On a cold Sunday in January, the Rev. Cynthia Meyer came out as a gay woman to her congregation at Edgerton United Methodist Church.
She will soon learn the cost, or reward, of that acknowledgment.
Hundreds of delegates from around the world are gathering in Portland, Ore., for a United Methodist Church general conference that begins Tuesday. Gay clergy is expected to be a key agenda item.
Meyer, who eventually could be ousted from the pulpit of her Johnson County church if delegates keep the stance that homosexuality is a sin, is skipping the conference’s preliminary days.
“I’ll be there for the action,” she said Monday.
On the eve of the conference, more than 100 other Methodist clergy from across the country came out as gay in a letter that challenges the church’s position, at one point saying they have remained faithful to the calling, but the church had not remained faithful to them.
“You cannot legislate against God’s call,” the letter said. “The ‘LGBTQI issue’ is not one that can be resolved through restrictive legislation, but instead by seeing that all persons are made in the image of God and welcomed into the community of faith.”
The letter appears to be part of a last-minute push leading up to the conference. A week ago, 15 clergy members in New York came out together, and over the weekend in Ohio, a United Methodist pastor married his longtime boyfriend.
They could all lose their jobs.
Unless change comes out of Portland, Meyer, who will arrive at the conference Sunday, probably will face a church trial in August.
While other denominations, such as the Episcopal Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the United Church of Christ and the Presbyterian Church (USA) already allow gay clergy, the Methodists adhere to doctrine that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”
The issue has threatened to split the 12.5 million-member denomination.
Liberals and younger members think it’s high time the church, considered the most mainstream of Protestant denominations, welcomed LGBT as clergy.
Conservatives stick to the ban. In a letter signed by 90 ministers and posted on the United Methodist website, they wrote: “We simply cannot abandon the Bible’s teachings on the practice of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Your proposal would put us, who believe that same-sex relations are sinful, in the position of having to deny our consciences. This new policy is simply asking us to do something we cannot do.”
Common thought is that if it were left up to North American delegates at this week’s conference, the ban on gay clergy would be removed. But the conservative wing has allied with foreign delegates, particularly those from Africa, to form stiff opposition.
Meyer, 53, who has served as a pastor for 25 years, believes God is on her side.
So during her sermon on Jan. 3, she told her flock: “At last, I am choosing to serve in that role with full authenticity and as my genuine self — as a woman who loves and shares my life with another woman.”
After the service, Meyer sent a copy of that sermon to her district superintendent, who quickly filed a complaint alleging that Meyer is a “self-avowed, practicing homosexual.” Later that week, the Great Plains Conference of the United Methodist Church charged Meyer with being a homosexual.
She has vowed that whatever comes out of Portland, she will not give up the fight to make things easier for everyone.
“I don’t feel I’m guilty of anything,” Meyer said.
Meanwhile, things have been calm at the old brick church in Edgerton.
“We lost some members, but also gained some new ones,” Meyer said Monday. “We’re probably about where we were.”
Donald Bradley: 816-234-4182