As my home church, Glenn Memorial, a member of the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church, considers whether or not it will support the position of a group of retired bishops that the denomination reverse its position that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching and drop its prohibition against the ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals as written in the Book of Discipline, I want to share the letter I sent to my church. As you read the letter, it will become clear that — from my perspective — my position is as much related to parenting and family as it is to politics.
“When my husband, John, our infant daughter, Emily, and I moved to Atlanta in 1995, we began attending Glenn Memorial UMC where most of my family of origin also attended. It was the church I had attended as a child and a youth. It was the church where I had been a Youth Minister in the 1980s. It was home. We were happy there, and our three oldest children were baptized at Glenn.
“In 1997, a chaplain at Emory at Oxford attempted to marry a gay couple, causing great controversy. A meeting was called at Glenn to discuss our ‘position’ on the matter. I remember being in a room surrounded by theologians and intelligent professionals of all stripes who had gathered to provide enlightened commentary on the subject. I also remember that, by the end of the meeting, Glenn’s members had concluded that they would “feel bad about the situation, and do nothing” – my own words. I was heartbroken.
“In 1998, our family moved its membership to St. Mark UMC, whose members were mostly gay and lesbian. We remained there for ten years, and two more Falco children were baptized at St. Mark. It was an amazingly loving, accepting, and mission-oriented place to raise young children.
“What impressed me the most, however, was how ‘normal’ I felt at St. Mark. In the company of families with two mothers, two fathers, adopted children, children created through surrogacy or donor insemination, multi-racial families, and children with various ability-differences, my family – created through mostly open adoptions – fit right in. At St. Mark, I recognized the weightiness of the cultural and religious expectations I carried regarding what defined an acceptable family. The Bible has many scriptures that describe ‘barrenness’ in negative terms, and God’s gift of pregnancy as blessing. The message was clear: Giving birth to one’s children was preferable to raising the offspring of someone else.
“What does my infertility have to do with the United Methodist Church’s position on homosexuality? The Bible is full of historically embedded language addressed to specific cultures and circumstances. But the Church has the opportunity to be the living witness of the Word for our day, for this time, through our own words and deeds.
“As the members of St. Mark UMC helped me to understand and believe, my infertility and subsequent adoptions did not have to be a curse or second best. Instead, my life experience was ripe with the possibility of teaching others that we are all God’s children no matter where we come from, and that ‘family’ can mean many different things to different people – all of them good.
“Just as I was given the ‘gift’ of my infertility, so others are given the gift of their homosexuality. But we, the United Methodist Church, do not view homosexuality as a ‘gift.’ We tell our GLBT neighbors that they are disabled. They are less than perfect images of God. Do we really mean that? Do we really believe that?
“I just left my 7-year-old African-American son, Becton, at Camp Glisson for mini-camp. He was excited to go. Family members, particularly 16-year-old sister, Emily, had talked about Glisson with enthusiasm for many years. Emily and I settled him in his cabin and then gave him a walking tour of the camp. As we walked, a concerned look came over Becton’s face. He said, ‘I’m the only brown person here.’ He was right… I think he will be okay. I think he will make friends. But it does concern me that Becton begins his Glisson experience with the impression that he doesn’t fit in.
“As members of the powerful majority – white and heterosexual, it might be easy to pat ourselves on the back for all the progress we’ve made. By law, we’ve eradicated racial, religious, sex, and other discriminations. But, as I learn every day through my son, Becton, or daughter, Journey (who has Native American and Hispanic heritage), you have to LIVE in a context of inclusion to believe that you are just as good or just as lovable as those who have most of the power.
“Church is where we teach our children how to love and who to love. If our membership and leadership is limited to certain groups of ‘approved’ people, so too will our love be limited. The Church has the ability to hurt or heal, to be led or to lead. I believe that the more diverse the Church is, the more it becomes a statement or representation to the world of God’s broad, loving embrace made flesh.”