Rewriting History

Taking the next step…

A sermon preached on Exodus 1:8-2:10, at Wesley Memorial UMC on August 27, 2017.       

        I wonder if those midwives saw it coming.

        When the Pharaoh shows up to speak to them directly, are they ready? Have they noticed the nervous decrees coming from the king’s palace, first forcing the Hebrew people into work gangs with harsh overseers and finally enslaving them (vv. 11-13)? What complaints and laments have Shiphrah and Puah heard as they spend hours at the bedsides of laboring women – women with husbands still out in fields and making bricks and forced into “all kinds of other cruel work” (v. 14)? Do they know their history – how it hasn’t always been this way between the Hebrews and Egyptians? Do they see how close the injustice and oppression are getting to their own door and the work of their own hands before they hear the Pharaoh’s knock?

            Let’s say they do.

            Let’s say they know it will come to this, eventually, this murderous decree in which they will each be complicit: “When you are helping the Hebrew women give birth and you see the baby being born, if it’s a boy, kill him. But if it’s a girl, you can let her live” (vv. 15-16). Let’s say they see it from a mile away and they know exactly how bad it will be and what they will be asked to do. How long do they watch it get closer? How many hushed conversations do they share with one another before the knock sounds? Do they rehearse different scenarios or do they know all along that they will lie straight to his face and save every last baby?

            Do they know the next step after that?

            I imagine they know they’ll get away with it for a little while, birthing being the domain of women. It will be easy to birth the babies without the king or his men seeing what happens. But after that, when Pharaoh’s snoops notice girl and boy babies, what then? Are Shiphrah and Puah ready with the next step or do they find it along the way?

            This time he calls them in to his house and challenges them directly: “Why are you doing this? Why are you letting the baby boys live?” Well, sir, Hebrew women are much stronger and they give birth before we even arrive on the scene (vv. 18-19). And, birthing being the domain of women, he doesn’t have any information to the contrary so he buys it.

            The next time, he takes another course. He gives up on the midwives and goes straight to his own men, commanding them to throw live baby boys into the Nile to drown (v. 22).

            But justice is a team sport.

            Though none of them is named at this point in the story, we move now to the family of Moses. His mother gives birth to him and, like God surveying the light and the waters and the animals at creation, she sees that her baby is good and she keeps him hidden and safe with her for three months (cf. Genesis creation and Exodus 2:2, as noted by Karla Suomaia at Working Preacher).  When she thinks it’s too dangerous to keep him hidden any longer, she puts him in a waterproofed-with-tar basket and floats it in amongst the reeds at the river’s shallow edge (2: 2-3).

            And while the baby is floating there the Pharaoh’s own daughter happens to be bathing nearby and she finds the basket. And she feels sorry for the baby. The prescribed response for someone in her social and family position is to have the baby killed or at least to show the basket of insubordination to her father. But she steps out of her prescribed role and feels sorry for the baby, and her response is compassion (vv. 5-6).

            At which point, the baby’s sister, who’s been nearby, watching protectively ever since her mother gently placed the basket in the river, steps up to the Pharaoh’s daughter. Helpful royal subject that she is, she offers, “Would you like me to find one of the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” (v. 7).

            This is a handy solution for everyone involved: The baby goes back home, of course. But maybe the Pharaoh’s daughter judiciously buys some time. Would her father kill the baby himself if she brings him home that day? Does she know that in a few months, when the baby is a toddler, he will be out of danger?

            The last leg of the insurrectionist journey – at least in this part of the baby’s story – is the day his own mother hands him over to the daughter of the Pharaoh, right into the family of the man who wanted him killed before his first breath. What does she do when she gets back home? Does she hatch plans to free him from the palace or does she hang around the gates hoping for a glimpse of him as he grows up? Does she know what she will do if she ever sees her boy again?

