A Time Such As This
A few months ago, I was at a meeting of LGBTQ Methodists and straight allies. The leader of the meeting began by asking, "How many of you regularly attend a Methodist church?" Most of us rose our hands. She then asked, "How many of you will still be attending a Methodist church on March 1st, 2019?"
There was a long pause.
If you didn't know, this upcoming weekend carries great import for a great many members of the United Methodist Church. This weekend, the Methodist Church will be holding a special meeting of the general conference on the subject of "human sexuality."
Ok. Time out. "Human sexuality"? This strikes me as a less-than-ideal designation. Strictly speaking, the only humans whose sexuality will be discussed are queer people like myself. We are the only humans whose sexuality will be up for discussion. I have often found in my Christian church experiences that the words "human sexuality" are used as a euphemism for words that some church people get touchier about, words like "homosexuality" or "gay" or "queerness." I'd much prefer us to call a thing it what it is; as Dumbledore taught us, fear of the name of something increases the fear of the thing itself. And another thing. Why did we need the "human" part? It seems to go without saying that the sexuality in question would be of the human variety; I am doubtful that any church is interested in legislating the reproductive practices of animals.
But anyway. The conference on "human sexuality" will be happening this weekend, and its ramifications are wide and crucial. Specifically, the delegates will be discussing and voting on how to handle only two issues: the ordination and ministry of "practicing gay and lesbian" clergy, and church-sanctioned same-sex weddings. After a full day of prayer, the delegates will debate, vote, and report back to their worldwide churches on what has been dubbed "The Way Forward." I won't get too deep in the weeds here about what might specifically come of this conference regarding church doctrine or the Methodist Book of Discipline. (To be sure, it is undoubtedly important, and if you are interested, I encourage you to check out more information here. ) Rather, I'd like us to consider the larger implications of such a conference.
On the one hand, I think the Methodist Church is to be commended on having such a meeting in the first place, long overdue though it may be. I particularly admire their decision to first spend an entire day in prayer, The recent controversy with Hillsong Church, arising from the Church's apparent unwillingness to be clear in its positions on LGBTQ issues, highlights the need for clarity and honesty in place of vague, wishy-washy "we love everyone" statements. When we do not explicitly commit to equality and affirmation for marginalized people, we do harm. As I and many others have chanted at protests, silence is violence.
On the other hand, I'm a little weary. It's 2019, friends. It feels like we should be long past the era of having a large group of people, the majority of whom are not like me, convening to determine the personhood of people like me. It feels like such to-do and hand-wringing should be the stuff of an earlier era. It feels like a debate should be unnecessary. As it stands, I and many other LGBTQ members of the Methodist Church are looking towards this weekend with a mixture of hope and anxiety.
Many would counter that my personhood is not in question. No one is telling me I don't get to exist, they'd say. There are, after all, only two specific issues up for debate, neither of which would immediately affect me. I am not a pastor, have no intentions of becoming one, and I am not looking to marry anytime in the near future.
The problem with this argument is that these issues do not exist in isolation. The church's relationship to the queer community has a long, painful history, and for many of us, church-inflicted wounds still sting. We have been told, in ways explicit and implicit, that we are disgusting, unworthy, damaged, broken, embarrassing, disappointing. We have, in turn, been given the hollow and quite false consolation that we can change, that we can become the straight and cisgender people who are the opposite of all those awful things. This trauma lives in our bodies and is not easily forgotten.
This fall I attended a conference of The Reformation Project. a wonderful organization seeking to heal the pain of queer Christians and reform the church's practices of causing it. I had the distinct privilege of hearing Reverend Brit Barron speak. Among many brilliant ideas I took from this sermon was the idea that "when you other someone, the last domino to fall is violence. That's the only place it can go." We start by refusing to address racism in our churches. We end with the deaths of Michael Brown, Philando Castille, Trayvon Martin. We start with keeping women from the pulpit. We end with Harvey Weinstein. We start with refusing to marry a same-sex couple. We end with Matthew Shephard, with Tyler Clementi, with Pulse. Far too often, the church has been one of the world's great bastions of prejudice, rather than the front line of fighting it.
And yet I remain stubbornly hopeful. For all of the wounds I've received from the church, I have remained committed to its mission and work. I have been luckier than many. I have found congregations that welcomed me, nurtured me, and challenged me to become the fully gay and fully Christian person I am called to be. I have been blessed to meet beautiful, joyous, conscientious humans who take seriously Christ's commandment to love their neighbors. I have been given the great honor of a paid leadership position at a Methodist church despite having no formal ministerial credentials. I truly believe God has called me and so many of my queer siblings to the United Methodist Church to be Esthers for a time such as this, to speak for the marginalized communities from which we come and fight for their God-ordained liberation. For now, I will pray. I will speak what I know to be true about the God I serve. And whatever happens, on March 1st I will continue to serve in the United Methodist Church to the best of my ability, working fervently for that day when all of God's children will be truly free. Lord, hear our prayer.