Commentary: My child has no home in the UMC

Commentary: My child has no home in the UMC

"I am numb," says the Rev. Mark Kilbourne, after General Conference voted to prioritize and strengthen church laws that limit participation of individuals identifying as LGBTQIA. | Angel photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

By Mark Kilbourne

RADFORD, Va. (March 7, 2019) -- At the beginning of the summer of 2016, I could swear I had the dreams for my children figured out. I couldn’t have been prouder. 

I was taking one child to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg to study for a week in a NASA program, while I was taking another to Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts in Richmond to explore college options. 

I thought I had a lot figured out then, including how I felt about the LGBTQIA community. I felt I was a fairly merciful conservative pastor on the issue. I knew I had offended a couple of gay people from the pulpit, but I shrugged it off. As a pastor, I understood that people can get offended by what you say. What bothered me most was that I had not helped them know God better. That still bothers me to this day.  

That summer, my oldest child decided to show me how problematic my world really was. On the trip to Richmond, AJ revealed to me she was gay. While I wasn’t too happy about it, I accepted it. 

Months later AJ revealed to me that he was transgender. He said he did not want to be called Alyssa Joy. He wanted to be called Max or Matt. I didn’t accept that revelation as well. I was having to say goodbye to my only daughter, the child I thought I would protect from the mean, lustful boyfriends and the one whom I thought I would walk down the aisle and give away to the man who met my approval. My dreams were crushed.  

I told that part of the story to my congregation a couple of weeks ago. Grove United Methodist Church has known about this story for the vast part of my ministry here. Our congregation is a loving, caring, and accepting church. I praise God that AJ, Max Kilbourne, feels loved by this congregation. 

I didn’t talk about the rest of the struggle though. The struggles included disagreements as my wife, AJ and I fought over the issue. I felt that I knew what my child was going through, and if he would only listen to me, everything would work out.

Of course, the struggle was emotional. Few can imagine what it’s like, sitting in a parked car for an hour, as your child tells you they are going to hell for how they feel about love. Some of the struggle was very hurtful. Friends and family would talk about homosexuality and make claims they know nothing about. Few knew about my struggle at that point. My guess is, some are surprised at my revelation today. 

I entered into a time of study and reflection. I sought God. I studied the Bible. I read. I got to know other LGBTQIA people. I listened to my child. I realized how problematic my stances and responses were. 

I wonder how many people I have unintentionally hurt by my previous stance. If you are part of the LGBTQIA community and I have offended you, I am sorry. To those whom I hurt from the pulpit, I am sorry. The pulpit is a powerful tool but also a potentially dangerous weapon. I pray that my other pastoral brothers and sisters can learn from my own mistakes and use the pulpit to spread the good news of God’s love.

I am coming out on the other side of this now. I am emerging as truly more merciful and stronger on this issue. I still have a long way to go, I will for the rest of my life. I can now admit that I am no longer conservative on the issue. I guess when someone whom you love – a person whom you would not only shed your blood and tears for, but whom you would die for -- presents you with an issue that goes contrary to your beliefs, you begin to question those beliefs. 

I tell this story now to stand with my child, a member of the LGBTQIA community. I do not just stand with Matt but I stand with the whole LGBTQIA community.

I am a United Methodist pastor of 30 years. I come from a United Methodist family with numerous relatives who serve as minister. However, I am frustrated by the General Conference’s response to the LGBTQIA community. I tell this story because I know of no other way to get my beloved denomination to yearn for a better way.

My heart aches this morning. I am numb. My child has no home in The United Methodist Church. How many other LGBTQIA children do not have a home in Methodism today? Brothers and sisters, I hope we can hear that and figure out a way to make a home for our LGBTQIA family.



The Rev. Mark Kilbourne is pastor at Grove United Methodist Church in Radford, Virginia.


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