A Violation of Integrity: “Coming Out” as a Lesbian Clergyperson?

© Eugenesergeev | Dreamstime.com, modified by Christy Thomas

She’s been living a lie and I’m deeply troubled about this even as others are cheering her on.

I write of the Rev. Cynthia Meyer, a long time pastor, and her announcement to her church on Sunday, January 3, 2016.

From this article,

“I have been an ordained United Methodist pastor for 25 years. At last, I am choosing to serve in that role with full authenticity, as my genuine self, a woman who loves and shares my life with another woman,” said the Rev. Cynthia Meyer during her sermon at Edgerton United Methodist Church. Meyer has served as the church’s pastor since July.

In a related post, a retired UMC pastor, Rev. Bruce Robbins, has written his Bishop, The Rev. Bruce R. Ough in the Minnesota Annual Conference. Robbins has asked that Bishop Ough move forward in dealing with the charges that Rev. Robbins co-officiated at a same-sex wedding in 2013.

In the meantime, the Rev. Mike Tupper continues to sleep outside the Conference Office at the Michigan Annual Conference as he seeks to make his point of ongoing discrimination against LGBTQ persons. He wishes to symbolize the way they are kept outside the doors of our church.

These incidents display just the tip of the iceberg of the unrest facing the UMC as we prepare for our General Conference in May, 2016.

My Own Position: Remove the Language and Remove Rev. Meyer’s Credentials

I have been a long time proponent of removing the discriminatory and truly distasteful language found in our Book of Discipline concerning homosexuality. I’ve written far more extensively about the situation here where I address our increasingly problematic understanding of human sexuality as a rigid binary.

I have a major problem with this statement in our Book of Discipline:

“The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Yes, I understand and respect that many believe this and can cite chapter and verse to support their beliefs. But there are multiple other “practices” considered incompatible with Christian teaching. However, none are singled out this way.

Either let’s mention them all (which we would never agree upon) or drop this line.

However, that is not my concern here. I’m going to have to take a difficult and troubling position, unquestionably unpopular with those who do celebrate Rev. Meyer’s decision to make this public announcement.

I’m glad she has declared herself, but I believe she should have accompanied the announcement with the relinquishment of her credentials as a UMC clergy.

I have great sympathy to her as a person, as a sister in Christ, as a fellow clergy. I am concerned that she has not shown integrity in her years of ministry.

Rev. Meyer has been living a lie for a long time. I understand that she is a fine pastor and many have benefited under her tenure as clergy. Nonetheless, she has been lying. She has either had to keep her personal life deeply hidden, even impenetrable, to close associates and to the congregations she served or asked them to join her in perpetuating the lie.

If an unmarried heterosexual clergyperson disclosed to his/her congregation a long-time affair with person of the opposite sex, she/he would at the very least be put on a leave of absence with probably far greater repercussions. This is a clear behavior incompatible with Christian teaching.

As clergy, we are called to live lives of deep integrity and personal transparency. It’s a truly difficult calling, one very few should undertake. In the UMC, potential clergy undergo years and years of preparation and examination before actually taking our ordination vows.

One of our vows reads this way:

Bishop: Will you do your best to pattern your life in accordance with the teachings of Christ?

Ordinand: I will, with the help of God.

We are also asked these questions:

  • Have you studied our form of Church discipline and polity?
  • Do you approve our Church government and polity?
  • Will you support and maintain them?

We are not supposed to respond to those questions and vows with our hands crossed, pretending to say “yes” while intending to act differently. When I took my own ordination vows, I was could answer “yes.” As I continued to mature in the faith, I became increasingly uncomfortable with the discriminatory language. I took early retirement for multiple reasons, but this change in my own stance certainly figured into that decision.

Again, I believe the UMC should remove all discriminatory language and be what we say we are: a church for all people.

I also think clergy need to act with integrity. Rev. Meyer, and any other clergy who are currently living lives surrounded by lies, can begin that process. A voluntary relinquishing of credentials will make a profound statement for truth. It also spare us from further expensive and time-consuming trials. This frees energy to address the real issues that are about to tear us apart.

