After charges were filed against United Methodist minister Rev. Dr. Thomas Ogletree for officiating at the marriage of his gay son, Rev. Vicki Flippin wrote an important confession about how clergy members are impacted by church policies prohibiting the marriage of same gender couples. She serves as the Pastor of Social Justice, Exploring Faith, and Inter-generational Ministries at The Church of the Village, a progressive United Methodist community in New York City. Flippin is a graduate of Yale Divinity School and the University of Chicago.
“The act of discrimination I committed against that couple has changed everything about my ministry.” Flippin reflects on a time she refused to marry a lesbian couple because of United Methodist church policy. “I have never wrestled with God more than I wrestled with the decision of whether or not to do that wedding. I lost sleep over it and, for years after, I could not speak about what I had done without bursting into tears.”
In 2008 I committed my first act of discrimination in the name of God. A young lesbian couple—members of my church who called me their pastor, parishioners who had welcomed me into their home and hospital rooms for prayer, full participants in the ministry of our community—made an appointment with me. With smiles on their faces, they told me that they had just gotten engaged and wanted me to perform their wedding in their beloved home church. These women were not trying to do anything radical. They were blissfully ignorant of the heated and hurtful battles within the church about whether they were sacred or sinful, family or abomination, beloved or beyond the reach of God’s love. They just wanted to commit to each other before God and church.
I said no. I did what my church asked me to do. I did not agree with it, but I was afraid of losing my job and my church and the work I felt called to do. So I blessed their cake standing next to a justice of the peace in a hotel ballroom, choosing to stand in judgment before my God instead of before my church.
The act of discrimination I committed against that couple has changed everything about my ministry. I have never wrestled with God more than I wrestled with the decision of whether or not to do that wedding. I lost sleep over it and, for years after, I could not speak about what I had done without bursting into tears. It was without a doubt a real Wesleyan moment of justification—when I was thrown to the ground by a blinding light and convicted. I had committed sin, grave sin. Like Saul himself, in the name of religion, I had caused harm to God’s beloveds.
I have talked with a number of other clergy who have experienced the agony of following church law against their conscience. I thank God that we are still idealistic enough—still alive enough—to be devastated when we act in opposition to our understanding of the gospel.
Rev. Flippin goes on to discuss her love for the church and why she remains a faithful United Methodist despite the policies of her denomination. She recently outed herself as having presided at at least two same gender weddings in a New York Times article. They are two of many UMC clergy who are defying the denomination’s ban on same gender marriage.