by: Rev. Dan Johnson
To My Conservative Sisters and Brothers,
We are all on our own spiritual journey and yours will be different from mine, but I share with you my own path toward inclusion.
As many of you know, I am a graduate of both Asbury University and Asbury Theological Seminary, and have served on the Board of Trustees of Asbury Seminary for 20 years, three as Vice Chair of the Board and four as Chair of the Board of Trustees. I was encouraged to resign from the Board in 2018.
For several General Conferences I was on the side voting to maintain the current language of the Book of Discipline regarding "the practice of homosexuality," persuaded largely by Paul's writing in Romans, chapter 1 and my cultural context.
Several things have led me to change my mind:
Biblical Interpretation. I more intentionally began to read the Scripture through the lens of Jesus, in light of his Sermon on the Mount and his inclusion of the historically excluded; through the lens of his unconditional love. I also came to believe that Paul, both in Romans 1 and in his letter to the Corinthians was talking NOT about a committed, loving relationship between two persons of the same sex, but of abusive, manipulative relationships.
Pastoral Experience. JM is a member of the church I pastored for 22 years: Trinity UMC, Gainesville. He, his Mom and I went door to door on a Celebrate Jesus mission. J became a leader in our youth group and church and at his creative arts high school. He and I shared in a sermon together. He is gay and has self acknowledged as such. He very likely has a call to preach, but he can't fulfill that calling in the UMC. After the GC19, he said that he no longer can feel safe in his own church, the one where he has spent his entire life. Additionally I have seen multiple, faithful same sex couples following Jesus faithfully and graciously in Trinity and other churches I have served.
I've come to believe that the conservative argument that "we are graciously open and welcoming to all," even though we hold that "the practice of homosexuality is incompatible to Christian teaching," is a hollow, impossible and untrue affirmation. I believe that the witness of LGBTQ persons who say that they do not experience this as welcoming grace, but rather as harmful bias is true. I believe them. And I believe it is not right to extend and perpetuate the harm.
I have generally been drawn to come alongside the "outsider," the disenfranchised, as I believe Jesus was. When our neighbor in Gainesville was threatening to burn the Quran and sending the children in his church to school wearing t-shirts that proclaimed "Islam is of the Devil," I led our church to create a "Gathering for Peace, Understanding and Hope" which became a great unifying event for the entire city of Gainesville, and led to several dear friends in the Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh communities. I believe that the way of Jesus is the way of inclusion, love and grace.
General Conference 2019 was a "tipping point" for me. The rejection of the One Church Plan and the adoption of punitive language and restrictions felt mean spirited and were afflicting real harm on vulnerable people. I saw it first hand in the current congregation I have been privileged to serve this year: Pasadena Community Church. Two women who are married and who are loved by all who know them in our church, who are amazingly caring and gracious were deeply hurt and wounded. They shared: "We can't continue in a church where we are not wanted." And despite the statement by traditionalists (WCA, GN, CM) that they are wanted and welcomed, these two women speak the truth that all LGBTQ persons feel. We must stop the harm being done.
We're all at different places on this journey of faith. Your experience will certainly be different than mine, but I wanted you to know why and how I have arrived at a different place than I was for most of my life. Perhaps you, too, will begin to see things differently, and if you do, I want you to know that you are not alone.