Seven years ago my daughter Audrey came out to me via email. She was about to be go before the commission on ministry in preparation for ordination and wondered if she needed to share her sexual orientation during this process. My response – again via email – was that she did not have to answer a question that was not asked.
And my private response for the next week was a lot of tears and sadness. My first concern was that she would be stigmatized and rejected by people who had previously loved and accepted her. In addition, she was about to become my colleague in ministry and I had dreams of seeing her succeed in the conventional way – of moving “up” to serving her own church. I had watched my daughter grow up with great gifts for ministry and was overwhelmed with fears for her future in living out her call.
At the same time, I knew that she was God’s child and that God would care for her as she continued on her journey. And so, it has been a tremendous blessing in my life to witness and share in the ways in which her identity as a gay woman has given her a unique role in ministry.
What I want to is share how her life as a lesbian in ministry has changed my life and my ministry. I have always self-identified as a “Pastor” more than a “Prophet” in ministry. For years I have been drawn to Bible study, prayer, healing ministries, and spiritual direction. But in the last few years, I have found myself more and more involved in social justice ministry. And one of the ways that God is surely calling and moving me is in our ministry to the GLBT community. There was a moment in time in which I came to the understanding that the rejection that I feared for Audrey from the church was not something that “They” were doing, but something that “We” are doing. At the last General Assembly I was particularly moved by the sermon that Mel White gave at the GLAD banquet. How long are we going to discern?
And what I realize is that often in the local church we do not discern at all. Instead we say that we “welcome everyone” and pretend that we are all alike. The church that I serve has become more open and accepting and welcoming to the LGBT community over the years. We have gays and lesbians who serve in leadership, on staff and we even have participated in the gay pride parade. However, we are prone to “don’t ask, don’t tell” because you might upset someone.
In the year 2012 we are exploring what it means to be a church of “Radical Hospitality.” With workshops, movies, and study we are actually engaging in discernment. I have learned that many people have not been given the tools for real Biblical interpretation and instead have limited themselves to reading the Bible at “face value” or allowing others to interpret for them. And I have also learned how much we have needed a safe space to talk about the most intimate part of our lives – our sexuality. I have no doubt that God is at work in our lives, leading us through this time of learning and struggle.
Frequently from the pulpit I will remind the congregation (and myself!) that we are being called to live “counter culture” as Jesus shows us a different way of self giving and humility. However, in this issue the teachings of the church is affect the culture. Too often homophobia is given credibility by people of faith. Conversations about gays and lesbians in the media and among ordinary people frequently reference particular interpretations of the Bible. For the church to remain silent, then, is to allow these understandings to remain unchallenged.
And so, my journey as Audrey’s mother continues to bear fruit that I would not have imagined. God is leading me out of fear into faith and out of passivity into engagement and out of empty gestures of welcoming into leading a congregation into a time of true discernment.
And God is not done with me (or us) yet.