Approximately two weeks prior to the General Conference of the United Methodist Church, Yale Divinity School hosted leaders of the church Tuesday for an undergraduate dinner and discussion of LGBTQ issues.

The event — organized by Reverend Vicki Flippin DIV ’08, the director of Methodist studies at the Divinity School, and featuring Jorge Lockward, minister of worship arts at the United Methodist Church of the Village — attracted approximately 15 attendees. On February 23–26, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church — the legislative body for all matters regarding the UMC — will convene for a special meeting, separate from its quadrennial conference. This special session was announced two years ago to vote on proposals regarding matters of LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage.

“To leave or not to leave the church is a question I’ve asked myself so many times,” said Lockward, an openly gay and Latino member of the church.

LGBTQ rights were a hot topic of discussion at the 2016 UMC meeting — the church’s first public discussion on homosexuality. Many disagreed over the language in the “Book of Discipline,” the UMC’s main doctrinal document, which specifically writes “not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends,” disallows ordaining LGBTQ clergy, prohibits same-sex marriages in the church and stipulates that the UMC may not fund any groups or caucuses for or against gay rights. Proposed solutions from members of the legislative body include changing this language, strengthening this language or letting individual churches decide their own stance on the issue.

Lockward described his personal, complicated feelings on staying in the UMC and outlined his personal thought process to inspire others to have their own reflection. The three main themes that guided his thoughts of the church were danger, power and family, he said.

“When I came to a mentor of mine about leaving the church, he told me, Jorgie, we don’t stay because the church is good — we stay because the church is dangerous and should not be left alone,” Lockward described.

Depending on the congregation, going against the official doctrine of the UMC can result in either losing one’s position in the clergy or facing an internal trial. Additional consequences include an unofficial punishment or price, such as forcing the individual to move far away so that they must quit.

Lockward described his philosophy of reflecting on, questioning and “becoming into” one’s faith instead of viewing it as a finished product.

“What if the struggle itself is holy? What if the trinity itself is becoming?” he asked.

Lockward then encouraged attendees to share their life experiences about feelings on whether to stay in or leave the church. One attendee, a graduate student in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, spoke about questioning her faith and long-held beliefs after attending a panel of transgender clergy. Victoria Slabinski DIV ’21 recalled a friend’s personal experience that inspired her to reassess her own thoughts on LGBTQ acceptance in the church.

“I didn’t want the voices I didn’t agree with to have the final word,” Slabinski elaborated.

Flippin — who has worked within the Methodist Federation for Social Action and her own church to advocate for LGBTQ equality, racial justice and marriage equality — spoke about her experience of leading a discussion about gender and sexuality and later receiving criticism from a more senior member of the clergy.

“It was an unfamiliar feeling, that teaching something healthy would not be accepted,” she recalled.

The United Methodist Church is the third largest Christian denomination in the United States.

Helena Lyng-Olsen | helena.lyng-olsen@yale.edu