OCTOBER 19, 2015
Put on the Stole
(This post is the result of a listening session with a United Methodist District Superintendent concerning LGBTQIA issues for the 2016 General Conference, during which church policy is adopted and/or changed. Because many things were shared in a safe and sacred place, names are changed and stories combined. But the truth and intent are the same.)
The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church states that “homosexual persons no less that heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth.” (par. 71F). What the Discipline means is that homosexual persons are of sacred worth BUT…
Further in the paragraph, we find the phrase “incompatible with Christian teaching” and in later paragraphs, “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” are not to be candidates for ordained ministry (par. 401.2) We say sacred worth…we mean not quite worthy. And therein lies the struggle for the institutional church.
Make no mistake, there are prophets among us, loud, proud, and strong. There are voices crying in the wilderness to right these wrongs, to change the archaic language, to hold those accountable who utter platitudes accompanied by, “but…” There are pastors caring for the wounds those callous words so viciously inflict. There are entire welcoming congregations sweeping the denomination doing their best to stem the tide of hate.
Always the but…
What about the two dads with the 8-year-old who must ask when facing a new situation, “Dad is it okay to tell them I have two dads here or is it not safe?” A question formed because, for the child’s well being, the fathers have had to instruct him to maybe not mention two dads in certain places lest the child be subjected to the taunts and tirades sure to follow. Fathers who face questions about suicide, “Dad, do you and Daddy have enough money to bury me?” because of the bullying already in an 8-year-old’s child’s life because the parents who love him so deeply happen to be of the same gender. That bullying? It came from Sunday School.
What about the teacher who happen to find a note that one student wrote to another student of the same gender? A note expressing affection and one that mentioned equal affection from the other student? What about the look of sheer terror on the teens face when she realized her teacher had the note – terror the teacher had not seen before. Mercifully, the teacher was on the side of love, reaching out to the teen in what was the first acceptance of her sexuality by any adult in her life? What about the other teens whose notes are found by those on the side of “but…”?
The words in The Discipline are painful, and they are not just, proclaimed one prophet at the meeting. They are not representative of Jesus who never added, “but…” to declarations of love. They are left over from another time, when prejudice and oppression were accepted and even championed…a time when women weren’t allowed to preach, where African-American’s had “their own” churches, when we were missional TO folks with skin and culture different from ours, but we were rarely worshipful WITH them.
At the one Annual Conference of the United Methodist church, members who are part of or stand with the LGBTQIA community give handmade, rainbow stoles for those who gather for the three-day business meeting each June. One year, a new layperson accepted the call to be a stole-bearer, knowing almost no one in the Annual Conference. He handed the stole to one well-dressed, expensively-suited man, who handed it back to him with the words, “I can’t accept the stole. I am the Bishop. I am with you, but because of my position, I cannot wear the stole.”
But you know what? Put on the stole. We’ve been fighting this fight since the 1980s, well before marriage equality of any kind could ever be imagined, well before many of us grew up to parent children whom our church view as of sacred worth but…, well before anything was covered in the media, much less dragged through social media like Matthew Shepherd was dragged behind that truck.
Put on the stole. It is NOT the time to be fair and balanced. It is the time to be prophetic and subversive for Christ. We need BOLD leaders, not leaders who say, “This is what the policy says, so this is what we have to do.” We need leaders like Jesus from Luke 6:
8But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” So he got up and stood there.
9 Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”
10 He looked around at them all, and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He did so, and his hand was completely restored.
I ask you, which is lawful in the United Methodist Church: to do good or to do evil, to save a life or to destroy it? Are we on the side of “the Pharisees and the teachers of the law [who]were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.” (Luke 6:11) Or, in the words of another United Methodist prophet, are we on the side of Peter who, while in Joppa, went completely against tradition and biblical teaching, eating with gentiles. Upon rebuke from the others for straying from the norm, Peter told them about his vision. He said that God lowered a sheet down from heaven filled with all of the creatures that God had forbidden the people to eat. God, Peter said, commanded him to kill and eat. Of course Peter refused protesting, “Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth!” But God rebuked him daring him to call any animal of God’s creation unclean. Three times this was repeated by God.
Then Peter listened as the Holy Spirit led him to the house of Gentiles. An angel has appeared to the man in the house telling him to seek out Peter of Joppa who would deliver a message that would save his entire house. Peter remember that John prophesied that while he baptize with water, later there would be baptism by the Holy Spirit. At that moment the Holy Spirit descended upon the gentiles, just as it had on the disciples. Says Peter: “So if God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11)
Who are we to think we can stand in God’s way, even with generations, indeed, centuries of tradition and law gone before us? Are we the Pharisees, furious and plotting revenge to those who “break the law?” Or are we Peter, praying on a rooftop, receiving visions from the Holy Spirit of the bounty and goodness of God’s creation? Are we plotting to stop God’s vision of a new heaven and a new earth? Or are we standing on the precipice of an outpouring of the holy spirit on us as we open our arms to ALL persons of sacred worth.
Stop adding, “but…”
Give our children hope. Put on the stole.
Be Peter. Put on the stole.
Celebrate Sacred Worth. Put on the stole.
Receive the Holy Spirit. Put on the stole.
Look out upon a new heaven and a new earth. Put on the stole.
To the Tennessee Annual Conference, to every other Annual Conference, to General Conference, and to all clergy and laity that make up this great and prophetic church:
Put on the stole.