18 thoughts on “A Violation of Integrity: “Coming Out” as a Lesbian Clergyperson?

  1. Okay, here goes. Once I got started, I couldn’t stop.

    In a discussion like this, I wish I had the opportunity to have a conversation over coffee with Reverend Meyers in order to hear more of her story. I would be curious to find out when she realized she was gay. Did she struggle against it, as many of my friends did? At what point did she come to understand she was keeping a secret from her conference?

    I can’t refute anything you say. And yet I am troubled by the culture of deception and secrecy that religion often fosters. From the very beginning of Methodism, we’ve been getting around the rules we make, which indicates deception and secrecy. A prime example to me is the rule not to ordain women as ministers, and yet John Wesley himself trained women to speak publicly–he just called them teachers instead. You mentioned heterosexual affairs and the secrecy involved–an apt parallel, and a serious issue. And yet ministers have no place to go for help in their marriages–they can’t tell anyone in their churches; they can’t share with a colleague who may become their supervisor one day.

    They can become terribly isolated. Is it bad to have an affair? Yes, but if it’s so bad to have an affair, then the church might want to consider better ways of nurturing their ministers and opening doors so they can ask for help before they become tempted. But instead we don’t allow people to be express their vulnerability, and we set them up for a fall. All the secrecy, self-protection, and judgment make it difficult for people to examine themselves and work to resolve their difficulties. The secrecy breeds deceit and sets up people to fall.

    Ministers are forced to keep many secrets. They have to be careful about airing their doubts about denominational doctrines–heaven forbid that they might think outside the boundaries. But it gets worse. If ministers have a crisis of faith, and most of them do at some point, they can’t share that with anyone–they have to keep it to themselves. If they have troubles in their marriage, they can’t reveal that to anyone. Many ministers suffer from severe depression, but they dare not let anyone know. It’s sad that we preach the need for authenticity, and yet ministers must constantly guard their privacy so as not to be harmed by their own flocks. And that kind of privacy kills souls. And marriages. And friendships. And careers. And hope.

    Rev. Meyers kept a secret while serving her God and God’s people. She should have told the truth. However, the rest of us should have made it easier for her to tell that truth.


    1. I am in deep agreement with you on your comments. The culture of secrecy where pastors are concerned simply breeds toxicity–and a big part of the institutional church’s decline. Without clergy authenticity, the faith of the congregations also lacks authenticity. We are a church of pretenders. It’s just so very very sad and destructive. Thank you for expressing this so eloquently.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Years ago I was in a church where the leadership decided their constitution was not working. They had gone from 100 in attendance to 2,000 in less than 6 years. Admittedly, the constitution had not been continuously updated and was in dire need. So the six longest tenured members got together and drew up a new one. Ignoring the process in the old constitution entirely. When they presented it at the church there was a furious uproar. The six apologized profusely, waited 4 months and did it again only without the public announcement. When many found out and made a complaint, they were driven from the congregation. Control and convenience became the SOP and the witness of the leaders. No one crosses them now.

    It is really important to maintain and update a constitution…or in our case a BOD. It has mechanisms in place to make changes, and integrity cries out for them to be followed. The option is to have control and convenience rule the day. If that is the case, why have the system. Just go ahead and do what you want anyway. Its all about SOP and training the next leaders how they should act.

    I think that we have an entire system that has been broken for quite a while. We have Bishops who take oaths to not do something and then do it. This is where the clergy under them have learned it as SOP.

    As the message says in 1 Peter 1: 13-16, “So roll up your sleeves, put your mind in gear, be totally ready to receive the gift that’s coming when Jesus arrives. Don’t lazily slip back into those old grooves of evil, doing just what you feel like doing. You didn’t know any better then; you do now. As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said, “I am holy; you be holy.”


      1. I have appreciated the call for integrity that I have read in several of your articles. Thank you.

        I wish that we, as a denomination, were not in a position where crossing leadership was precarious-even if you agree with the BOD. I have witnessed that position. I have stood in that position. I will stand in it again, at a time of my choosing I hope.

        I have concern for our future as a denomination if we cannot have integrity. I have a prayer for our change and the difficult times ahead. But mostly, I have hope that the one who calls us to be an alternative is still at work in and around us, today.


