An LGBTQ+ Mother’s Day Reflection for the UMC

I was baptized and raised in the United Methodist Church. I sang in the cherub choir as soon as they would let me. I went on every summer youth trip to Appalachia that I could. I joined the Wesley Foundation in college, and ultimately I became a social worker because of what my faith told me about service and justice and mercy. You (the Virginia UMC) taught me that.

I’ve joined committees and boards, gone on so many mission trips I’ve lost count, worshipped and sung on mountains and at the beach, in storefronts and chapels, and know so many amazing people across Virginia and the world who share God’s love in so many beautiful ways. My campus minister can boast dozens of clergy grown out of his ministry, and we shared many hours of conversation that truly shaped and formed who I am in Christ. At that critical young adult phase where so many folks lose their faith, mine only got stronger. Because of you, the people of the UMC.

But, sometime around college, and then again during grad school, I started to “come out.” To myself, and to other people. First, it was just a phase, I thought, and very much a secret I kept to myself. Over the last 10 or so years, I’ve identified as “queer” or “lesbian” or whatever you want to call a woman who loves a woman. After finding love and acceptance from my family (I am so fortunate for that), I’ve grown to love myself for who God created me to be, and rarely hide my sexual orientation anymore.

Around the time I met the woman who is now my wife and fell in love with her, I learned about the Reconciling movement within the church. Before that, I was like many who worship in UMC’s week after week, and I really didn’t know what the Book of Discipline said, and didn’t really think it mattered.

But it does.

Because despite going to General Conference in 2012 with hundreds of other LGBTQ+ people and our allies, and feeling like my heart was trampled on, nothing in the language has changed. It still says that my love for my family is “incompatible with Christian teaching.” Love? Really? Incompatible? Really?

And this fight has been going on since the 1970s?

Despite hundreds of congregations and individuals, clergy and laity, who identify as Reconciling, there are forces within the international institution that we call the UMC keeping that hurtful language in place, and even doubling down on the penalties and exclusion for loving the “wrong” person. I want to scream at the institution, “Do you even hear what you’re saying?”

I have continued to be a loyal member of the UMC while I’ve fought and waited for something to change. But I don’t think I can wait anymore. It has become very clear to me that we are very broken, and that nothing is going to change.

Our son turns 3 this week. Our United Methodist pastor baptized him when he was a baby. (And we love her very much!)

But I can’t raise him in a denomination that says his moms couldn’t get married or be leaders in it, if we wanted to. (We got married at a UCC church the day it became legal in Virginia, and then a few months later at a hotel with family and friends, because we knew it wouldn’t be an option to ask a United Methodist pastor or church.)

I can’t raise our son in a church that says that our love is “incompatible” with.....anything. If it wasn’t his birthday week, I would be at the UM-Forward gathering of POC+Q+T voices in Minneapolis. If something is going to change, that’s where it’s going to start.

The Holy Spirit is alive and well, and I hope still working in the UMC. But right now, it’s really hard to see how I could possibly stay.

My son’s new favorite question is “why?” (every parent of a 3 year old knows this too well), and I’m going to need a darn good answer for staying in this denomination. Because I don’t have one yet. 

I don’t know if I’m going to be a United Methodist after 2019; the church that raised me to love all of God’s people is a really, really hard place to be in right now.

Will you transform it? For me? For my son?

Lauren Austin is a lifelong United Methodist, born and raised in Virginia. She works for local government as a social worker and will celebrate 5 years of marriage later this year.

Lauren Austin