It's a great day to be a resident of the District of Columbia. On this day, countless couples are lining the steps of a courthouse a few blocks from the church with $35 dollars in hand to exchange what once seemed like only a dream for a new reality. On this day, countless individuals are being given the precious privilege of doing exactly what I did nearly two years ago when I went into a room in Durham, North Carolina, clinging to the hand of my fiance, in order to apply for a marriage license. No one looked at me twice on that day. And on this day, many of my dear friends are being given the same opportunity. On this day, the District of Columbia has proudly taken a stand to allow all people in committed relationships to marry - whether they are of the same sex or opposite sexes. It is a great day to be a resident of the District of Columbia. But, it is the most painful day, to date, that I have experienced as a United Methodist pastor.
I am heartbroken between a rock and a hard place.
With all of my heart, I believe that all people should be given the same rights I have been given. I believe that my gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgendered brothers and sisters should be able to marry, and I believe they should be able to lead a church, to be able to answer and respond to the claim God has placed upon so many of them when God called them, spoke out loud their names, inviting them to enter ordained ministry.
The God who called my name is one I know best as Jesus. When I read the scriptures, the thing I love most about Jesus is his ability to encounter all people - meeting them right where they are. Whether it was a woman at a well who had been married several times and was living with a man who was not her husband or tax collectors or hypocrites, Jesus was able to encounter people exactly where they were, calling them by name, changing and transforming their lives forever. When Jesus had a word of criticism to speak, he spoke more about rich people than anyone else. He was always going to the margins, and he has taken me to the margins so many times. I love Jesus' ability to see - to really see people just as God has created them to be.
I have preached several times on homosexuality and the Bible. You can read one of my sermons here and another one here. I have preached several times about how I feel about people who are gay, lesbian, transgendered and bisexual. I have preached many times about how I completely disagree with my own church's teaching on this subject. And today - today I cannot be silent. Today I want to shout it from the balcony of my office that the United Methodist Church is behind, wrong, and lagging when it comes to being the prophetic church it once was and the prophetic church I believe Jesus is calling us to be.
You see, the Book of Discipline of my church clearly states that I, as an ordained United Methodist pastor, "can be tried when charged with one or more of the following offenses: (a) immorality including but not limited to, not being celibate in singleness or not faithful in heterosexual marriage, (b) practices incompatible with Christian teachings, including but not limited to: being a self-avowed practicing homosexual; or conducting ceremonies which celebrate homosexual unions; or performing same-sex weddings ceremonies..." Paragraph 2702, 2008 Book of Discipline.
These words make me cringe. These words, along with words that state how homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching, make me want to scream, to protest, to go running to another denomination or to an independent church. At times, these words make me want to hang up my ordination altogether and start selling real estate or go into the wedding planning business.
But...I love being a pastor. And...I love being a pastor in the United Methodist Church.
Serving as a pastor in this denomination is the only thing I can imagine doing with my life. This church is the one that baptized me, the one that taught me the stories of Jesus, the one that confirmed me, the one that cultivated my gifts, the one that ordained me, and the one that has enabled me to flourish in ordained ministry. This church, the United Methodist Church, is the church I love. I love our emphasis on grace, our belief that grace is infused in all people whether they believe it or not. I love how our table is open to all people - how the Lord's Supper is a means of grace and can be a converting ordinance. I love our connectional system - our structure of being appointed and guided by bishops while also being in relationship with other churches around the globe. I love the United Methodist Committee on Relief - an organization that was in Haiti long before the earthquake and one that will remain there long after others have packed their bags and returned home. I love the teachings of our founder, John Wesley - his commitment to the poor and those in the margins, his commitment to seeing this church not as something that would be static but as something that would be a movement, his commitment to stand against slavary long before others were standing against it. I love the sense of practical divinity - how our faith is to be lived out in all we do and all we are. I love this church.
But, on this day, I am heartbroken - heartbroken between a rock and a hard place.
Earlier this week, I was meeting with one of our candidates for ordained ministry. She came floating in my office, sharing as if she had just read one of the most amazing novels ever. But, she had not been reading a novel. Rather, she had been reading the Social Principles of our denomination. She had read our church's understanding of countless different issues ranging from crime to military service to slavary to abortion to church and state relations. She shared how she was so surprised to find what she read. She was so surprised to discover how progressive our denomination is - how progressive we are "on everything but homosexuality."
When Jesus first stood in the temple, he unrolled the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and shared how the Spirit of the Lord was upon him to "preach good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, and to let the oppressed go free." I believe Jesus is still in this business. Our church, however, is holding some people captive, pulling them back from being the fullness of who they were created to be. Our church has lost some of its progressive power - its prophetic witness.
God, please continue to grant me your spirit of discernment in knowing what it means to faithfully be a disciple of your son, Jesus Christ. God, please be with our church and all who will next have the power to change our Book of Discipline. God, please enable us all to seek to listen and hear one another. God, please show us what it means to be your body. Please always guide my path, showing me when I should be faithful to you and when I should be faithful to a denomination. Amen.