PORT TOWNSEND — Pastor Tony Brown plans to hang a rainbow flag on the side of Port Townsend’s Trinity United Methodist Church.
“Those who have heard that the United Methodist Church is anti-gay can at least see this and realize that not all of them are,” said Brown, a gay man with a husband.
“We are inclusive,” he said of his church at 609 Taylor St. “Not only do we say all are welcome, but we truly mean all are welcome.”
The General Conference of United Methodist Church, meeting in St. Louis, Mo., on Tuesday adopted rules banning same-sex marriage and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) clergy, citing a 47-year old church policy that says, “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”
The resolutions not only reaffirmed the church’s longstanding conservative positions but also introduced tough new measures for their enforcement, news reports say.
Methodist clergy who officiate at any marriage not involving a man and a woman now will face a one-year suspension for the first offense and permanent removal from the ministry for any subsequent offense.
Brown, 40, doesn’t want to leave the denomination that he embraces and a church that has supported him since 2012.
And he doesn’t think he will have to.
“I’m not worried about my job,” Brown said. “Our bishop and the bishops of the Western Jurisdiction have made it clear that they will continue to protect LGBT persons from the hateful actions made at general conference.”
The Western Jurisdiction of United Methodist Church on Thursday posted its support of LGBTQ church members on its website at http://westernjurisdictionumc.org/.
“Once again, General Conference has turned you into an issue instead of recognizing how essential you are to the body; we have talked about you, rather than with you,” the statement says.
“You are precious children of God, and you help us all see a fuller glimpse of the face of God.
“We have not deserted you. We see you. We stand in solidarity with you.”
Many proclaimed defiance of the ruling.
“We are very clear that we will stand by our LGBTQ students, staff, faculty, alums, and friends,” NPR quoted Jay Rundell, president of the Methodist Theological School in Ohio, one of 13 official United Methodist Church seminaries, as saying.
“We will resist what we see as a narrow misuse of scripture and tradition.”
The vote was 438-384.
“The minority conservative members in the United States joined together with the African churches and a large block of the churches in the Philippines and those in Eastern Europe to give them the majority vote at the conference,” Brown said. “They walked hand-in-hand with them in order to assert their white, cisgender power upon a changing culture.”
He believes homophobia is driving this action.
“There seems to be a trend of doubling down on conservative values in our country and around the world which I think is coming from a place of fear of a changing culture,” Brown said.
”I think you are seeing the minority trying to hold on to the power they had. “
The church’s judicial branch will meet in April to make a final ruling on the new rules. If approved, they won’t go into effect until January which could affect who gets to preach and worship in the church’s buildings.
As for the little church in Port Townsend, Brown isn’t exactly sure who actually owns the land and building. He said when churches became United Methodist in 1968, a trust clause was enacted that overrides any documents that previously existed, including land titles. He said there would be litigation across the country if a schism takes place.
“We as a congregation don’t want to leave the denomination,” he said. “We do so much amazing work around the world. We feed over one million children every day.”
Brown was part of a church group that went to Swaziland to build playgrounds at orphanages. In 2017 he met Walter Maphalala, a young man with albinism. In that country, people with albinism have been killed for their skin, which is considered a good luck charm.
Brown and his team brought Maphalala to the United States last year and are helping him apply for asylum. Maphalala, 19, is now living in Bellevue and attending classes at Bellevue College.
Brown didn’t grow up in the church. He changed his life to become part of it.
When he was 19 and came out of drug and alcohol addiction, he found a Gideon Bible in a hotel room. Through reading scripture he became a Christian and felt called into the ministry.
“It was a very powerful, personal moment,” he said.
“I was in Tennessee at the time and my best friend’s mother took me to the United Methodist Church. I told some of those in the church that I was gay. Tennessee is conservative and I was told that I couldn’t be a pastor. They encouraged me to go to conversion therapy.
“I did that, and ended up feeling like God had ‘healed me from being gay.’ That’s what their language was. I was ordained in 2010.
“I was married to a woman, the mother of my children, for 12 years until my theology changed and I began performing same-sex weddings here in Port Townsend. I realized that I had been duped into believing this crazy hateful ideology that homosexuality is a choice and that someone can be healed from it as if it were alcoholism.
“I started feeling suicidal and that’s when I came out to my ex-wife and congregation here in Port Townsend. We lost some people. Then we lost more people when I met my now husband. For some people they could accept a pastor who is gay but celibate. Then when I announced my engagement we lost more people who couldn’t go that far.
“We weeded out all the anti-gay people,” he said. “I still have love for them in my heart. Our congregation is growing today, up 30 percent.
“We are a church that has said this is what our identity is: a church that welcomes every person whether they are in the pew or the pastor. That’s our identity and we are proud of it.”
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected].