A Word from Our Pastor: July 2016

Last month’s article had a lot to do with church politics that were happening at the UMC General Conference in Portland.

Nothing much was resolved there, but several deep divisions among our members became painfully clear, especially on the subject of sexuality and sexual preference. We are still in the midst of those debates – the General Conference deferred action until the Council of Bishops makes a proposal in a year or two.

However, our own Annual Conference in California-Nevada, is meeting as I write this (it is the last day of Annual Conference), and we have HISTORY-MAKING NEWS! Our Conference voted to endorse only one candidate for the episcopacy (election of Bishops will happen next month, and we in the West are only “entitled” to elect one). Our cadidate is Rev. Karen Oliveto, an openly lesbian clergy with a partner (to whom I believe she is married, but I am not certain). Rev. Oliveto taught at PSR for many years, and now she is the Senior Pastor of Glide Memorial UMC in San Francisco. This is the first time an openly gay clergy person has been a candidate for the Episcopacy. In addition, she is genuinely qualified to be a bishop; she is the first woman to serve as senior pastor to one of the 100 largest churches in the UMC, with a prophetic voice and many skills as a pastor and administrator. I have heard that a gay male candidate may be put forward by the Cal-Pacific Conference. We will know about that, soon.

We also ordained three openly LGBTQ clergy, including Brian Adkins (at Open Door UMC in Richmond, who recently visited Palestine and Wadi Foquin. Our action as a Conference in ordaining these three persons is in direct conflict with the Book of Discipline – it is an act of “ecclesial disobedience,” if you will. This is the kind of the thing that the Council of Bishops must make a recommendation about: what to do with the several Conferences (probably about 5 now) who are not following the Discipline. . .

It feels as if our church is “breaking open” on this issue, at least in the West. (There are other openly LGBTQ clergy who are being brought under charges in other Conferences, simply because they are being public about hteir lives).

Since General Conference met and got so tangled up over issues related to sexuality, the shooting at the Pulse Club in Orlando happened: 49 lives lost and many more injured; who can count the emotional damage in Orlando and around the country to LGBTQ people who feel unsafe and hated?

And of course, the United Methodist Church has its role in the support of words and acts of hatred against LGBTQI persons. (I have described below exactly what the Book of Discipline says on these matters below). We have often said, “All persons are of sacred worth,” but homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” It’s the “love the sinner,” “hate the sin” point-of-view. People are not to be condemned because they are created in the image of God, but their sins are to be condemned. Perhaps this statement can still hold: but what we see changing is that homosexuality will no longer be considered a sin. . .at least, I think that is the direction that we are heading.

The condemnation of LGBTQI persons by the church has led the society at large to sanction this condemnation, and therefore, make LGBTQI persons vulnerable to words and acts of hate (and self-hate), including murder and suicide. Enough. Let’s change our attitude, our rhetoric, and our Book of Discipline, and truly and sincerely reflect our belief that “all persons are of sacred worth,” because we have been created in the image of God. We’ve already started down that path. . .

I realize that for many of us, this whole issue may be uncomfortable, troubling, or confusing. I invite conversation with anyone who would like to know more about how I have reached my position, or who would like to tell me about yours!

We should continue to pray for our LGBTQI brothers and sisters, our church and for ourselves, that God’s vision of a peaceable kingdom may become more real through our words and actions.

Rev. Naomi


There are fairly complex arguments about whether the Bible actually says that homosexuality is a sin. If we read the Bible very simplistically, one might reach that conclusion. But if we understand about the Bible’s context and our own context, the answer is not so clear. However, to me, it makes more sense to compare this issue with slavery: the Bible says slavery is ok; it even says, “Slaves obey your masters in all things” (Colossians 3:22). From our point of view now, we believe that the writers of the Bible got the slavery issue wrong, because it was just a part of their world that they didn’t think to question. For me, the Bible writers could not even image same-sex marriage, so the few comments they make about homosexuality are incorrect, or more precisely, irrelevant to how we understand homosexuality today.

Our Book of Discipline says: “T he United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth. All persons without regard to race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition, shall be eligible to attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, upon baptism be admitted as baptized members, and upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith, become professing members in any local church in the connection.

• Specifically, clergy are restricted: ¶ 304.3: 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.

¶ 341.6: Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches.

Any clergy (bishop, local pastor, deacon) may undergo church trial with one or more of these offenses (in ¶ 2702): (a) immorality including but not limited to, not being celibate in singleness or not faithful in a heterosexual marriage; (b) practices declared by The United Methodist Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings, including but not limited to: being a self-avowed practicing homosexual; or conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex wedding ceremonies;** (c) crime; (d) disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church; (e) dissemination of doctrines contrary to the established standards of doctrine of The United Methodist Church; (f) relationships and/or behavior that undermines the ministry of another pastor;16 (g) child abuse;*** (h) sexual abuse;17 (i) sexual misconduct*** or (j) harassment, including, but not limited to racial and/or sexual harassment; or (k) racial or gender discrimination.

There are also prohibitions against the use of church funds to be given to:
“any gay caucus or group, or otherwise use such funds to promote the acceptance of homosexuality or violate the expressed commitment of The UMC “not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends.”