As The United Methodist Church continues to struggle with divisions within our connection that strain the fabric of our covenant, once again I feel the need to speak up and out.
This blog post will not cover the "rights" and "wrongs" of biblical exegesis relative to sexual orientation. I have already expressed my feelings of futility for that approach. Rather, this is to serve as a public witness of who I am and how I intend to minister.
First, to all of those who are bone tired of fighting, I apologize on behalf of a church that is making you weary. Our inability to conclude this decades long struggle has taken a toll on everyone - on those who advocate for "traditional" marriage and understandings of gender and sexual orientation as well as on those who continue to press for wider and wider inclusion and a more generous expression of acceptance within the church. No one is exempted from the pain of this fight. However, while many may be exhausted, I only apologize to those who are LGBTQI and their allies. As the ones talked about, derided, judged, called names, shut out and down, and set on the margins, your pain is especially acute. Your weariness is especially overwhelming. I am sorry. I am sorry that your church can feel like a foreign place, that policies of exclusion do not match the generous and supportive community found in your local congregations, that your core selves and your most precious and holy relationships are denied, ignored, and marginalized in the one place that should most honor, support, and uplift them.
As I pray for those who feel as though there is not enough energy left in them to take the next breath, I am reminded of the beautiful poetry from the prophetic tradition of Isaiah, which was probably written near the end of Babylonian exile for a people in need of hope and comfort.
Why do you complain, Jacob? Why do you say, Israel,“My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”?As much as you feel alone, dispirited, weary, and dejected, you are not alone. This path that is fraught with disappointment, frustration, exile, and struggle stands among many such paths toward homecoming, safety, justice, and new life. You are not alone historically. Our sacred story is one of exile and homecoming, of death and new life. And, you are not alone today. There are many, like me, who stand with you and who can hope for you when hope seems so very elusive.
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint (Isaiah 40:27-31).
Second, I want to be clear about one thing. This pastor will baptize, confirm, comfort, welcome into membership, minister with and to, marry, and bury people who identify within the LGBTQI communities. I will do all that I can to ensure that your spiritual community is safe, boundaried, healthy, and mature. I will listen to your pain. I will challenge you to live faithfully with God and your loved ones. I will pray for you. I will help you prepare for marriage and I will stand unapologetically with you and offer God's blessings upon your life shared together. I will baptize you and your children. I will treat your relationship as normative and wonderful and beautiful. I will visit you in the hospital and hold hands with you and your partner in times of distress. I will anoint you with oil and pray for your healing. I will wait by your bedside until your last breath is exhaled. And, I will stand by your grave and offer God's blessings upon your life lived in eternal peace with Christ and the saints who have gone before you.
These actions should not need to be considered prophetic. This is the calling of a pastor. We are called, trained, and set apart to bear witness to life's most precious moments. We hear people's stories of deep guilt. We bear witness to the wounds of shame. We see humankind from birth to death and through all points in between. This is a holy vocation. And, while we are called to be prophetic, these acts were never supposed to be prophetic. Yet, as a consequence of abiding marginalization, the deeply pastoral is today something also essentially prophetic. If someone were to ask me if I perform such and such action "out of a political stance or a pastoral one," I would have no honest answer except, "Yes." Sadly, the pastoral is also prophetic for pastors in this church - for pastors who dare to bear witness to the fullness of life's holy, painful, and wondrous moments that visit the lives of LGBTQI parishioners and community members.
As marriage equality becomes more prevalent in the United States, more clergy will be forced to come to a peace about how he or she will be present in the lives of people who are LGBTQI. Will they preside over weddings of same sex couples? Will they welcome families with LGBTQI members? Will they baptize, confirm, and welcome into membership LGBTQI people and their families?
Peace visited me on these issues years ago. I am not tired of the fight because I am not fighting. I am at peace. My calling is clear. How I will minister is without struggle or confusion. I am completely at peace with how to minister with and to people who are LGBTQI and their families and friends. If the United Methodist Church seeks to punish me, I am at peace with that process. If the denomination seeks to silence me, it will be disappointed. If I am wrong in my theology or exegesis or anthropology, I trust in the compassion and mercy of God, but I do not think that I am wrong. The church is.
To my colleagues facing trials, administrative processes, and uncertainty, please know that I pray for you, for your families, your congregations, and your vocations. As an Elder in relationship with you, I hold you in my heart.
I pray for the day when the words of Isaiah's prophetic tradition sound like simple poetry that points to a quaint and distant time. But, today, they are poignant and needed. Exile is not forever. Our exhaustion will never overwhelm the goodness and strength of our Creator. The tumultuous path toward justice and compassion may be walked by us, but God goes before and behind us. God has not disregarded our cause. God has not abandoned us to the wilderness alone and vulnerable. And, in our most despairing moments, we can take comfort that God gives us wings like eagles that we might soar to new heights and glimpse new vistas as yet undreamed of by our limited and constrained imagination. God is with us all leading us home. God is with us leading us to new life.