One Year

It’s been one year since I walked out of my District Superintendent’s office and texted my husband. “It’s over. I’m done. I’m sorry.” I’d been removed from pastoral ministry for presiding over a same-sex wedding the previous November. I remember texting my husband, my pastoral mentor and my squad of friends in our group chat. I said something different to each of them, but the short and sweet message I sent to my husband is the one I remember most.

I was mad. I was sobbing. I was embarrassed. You see, I had left my six-figure corporate job only a few months earlier because I wasn’t able to fully engage in my call to ministry. I’d left a cushy and comfortable gig for an unknown path of work in the streets and in congregational connection. It had been a really big deal for me to walk away from such security. I’d promised my husband that we’d be okay. I’d promised him that my work with the church would be one of a few pieces of work that I’d bundle together in order to ensure that our mortgage still got paid and we didn’t default on any bills. I’d sworn that this leap of faith would not harm us.

It’s over. I’m done. I’m sorry.

In making a conscious decision to pastor people – in all ways, at all times, #365, I’d broken hearts in the churches I served. Some understood and were radically supportive. Some were furious with me. Some asked how they could help. Some asked me to quietly go away. Some called me courageous. Others called me dangerous. Some were desperate to not see me go. Others called me “capable of sabotage.” Some asked how they could support me. Others wished I’d never become involved in the church I loved. Sometimes the kingdom of God can feel like a bipolar existence…

It’s over. I’m done. I’m sorry.

I was forced to find courage where I had never had it before. Inside I was emotionally hemorrhaging and somehow had to triage my heart in a way that I could have conversations with people who weren’t at all happy with me. I was forced to report several death threats that I received online to authorities. I had to sit before church committees that consisted of people who once loved me and stand strong in the midst of their anger and unkind words. I had to tell my father, the conservative current patriarch of the family who taught me to love Methodism, that I’d been fired. My story was shared online by people who had absolutely no idea who I was or what the tone of my heart was. They said brutal things. I was interviewed again. And again. And again.

It’s over. I’m done. I’m sorry.

 

I spent time with the women who I married. I listened to their anger, their frustration and their tears. I cried with them. I heard the anger of my group of friends they wondered who could have possibly disliked me so much that they anonymously turn me in. Who lacked such a backbone and was such a coward that they were unable to make themselves known? Who disliked LGBTQ persons so much that they would seek the firing of a straight pastor as a form of punishment and then NOT have the guts to disclose who they are?

It’s over. I’m done. I’m sorry.

If you had asked me in the immediate aftermath if God was speaking into me, I would have said that I wasn’t sure. My wounds were screaming so loudly that, looking back, I might not have heard the voice of the Holy even if I’d been listening. I know that now. And yet, like the resilient people we are, the wounds began to regenerate and graft. I no longer felt the fresh rawness of hurt and instead felt the recognition of a hurt that once was – the phantom acknowledgement of a newly formed scar that would mark me forever. It remains tender but healed.

That is now over. I’m not done. I’m still sorry.

I spent this past week engaged in the ugly and unnecessary battle over human sexuality at the United Methodist General Conference in St Louis. There were times where I felt as if someone was yanking on my scar to a point of pain. I was convinced it would break back open. I was certain that they knew exactly how to poke at me in order to split my heart wide again. When I would be close to the breaking point, a public witness would spawn me to action. When I was close to tears, a strange arm would wrap around me and somehow ward off tears that were guaranteed to spill over my bottom lid. When I felt defeated, JJ Warren (or a cloned version) arose from the delegate floor to breathe life into me.

Each day I began to understand what had happened over the last 365. Like grief tends to do, one day you weep and another day you dance, never noticing the time in between that healed you into movement. I still struggle to figure out how the bills are getting paid each month. I still lament the friends who left my side, not yet to return. I desperately miss pastoral ministry in all its beauty and challenge. I also intimately understand that my straight, CIS privilege afforded me the capacity to break the rule in the first place.

It’s been one year since I was fired for doing the right thing. It’s been 365 days of waking up and realizing that I don’t have a congregation to pastor to. It’s been 52 weeks of Sundays, still showing up and worshipping alongside the congregations that I’m no longer able to serve. It’s been 12 months of mortgages, car payments, bills and prayers. But it’s also been thousands of hours of recognition that there is SO MUCH work still to be done. There are so many hearts who don’t yet see the humanity in all. There are so many Christians who would much rather quote biblical law than follow the example of the Savior they claim to serve. There are opportunities every day to lift up the voices of queer leaders of color. There are chances in every moment to acknowledge that I should be a follower in this work as much as I should be a leader. There are hearts yet to be changed. There is justice yet to be attained. There is hope yet to be fulfilled. As such,

It’s NOT over.

I’m NOT done.

I’m NO LONGER sorry.

 

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Words Matter – And the Words of the UMC Episcopacy Are Not Enough

We are mere weeks from The United Methodist Church convening in St Louis to discuss the overdue changes to the Book of Discipline. People are arriving at their camps of opinion with firm belief – most unwilling to budge or negotiate. In other words, the body of Christ has gotten ugly. Mean.

In an attempt to quell the fears of queer folk, our Bishops issued a letter of “strength for the body of Christ”. Some will believe that this letter is a good first step. I mean, when you are talking about decades of harm, “first steps” are always good, right? <insert eye roll>

 Here’s my problem. This letter uses language that is as centrist as is comes. It’s safe. It doesn’t challenge anything. Not to mention, it will make the episcopacy feel as if they have done their part in this battle. It sets them up to be able to say “But, we wrote a letter! We said we love them! We said we want peace!”

Here are my problems:

1. Confession does not equal accountability or repentance: The bishops “confess participation in the harm (they) have done to one another and to the LGBTQ community.” And yet, confession and repentance aren’t the same thing – not even remotely. In the bishops’ desperation to be done with the shame they know they partially caused, they confessed. But this letter appears that they’ve done so, exhaled and closed the book. This should be just the beginning of the conversation they are having, not the end. The lack of accountability in this letter causes me tears and anger pangs.

2. Safe space does not exist: There is no talk of the ways in which queer folks haven’t been SAFE in congregations for generations. That their very bodies have been in danger. That there have been no steps to mitigate or establish a precedent for how hate crimes against them are punished within the walls of the church. Sure, there are rules for general criminology, but we all know that the vast number of crime against queer folk in our congregations is either 1) unreported or 2) reported and then skewed so as to not highlight identity as the reason why.

3. The commitment is shallow: The letter states that the bishops “commit themselves to help people who disagree with each other to have conversations that include, honor, and respect people with different convictions”. How, exactly, do they intend to do this? Why should the previous actions of some of the very people responsible for the harm done to LGBT+ folks not be expected to continue? Why should some of the very bishops who helped to draft the even more harmful (hard to believe that’s even possible) Traditional Plan be trusted to commit to this kind of help? Is honorable and respectable conversation even helpful?

We have been having conversations for decades. We have been fighting for YEARS. We have been harmed and brutalized, minimized and chastised. We have been engaged in a fight for the rights for all while others have been doing their very best to shun and discriminate. We have been begging for visibility and equality in this denomination in ways that would embarrass the Christ we follow.

Yes, I’m tired.
Yes, I’m frustrated.
Yes, I’m mad as hell.
And no, I won’t give the bishops of the United Methodist Church a pass simply because they found it in themselves to extend a leafless olive branch to a body of humans who are worth the entire damn grove.