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.
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.