Wednesday, June 13, 2012

An Open Letter to Chase or Why I Will Marry Same Sex Couples


The following is my response to an email I got from my friend Chase (click here to read his email). Throughout my ministry I have mourned the position of UMC that prevents Chase from being ordained or married because of his sexuality. This letter represents where I am and is not meant to pass judgment on others in different places. If you do feel guilt, I invite you to struggle with me in that. Based on my interpretation of Scripture, I do not believe homosexual acts to be sin. This letter is based on that premise, so if you disagree with that, you probably won't agree with any of it. All I ask is that you accept that deeply committed Christians who love Jesus and the Bible as much as you do, have a very different perspective than you might. If you disagree, feel free to engage me, but please leave Chase out of it. The Church has already hurt him enough.



Dear Chase,

Thank you for your bearing your soul to me in your letter. Your vulnerability reminded me of Harvey Milk and your call for urgency reminded me of Martin Luther King Jr. writing from a jail cell, also to a bunch of clergy that were calling for patience.

I am sad that you have renounced your membership in the United Methodist Church. I’m sad because I know how much you love her and how much she loves you. I’m sad that she hasn’t been faithful to you. You were waiting to marry the church you loved, and she not only left you standing at the altar, but she added insult by denying you the opportunity to marry your partner within her walls as well. The people called Methodist broke their Baptismal vows to surround you with a community of love and forgiveness… instead they called you incompatible, unordainable, and unmarryable. 

Through Baptism, God placed you in a church that would nurture you, confirm you in your faith, and help you hear God’s call into the fullness of who God created you to be. When you told them God created you for ordained ministry they celebrated. When you told them God created you for relationship with another man, they turned their backs on you.  Perhaps when scientists discover the gay gene a modest proposal would be for us to stop Baptizing gay babies. That way we wouldn’t have all this trouble down the line when God starts getting crazy ideas like calling Baptized gay people into the ministry.

The United Methodist Church isn’t alone. They follow in a long tradition of the Church trying to exclude the “other” because they were “incompatible” for ministry: incompatible gender, incompatible skin, incompatible race, incompatible health. And before you say those are all examples of things people are born into and homosexual acts are a choice, the list doesn’t end there. The Church tried to exclude the “other” for incompatible diet, incompatible foreskin, incompatible income, incompatible dancing (remember, nobody puts baby in the corner)... The ridiculous list goes on.

When the Ethiopian Eunuch met Philip and wanted to become a Christ follower, he asked a loaded question, “What is to prevent me from being Baptized?” Well… for starters, castration made him “incompatible”. Philip Baptized him anyways—an act as subversive then as today me officiating your wedding, Chase. Why did Philip break the rules and perform an early-church chargeable offense? Because he knew God’s grace and love didn’t know the bounds of incompatible. I agree with Philip and with you Chase… incompatible, what a horrifying, bitter word.

Chase, some will argue with our generalization of The United Methodist Church as a people who turned their backs on you. When I read your letter, I nodded my head in complete agreement. But, what have I done to really stick my neck out for you and others? What have I really done to leave the safety of straight elder privilege and into the place of oppression you and others have been segregated? To agree and not take action, or worse, to say, “Wait, have patience” is to stand on the side of injustice. Thank you for calling me and others to account for that.

MLK faced a similar battle. While he sat in a Birmingham jail cell, White moderate pastors who were too afraid to see a dip in their offerings, kept silent or repeated the call for patience. Here is a bit of what MLK had to say to those White moderates:

For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see that "justice too long delayed is justice denied.” …Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait.”…I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. ...So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an arch defender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent—and often even vocal—sanction of things as they are. But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.

So yes, it is true that almost half of those present at General Conference voted to no longer call you and others incompatible. I’m guessing that many would affirm your marriage and ordination. But how we would vote is not the question you asked. It is one thing to anonymously punch a button and cast a vote for full inclusion of LGBT persons; it is quite another thing to stand with them in their suffering. To stand up with you even if that means giving up our security and power.  Maybe “stand up” isn’t the best theological phrase to use in this case… maybe “lay down” would be more appropriate. No greater love is a love that lays down, not a love that hides behind a stole for fear of losing a job. As a pastor, I am called to be faithful, not called to keep my job.

So because I remember the connection we shared over time, and because of the call of Christ on my life to show radical love to all people, I will make my signs of protest clear. I will speak honestly, without fear of consequences. I will lay myself down for you and 'your people'—who are also my people.

I suppose my statement could be framed a bit more directly, so here goes—I will officiate your wedding or any other wedding I am asked to officiate. I will fight for the Church to one day ordain you, should we be lucky enough to have you back. Sure there may be a trial, but at least I will be able to account to God for my ministry. For me, I would much rather be a defrocked unemployed ex-elder than a play-it-safe sell-out with a guaranteed job.

This is a deeply personal issue for me. It is personal because of people like you and BJ and Tim and Brad and Justin and Michelle and John and Michael and David and Stephen and Audrey and Arden and Mark and Nathan and Robin and Sarah and the countless others who have changed my life because of the love they have shared with me. I have known you as compatible and I will be damned if I continue to remain passive in a church that labels you otherwise. I will be damned if at the end of my life I look back and regret not speaking truth to injustice I so clearly see. I will be damned if I am shuffled into the goats only to hear Jesus say, “I was transgender and you turned your back on me.”

To my fellow clergy… the words I have written represent were I am presently on my journey. I know you are each at different places. Most of you that will read this are at least in a similar place theologically. I pass no judgment on you for how you choose to be present as pastor to the LGBT community. I do, however, invite you to join me. Lay yourselves down with me... with lesbians, gays, transgender, bisexual, queer, questioning, asexual, intersex, and others labeled or treated “incompatible” by our Church.

Today I met with a pastor of a large church who has been committed to this for a long time. He mourns the fact that when a same sex couple wants to be married he has to farm them out to another inclusive church. It pains him that he cannot officiate as their pastor. I respect his choice as he is clearly making a difference by the vast numbers of LGBT who have found a community that accepts them. He feels called to fight for change from within, without breaking the rules… I respect that. I do, though, invite him and others to pray about joining me and thousands of other UM clergy around the world in ecclesial disobedience… to embrace our vocation by laying down our careers in the company of Philip, Jesus and the LGBT community—in a perichoretic orgy of love in the name of the Father, Son and  Holy Spirit.


I love you Chase. I give God thanks for your holy witness and challenge to the people called Methodists, for your holy presence to those who are troubled, and most of all, for your holy friendship.

Yours always,

Andy

15 comments:

  1. What a powerful letter (email). To Chase, I support you and I will walk with you... side by side.. hand in hand. As a gay man in the Methodist church, I have been struggling with this issue for some time now. Thank you Chase for shining your light of integrity on me, you are an inspiration to me. To you Andy, I have so much love, respect, and appreciation for you. Thank you for your willingness to stand up for Chase, me, and all LGBT people. My eyes are filled with tears and my heart is mourning but my soul knows that integrity is never painless. Peace and love to you!

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    1. Thanks Tim. Can't wait to see you soon at Junaluska! I love you.

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  2. 60% of delegates didn't tell Chase he was incompatible. I hope that's not what you believe we in the majority in our United Methodist Church believe. I love many gay people by name and I know their struggles and stories.

    This can be a proper interpretation if we believe that sin and sinner cannot be separated, but that would be an abandonment of our Wesleyan theology nearly the entire witness of the Church. We have a God who saves from and for.

    Those struggling with homosexuality that I know have come to different places in understanding that. Some engage in dangerous serial relationships; I still love them. Others have chosen chastity, as I (as a "straight" person) have up to this point, while preparing for Christian service and what may or may not come relationally. Another that I know found freedom (yes, I understand that you probably don't believe me and that's okay) from his same-sex attraction and is now attracted to women.

    I do not fault you for your desire to err on the side of love, but do ask that you not make broad assumption that others are not attempting to do the same. As long as we are willing to walk with our brothers and sisters in whatever they are facing we haven't turned our backs on them. Please remember that.

    I love Chase and Tim and Andy and know that God does too. I also know that God has much better for us than we could ever think up ourselves and will take us there if we will let him.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. That's a fair point. 60% (53% on the first vote) didn't directly call homosexuals incompatible. They did vote to retain the language that their actions of loving another of the same sex are incompatible. While I appreciate the distinction you are trying to make between "sinner and sin", I can't agree. We have a different understanding of Scripture. I don't believe homosexual actions are sin. As I said in the preface to the letter, if you don't agree with that, you aren't going to agree with any of the letter. It would be like me writing an article based on the premise of global warming. If you don't believe in global warming you aren't going to agree with anything that follows. I don't believe the earth is flat, therefore I wouldn't spend much time arguing with someone who wrote a letter based on that premise. (Yes, this does exist: http://theflatearthsociety.org/cms/)

      Your language calling homosexuals to separate who God created them to be from who they are is offensive to me. Your "dangerous serial relationships" comment is a tired argument as anyone gay or straight can engage in dangerous relationships. That is not what I am talking about. I am happy for your friend that now identifies as a heterosexual, but your usage of "found freedom from" is also offensive.

      I hear what you are trying to say about how you feel you haven't turned your back on the LGBT community. This goes back to how we interpret Scripture differently. You believe it is sin and thus you are offering love by speaking what you feel is truth. Understand that for one who does not believe homosexuality is sin, remaining silent or using the rhetoric you use, is turning your back on this community. There was a time not too long ago when a majority of Christians were sure that interracial couples were sin. We can clearly see now, from this side of history, that the only sinner in this situation were those who took the approach of "loving the sinner" and calling inter-racial couples not to "sin".

      Lastly, I'm sure you are a great person, but you do not love me. You continue to call the actions of my people who are living out who God created them to be, incompatible. Saying you love us (and that you know God loves us too) is condescending at best.

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    2. Andy, you are also being extremely condescending when you indicate by your words and tone that anyone who does not agree with your interpretation of Scripture is wrong. Your attitude seems to be "my way or the highway!" John Wesley Leek was not saying love the sinner and hate the sin, that is Scriptural. You are the one telling us to ignore what the Scripture says so that you can justify yourself. I am sorry but it just doesn't work that way.

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    3. By paragraph:

      2: My comment was in the context of real relationship. I'm not appealing to a stereotype. This is someone who has called me to pray for them as they got tested for HIV and once he found he was clean returned to the same practice. My love for people who self-identify is clear enough that these friends call on me in their need. They don't feel hated.

      1+3: Appealing to "flat earth" and interracial marriage examples is a deflection. Racism is demonic and it is only because racism is wrong that people outside the people of Israel can become sons and daughters of God. That said it is my responsibility to love racist people, as God does, even while they are still racist.

      4: It is implausible to believe that someone hundreds of miles away in cyberspace could love another, but it is true. God at work in me through the Holy Spirit has made loving all people possible and there are none that I know currently that I don't love. I don't see you as an enemy, but a brother. I apologize to you if my words expressed condescension in any way. That was not my intent and would be unfortunate.

      (I would be happy to dialogue further privately if you would like, but understand if you have no interest.) I do continue to wish you well.

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    4. I'll call you tomorrow. Peace!

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  3. Thank you Andy for your witness. It is powerful and it also challenges us all to faithfulness!

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  4. Andy, wow, what a journey since Duke. yitb (and more importantly...), in Christ, mpb+

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  5. Andy, Thank you!
    Thank you for adding your voice to the growing cry of straight UM allies. Thank you for calling fellow clergy to stand up and be counted. Thank you for taking a risk for what you believe, and for those you love. Thank you for articulating the pain we feel each time we are told how much we are loved, but how much more loveable we would be if we denied who God created us to be! Many of us recognize that God loves us, and God has called us to be United Methodists, and no matter how many votes of General Conference or misguided "sin-hating sinner-lovers" think otherwise, we are HERE, and we aren't going away!

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  6. Andy,

    I found your blog post through one of your tweets hashtagged #dreamUMC.

    Based on the tone of the post I thought that you were presenting this as a new position for you and, as I've grown accustomed to on other blogs like John Meunier's, I responded as though this was a place of discussion and back and forth.

    Having gone back over the previous posts on this blog I find agreement with you on fair treatment of farm workers and the evil of racism and opposition to "race-mixing." I also found that the content of this post is your primary topic and I would now assume it is not a new position for you.

    I appear to have misunderstood the purpose of this blog. If I am incorrect please correct me, but otherwise I will forgo commenting further on this or other posts as I've misunderstood it as an open forum.

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    1. Hey John,

      It is meant for discussion, back and forth. I will give you a call tomorrow so we can talk.

      Peace.

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