See also: Three More Clergy Announce Plans to Celebrate Same Gender Covenant Service, May 11, 2000 about Mark Kemling.
I have watched with growing concern since 1972 as the church as an institution has become increasing homophobic and anti-gay. I have many gay and lesbian friends who have grown up in the church, and are deeply committed to it and to the gospel. I also know many parents, who have gay sons and daughters. These members of our church are subjected year after year to the painful ordeal of hearing themselves and their loved ones condemned, compared to prostitutes and child-molesters, and told that because of who they are, they, or their children, are irredeemable sinners.
I also know many other gay men and lesbians who have given up on the institutional church, because instead of hearing a gospel of grace and unconditional love, they hear unconditional condemnation and hatred. People suffering from AIDS are left without spiritual counsel and a nurturing community of faith. It is because of these persons, both inside and outside of the church that I have chosen to sign the Statement of Commitment.
When in 1996, the General Conference stated that same-sex ceremonies could not be performed by United Methodist clergy nor in United Methodist Churches, a line was crossed that made it impossible for me to remain silent any longer. We have sought dialogue on this issue for more than two decades. We have sought to work within the parameters of the system to bring about changes that we believed to be just and right. Instead of seeing change that I would consider positive, the church has moved further in the wrong direction.
It has been stated that gays and lesbians are still welcome in our church. Yet we are unwilling to recognize their most significant relationships. I understand that pastors are now refusing the sacrament of baptism to infants because of their parent's sexual orientation and "lifestyle." On the one hand, we condemn gays for being promiscuous and on the other, we deny them the legitimacy of a committed relationship. As the language in the discipline stands now, any recognition of a same-sex couples' committed relationship within the worship life of the church could be a chargeable offense.
In my own mind, an issue is at stake here that is central to the gospel. Do we proclaim a gospel of God's love and grace revealed in Jesus Christ, or do we preach an Old Testament legalism based on merit, works righteousness, and a pre-ordained election to priviledge?
I do not know how to understand homosexual persons and their experience without engaging in serious dialogue with them. When I engaged in that dialogue, I heard about their deep spiritual and emotional pain, because of a condition they did not choose. I have heard them tell about heart-felt, earnest prayer, asking God to remove that condition, and how they struggled for years against it. I have heard them tell of despair so deep that they considered ending their own lives, or actually engaged in self-mutilation. I know families whose children have taken their own lives because of their sexual orientation. I have seen how those families bore a shameful secret about their child, unable to deal fully and openly with the pain of their loss, even ashamed of sharing it with their pastor. Some were convinced that their loved-one was languishing in hell.
Having listened to these stories, and serving a God who sees the affliction of the oppressed, who hears their cry, who knows their sorrows, and who comes down to deliver them, I have no other option, but to take the stand which I have taken. To do other wise would be to deny the God revealed to me in Jesus Christ by the witness of the scriptures.