texas, North Carolina and New Jersey, wrote to United Methodist leaders in West Michigan asking that Ms. Mikita be discontinued as a candidate for ministry and pointed out that by obtaining that online ordination she had “united with another denomination” and therefore should be discontinued as a member of the United Methodist Church. She was subsequently removed from candidacy and removed from membership.
In a strongly worded criticism, the Reconciling Ministries Network (an organization made up of United Methodists working for the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the UMC) said that Ms. Mikita had been “excommunicated.”
In response, Dr. David F. Watson wrote a blog post in which he said that, “This kind of rhetoric has one goal: to shame. Its purpose is to shame the pastors and denominational leaders who were involved in this matter . . .”
And then I wrote a response to Dr. Watson in which I noted the irony of calling the RMN rhetoric shaming. I said that “The movement to exclude LGBTQ people from full participation in the United Methodist Church is built on shaming. What could be more ‘shaming’ than telling a group of people that their lives are ‘incompatible with Christian teaching?’”
All of this led to an energetic exchange on a Facebook page called, “New Methodists,” in which a pastor from Illinois, wrote:
“Please provide evidence that Ginny Mikita was actually excommunicated. Likewise, please submit evidence that the Book of Discipline ever says that anyone’s life is ‘incompatible with Christian teaching.’ I submit that both accusations are distortions of what was actually done and what the BOD actually says.”
My colleague from Illinois is right on both counts.
Ginny Mikita was not actually “excommunicated.” and the Book of Discipline does not actually say that the lives of LGBTQ persons are “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
I know, and I assume RMN knows, what excommunication means. Ginny Mikita is still welcome to attend worship in any United Methodist Church. She can still receive communion. She is not denied fellowship in any way. The RMN language was hyperbolic in order to make a point. Regardless of the ecclesiological technicalities, it feels like excommunication and to many United Methodists, it looks uncomfortably like something out of the middle ages.
Dr. Watson’s argument is that by requesting and accepting those online credentials, Ginny Mikita did “unite with another denomination” and thereby remove herself from membership in the UMC. That’s true. But we all know that the Universal Life Church is not a real denomination. And there are probably thousands of United Methodists who have obtained credentials online in order to officiate at a friend’s wedding. I know some of them, and you probably do, too.
The practical reality is that Ginny Mikita was removed from membership in the UMC as punishment for officiating at a same sex wedding. That is not changed by the technicalities.
Just for the record, I did not cite the Discipline as saying that LGBTQ lives are “incompatible with Christian teaching.” I attributed that to what I called, “the movement to exclude LGBTQ persons from full inclusion in the life of the United Methodist Church.”
And I stand by that statement.
What the Discipline says is that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” So technically, you could be gay without acting on those feelings, and that would not be “incompatible with Christian teaching.”
Let’s think about that.
What is “the practice of homosexuality?”
I guess we can assume that means anything involving the genitals is off limits. But what else is included among these unacceptable practices? Are some kinds of touching okay and others not? What about hugging or holding hands? What about writing a love letter? What about looking into the eyes of your partner?
I would submit that this is pretty close to telling our sisters and brothers that their lives are incompatible with Christian teaching. And to use Dr. Watson’s language, it is shaming.
And we should be ashamed.