  3. You make a solid point other comments are skipping over. At the core of justice is consistency in application of rules or law. If regulations apply to some but not all than justice is perverted. Fair and equal treatment under the law is a pillar of social stability. Our Discipline calls for “celibacy in singleness and fidelity in marriage.” If one UM clergy is told that this rule does not apply to her or him while another is punished for violating the rule, neither is treated justly. Could our low clergy morale, our abandonment by an younger generation of potential disciples, and our constant bickering be symptoms of the cancer of injustice invading our communion. If any clergy is permitted to live outside the rule of no sexual relations outside of marriage, then all clergy should be morally unfettered by removing this rule. If such a position is anathema to the Church, then ALL clergy should be held accountable to the same standard.


    1. Thanks for picking up on that: I am calling for consistency. That’s the big problem: we are not consistent with what we name as essentially unforgivable and as tolerable, nor are we consistent with disciplinary actions. Together, this contributes to lowered morale among clergy, and a lack of trust in the system.


  4. There is no doubt that Reverend Meyers withheld some information from some people. There is no enough information to know whether or not people in previous congregations knew and kept the secret or not.

    But it seems to me that had Reverend Meyers made this announcement two years ago, she would have been stripped of credentials almost immediately. And had she indicated anything before becoming ordained, she would never had gotten ordained.

    Saying it in a sermon is perhaps the easiest way to get it out. I can think of any number of times a pastor has let the congregation know of a change in the church through the message from the pulpit (retirement, transfer, etc.) so having Reverend Meyers do so in setting were she was comfortable makes a lot of sense to me.


  5. Openly gay UMC member here.

    I can’t find a nit to pick with your position. And I’d love to hear more from Revs. Thomas & Goforth on more ideal ways to make this kind of announcement. A letter to congregants, including dates and times of open discussions? And perhaps one-on-one time with congregants who want to engage, but perhaps not so publicly?

    I left the UU movement for a number of reasons, but the principal reason was that my congregation (which was populated by many wonderful people) simply could not protect the worship hour. Too many political statements, too few boundaries during Joys, Sorrows and Concerns (which powerful nonmembers used more than once to air grievances with the minister and elected church leaders). People come to church for spiritual communion, and this kind of thing can fracture the circle so easily.

    Churches have to establish and guard clear boundaries around right relationship and sexuality. Being in the closet is a violation of a trust ministers are expected to hold sacrosanct.

    Cindy Breeding


    1. Cindy, both you and April are have made really good points here. The time of worship should be just for that: our focus on God. We spend so little time in those moments–they should not be violated for the sake of personal privilege and political statements. I’m going to noodle on this a while.


  6. Citing chapter and verse shows a mind unable to think for its self.
    For centuries theologians havet thought for themselves and applied the Bible to the cicumstances , age and time they live in. Where Bible rules deny humanity they must be rejected just as Jesus would have rejected them.
    The Apostle Paul was just an early theologian given us his opinion of Christian doctrine.


  7. I would be careful to create a blanket policy on that, for many ministers, if they had started by being completely honest, they wouldn’t have been given the go-ahead to start being a minister in the first place. It would be better to remove the need to lie than to turn people into liars and then punishing them for it when they decide to be honest. If they ought to be punish for having lied, then everyone else also ought to be punished for demanding that they have to lie to get the job.


    1. Most clergy, I think, have sense of calling to the ministry–not so much to getting a job. No one insist they move toward ordination–and it needs to be done quite thoughtfully. I agree our system is seriously broken, and needs cleaning up. But no one has to lie to get in, they just need to move elsewhere. Believe me, I’m deeply sympathetic to my gay/lesbian friends and fellow clergy, but coming in on the basis of lie will not do anything to clean up the system.


  8. I also do not think that the way Rev. Meyers chose to “reveal” herself, add it were, was wise. To do this in a sermon, where there is no dialogue or time for questions or clarification, when people come trusting in the preacher to bring a word of life, is troubling.
    That being said, I know very little about the situation. But I agree with you in principle.

    Liked by 2 people

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