Progressive Methodists, This is Your Prophetic Moment
There has been an appalling lack of ecclesial disobedience in the United Methodist Church when it comes to the full humanity and inclusion of LGBTQ+ people.
I was the first openly gay pastor in the Vineyard USA movement — perhaps in the entirety of the evangelical orbit. I was fired in 2014, and my lead pastor, Ken Wilson, was fired for refusing to fire me. We now co-pastor a beautiful church called Blue Ocean Faith Ann Arbor (a2blue.org).
UMC, where are your pastors and lay leaders willing to lay their jobs on the line for the vulnerable and outcast?
If you believe LGBTQ+ people are children of God, that our orientation can’t be “fixed” or changed, and that it’s a cruel yoke to ask people not called to celibacy to bear such a life, then you need to make your prophetic stand on our behalf now.
Pick up your crosses. One of our nation’s greatest prophets, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.” The LGBTQ+ people in your faith communities do not have enough power to demand inclusion on their own — they need allies. Not allies who are more concerned with job stability or keeping everyone happy — allies willing to suffer, to lose their licenses, to bear the same stigma of the outcasts they represent. Allies will always carry and bear the stigma of the vulnerable, if they are true allies. Jesus still has wounds on his resurrected body.
What will this call for? Trust in Jesus.
When I was in the midst of coming out publicly, with all that ensued, a friend came by my office at the church and reminded me of a text from the gospel of Luke where Jesus spends forty days in the wilderness before starting his public ministry (Lk. 4:1–13).
After reminding me of the passage, he said this to me: “First, don’t try to create your own strength. You’ll be tempted, like Jesus in the wilderness, to try and make bread out of stones, but you can’t. The only bread you need is the bread of life, Jesus. He is all the strength you’ll need, because you won’t be able to find enough of your own strength to do this without him. Talk to him about what you need and ask him to provide for you. He is your sustenance.
“Second, don’t play political power games. Remember, Satan told Jesus that if he’d bow down then all the kingdoms of earth could be his, without having to walk the road of suffering Jesus would need to walk to achieve that same end without selling his soul. Our power on this earth does not rely power games; power in the kingdom of God is upside down — it works by laying down power. We lay down our power to control situations and people (who can’t be controlled — many of us have surely tried!) and instead wholly trust in the person of Jesus. He has the ability to walk with us through suffering that leads to life. He brings life out of death and he knows suffering. Don’t play power games — follow Jesus.
“And third, don’t look to dramatic acts that prove God’s on your side. You don’t need that. You don’t need to throw yourself off a building to prove that angels will catch you. Rest in the knowledge that God is good, God is here, and God wants what’s best for you. Be like a child resting in arms of your dad, because that’s the safest place and it’s the place from which you will operate with the most spiritual authority. Rest in God and lean in to his person.”
It’s all you have.
It’s your best way forward.
He’s either real or he’s not. This works or it doesn’t.
And I thought: All of my discipleship, all of my serving throughout my life, all my ministry leading, my pastoring, all of my Scripture study, all of my overseas ministry work — it all boiled down to whether or not I’d learned to trust God when I most needed him. Did I know and trust Jesus enough to model his desires as opposed to the many fluctuating, dehumanizing, self-serving, and chaotic desires swirling in people around me? As Jesus was tested in the wilderness, so we will be tested by God to see how much he can trust us with authority and influence.
How do we learn to trust Jesus? We practice. If you’re a UMC pastor, I hope you’ve been practicing this over and over in your life to prepare you for this moment. Lay down your power to stand with the oppressed.
Stand with the vulnerable.
Pick up your cross.
You will resurrect. I bear witness to the faithfulness of God in this respect.