The woman, former University of Kentucky women's basketball coach Dotti Berry, had insisted that homosexual conduct was not sinful, a position rejected by the leadership of Centenary United Methodist Church in Lexington.
Kentucky's largest Methodist congregation prevented an openly-gay woman from joining the church in 1999. The woman, former University of Kentucky women's basketball coach Dotti Berry, had insisted that homosexual conduct was not sinful, a position rejected by the leadership of Centenary United Methodist Church in Lexington.
Berry appealed the decision to then-Bishop Robert C. Morgan, filing a formal complaint against Centenary pastor David Thomas on Feb. 24, 2000. The bishop stood by Thomas' decision.
The rejection of Berry by the state's largest Methodist congregation wasn't reported on by the media. Six years later, however, the pastor of a small Methodist congregation also barred an openly-gay person from membership. That case, in rural Virginia, sparked a national controversy.
Shortly thereafter, the denomination's Council of Bishops unanimously issued a statement saying that "While pastors have the responsibility to discern readiness for membership, homosexuality is not a barrier."
Rev. Thomas has declined to comment on Berry's case. Through a spokesman, Kentucky Bishop James R. King also declined to comment on Berry's exclusion. King is believed to be among the bishops who stated that "homosexuality is not a barrier" to membership in the United Methodist Church.
Berry says rejection of gays and lesbians isn't confined to Kentucky and Virginia. "There's no telling how many times it happens. Most people tuck their tail and leave. They either live in shame or in anger."
Fighting the decision often seems futile. "It took a lot of time and energy to go through that process," she said.
Berry says she's gone public with her story for a reason. "The point it not to embarrass and humiliate anybody. It's to call attention to the harmful rhetoric because it really does harm people," she said.
Ironically, Centenary was one of several allegedly "pro-gay" churches picketed by the Rev. Fred Phelps when he came to Lexington in Nov. 2002.Frank Lockwood first contacted me in December, 2006, regarding my situation of having been denied membership by Rev. David Thomas at Centenary United Methodist Church in Lexington, KY.
Frank gave me the opportunity to share my feelings about the situation:
I know that my journey has taken me deeper into my relationship with the divine nature of God, because I have not allowed anger and disappointment with the United Methodist church to steal what is most precious to me...a deep and abiding faith in the goodness of people, life and God."
-- Dotti Berry
Though the experience no longer lingers in my mind on a daily basis as it did when it first happened, Frank's unexpected call jolted me like a time machine back to 1999. As difficult as it was, that experience served as a spiritual marker for moving me to places emotionally and spiritually that most likely would have remained unknown had it not happened. For that, I feel grateful. Some of my life situations, which have sparked a personal evolution to a higher understanding and consciousness, are not ones that I would have willingly chosen, but I feel truly blessed for the end result. Don't we all sometimes want an easier path? I am living the life that I always imagined, one that is far richer than the religious box within which I was raised and within which the United Methodist church as a whole exists even today. I did not feed the need to defend my self worth as a sacred part of our universe; I filed the complaint to hold the United Methodist church accountable. Using biblical scriptures to spiritually violate people and wield control over them is never ok. Every day, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender individuals encounter similar situations, and yet, many simply turn away in either shame or anger, without voicing their pain of being diminished and silenced by a group that claims to lift up and empower people.
I know that my journey has taken me deeper into my relationship with the divine nature of God, because I have not allowed anger and disappointment with the United Methodist church to steal what is most precious to me...a deep and abiding faith in the goodness of people, life and God. I often call upon my understanding of Jesus and what he faced when friends and family betrayed him, knowing that I am capable because he and others like Gandhi, King, Alice Paul and Rosa Parks paved the way for me. In the end, Jesus went to the cross because He wouldn't shut up. He was one of the first "radical activists," acting from a place of love that few understood then or now. My kind of man, yes...Jesus is my kind of man. The impact from my involvement with Soulforce and non-violent process since 1999 is indisputable, and has much to do with the difference between where I am today and where I was then. My desire is neither to humiliate or diminish the United Methodist Church. I hope that I am a person with ubuntu.
Ubuntu: " A person with ubuntu is open and available to others...affirming of others...and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished." Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Click here for the details and importance of this situation in shaping my life, and to learn how I respond today regarding this situation.
Editor's note: I talked to Ms. Berry in December, the month I moved from Kentucky to Arkansas. I held off on posting anything, in large part, because I wanted to give Bishop King and Centenary United Methodist Church in Lexington a chance to respond. They have chosen to decline comment.