Two weeks ago I wrote about feeling afraid. I was genuinely afraid that I had helped set two people up for utter failure.
To fill you in: last week the Desert Southwest Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church voted to commission two openly gay clergy. Commissioning grants them the title “Reverend” and begins a time for formation where they will walk with other newly commissioned clergy as they experience the joys and disappointments of ordained ministry and church leadership.
The votes were without incident and no one spoke against their entry into the clergy of the UMC. I sat amongst the assembled clergy of our conference and cried. I cried again when we celebrated our service of commissioning and ordination, because I believe that this is a concrete step towards justice and inclusion that has been a long time coming.
The joy was overwhelming! Our Jurisdiction elected an openly gay Bishop last July, and now my conference (smaller than a Jurisdiction) has commissioned two openly gay clergy.
JUSTICE AT LAST!!!
It took me several hours to stop grinning like an idiot.
And then I got home after five days of holy conferencing and I started thinking…and worrying.
I worry that not one concern was raised. Not one clergyperson spoke against their commissioning…and there are plenty of conservative clergy in our conference who are not thrilled with allowing LGBTQIA persons into the clergy.
So why wasn’t there discussion?
You’d think I’d be thrilled, but I’m not. Discussion would have been difficult and maybe even emotionally painful, but at least everyone’s opinion could have been heard.
I fear that we’ve silenced the conservatives in our conference, and that isn’t a good thing. It isn’t a good thing at all.
For years and years, my LGBTQIA brothers and sisters have sat in silence, closeted, unable to be their true selves for fear of the rejection they might receive and the losses they might have had to endure. They could be clergy, but only if they effectively passed for heterosexuals. Until recently, the authentic voices of Methodist LGBTQIA persons were silenced by the Book of Discipline that stated that being a LGBTQIA person was against Christian teaching and therefore disqualified you for ordained ministry.** The tide has slowly turned and more and more Methodists now support the full ordination of LGBTQIA persons, but that can never undo the years of silence and forced invisibility they endured. What the Church has done over the years to non-heterosexual persons who felt called into ministry breaks my heart.
My broken heart serves me well. I am unwilling to participate in that kind of silencing and forced invisibility a second time…not even when I disagree with the voices of those who I’m silencing. Not even when I believe I stand on the side of justice. I cannot participate in silencing my conservative siblings and consider myself righteous, because all I have done is swap one kind of oppression and discrimination for another.
If discrimination is wrong, then discrimination is WRONG even when the discrimination silences your opponent or even your enemy.
I am not advocating for a return to hate-speech about gays and lesbians. There is no need for hate speech on either side of any debate, nor is there any need for condemnation or negative labeling.
The bottom line is that in the middle of all my joy and celebration, I am watching to make sure that we don’t simply turn the tables on the conservatives, rendering them silent and invisible.
If you are reading this and you are one of my conservative siblings in the UMC, know that I am thinking of you and praying for you. Don’t be silent. Your voice is crucial to maintaining balance in our denomination. Moreover, I keep hoping that one day both sides will find themselves gravitating closer and closer to the middle of our theological seesaw…until we can simply hold hands and declare ourselves unified.
Then no one will have to be silent and invisible, and wouldn’t that look just like the Kingdom?
** The United Methodist Book of Discipline hasn’t changed in this regard; our conference has decided that questions regarding sexuality are not relevant to readiness for, or effectiveness in, ministry and therefore will not be discussed as a part of considerations for commissioning or ordination. Any information about sexuality that is revealed in the course of the interviews and theological examinations will not be held against the candidate. We don’t engage in ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’ but instead in a policy of ‘Why is that important?’ and ‘Don’t be skanky (promiscuous) if you’re going to be a minister!’