Update: Edited for clarity.
I read this passage the other day, from Lindsay Harts, on moving from Evangelicalism to an Episcopal congregation:
“Everything is centered around this one moment where people of all ages, gender identities, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, political beliefs, and backgrounds are welcome to come to the table and receive the elements. Whether or not the bread and wine are a symbol or whether you believe that they are the literal body and the blood are up to you. I believe they have enormous power to change hearts, attitudes, lives, tear down prejudices, bridge gaps, and bring peace. I believe that in most cases, the elements speak louder than any sermon or hymn or prayer. Something mysterious and unfathomably beautiful happens at the table. It’s a place where any person, no matter what belief system or background they come from can come and receive the God of peace.”
I think this is a beautiful rendering of the Church, as a place for all people to come together in Christ and share in the table fellowship that breaks down all barriers.
This is what I want in a church.
After trying out a variety of other churches and denominations, I came home to the United Methodist Church because that is where my heart is. I love the Wesleyan theology and tradition, connectionalism, and the unified, global structure of the UMC that does so much good in the world.
But I think the UMC is deficient in one area: treating all people as equal.
As a denomination, we still embrace a discriminatory stance towards our LGBT brothers and sisters. Our Book of Discipline contains language that makes them second-class Methodists, both through their denial of marriage equality and the ability to serve the church as ordained clergy.
Many of the Methodist clergy I have been around include a variation of this phrase in their communion liturgy: “This isn’t just this church’s table, or a Methodist table; it’s the Lord’s table and all are welcome here.” But as long as the Church continues to deny full equality to all, then every time a pastor says this, it is in part a lie. When we as the Church refuse to extend that attitude of inclusion and hospitality beyond just the act of communion, we undermine the inclusivity that it represents to the world.
Communion is one of the most poignant and central rituals in the Christian tradition. The table is a place with no barriers, no restrictions, no rules about who can sit and partake. It is a place of Christian fellowship for all God’s children. The symbolism of all the people coming together around a common table, where all are equally valued and loved, should extend beyond the table to the entire life of the church. I hope and pray the UMC will soon make that true in practice as well as in rhetoric. Because when I am ordained, I want to be able to say that at this table “people of all ages, gender identities, races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, political beliefs, and backgrounds are welcome” in all aspects of the Christian life and experience.
Note: I want to be very clear, so that this post won’t be misconstrued or misunderstood – both purposefully or accidentally – that I am in no way implying that the UMC refuses Communion for LGBT people. One of the most wonderful things about the Methodist tradition is that in fact all are welcome at the table. I am of the opinion, as articulated above, that I think that attitude should be extended within the life of the whole church. Thanks to all who commented and engaged in the debate that helped me realize this post needed some clarification. -JD