Fear kept them immobilized behind closed doors, afraid to come out. Too uncertain, too scarred by their recent experiences to share with others the message that people desperately needed to hear. So they huddled together, their story and their gifts hidden from the world. Until, finally, the Spirit moved them to action:
When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. (Acts 2:1-4)
This is our Pentecost story, the birth of our church – but how easily it could also be the story of so many of our fellow Disciples today who have a powerful message and incredible gifts to offer our church, but who have been excluded because of their sexuality, or whose fear of speaking out keeps them from taking a prophetic stand for inclusion and acceptance.
It breaks my heart when I see incredibly talented colleagues longing to serve the church they love, unable to find work as a pastor because they are honest about their sexuality. For many, if they keep their true identity hidden, the church is willing to accept their service – but it never quite accepts them for who they fully are. And so, we miss out –people who have amazing testimonies of hope and healing find their voices silenced. People in our communities (and even people within our churches) who desperately need to know about God’s radical love and acceptance are denied a powerful witness of the Gospel.
Everyone’s voice, everyone’s unique gifts and experiences are needed to build up God’s kingdom, to make the church whole and faithful, to fully reflect the beauty of God’s creation, to witness to the Good News of God’s great love. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is missing the beautiful and poetic prayers of my sister Jamie, one of the most articulate ministers I know, who also happens to be in love with a woman. Our denomination is missing out on the faithful servant leadership of Charles, a gay man who taught me by his example how to be a deacon and a selfless leader, because his Disciples congregation had an ugly debate over whether to become Open & Affirming.
I grieve, too, when I hear straight colleagues in positions of power admit behind the safety of closed doors that they support full inclusion of gays and lesbians, but fear speaking up in public because they don’t want to lose church members or create conflict. I’ve been guilty of this, too. When I put up a sign urging people to vote against North Carolina’s Amendment One in my yard, I worried about what my more conservative neighbors (several of whom had pro-Amendment signs in their yards) would think. They knew I was a minister, and I feared they would judge me for not being a “true” Christian, that they would look at me differently. There’s safety in silence, in talking behind closed doors with people who have shared experiences and shared views. But Jesus never taught his disciples that following him meant doing what was safe and comfortable, or spending time with people just like them.
I long to be a part of a church that is able to let go of fear, and let the Spirit move among us and propel us out of our comfort zones. I long for the Disciples of Christ to be known as the ones who risked ridicule and rejection in order to share truly Good News of healing and hope for ALL people. Who stepped out of the safety of the familiar, trusting that God would give us the language needed to reach all those who can hear.
Imagine, if we truly lived out our belief in a God who created us good, in a Christ who invited all people to his table, in a savior who gave his life so that evil and hate could no longer hold us captive – imagine how the world would stop and notice!
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:37-38)
I believe we’ve all been given powerful gifts to use to build up God’s kingdom, to strengthen the whole body of Christ. The Spirit has given us the ability to go out into the world and tell our unique stories. GLAD’s Easter writing project has been one way, but it doesn’t have to end here. We can keep writing and sharing our gifts in other places and in other ways. If writing is not your gift, then talk to friends; pray; volunteer for a crisis line or a center for gay teens; use your artistic talents, like the Vote Against project (www.voteagainst.org); join a campaign against discrimination. The Spirit is moving, calling us out of our hiding places, out of our silence, and compelling us to be the church where all people can hear God calling to them, and where all are encouraged to answer the call.
The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off —for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 39)