Right now the United Methodist Church is facing the biggest split the congregation has ever experienced, possibly suggesting the collapse of the religious organization all together. I have been an active member of my local Methodist Church since I was two years old. The people who surrounded me at church helped create my identity and influenced my life significantly. Until six months ago I would have been confident in my belief that my church was progressive and offered an accepting atmosphere for all. I would have sung the praises of the leaders who have helped shape me. The split in the Methodist Church forced me to confront the truth about my “second home”. For the first time in my life standing up for what I believe meant standing completely alone. Challenging the idea that most conservative Christians hold about human sexuality on such a large scale was never on my to-do list but I have been unshackled by my experience.
In September of my Junior Year I was presented with the opportunity to represent my youth group as a member of our Church Advisory Board. I loved this idea and originally saw it as a way to serve and give back to my peers, as well as my community. Although I had heard murmurs of the church split I had no idea that disaffiliation on the basis of human sexuality would be the main focus of the advisory board. I attended the first meeting with high hopes of discussion about new service projects and how our church could become more active in Jonesboro. As I sat there and listened to my pastor introduce the idea of leaving the United Methodist Church due to their more progressive view on homosexuality and LGBTQ+ rights I felt tears in my eyes. I looked around the room in complete shock at all the agreeing faces. I sat on a board of adults, mostly over forty, and they all disagreed with what I was going to say. Terrified, I sat there quietly. I had begun my research for the Big Question Debate topic at that point, which coincidentally happened to be: “Organized religion is beneficial to society.” My true inspiration came from this deep dive into the history of organized religion. I began to look up to figures like Malala Youfanzi and Martin Luther. I was reminded of this moment's importance in the Church and decided I could not just idly sit by. I was filled with dread as I considered what this meant for our town, considering our church was one of the oldest and largest in Jonesboro.
I began the fight for a more equal church vote in December. I decided the best plan of action was to allow less biased, factual information to be accessible to Youth Group members. I started an Instagram called “StayFUMC'' and began editing the statewide United Methodist Website to help raise awareness of the underhanded and hateful actions of the Jonesboro Methodist Church. I received backlash from my greatest mentors and friends, even on social spaces. Despite the negative feedback from my town I knew standing up for the minority voice was most important. I spoke in the Advisory board meetings in favor of staying United and adopting more progressive views. I felt as though this endeavor was impossible until I was asked to speak on our local news. They allowed me to share openly about the church, which was truly empowering. Also, before the vote, I spoke at a church wide event about why Christianity must accept everyone, regardless of their sexual preference. With four hundred people in the audience and barely a quarter in agreement with me it was incredibly difficult.
The final vote took place in July and I knew what was coming. My church's leaders had lost all focus on Christ-like values during the time of disaffiliation and I saw how it impacted the congregation as a whole. Unfortunately, the progressive group lost the church vote and disaffiliation will occur. I was heartbroken but empowered. I had been true to my beliefs and openly challenged a hateful, false narrative. Although I lost my church community I gained a deeper understanding of myself and those around me. I gained a community of people who needed to be heard, and for that I am eternally grateful.
Jonesboro High School