By Randall Jobe
“Protests are sacred, too,” explains Bering Memorial Pastor Diane McGehee as she outlines decisions to go heads up against “The Traditional Plan”, a policy passed at the February 2019 General Conference of the United Methodist denomination that goes into effect January 1, 2020. The policy supports and will enforce increased discrimination against LGBTQAI+ persons. That decision is contrary to the teachings of Christian scripture and the core of Methodist theology.
“It does not and will not change Bering Memorial’s stance of full inclusion and celebration of any persons being discriminated against or pushed to the margin by the religious, social, and political institution,” says Pastor McGehee.
Bering Memorial has a long history of standing for the full inclusion, welcome, and celebration of the LGBTQAI+ community and all persons as fully created in the image of God in all our diversity inclusive of gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, color, age, class, ability, nationality, status, and beyond. Even with that, the “Traditional Plan” is a radical departure from the Wesleyan core theology of grace. It will punish clergy who are found guilty by the trial of performing same-sex weddings regardless of circumstances, with a minimum of a one-year suspension without pay. The second time, they are stripped of their credentials without recourse.
Also prohibited is the ordination of “self-avowed” “homosexuals” by bishops. The policy places additional punitive measures in the already discriminatory United Methodist Book of Disciplines, which falsely labels living out one’s God-given identity as LGBTQAI+ as “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Pastor McGehee sees that as singling out LGBTQ persons for harm.
In opposition to these actions of discrimination, Bering Church (formerly referred to as Bering Memorial United Methodist Church) will no longer use “United Methodist” in any of its communications. In addition, as further protest, On Sunday, January 12, Bering Memorial will affirm and bless the unions of all LGBTQAI+ couples and families as beloved in the sight of God and a gift to all. Although the blessing is symbolic and holds no “official weight,” it speaks volumes to Bering’s continued understanding of the love of God for all people. The blessing will be part of the 10:50 a.m. worship service with a reception to follow. Although invitations to participate were sent to current and past members of and those with affiliation to Bering Memorial, the event is open to the public.
If the move seems controversial, it will not be the first time Bering Memorial and its leaders and members have made waves. During the AIDS crisis in the early ’80s, when care for those afflicted, mostly young gay men were sorely lacking. Bering stepped forward to offer support to those in need. Some were abandoned by their families and had been turned out of their homes. That ministry and many more have been the cornerstone of teachings at Bering. Currently, there are ministries that assist with immigration, feeding and clothing of homeless LGBTQ youth, and more. Now, even as some change of titles happens, the inclusion of all will remain.
Possibly more complicated will be decisions as to what happens in May 2020 when the governing body of the United Methodist denomination revisits its discriminating decision of February 2019. Then Bering Memorial may be faced with tougher decisions and calls to action beyond the current mild protests. Regardless, Bering Memorial will keep its focus to affirm and celebrate everyone.
“It is the gospel of Jesus Christ. All are welcome at God’s table, no exceptions,” says Pastor McGehee.