How the Holy Spirit Made Me an Accessory to 1,000 Hate Crimes (and How I Hope to Clear Our Names)
Accessory: In Criminal Law, contributing to or aiding in the commission of a crime. One who, without being present at the commission of an offense, becomes guilty of such offense, not as a chief actor, but as a participant, as by command, advice, instigation, or concealment; either before or after the fact or commission. Defined at the Free Dictionary.
Some of you might know that I am a certified candidate for ordination in the United Methodist Church (UMC). It is a privilege denied to my LGBT brothers and sisters, an injustice that makes me uncomfortable every day. In theory, I have the option to jump ship for a church where LGBT people already have that right, but I can’t.
I wasn’t raised in the United Methodist Church, but my maternal grandparents were Methodists. So perhaps the Methodist fervor just skips a generation, as if some of us are simply born with hearts genetically predisposed to being strangely warmed. Mine certainly was at First United Methodist Church of Omaha, Nebraska (FUMC). That Aldersgate moment of justifying grace was followed by a swift and sure leading of the Spirit into a full embrace of the Methodist tradition.
I was told by my Associate Pastor at FUMC that I was the only person she ever knew who joined the church because of an affinity for John Wesley. The administrative part of my personality dug his vision of an orderly spiritual life leading on to perfection, and the radical part of my personality admired his willingness to break convention if it meant more hearts would be turned toward God. The more I learned about Methodism, the more I knew it was where I belonged: Arminian theology, non-creedalism, the open table. Yes, yes, and yes! I employ the Means of Grace and the Wesleyan Quadrilateral every chance I get. I’m fixing to be Francis Asbury for Halloween next year.
From the very beginning, I felt called to reach out to LGBT people who had been hurt and excluded by the church and invite them back into relationship with God. Like Church of the Village, FUMC is a Reconciling Congregation (meaning it supports the full inclusion of LGBT people even though the UMC’s Book of Discipline forbids it). The Christ-filled community of FUMC’s members of all sexual orientations taught me what it means to love fearlessly like God loves, and be a church family for each other. I also heard the stories of harm done by various churches to the LGBT students of Creighton University’s Gender and Sexuality Alliance (of which I was staff moderator). I applied the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, and became confident that Jesus’ example and teaching about how to love one another, especially those on the margins of society, required radical inclusion, not exclusion. Not only do I disagree with the Book of Discipline’s verbiage that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” but I believe that faith in a loving God is incompatible with the exclusion of anyone from full participation in the Body of Christ.
With great enthusiasm, I watched the live stream of the United Methodist General Conference in 2012. The delegates were voting to change the policy that kept clergy from performing same-sex marriages and excluded “practicing” LGBT people from being ordained. I had such high hopes that this would be the first formal step toward full inclusion of people of every sexual orientation and gender identity. Like many LGBT people and allies watching that day, I was crushed when the delegates failed to pass even a compromise stating that the UMC had various opinions on same-sex marriage. The hurtful language of “incompatible with Christian teaching” would remain in the Discipline for at least four more years.
Shortly before General Conference in 2012, a young gay man named Kenneth Weishuhn living in rural Iowa killed himself after being bullied because of his sexual orientation. In a television interview, his sister mentioned that the bullies had posted comments like “God hates gays” on Kenneth’s Facebook page. One might argue that there is a big difference between “incompatible with Christian teaching” and “God hates gays,” but I assure you there are many on whom that nuance is lost.
As long as the UMC continues its systematic discrimination and condemnation of LGBT people, it provides moral justification for the evil committed against them. It gives aid and comfort to those who commit such acts. As a member of the UMC, I am an unintentional accessory to the violence that befalls LGBT persons, from the suicides of bullied youths in rural America to the beatings and murders of LGBT people here in New York City to the laws passed in African nations that threaten LGBT persons with imprisonment or death.
And yet I am created by God and called by Christ and empowered by the Holy Spirit for ordained ministry in this beautiful church. I believe the UMC is still moving on to perfection. I have seen glimpses of this perfection at Church of the Village and First United Methodist Church of Omaha. I pledge to use my voice within this church to help the whole denomination resist evil and become completely inclusive of every person of every sexual orientation and every gender identity.
I believe in the restorative justice of the kingdom of God, and when the UMC ends its discrimination toward LGBT people, I believe we will be unconditionally forgiven. Even more, when those doors open, I know that the gifts we receive from the LGBT people who God calls to serve and love this church despite its history of exclusion will enliven the church in ways we cannot imagine. When we embody the fullness of love that we have received in Christ, we will receive grace upon grace.
May it be so.
May it start with me.
Please join us at the Church of the Village during the entire month of June for LGBT Pride Month activities including small group Bible study, Sunday morning Pride testimonies , dedication of the PFLAG plaque, and Pride Parade Witness.