United Methodist Pastor Preaches for Gay Equality in Church

Willow Grove United Methodist Church pastor Rev. Cynthia Skripak discusses her sermon on why the United Methodist Church should allow openly gay clergy and members.

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 recent sermon she titled "Nobody’s Perfect" and delivered at , 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 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 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.

“Nobody’s Perfect”

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 at the church, the immediate reactions of congregants was 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 , 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 life time,” Skripak said. “I hope it comes soon enough to bring young people into the church.”

yoky May 30, 2012 at 06:27 AM
1 Corinthians 6:9 Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind,
peg10 May 30, 2012 at 10:04 PM
Notice is doesn't say homosexuals. The King James version anyway. Only after the Revised Standard version in the middle '50s does it say homosexuals.
Mike Thundercloud May 31, 2012 at 04:56 PM
The UMC is VERY open and accepting of all people, regardless of our sins and transgressions. We all struggle with our own disability which makes it difficult to walk that righteous path. What the General Conference did was absolutely RIGHT! They affirmed that we all must struggle with our own violations each day, but that they are VIOLATIONS that we choose. God gave us a simple set of rules to live by. We all fail, but that failure is in itself the way to salvation. To simply dilute and change God's laws to suit the current whim would be the ultimate ADULTERY! The issue is not Homosexuality, but following the Wesley tradition of Scriptural Reference, Shaped by rational logic,,,, To have a Bishop, speaking and representing God's church, to openly pronounce her flagrant disrespect of God's Law is simply unacceptable. The same standard applies to prostitution, polygamy, theft, rape, murder, and even hatred, racism and pagan idolatry. We all fall off the path, even when we are walking beside Jesus. But it is OUR failure that we must repent and ask forgiveness for. ONLY then can we accept His grace and forgiveness,,, REV. Skripak missed the point!
Tim Escue March 21, 2013 at 05:19 AM
Short and sweet, NO! We the United Methodist Church should not change the language of the Book Of Discipline to suit the agenda of people in support of the sinful act known as homosexuality. To God everyone is a soul and it is this that allows me to LOVE the homosexual but not the act of homosexuality. You are right the bible does not say homsexual but it does say to love thy neighbor as thy self so don't say the UMC is in any way being unfair to the homosexual. The Rev. Skripak missed it in a huge way. I know she will never see it any other way than the way she believes but that is ok I will be in prayer for her as well as the entire gay movement that God will show all us the way.


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