On May 6, during the church service of Willow Grove United Methodist Church, Rev. Cynthia Skripak stood behind the pulpit and talked about heartbreak.
“If it were possible to hear the sounds of hearts breaking, you would have heard a thunderous crack late this past week coming from Tampa, Florida,” Skripak said. “That’s where our global United Methodist Church was meeting for the every-four-year General Conference.”
In a sermon she titled, “Nobody’s Perfect,” the pastor of Upper Moreland’s longest-running church preached on why her church’s General Conference got it wrong with its stance on homosexuality.
The 2012 United Methodist Church General Conference
Every four years, the United Methodist Church (UMC) holds a global General Conference in order to review and vote on policies in the church’s governing work, called “The Book of Discipline.”
The 2012 General Conference took place from April 24 – May 4. This event hosted 998 delegates and approximately 4,000 visitors, all of whom represented United Methodist churches from five continents, according to the conference’s website.
Among the policies reviewed was the church’s position on homosexuality, which was referred to on the conference’s agenda as “Human Sexuality.”
Within this agenda item, a resolution was introduced that would state the church was not of one mind on the subject of homosexuality.
“And, that was voted down,” Skripak told Patch in a recent interview. “Even this middle ground was not approved by the majority of the body.”
She said what was left was the church’s longstanding position that while all individuals are considered to be of sacred worth, “being a homosexual is incompatible with Christian teachings.”
Skripak said that the vote was close, passing with a majority of 60-percent.
With the global UMC functioning as a representative democracy, Skripak suggested that the reason behind the vote may be due to United Methodist recent major growth in Asia and Africa, where churches there are traditionally more conservative.
Just two days after the final day of the General Conference, Skripak said she was inspired to write a sermon based on the ill-fated resolution.
“Our church has set up an institutionalized system that does not welcome or affirm or include anybody and everybody who loves the Lord,” Skripak said in her sermon. “It is hurtful language and exclusionary language, although it is not intended to be.”
In her sermon, Skripak said that the Book of Discipline’s language presumes that the determining factor of whether someone should consider themselves a member of the church is based on who that person loves.
“We can talk about the individual lives of people I know who have been traumatized by the church’s position,” Skripak said in her sermon. “And, how we are losing gifted members, pastors, preachers, because of our church’s stance.”
A 2005 New York Times article reported the defrocking of Beth Stroud, who was then the associate pastor at First United Methodist Church in Germantown, for being openly lesbian. According to the report, the United Methodist Church’s highest court found her to be in conflict with the church’s stance against ordaining “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals.”
In the same article, the pastor of South Hill United Methodist Church in South Hill, Va., was reinstated as the church’s pastor, after the court upheld his decision to prohibit an openly gay congregant from joining his church.
The Rev. Cynthia Skripak
In the interview, Skripak shared that she grew up in the United Methodist tradition, attending services in a rural up-state New York community. She couldn’t recall an instance in which the subject of homosexuality was discussed. In fact, she said the subject wouldn’t be talked about until she attended seminary, where the traditions and policies of the United Methodist Church were taught.
Ever since then, Skipak said, she became a proponent for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community. However, approaching her 21st year this month as an ordained United Methodist minister, she has no plans on being subversive against the traditions and policies of the church.
“For me, working within the system is where I can have influence,” Skripak said. “I’m not going to be doing same-sex marriages anytime soon.”
She added that there are other United Methodist ministers who share her perspective, and also try to work within the system to reform church policies.
“There are gay clergy, but they don’t tell anyone,” Skripak said, explaining they would also run the risk of becoming defrocked.
In light of the close 60-40 resolution vote, the General Conference website also reported a large, but peaceful protest of clergy and UMC members gathered after the vote's announcement. The protest group's singing was reportedly enough to end the rest of the business proceedings early.
According to Skripak, she along with other clergy demonstrated a similar protest during last week’s Eastern Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference, which took place in Oaks.
“I didn't want to be vague"
During the interview, Skripak emphasized that her stance on church acceptance of homosexuality is her own opinion, and does not represent the opinion of Willow Grove United Methodist Church.
And, while she participated with group protests before, her sermon on homosexuality was a first in her 21-year ministerial career.
Skripak said that she’s heard other pastors preach on acceptance and diversity, essentially dancing around the subject.
“I didn’t want to be vague,” she said.
Skripak did acknowledge traditional conservative perspectives taken by a majority of Christian ministers and preachers, who often refer to specific biblical text opposing a homosexual lifestyle.
“But, Jesus never said anything about homosexuality,” Skripak said. “There are other things he didn’t talk about, he didn’t talk about iPhones, he didn’t talk about TV, but he didn’t talk about homosexuality.”
Skripak explained that she takes her cues on the way Jesus lived and interacted with people, based off of her understanding of scriptural text.
“He did talk a lot about love. And, even more importantly than what he talked about is how he lived,” Skripak said. “And, the way he lived was by loving the unlovable, the outcast and the marginalized people.”
Mid-way through her sermon, Skripak paused.
“Now, everybody take a deep breath,” she said. “Remember, this is a sermon, not a diatribe or a political statement.”
In the interview, she said it’s likely her sermon was the first time Willow Grove United Methodist Church congregants have heard such a direct message on the subject.
After the service, while Patch covered an art show at the church, the immediate reactions of congregants were not apparent.
However, according to Skripak, she’s received numerous positive comments about it - the most she’s received about any sermon in her two-decades long career.
And, while she said she wasn't trying to make a political statement, Skripak seemed pleased to "beat Obama" in his endorsement of gay marriage, made a few days after her sermon.
Skripak said that the announcement is evidence of a momentum building around the acceptance of homosexuality in both the larger and faith-based communities.
“It will be in my lifetime,” Skripak said. “I hope it comes soon enough to bring young people into the church.”