STOW — When United Methodist Church in Stow Pastor Karen Drotar first heard the church’s General Conference voted last week to strengthen its bans on same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBTQ clergy, her first thought was to retire and leave the church.

Her daughter is part of the LGBTQ community, and Drotar didn’t know how she could stay in a church in which her daughter couldn’t even get married.

“I was hurt and angry and ashamed, because we really hoped that this General Conference would give us an opportunity as a denomination to move forward,” said Drotar, who wept when she heard the outcome of the vote. “And we didn't.”

But her daughter, Beth, gave her the reason to stay, sending her an email the night of the vote encouraging her mother and other Methodist clergy to remain in the church. Both are now more committed than ever to moving the church they’ve been in for decades toward acceptance of all people.

“If those of us who love others openly and completely and provide a safe space for the LGBTQI community to worship and be part of the life of the church, if we leave, we take away our voices and our presence and our support,” Karen Drotar said.

The delegates for the United Methodist Church, America’s second-largest Protestant denomination, passed the Traditional Plan last week at the General Conference in St. Louis, the Associated Press reported.

Karen Drotar, 60, is in her fifth year at the “extremely open and loving and kind” 250-member United Methodist Church on Fishcreek Road in Stow, with “love always wins” on its sign out front. Stow is her fifth church; she’s been in ministry for 32 years.

The Stow resident, who lives with her Roman Catholic husband of 37 years, Tom, thinks there are three reasons for the church's differences in opinion on the LGBTQ community.

UMC is a global church, and international delegates, especially those from Africa, tend to be more traditional than Western delegates. About 43 percent of the delegates were from abroad — mostly from Africa — and overwhelmingly supported the LGBTQ bans, the Associated Press reported. The church also has a “curious ultra-conservative faction” not based in the church’s principles of “openness and caring for those that society rejects," she said.

The church also is experiencing a generational divide. While not all older people are against same-sex marriage or the LGBTQ community in general, many tend to be. And the church’s bans on same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBTQ clergy is driving what Karen Drotar calls “a graying of our congregation,” with fewer young people participating.

The General Conference voted 53 percent to 47 percent in favor of the Traditional Plan, which upholds the church ban on same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBTQ clergy that has been in place since 1972 and strengthens the punishment for clergy that defy the church’s language.

Karen Drotar said first offenses for Methodist clergy who are charged with performing same-sex marriage bring a one-year unpaid suspension from ministry. The second offense could lead to a minister’s defrocking.

Beth Drotar, 32, attributed the church's split opinions on the LGBTQ community to feelings of ignorance and fear from people afraid to change. But she’s hopeful that will shift, especially as more people, including herself, find their voices and speak out to encourage change.

“Let's continue to show that this is not the direction that we want to go to in the United Methodist Church,” she said.

Beth Drotar and her wife, Liz — both children of pastors — have been married twice: once in a 2010 United Church of Christ ceremony and again in an outdoor ceremony in 2015 after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling legalized gay marriage. The Kent couple and their two sons now attend the UMC in Stow, where Karen Drotar pastors. The couple grew up in the Methodist church, but neither of their marriage ceremonies could take place there, which Beth Drotar called "very painful."

When Beth Drotar heard the outcome of the General Conference vote, she was disappointed and had a fleeting thought of leaving the church, knowing it’d be easier to switch to a different church where the full acceptance of the LGBTQ community isn’t an issue. But the stay-at-home mom who started coming out to family and friends about 12 years ago isn’t willing to give up on the church she’s spent her entire life in.

“This is my home,” she said. "And I want to be a part of this church, so that future members of the LGBTQ community can walk in and not question whether they're going to be welcome or not."

Bishop Tracy S. Malone, resident bishop to the East Ohio Conference, which includes the Akron area and the rest of Northeast Ohio, is hosting three post-conference informational gatherings from 10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday at Newcomerstown Christ UMC, 648 Oak St.; 2 to 3:30 p.m. Saturday at North Canton Faith UMC, 300 Ninth St. NW; and 4 to 5:30 p.m. Sunday at Strongsville UMC, 13500 Royalton Road.

Malone said the plan was passed with some parts that were ruled unconstitutional, and the delegates at the conference voted to refer it to the church’s Judicial Council for review at their next meeting in Illinois at the end of April. There's also another General Conference in Minneapolis in May 2020.

Karen Drotar said she sees the potential for a divide in the church if it can’t come together on the issue of the full acceptance of the LGBTQ community, something she said would “be OK.” But through her faith, she’s hopeful the church’s stance on the issue will change in her lifetime.

“Which is why we need to stay in the denomination and raise our voices and keep working for godly inclusion of our denomination,” she said. “If we don't, who will?"

 

Emily Mills can be reached at 330-996-3334, emills@thebeaconjournal.com and @EmilyMills818.