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Letter to the Commission on a Way Forward

June 5, 2017

Thank you for inviting the United Methodist Association of Ministers with Disabilities (UMAMD) to provide input on a way forward for inclusion of LGBTQI persons. We are a national caucus founded in 1990 and made up of people with varying disabilities, both lay and clergy, who also seek to achieve full inclusion in the church. Many of us have our own stories of exclusion and pain as we have sought to be fully accepted and recognized by our brothers and sisters in ministry. Our theological statement emphasizes trust in God's creation as good, rather than equating disabilities with fear or sin. For many of us, this is the same theological basis we would use to fully include our LGBTQI brothers and sisters.

Like many in the church, however, we are not all in agreement. Some of us want to see the current Book of Discipline upheld, believing that homosexuality is not God's plan for anyone. Many of us also understand that we are all created in God's image, and that God loves all that God has created. Our stance, then, embodies these two important points. First, we believe that people on both sides of this issue are loving, grace filled people, responding to this issue within the confines of their particular context. Second, we believe and fervently hope that the UMC can provide a big enough umbrella so that we can live together with our differing interpretations of Law and Gospel without splitting the denomination.

As people with disabilities, we regularly experience the pain of exclusion in our daily lives, in the lack of accessible communication, in architectural and attitudinal barriers, and in the stigma still attached to mental disabilities that limit our full participation. Just as we are broken hearted over the continued exclusion of persons with disabilities, we are also broken hearted over the exclusion of LGBTQI persons. In the same way that we desire full inclusion for people of all ages with physical, cognitive, and mental health disabilities in the life of the church, many of us would like to remove the barriers to ordination and lay leadership experienced by LGBTQI persons. As one member expressed it, “How could the book of discipline state in one place that all persons are of worth and beloved of God, and then single out practicing homosexuals as unworthy of ordination? We are all persons of worth, and we all fall short of perfection.”

Over time, we believe that both the attitudes of boards of ministry and the qualifications for ministry will continue to change, just as they are changing regarding ordination of persons with disability. Too often our past has shown that the institutional church has gotten it wrong about what it means to love one another as God has loved us — in our toleration of slavery, Jim Crow and segregation, in our treatment of Native Americans and indigenous people around the world, and in our slowness to embrace the full participation of persons with disabilities. So, while we acknowledge that there is disagreement, we encourage the commission to find a way forward that allows for our differences — doctrinal, theological, sexual, physical, and mental. Dare we, in our human frailty, limit the love of God who was willing to die on a cross in the person of Jesus Christ that we might know God's love and grace? Are we so certain that we know the mind and heart of God? Can we truly be the church of open hearts, open minds, open doors, a church that allows for and embraces differences? Can we be the church that lives out Paul's words in Romans that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ?

We, the members of the Association of Ministers with Disabilities, join together in praying for your work, that you will truly lead us in finding a Way Forward. We give thanks that God has called you to this work, and we hold each of you in our hearts. May the presence and power of the Holy Spirit guide your work together.

In Christ

Rev. Janine DeLaunay Co-chair, United Methodist Association of Ministers with Disabilities

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