A Queer Methodist Tradition

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The groups against LGBTQIA+ people in the United Methodist Church call themselves “traditional.” To start out with, tradition is not a monolith. Tradition is not a singular or consistent concept. Traditions evolve and develop and are not static. Likewise, there is ample evidence for a queer-affirming Methodist tradition—that even originates with Methodism’s founder, John Wesley himself.

Tradition is one of the four components of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Along with scripture, reason, and experience, tradition helps shape Wesleyan thought and theology. The importance of tradition in Methodist movements is highlighted by UMAction, (distinguished from U.M.A.C.T.I.O.N.) an anti-LGBTQIA+ group in the UMC that “defends traditional Christian beliefs and practices in the spirit of the father of Methodism, John Wesley.”[1] Another example of tradition’s importance is the legislation titled The Traditional Plan which passed at the 2019 General Conference that further restricted LGBTQIA+ persons in the church.[2] But I too defend a tradition of Christian beliefs in the spirit of John Wesley. Because Methodist tradition and queer affirmation are not mutually exclusive.

John Wesley ministered to Thomas Blair; a man accused of sodomy. I think the best rendition of this story is found in a 1976 edition of Blair Blurbs, the newsletter for the Gay United Methodist Caucus, “Blair Blurbs is named after a young man whom John Wesley counseled, against the wishes of the townspeople. The young man, Blair, was accused of homosexuality.”[3] The following edition of Blair Blurbs expanded this story with an edit by activists Rick Huskey and Peggy Harmon, reading:

A correction on our first edition of Blair Blurbs has been offered by the Task Force on Theologizing as to the nature of Blair’s homosexual notoriety in Wesley’s ministry. Young Blair (V.A. [sic] H. Green, John Wesley, P. 32) is important to the two century struggle for complete inclusion of Gay people in our fellowship, because Wesley ministered to him in SPITE OF THE VERBAL OBJECTIONS OF OTHER HOLY CLUB MEMBERS. Again, pietists were divided on this issue, BUT Wesley was there lovin’ and carin’ for that early brother of ours.[4]

John Wesley’s ministry to Thomas Blair is described in Wesley’s Oxford Diaries. In 1732, Wesley and the Methodists ran a ministry at the Borcardo prison, which is where Wesley met Blair. John Wesley and other members of the Holy Club were first called Methodists at the same time as Wesley’s controversial ministry to Blair.  This public support of Blair, a man accused of sodomy, was unpopular among the townspeople and Blair was even persecuted within the prison with some prisoners refusing to even look at him.  The Methodist’s support of Blair may have been the difference between the Methodists being tolerated by others versus being disapproved. 

Beyond simply telling this story in Blair Blurbs, Rick Huskey, who was a gay minister in the Minnesota Annual Conference, believed that his ministry with gay and lesbian Christians followed in the footsteps of Wesley’s ministry to Blair.[5]

With a more clearly defined beginning, The United Methodist Church formed as a merger between The Methodist Church and The Evangelical United Brethren in 1968.[6] As Wesley’s ministry to Blair was present in the beginnings of Methodism, so were ministries for LGBTQIA+ persons present at the beginning of the United Methodist Church. A founder of the United Methodist Gay Caucus, Gene Leggett, lead a ministry called House of the Covenant for those he felt that the church had not reached.[7] This ministry was a loosely organized space for young gay and straight people to be themselves.[8]

The stories we tell matter as we discern tradition. Telling the story of John Wesley and Thomas Blair empowered gay people in the ’70s and can empower us today. These stories show that what is historical and traditional in Methodism is not inherently queerphobic.

From the inception of Methodism with Thomas Blair to the formation of The United Methodist Church with folks like Rick Huskey and Gene Leggett, LGBTQIA+ people have always existed and participated in Methodism. Today, as we imagine what expressions of Methodism can form, we can remember Wesley’s care for Thomas Blair and continue to walk in the precedent set by early gay United Methodists. We can participate in caring for people others disapprove of and working to reach those the church has not reached. A queer-affirming Methodist tradition does exist, and we can continue this practice.

[1] Udis-Kessler, Amanda. Queer Inclusion in the United Methodist Church Taylor & Francis, 2008. 29

[2] https://www.umnews.org/en/news/gc2019-daily-feb-26 accessed 3/18/2022

[3] Blair Blurbs UMCArchives page 2, April 27, 1976

[4] Blair Blurbs UMCArchives page 4, April 29, 1976

[5] “Dr. Rick Huskey | Profile.” LGBTQ Religious Archives Network. Accessed March 17, 2022. https://lgbtqreligiousarchives.org/profiles/rick-huskey.

[6] Udis-Kessler, Amanda. Queer Inclusion in the United Methodist Church Taylor & Francis, 2008. 18.

[7] “Homosexual Minister is Ousted by Southwest Texas Methodists.” The New York Times, June 3, 1971.

[8] Gene Leggett’s obituary in Affirmation News from LGBTRAN

Caralynn Hampson

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