Thursday, June 16, 2016

Yes....But Will We Be Safe There?

I was running on the treadmill this morning when my gym friend, John, starting using the machine next to mine. "I have not seen you in a while," I said, while asking him about his summer plans. "There are a few trips here and there, including one to North Carolina which I'm dreading," John responded. "Oh, where are you going in North Carolina?" I asked, before hearing, "My niece is getting married in Highlands."

My face immediately lit up, "I love Highlands!" I then described my first summer field education placement while in seminary. "It has the highest elevation in the state. The population swells in the summer as wealthy people from Atlanta and Florida come up to escape the summer heat. There are beautiful hiking trails. There is an incredible candy store on the main street." I kept talking while John looked at me with a blank stare before responding. "I have looked it up. We are going for three nights. It looks beautiful. But will we be safe there?"

I honestly cannot remember if the cottage where I stayed that summer had a lock on the door. While a sense of fear has crept in often since moving back to Washington, I cannot recall a single time when I felt afraid or unsafe in Highlands. I don't even recall seeing a police car on the streets of Highlands. "Of course, it's safe!" I could have easily responded.

And yet, I'm not a gay man traveling with my husband.

John's question made my heart sink.

But will we be safe there?

How often have you stopped to think about how hard it would be to not be able to hold the hand of your spouse wherever you are? Have you ever wondered whether it would be safe to check into a hotel in a small resort town in North Carolina? Have you ever looked at the map to see if you'd be able to make it from one place to the next without stopping for gas because you're not sure how much hatred might fill the communities in between? Have you told your spouse not to call you "honey" out loud while attending your niece's wedding?

I am willing to bet the answer is "yes" if you're gay. And I suppose that if you're straight, you may have never stopped to think about how a night club in Orlando could have ever been a sanctuary for countless individuals - until this week.

How is it that a bar has become a safer place for LGBT people to gather than countless other places? How could a dance club be a sanctuary - a place of refuge or safety - more than a church building?

One doesn't need to ponder long before answering the questions, and I'm tired of it. I'm so incredibly sad that the church of Jesus Christ too often fails to embody the love, mercy and grace of Jesus. I'm so incredibly sad that my own denomination, the United Methodist Church, has a Book of Discipline that states that homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. I'm angry that my church's official teaching will allow me to marry any couple who comes in off the street - even if they have only known each other for a couple of days - while having the power to take away my ordination for marrying a faithful, devoted couple of the same gender. I'm furious that clergy in my own annual conference voted against one of our candidates for ministry in which Christ is so alive for no reason other than the fact that she is married to a woman. And I grieve that not every LGBT person will feel safe in many of our churches. In fact, the church may be the place where my LGBT brothers and sisters feel the most unsafe.

The last few weeks have been overflowing with pain and disappointment. While our General Conference did not vote on several pieces of legislation that could have done even more harm to LGBT people and pastors who are seeking to embody the fullness of love, blessing and hospitality, I don't have a lot of hope for significant change to come as long as the same Book of Discipline is being used for every congregation in our global church. Two weeks ago, after we came up 19 votes shy of the number needed to approve T.C. Morrow for commissioning, I wondered if I would even come back the next day. My eyes were swollen, my mascara was smudged, and my heart hurt.

But I came back. I came back and found manna not from my straight colleagues but from T.C. herself. I watched as she simply changed her name tag from one that could have said "clergy" to one that said, "lay delegate." I listened as she stood and spoke at a dinner of reconciling clergy and laity, sharing how when people kept asking her why she didn't just leave, she responded by saying, "This church is my family, and you don't just leave family even when it's dysfunctional." I marveled when T.C. went around a large circle of people who showed up to witness on her behalf and hugged and thanked each person. While I didn't see it myself, I'm told she stood up in support of every single person in her commissioning class - a class she should have been able to join. I have then been so incredibly struck by many of the comments she has shared about why she stays in our denomination. Just today she wrote these words in an op-ed, "I remain because I am always thinking about some young 14-year-old in a rural community who could use a role model - something very similar to the young person I once was, I think about what they are hearing, from our churches and indeed from our society more broadly. I think about the need to echo voices of hope and community in diversity, not fear and bigotry."

If anything has come from the heartache and pain of walking with T.C. and then reading stories from people who were at Pulse last Saturday night, it is a commitment to not just stay in my church but to become even more passionate about working to change the religious institution. I want people to know that my church is a sanctuary for all people - that all are abundantly welcome at Mount Vernon Place, that all people can receive the same blessings at our church, that I will do everything I can to support people who are experiencing a call to ministry whether they are gay or straight, that all people can call each other "honey" and hold hands in our building, that we are seeking to simply live and love like Jesus - recognizing that such love can have consequences.

I don't believe everything happens for a reason, and I beg you to stop saying these words if they are prone to come from your lips. We are not puppets on a string. The greatest gift God gave us is the gift of free will which means we have the power to do good and the ability to do harm. God is not behind anyone who takes a gun into their hands and kills 49 innocent people. God is, however, present. God is with us always. And I vow to do all I can to make sure that some goodness comes from this senseless tragedy. The vow starts with me and my willingness to love, bless and pastor as fully and faithfully as I can. I want my church to be a sanctuary for all people - a place where the fullness of whoever walks in our doors is welcome.

What about you? What will you do with your pain, your disappointment, your anger?

And if you're looking for a community of faith that is truly seeking to figure out what it means to follow Jesus, then please come #MeetMeAtMVP on Sunday at 11am. We don't always get it right, but we are trying hard to live and love like Jesus.


Bill Hillegeist said...

Pastor Donna. I sincerely appreciate your heartfelt, strong, and ongoing support of the LBGT community. Frankly, I have had doubts about whether I would remain in the Methodist Church, a church that thinks I am inherently disordered. These doubts came to a boiling point after the massacre at Pulse in Orlando. It occurs to me that the United Methodist Church is somehow part of the message of hate and rejection of LBGT people. Do I really want to be a member of such a church?

Yet, your words give me pause and I will continue to reflect on my position and to know that I am abundantly welcome and embraced at Mount Vernon Place UMC.

Mother Madrigal said...

Thank you, it's what I have been struggling with as well. I do know what it feels like to feel unsafe because of the color of my skin, but I have chosen to go there knowing the danger. These young people had no idea it was not safe. I hope and pray that our church will one day be safe for everyone and we will not need to bind up people's wounds who have felt unsafe in a church.

Jason Dudley said...

Beautiful! Thank you. Still sitting myself with what to do with my pain, disappointment, and anger. For now, it is polemics. Can this too, be a calling? Feels like it is in this season.