That's the question that haunts many clergy in this country who are seeing more and more LGBT people returning to church, and participating in the life of their parishes. In the northeast, the corner of our country that has been the most favorable toward marriage equality, it has to be incredibly hard to be a leader of a faith community that is lagging behind the civil authorities on the question of marriage. Imagine being a minister to a lesbian couple that you see week after week at the altar rail, who pledge their money and their time to the life of the congregation, who you know want to get married and would like you to officiate... and you have to say, "No" because your national Church refuses to recognize the love shared between two people as valid? One can rationalize it away, but the reality is that-- as retired Episcopal Bishop Barbara Harris said-- you are forced to treat that couple as the "half-assed baptized."
Well, in New England, 100 clergy in the United Methodist Church signed a pledge to say, "Enough!!" The renegade reverends have said they are defying their national church's position on performing marriages for same-sex couples. From the Boston Globe:
The Rev. LaTrelle Miller Easterling, pastor of Union United Methodist Church in Boston’s South End, signed the statement, she said, because she could not in good conscience deny a practicing member of her church her marriage blessing because the person is gay.
“We’re laying on the line our ordination that many of us have worked four to eight years to get, as well as the expense and time of the seminary,’’ she said. “I certainly stand by this movement.’’This is a tremendous act of courage, and commitment to following the Spirit. There are some in New England, and elsewhere in the United Methodist Church, who are not thrilled with this act of defiance of the higher authorities. But sadly, when it comes to equal rights in the Church setting, it seems the only way things change is for some group within the structure to finally force the issue. This is a proud tradition throughout the history of the Christian Church. So many of the advancements in thinking within the Church have first been met with resistance and a begrudging release of the power held by a few. The German Reformation with Martin Luther going toe-to-toe with those who would defend the infallibility of the Pope, and the retention of Scripture and Sacraments to the priestly class is just one classic example. The creeds came about only after much infighting and struggling and drawing of lines. Painful and maddening as it must have been in Nicea, the end result is language that has been passed along throughout the ages and beliefs that have survived to this day.
One signal that things might be changing for the Methodists outside New England came last week in the trial of Rev. Amy DeLong of Wisconsin, who had committed the "sin" of being an "avowed practicing homosexual" (the unfortunate and very-dated language of the UMC's Book of Discipline), and she had married a lesbian couple in defiance of the Church laws. Her trial ended with the jury refusing to find fault with her own lesbianism, and putting her on a 20-day suspension rather than defrocking her.