Some Oklahoma United Methodist clergy and lay people are expressing their opposition to their denomination's same-sex marriage ban through advertisements in newspapers around the state.
The Rev. Trina Bose North and the Rev. Deborah Ingraham said their group, informally called Oklahoma United Methodists for Marriage Equality, wanted to counter the public statements made by the Rev. Robert Hayes Jr., Oklahoma United Methodist bishop, upholding the denomination's stance against same-gender marriage.
“We felt like, as United Methodists, we wanted to send a message of hope, because there are LGBT United Methodists that are hurt again and again when they read that our institution leaves them out,” North said. “Our voice has been very silent, and this was an opportunity for us not to be.”
North and Ingraham, both of Edmond, said the timing to place the group's ads in The Oklahoman, Tulsa World, Oklahoma Gazette and Gayly Oklahoman was crucial in the aftermath of a recent ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Terence Kern that deemed the state's same-gender marriage ban unconstitutional.
Hayes reiterated the United Methodist denomination's stance against same-sex marriage in a Jan. 16 story in The Oklahoman.
By contrast, the group's Jan. 19 ad in The Oklahoman stated:
“Many Oklahoma United Methodist clergy, through our engagement with Scripture, tradition, reason and experience, affirm the rights and dignity of all people and celebrate the recent decision by Judge Kern that the ban on same gender marriage in Oklahoma is unconstitutional. Today we celebrate our LGBTQ brothers and sisters and pledge to express love, affirmation and equal treatment for all people.”
LGBT is the common acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. The Q commonly stands for questioning, Ingraham said.
Tuesday, Hayes, bishop of the Oklahoma United Methodist Conference and Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, said he is aware that Oklahoma United Methodists — like the nation — are divided on the issue of same-sex marriage.
“We don't all think alike on this issue,” Hayes said. “There are very few issues that I know of that are as divisive or as polarizing as this issue of same-gender marriage.”
Hayes said he led a recent meeting of Oklahoma United Methodist clergy in which he referred to the marriage equality advertisements. He said he knew people were curious about how he would react to the ads, so he told clergy that he planned to “lead with grace,” respecting their right to disagree with the denomination's stance.
“I said what we're going to do is we're going to respect each other's right to express themselves,” Hayes said. “We're not going to descend into some sort of chaotic free-for-all where we're pitted against each other.”
North, 38, said Hayes' words at the clergy gathering alleviated any concerns she had about publicly expressing her opposition to the denomination's same-sex marriage ban.
She said just as Hayes has responded to the opposing voices with grace, so the group supporting the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community must continue its “graceful dissent.”
North and Ingraham, 60, said Epworth United Methodist Church, where Ingraham is senior pastor, is part of the Reconciling Network, a network of United Methodist churches across the country working toward full inclusion for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in the life of the church.
The two ministers said the denomination's Book of Discipline prohibits same-sex marriage and ordination of openly gay individuals, but the network is hopeful for the day when church leaders change the denomination's stance in favor of marriage equality.
Until that time, they said it's important that United Methodists who disagree with the prohibitions tied to homosexuality let people know how they feel.
North, who attends Epworth, said it made sense that she and Ingraham, who are both straight, take a lead role, as part of a Reconciling Network church, in placing the ads. She said there are others in other churches around the state who feel less comfortable expressing themselves publicly.
However, North and Ingraham said momentum for such public dissent is growing. They said 70 Oklahoma United Methodist clergy and 280 laypeople signed a 2011 statement in favor of the denomination changing its stance on same-sex marriage and ordination of openly gay individuals. Ingraham said the local statement tied in with a similar national statement called Altar for All.
Ingraham said the statements were prepared as a way to influence delegates at the denomination's General Conference, a once-every-four-years gathering held in 2012, but delegates at that meeting chose not to alter the church's position on the targeted issues.
North said the recent federal ruling, now headed to an appellate court, is another sign that the United Methodists who support the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community should express their views.
She said the hope is that the group can help usher in a new era of understanding and acceptance for LGBT individuals within the United Methodist Church.
“We can move forward together,” North said.
As for Hayes, he said he considers himself the “bishop of everyone” in the conference whether or not they are from the LGBT community.
However, he said he must uphold the vows he took to uphold the law and disciplines of the denomination.
“I seek to be grace-filled while at the same time, at the end of the day, I must uphold the laws of the church. I'm in a situation where I'm in the extreme center,” Hayes said.