According to the culture in which I live and the church that has called and ordained me, I am a person of great privilege and power. I am well educated: including college and seminary, I have eighteen years total of privately funded education. I am white: it is impossible for me to empathize with people of color over the systemic and personal hatred and bigotry they have faced over the course of their lives. I am a man: never have I had to worry about equal pay for equal work. Doors to congregations stand wide open to receive my gifts for ministry thanks to my chromosomal makeup and anatomical configuration. I am heterosexual: my ordination and ability to serve in vocational ministry has never been in question … or when it has, it was never because of my sexual orientation. I have privilege. I have power. I have a voice. But that voice has been silenced.
That voice has been silenced, in large part because I have allowed it to be. Speaking against larger systemic powers, even as a person of power and privilege has risks and consequences. When I served in congregational ministry, I attempted to speak truth and justice to a discriminatory policy which stated that a person known to be in a homosexual relationship would not be ordained. I learned then some judicatory officials in our church do not like being challenged, often using smoke and mirrors to deflect from the real issues at stake. At worst, men and women called to ministry lived in fear, silence, and systemic abuse. At best, there was more of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” mentality. GLBT persons have been ordained in my region, but to my knowledge none are serving openly in congregations as pastoral leaders. Is there a connection? My voice has been silenced because I have allowed it to be. Sadly, the voices of many have been silenced by the injustice and fear of others.
I was once asked, “Why? Why do you care so much about this issue? Look at you; you don’t have a dog in this fight. In fact, you might have the most to lose [should the church become fully Open & Affirming].” I care for two reasons. First, I am the parent of an 11 year old boy who is smart, funny, caring, compassionate, and adopted. On more than one occasion, I have as a parent, had to be present with him and other parents in the wake of his peers calling him “gay.” I have had to contact a parent, refraining from using every 4-letter word I know (which are numerous and contextually versatile) after his daughter posted on a peer’s Facebook wall, “You know he’s gay, don’t you?” This type of bullying has occurred numerous times in my son’s young life and each time, a part of my own heart and spirit is torn away. I do not know if my oldest son is gay, nor do I really care. My passion and advocacy on this issue began long before I had to address these issues personally as a parent.
My second reason has a correlation to the first –
and it is more personal –
more immediate –
and more important.
Everything I know and believe and feel to be true about God — God’s identity, God’s nature, God’s love — falls apart if God does not welcome the calling, gifts, graces, and ministry of GLBT persons into the full life of the Church. Simply stated, if God does not welcome and affirm and bless the ministry of GLBT persons, then I do not want to worship or believe in that God. And if the Church does not wish to welcome all people into the life of the Church as God has, then … well, I am sure I cannot be a part of that Church.
Just as I love my children unconditionally, so God loves God’s children. Fully. Inclusively. Unconditionally. Does the relationship with my son change for the negative or is it less blessed because of who he loves or how he loves? Of course not! Nor does God’s relationship with an individual or faith community or church when they live out their covenant and witness faithfully by showing full hospitality (this includes ordination) to the GLBT community.
I often wonder, “What is there to lose?” by our church fully welcoming into its life and ministry GLBT pastors and servant-leaders. Maybe I have to give up some of my personal power and privilege to make room for more voices at the table where I sit. Maybe it means I have to listen to the pain and story of others, rather than speaking from my position of power and authority. So what? It is my experience that I am much better served by engaging in and listening to the stories and experiences of others. I am better served by simply acknowledging and welcoming the presence of the stories, experiences, and the persons who live them.
Of course, I think we must also have the courage to ask the corollary question: “What is there to lose by our church NOT welcoming fully into its life and ministry GLBT pastors and servant leaders?” In short, two things: faithfulness and the opportunity to exemplify the Kingdom of Heaven here on Earth. If I am not mistaken, this is what most of us pray for in worship each week. Dare we suggest the Church hopes its prayers do not come true?
I could be wrong about this but I will take my chances. I doubt God will be too upset with me for being “overly-inclusive.”