I think a lot about the concept of “voice.” Even though I’ve been among the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) for seven years now, I still feel as a bit of an outsider. I did not come up through the traditional Disciples ranks. I do not have the relationships that many of my clergy colleagues developed in seminaries and Disciples-related colleges, or those that life-long Disciples formed through summer camps and assemblies over the years. My Disciples pedigree is lacking.
So you don’t know me. I’m one of those strange cases who transferred my ordination from the independent Christian churches to the Disciples. I made that transition in large part because of the possibilities I saw for conversations like this writing project rather than engaging in lifetime battles to even start conversations about women’s leadership roles and other issues that had long been solved in my mind. During that transition, and after, I’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about my own “voice.” How do I gain a hearing when clergy with similar backgrounds have made it their life’s work to pull congregations from the denomination? When people hear my voice are they waiting for the moment that I will flip the switch and revert back to the stereotypes they have of clergy from that stream of the Stone-Campbell movement? Will people ever fully trust my voice?
But I’m also someone who teaches and thinks about and writes about preaching. As a recent PhD graduate from Vanderbilt in preaching and worship, I spent a great many hours with VDS students struggling to find their own voices in the introductory preaching course. I watched students wrestle with texts and exercises and assignments. I stood beside them as they demanded different kinds of answers from a biblical text than were demanded on the first essay question in the NT survey exam. The homiletics classroom was intimidating to many. And then came those dreaded first sermons. Some students searched to find a word from the Lord and to articulate it from their own place and their own bodies; they struggled to find their voice and to trust their voice.
Invariably, there is a moment in the course when those who have doubted their preaching voice – who have doubted whether God can use them for proclamation, for whatever reason – where something of the holy breaks in and together we experience God’s presence through an open voice, through vocal cords and vibration, through sounds and words and body movement.
In that moment, despite the trepidation and fear of the preacher, we are transported onto holy ground. The moment is no longer about mechanics, delivery, sermon form, or the grade (at least momentarily!). Now it is about that person’s real, human voice co-mingling with the Divine, setting the stage for a gospel encounter. In that moment the class is able to hear the Spirit speaking to the church; and if we have ears to hear in that moment, we’d better listen to that Spirit.
Many of those voices have been from LGBTQI students. And from many hours of listening to student sermons, this is what I know:
The good news is not limited to the vocal cords of any certain gender or sexual identity
What do we miss when our LGBTQ siblings’ voices are pushed to the side? When their gifts for ministry are muffled under the wet blankets of congregations, regions, committees on ministry, and general church ministries? When we preachers of privilege fail to raise our own voice as allies out of fear for what will become of our careers? What do we miss?
We miss the richly textured sound of good news. We miss gospel coming to voice in unique and special ways. We miss a resonance that may nudge us toward greater understandings of grace. We miss being transported to holy ground, thinking that we have already mapped the best means to get there. We miss the Spirit speaking to the church. I don’t know about you, but I live in a world that is in desperate need of the good news of the healing and wholeness we know through Jesus Christ…a world in desperate need of some holy ground…and my voice alone is insufficient.
But there is good news. I have heard it with my own ears. The voices resonate loudly and clearly in my ears. And from what I’ve heard, Disciples, it is time to stop turning away from the many voices of our LGBTQI siblings and to finally, truly become a church that lives into its claim that “within the universal church we [all] receive the gift of ministry.”