|Mary Cartledgehayes and Frederick B. Hayes after ordination service|
Many United Methodists are unaware that a gay man was forbidden membership in the United Methodist Church because he was gay and due to a church court ruling pastors now judge whether a given person is good enough to join the congregation. This error in doctrine, theology, and historical methodology can't be rectified if people don't know it has occurred. Therefore, I request that you share this post widely. My one limitation is that it needs to be shared in its entirety, to ensure an accurate reading. (I'll also post it on the home page of my Web site (http://marycartledgehayes.com) so it can be found easily in the future.)
April 17, 2011
To the Members of Judicial Council and the Bishops of the United Methodist Church:
By letter dated February 2006, I resigned my ordination in the South Carolina Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. I have been on the whole silent about the matter, waiting for my grief to pass, except for a few murmurs about my resignation’s connection to Decision 1032 published by the UMC's supreme court on October 29, 2005.
Decision 1032, as you are well aware, claimed pastors are responsible for determining who will and will not be allowed to join a local congregation. Pastors are free – or, rather, required, per the Decision -- to distinguish between the deserving and the Other and to refuse membership to persons they consider inadequate, sinful, or in any other way unclean.
Decision 1032 voided everything I was taught in Sunday school, in sermons, and at the Divinity School of Duke University (from which I am an honors graduate) about prevenient grace. The Decision also voided the sermons I preached and classes I taught as a pastor that had to do with grace; God’s inclusive love; and most other matters of salvific import. Furthermore, my memoir, published nationally in 2003 by Crown/Random House, became a historical rendition of the church that once was rather than the contemporary explication of the theology, history, and polity of the United Methodist Church I wrote.
As we all know, Decision 1032 was a fusillade in a media war. If, for instance, the pastor had refused membership to someone who didn’t believe in infant baptism (i. e., one baptism for the remission of sins), I fully believe the Decision would have been different, because our pews and pulpits are well-populated by such people.
In upholding a pastor’s refusal to allow a practicing homosexual to transfer into his congregation, Decision 1032 forced my resignation. Why? Because if gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and trans-gendered people are not welcome in the United Methodist Church, then I am not welcome there. The Church is not a country club with self-invented by-laws and membership based on the division between “us” and “those people.” And who are “those people” when it comes to the United Methodist Church. Those people who live in trailer parks. Those people who live in fine brick houses. Those people who belong to country clubs. Those people who get food stamps. Those people who buy new cars every year and those whose hiccupping engines pollute my own personal air. Those people who are or were in prison. Those people who think children are snot-nosed little noise machines. Those people with tattoos, or divorcing, or not contributing to the budget. Those people who are persistently, repulsively Samaritans no matter how often their naiveté is mocked. In other words, “those people” who don’t think or look or speak or act or dress in accordance with a given pastor’s standards (or lack thereof).
I resigned my ordination because Decision 1032 is counter to the history, theology, and polity of the United Methodist Church.
I resigned my ordination because I share with Carl Sandburg the belief that the ugliest word in the English language is “exclusivity.”
I resigned my ordination because, as an honorable human being, I refuse to associate with an institution that formalizes its petty dislikes and/or hatreds into church law.
I resigned my ordination because the Decision made by Judicial Council and re-affirmed by General Conference is heretical, being, as it is on its face, antithetical to all we know about the nature of God.
Given my abhorrence of Decision 1032, I could not in good conscience affiliate with any United Methodist congregation. Nor did I choose to affiliate with a different denomination. I knew the UMC’s commitment to inclusivity was a sign of God’s action in the world, and I was invigorated by the difficulties and grace that came from my Annual Conference having the highest percentage of African-American congregations in the United States. United Methodist to my very bones, I am now a ship with no harbor.
Which brings me to my final point. When I preached on the unforgivable sin for the first time, after extensive exegesis and careful thought I concluded, from the text, that there is only one unforgivable sin, as stated clearly in 1 Thessalonians 5:19: “Quench not the Holy Spirit.” I regret to inform you that I am quenched; that it was an intention action by the UMC; and that it is unforgivable. I gave my heart, soul, prayers, presence, service, and the last six healthy years of the life of my late husband (Frederick B. Hayes) to preparation for ordination and to pastoring. I was an effective conduit between God and the congregation; a gifted preacher; and a devoted elder. In other words, I had fruits – and I left them to rot on the ground because, since Fred’s death in 2000, I will not be party to institutional stupidity and hatred.
As for myself, I am well. The Holy Spirit didn’t stop pestering me just because I kept trying to brush it off. My life is devoted to writing and art that reify the gifts of grace, peace, and love. I’m including a small piece of art for you as a parting gift. You’ll note that it’s made of recycled materials and includes a word or phrase ripped from the pages of my 2003 book. I offer this gift as a life-giving sacrifice and as a plea to the Church to return to its proper tasks: spreading scriptural holiness and embodying the love of God.