I read an interesting article about a former colleague during my days in the United Methodist Church. I met Cedrick when he was a district superintendent, and as the article mentions, he was about to become bishop–that is before his “gayness” got in the way.
I worked with Cedrick when I served as director of leadership development for young people for the California-Pacific Conference of the United Methodist Church (Cal-Pac). I didn’t know he was gay at the time–then again, I didn’t know I was. I first reported to Grant Hagiya, who is now the Bishop for Cal-Pac. I tell the story in my book, To the Cross and Back.
The United Methodist Church has a book, The Book of Discipline (BOC), which is a manual for every UMC congregation around the world about what do do, how to do it, and when to do it. It is treasured, cherished, and revered. I used to call it, the “Methodist Book of Mormon.”
In this context, the BOC says,
“While persons set apart by the Church for ordained ministry are subject to all the frailties of the human condition and the pressures of society, they are required to maintain the highest standards of holy living in the world. The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”
The very first thing I saw when I stepped into the Conference office in Pasadena, California for my first interview during the summer of 2008 was a copy of their (now out of print) newspaper which covered the great divide the denomination suffered because of the issue of homosexuality, which many believed it would be the issue it would “once again split the church in half,” as it had done between the Free and United Methodist.
During the 3.5 years I served Cal-Pac, I struggled being caught in the middle of a toxic divide over racial and ideological issues, not to mention the criticism for not being a “born and raised Methodist.” I experienced from the very top how reverence to tradition and fear of change not only scared people away, but brought people to tears because of the stubborn clinch to the old ways. I suffered an internal debate over what’s true and whats not, what’s real and what’s not, and as a result I ended in one of the darkest seasons of my life which almost ended in tragedy, which I kept secret from everyone at Cal-Pac until the book came out.
Once I left Cal-Pac, I was so shattered that I ended up leaving my home in Los Angeles in search of peace and healing, and in the process leaving religion and accepting I was gay–which resulted in the loss of about 80% of my pre-coming out community. It was in part because of the request from a young man in Cal-Pac that I decided to write my story, because this divide over gay marriage, along with other ancient beliefs, has real-life consequence which often end in tears and tragedy.
I love the community at Cal-Pac. I fondly remember times with people like Cedrick, the youth and young adult leaders, and the young people who made me the proudest I had ever been. But this stubborn clinch to the old ways, for the sake of protecting a tradition for its own sake is scary. Reason must supersede old beliefs. New evidence must supersede old myths. Love must supersede old laws.
I just celebrated my first Pride this year, and let me tell you, as I look back at the journey I’ve lived, though I have mostly lost everything and everyone in the process, I have gained the most important part–myself. So about reliving old rifts over who I am and who I love… geesh, ain’t nobody got time for that.