The United Methodist Church’s top policy-making body continues to discuss a number of issues concerning the church during its general conference in Portland, Oregon. Among them is the idea of permitting same-sex couples to marry and the ordination of gay clergy. Last week, more than 100 ordained ministers of the church came out as gay, openly defying their denomination’s ban, by signing a document in an act of civil disobedience.
Reconciling Ministries Network, an activist group that’s advocating for the UMC to change the law in its Book of Discipline that prohibits the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” and to make the church more inclusive to LGBT people, organized a sold-out protest concert that took place this past Friday that featured the Indigo Girls. Both members of the beloved indie folk rock duo, Amy Ray and Emily Saliers, grew up Methodist, and they called the event “one big love-fest,” performing hits “Galileo,” “Shame on You” and “Closer to Fine.”
In an act of solidarity, Emily and her father, Don Saliers – a theology professor, liturgical composer and active member of the UMC – are performing a separate concert together. The father and daughter spoke to Rolling Stone about why it’s important for the church to evolve in its teachings, why music activism is essential and the reason it’s imperative that we don’t get used to Donald Trump’s hateful words.
Why do you think LGBT rights is still an issue that people struggle with? Even with so much progress being made, there are obviously still groups that haven’t come around, especially within religious communities.
Don Saliers: Let me speak first as a clergy-type, someone who’s in the church and who teaches theology. It’s very clear that it has not been solved. There are persons within all the denominations, but particularly in the United Methodist Church, who are dead set against persons who would be ordained. There is also language in the official legal documents of the UMC that is clearly anti-gay and anti-queer. So looking at it from the inside, as one who is in the church and complicit in this injustice, it’s important to resist and protest and see change come.
Emily Saliers: I have my own struggles. My dad and I wrote a book about music and justice called A Song to Sing, A Life to Live. I had a lot of fear about even getting close to anything that was organized religion, partly because of all the suffering many of my queer, gay friends [endured] at the hands of organized religion. People do want to experience their faith through the avenues of organized religions, but they aren’t accepted and there’s a terrible pain. I saw that and said, “I can’t even write this book because I don’t want to get close to that.” Dad has really helped me understand the complexity of the way the church is set up, the structures of church.
But there’s a lot of suffering about religion and identity. Now that things are coming into the light socially, we see [this] in the political realm, with North Carolina’s updated law, and all the protesting against that.