This writing might upset my family. I’ll apologize up front. I’m sure it will dishearten them to
hear what I have to say.
In 1997, I decided I couldn’t be a Methodist anymore.
I had been a pretty straight-laced one, too. I mean, I had many good examples to follow. My
grandparents, my parents, our youth group leaders, and Pastor Charlie who got me through my year of
Confirmation classes were all good Methodists to learn from. I was convinced that they were right—and
I’m still convinced that they all taught me how to strive to be the best person I should be.
I still think the Methodists have good ideas on how to be a decent person—have faith, do good
works, don’t be an alcoholic or drug addict. Thos all seem legitimate—good ways to get along with
others. Really, I wouldn’t mind if more people held to these things.
But let’s jump ahead. College came along, and like most college students I began to question the
beliefs I’d had and the values I’d been raised with up to that point.
Sophomore year I signed up for a literary journalism-based class with my boss from the
university’s writing center—Dr. Vecchio. I wasn’t certain what I was getting into, but Don was cool and
had encouraged me to give it a shot.
The major assignment of the term was a lengthy assignment that involved a double-digit page
requirement of written analysis on a topic of our choice. Something inside me said: investigate your
faith. The Sunday after we got the assignment I was at Central United Methodist for worship service,
and I stayed after to befriend the local pastor, hoping he would be a source of information for the
questions I had never really investigated about United Methodism prior.
He was quick to set up an appointment with me to come back later in the week, assuring me
that he’d have books I could have to get started. I headed back to my dorm to brainstorm and plan.
It’d been awhile since I’d been to a service, not wanting to go on my own every Sunday in a city
where I didn’t know anyone beyond the college campus boundaries. I’d been uneasy, even tearing up
some. I wrote it off to missing my family who should have been there in the pew, too. I didn’t know then
that it was likely one of those uncommon examples of foreshadowing in real life. By the end of the
semester I’d see things weren’t bound to be a happy ending.
After finishing some assignments when I got back to my room, I started on my list of questions. I
knew how the Church told us we could be saved and make it to heaven. I knew about the rather
ridiculous instructions for hymn-singing in the front of every Methodist hymnal (and only the
instructions are bizarre—like any Methodist-at- heart, I love singing hymns). I’d even read about the
Methodists being supporters of the labor movement throughout American history. But how did the
Church think I should feel about suicide? Or euthanasia? Abortion? My LGBT friends? Were my personal
thoughts on those going to line-up with how the Methodists thought I should think?
Days later, I was sitting across from the pastor asking about the topics I’d considered. Briefly he
shared one- or two-sentence responses, for a funeral had come up that had had to cut into our
appointment together. He made up for it though, as promised, with books of the Church—and on that
piqued my interest most—The Book of Discipline. This book is the doctrine of the Church (and strangely,
one I hadn’t recalled hearing about in my catechism, but may be with a terrifying title like that, my pre-
teen mind had blacked it out). With a promise to meet again, the pastor saw me out and I lugged my
new sources down the street to the university library.
My answers I encountered on my own were not what I had cautiously hoped for—hypocrisy was
what I found, and it disturbed me. The bit we’d learned about in Confirmation—that “The United
Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth” seems like it’s a bit of bunk when
you keep reading. All people can attend church, but my gay friends couldn’t be ordained as ministers or
be married in the Church (an idea which persists, aggravatingly, even to today). Suicide, understandably
frowned upon, was joined by euthanasia and abortion as negatives, too, though admittedly nowadays,
the Church seems to say in the 2016 version of The Book of Discipline that there might be exceptions for
abortion, as “we are equally bound to respect the sacredness of the life and well-being of the mother.”
The bottom line was soon apparent: I couldn’t go along with what I was supposed to agree to
after researching and writing that essay. The storm churned around in me for years. I’d go to church
with my family to try to do what I figured was the right thing, but would have those tears come back
nearly every time I attended, guilty for being there and going against my own beliefs, and then
alternating with shame that the Church I’d respected, and been a happy member of for so long could
have such heinous opinions that didn’t’ seem to show that value of the sacredness of life that I held in
highest regard. My husband and I married in the United Methodist Church (to follow tradition and to
avoid the complication of paying for a sacrament in the Catholic Church) but I’d not been to a service in
ages before our marriage education classes with my parents’ minister. But I didn’t feel all that guilty
about that at least—and I’d even gotten through the ceremony without too many tears. I guess I’d been
able to kid myself for one afternoon at least.
No, the guilt comes back around in the feeling on Sunday mornings that I’m betraying my
relatives and the tenets that they held to for at least a few generations back.
But was I rejecting them? I’ve decided finally that I am not. I still try to live as I was raised—to
treat others justly by the Golden Rule—to try to be temperate (most of the time) in all aspects of
activities—and to have faith in the goodness of others and to show my own goodness through good
works to help others. No construct is needed to be a good person, at least not for me. I don’t need a
church of law and structure to make sure I’m living a worthwhile life. And I refuse to discount others
because they don’t fit the dogma of that constructed faith—or any other one for that matter.