June 1, 2011

The United Methodist Circus

Mary Cartledgehayes and Frederick B. Hayes after ordination service
 The photo above was taken the night I was ordained in the United Methodist Church.  The letter below was mailed during Holy Week 2011 to the bishops and other leaders in the United Methodist Church to explain why I resigned my ordination and my membership in the UMC.

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 naivet√© 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.

Mary J. Cartledgehayes
Mary Cartledgehayes, Year 3 of my first pastorate


mim said...

Brava, MaryJo, Brava!

Mary said...

Thank you, Mim. It took me a long time to get the letter written. I needed distance and to lose a few more loved ones before it became an imperative act. As I said,please pass it on as the spirit moves you. xxxooo

Claire said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Claire said...

Mary(Jo)--my ancient history with you identifies you this way in my mind--thank you for your beautiful words. They have touched my heart, where the Spirit of Godde rests. Thank you for your gifts to us. It's obviously the Spirit working in and through you...to bring such beauty out of pain and ugliness.

Mary said...

Thank you, Claire. And, yes, I recognize the wind of the spirit here.I got a grant in late 2009 to do the this project, but then with Daddy's death and my cancer diagnosis in February 2010, everything got set aside. You will know the meaning of my having drafted the letter the day after Nancy Hardesty died, which was the same day my beau had emergency surgery for a gangrenous gall bladder. Jesus must bash his head against the wall when he sees some of the nasty things people do in his name.

Anita said...

WOW. Thank you for your beautiful, affirming statement. Sharing widely.

Marg Herder said...

I made the decision to leave my Presbyterian church home some 30 years ago because I was gay and that apparently made me "other." I could not let that be, and the only thing within my power to do was take my spirit and talents away from there.

I know how painful this decision was. My heart just breaks for you.

Though there are tears in my eyes as I think of this loss, I am so humbled that you would stand up for "people like me" even though it turns your life upside down. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Your courage is overwhelming.

Just yesterday Virginia Ramey Mollenkott pointed out to me that it was a good thing I left my church 30 years ago. Because now, instead of serving just one congregation, I have had to learn how to use my artistic talents to serve the whole world. So welcome, Mary Cartledgehayes, to the ranks of those who serve as ministers the Word in the church of the world.

With loving gratitude,

Marg Herder

Mary said...

Oh, Marg, how very kind of you to write and speak of your loss. These decisions are incredibly painful, not to mention costly. (I resigned my ordination a year before I finished paying off my student loans from seminary.) You were right 30 years ago, just as I am right now, to preserve ourselves from hatred. Please, if you can, be sure Virginia knows about my letter. She is such a joy and, like so many others, has devoted her life to justice and love. I can imagine her smile at this.... xo Mary Jo

Mary said...

Anita, thank you. I was shocked to find out that two friends of mine, long-term Methodists, didn't know about this ruling; so I think it very important for word to spread -- not to mention language for responding to it. xxxooo Mary Jo

Claire said...

As I was reading this for the first time, MaryJo, my deep lutheran roots brought Martin to mind and his stance against the abuses of the Roman church. And as I read Marg's post I thought of all the women and men, who, throughout history have taken a stand against injustice, but their names are not exalted. I thank both of you and all of you who offer such inspiration at such a terrible personal cost; and yet there must be an indescribable freedom.

Claire said...

From your dear friend (and mine) Virginia Ramey Mollenkott:
"Claire, a thousand thanks for sharing with me this wonderful, soul-stirring blog from our brilliant MaryJo! I have forwarded it to my good friend David Weekley, the female to male transsexual who has served the U.M Church for 30 years as an ordained minister (he transitioned in college). Now that the U.M. Church is deciding whether or not to ordain transsexuals, he has come out and has published a book entitled IN FROM THE WILDERNESS, to which I have written a foreword. Please tell Mary Jo about him--he was immediately moved to two tiny churches where he is not paid enough to cover expenses for himself and his wife. I hope everybody on this list will pray for David and Deborah Weekley--and I know we will all praise God for the incisive, shining witness of our sister Mary Jo. Love, Virginia"

Claire said...

Mary Jo,
I just received an email from Equality WI about a UMC Minister going to trial this month. Perhaps you'd like to go to her website: http://www.loveontrial.org/index.html
I will send her your blog...the Spirit holds you both!

Mary said...

Virginia's words mean a great deal to me. Thank you for forwarding, Claire. And this is what're required now: that we tell the truth and accept the inevitable consequences of a system that doesn't much care what we do but really, really wants us to shut the hell up. Too late. The cats are out of the bag, and we are not of a herd mentality.

Mary said...

You're welcome, Claire. Not so much an indescribable freedom for me as an indescribable gratitude that I finally found the language that needed to be brought and the groundedness to state exactly what I think and believe, all the way to the word heresy. Thank you for continuing the conversation. xxxooo

Claire said...

Ah. I know that feeling. Much better description. And I love it: "the cats are out of the bag, and we're not of a herd mentality!" As far as I know, no one has ever successfully herded cats!! hahahahah!

Jann Aldredge-Clanton said...

Thank you, Mary Jo, for your courage in acting and writing for justice and inclusion of LGBTQ people. Your letter should move the hardest of hearts.

Mary said...

You're welcome, Jann. It doesn't take courage for a person like me. I'm not dependent on the UMC for my livelihood or health insurance -- and any spiritual sustenance drowned in the waters of that corrupt court Decision. It was a betrayal and an equally harsh blow to straight people as to LGBTQ folks. Thanks for commenting; please help call attention to the letter. I know a lot of UMs who didn't know about the Virginia case until now; the more who know, the more who can speak their minds to their pastors and lay General Conference delegates.

Virginia Mollenkott said...

Dear, dear Mary Jo: Your blog is dynamite! You write with such passion and brilliance that it is easy fo me to see why you graduated with highest honors from Duke Divinity School. The United Methodist Church has lost one of the best preachers they could ever have had, and you have certainly let them know the reason why! Thank you for caring about some of God's more vulnerable people. Love, Virginia

Jennifer P. Brown said...

Mary Jo, Thank you for being one of the people who does the heavy lifting. I'm pleased to know that many people, including me, learn from your good work and your example.

Mary said...

Once you find a handhold, the lifting isn't difficult at all. Happy to know that the letter provides a model for other people. I used the backs of a lot of people who came before me to bear down on.

Mary said...

Dearest Virginia, I'm grateful for your high praise. I often think of you at one EEWC conference or another walking past with a radiant smile on your face. I feel more radiant myself now that I've written and sent the letter. Do share it with everyone you know, whatever their denomination. What can not be accomplished by prayer and activism can sometimes be addressed by humiliation. The UMC does not want the reputation as a denomination that turns people away -- so spreading the truth is critical.

Anonymous said...

Hey hunny--Got your letter weeks ago--YAY YOU! Email me--the addy I have for you is old. xxoojill