Man says he lost Methodist church job because he’s gay

Ira Pittman and his partner simply wanted to throw a great Christmas party at his Marietta home.

He invited co-workers and their spouses from the Mount Bethel United Methodist Church music department, where he worked as the director of the chancel choir and organist for years. Overall, he worked there in various capacities for 21 years.

Instead, a few weeks later, Pittman said, he was called into a meeting with the church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Randy Mickler, who allegedly told him he had to resign or be fired.

“I was devastated,” said Pittman, 63, who recently married his longtime partner, Bill Garner. He said some partygoers apparently mischaracterized the event as a “coming out party,” which it wasn’t.

“I loved what I did at Mount Bethel and being able to use my God-given talents as choral director and organist,” said Pittman, who alleges he resigned “under duress” and has contacted the EEOC. “It pained me greatly to have to depart from a job and service that I loved and poured my heart and soul into week after week.”

Mickler, who retired this month, could not be reached for comment.

Mickler is known as a conservative voice in Georgia.

Several years ago, reported Channel 2 Action News, Mickler said if the Boy Scouts of America changed their policy to be more “gay-friendly,” the church wouldn’t support it.

However, Diane Degnan, a spokeswoman for United Methodist Communications, said the employment “practices of individual churches in the UMC connection are governed by applicable local, state and federal laws and regulations and are not covered specifically in the United Methodist Book of Discipline.”

According to the 2012 Book of Discipline, homosexuality is "incompatible" with Christian teaching, so "practicing" gays and lesbians "are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers or appointed to serve" in the UMC. The UMC also bars clergy from performing same-sex marriages. Any change would have to be approved by the denomination's top legislative body — the General Conference. It is expected that there will be petitions presented to the General Conference about this topic during the 2016 United Methodist General Conference, which is meeting through May 20 in Portland, Ore.

The issue has already received attention during the Portland conference, with activists calling for inclusion.

Pittman said his sexual orientation was never something he kept hidden. He socialized with members and staff of the church. “We would go to dinner. They would come over to my house or we (he and his partner) would go to their homes. It was never an issue. My understanding is that people suspected but were never really concerned about it because of their interpretation that I was still in the closet, so to speak.”

He said he considered Mickler a mentor and, until then, had been very supportive. “He never brought up anything about my relationship or orientation,” Pittman said. He said that having openly gay clergy is something that has been frowned up by some Methodists, but “I’m not clergy, I’m just a musician.”

Pittman has found a new job. He’s now associate director of music and worship arts at East Cobb United Methodist Church.

“The movement of inclusion is on a very strong roll right now,” said Matt Berryman, executive director of Reconciling Ministries Network, an organization that advances lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender justice and inclusion in the United Methodist Church.

“Clearly the majority of Methodists in the U.S. and Christians in the U.S. are now affirming the basic spiritual equality of LGBT people, and it’s time for the United Methodist Church to catch up.”


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