            I’m asking a lot of questions because this story demands it. (Be suspicious of anyone who wants to tell you once-and-for-all, case-closed, exactly what a biblical text means.) This story is the against-all-odds origin story of the man we know by the last verse of the passage is Moses – the man God will continue to call out of the water and into new lands and up mountains and across deserts, leading a nation behind him. It’s a foundational story, on which a huge swath of the Jewish and then Christian story builds.

            And right there, at the very beginning, are Shiphrah and Puah. Without them, the rest of it can’t happen. Notice how crucial their bravery is. Notice how they are able to influence the beginning of a nation from their precise social situation, in the course of their every day work.

           Do Shiphrah and Puah see it coming? Does the baby’s mother know what she will do after those first three months? Does his sister know what she will do next, from her perch by the riverside, waiting to see who will happen upon her baby brother? Does the baby’s mother break her own heart every day she nurses her own son while wondering what will happen when he is weaned?

            I don’t know about y’all, but I have a fondness for plans. I like knowing the next step. I find comfort in the thought that my efforts are “going somewhere.” Even if you have a more relaxed relationship to planning, you know our culture loves the idea of “cost-benefit analysis” and “demonstrated results.” As a people, we tend to be reluctant to risk when we can’t see the payoff. Even when it comes to something we are passionate about, we might want to study it a while longer and be sure that if we set off in a certain direction, we will get where we think we are headed.

            This is what intrigues me about Shiphrah and Puah. I don’t think they have this luxury or this hang-up. They seem guided by their knowledge of and relationship with God, so that it is crystal clear to them that they will never be killing babies for Pharaoh. I doubt the rest of the story is clear. I doubt they have any idea of their next step until they take it.

            I want to be more like Shiphrah and Puah. I’m afraid that if I were in their situation I might say very “reasonable” sounding things like, So I don’t kill the babies and then what? Someone else kills them anyway – and then comes to kill me? How does that help our cause?

            Or, closer to home: So we take down some statues, and then what? What part of history do we “rewrite” next?

            But they don’t have to know the next step – only the one right in front of them at that moment. And they take it. They do everything in their power, at each point in time where any bit of power is in their hands, to do the next right thing. And when the story moves away from them – when the power to act moves into the womb and the hands of the baby’s mother – she does the next right thing. And then her daughter and the Pharaoh’s daughter each do their things. The ball gets passed – inelegantly, surprisingly, in a completely unplanned fashion – from one woman to the next, resisting and refusing to cooperate with evil, one decision at a time.

            Justice is a team sport and it’s also a marathon, not a sprint. Shiphrah and Puah don’t complete the mission – just their mission. It’s the combined efforts of all of these women, one by one, over time that moves the needle of justice and begins the building of a nation.

            None of us needs to know where this will end in order to risk for Love. None of us needs to be an expert in American or Confederate history in order to listen to the pain spoken by our black and brown and Jewish and LGBTQ brothers and sisters. I don’t have to know, specifically, what I’ll do next week in order to take a step for justice right now. And if obscure Hebrew midwives like Shiphrah and Puah have enough power to start something important enough to become a nation, then so do we.

            Whether you saw it coming or not, whether you joined the counter-protests when the white supremacists marched here two weeks ago or not, there is a faithful next step. You do not have to know what city council should do or how to fix Virginia’s open carry laws. You do not have to re-learn and broaden your knowledge of history before you make a move, though reading might be one next step. On August 12th, Jan was stationed at the jail and our United Methodist colleagues Robert and Phil were providing safe space and medical care at First church; other ecumenical colleagues like Seth and Brittany were on the front lines, staring evil in the face. We are not all called to the same next step. Justice is a team sport and it’s a marathon. There will be more headed our way. If the invitation to cooperate with evil can find its way to Shiphrah and Puah, it will pound on our doors, too. Again.

            I don’t just mean the doors of our town. The church has work to do. The United Methodist church has been complicit in the evils of racism, once splitting into northern and southern churches over it and, even earlier, birthing the AME Church by our refusal to recognize Richard Allen’s call to preach. We have been content to offer charity when we’ve been called to work for justice. We are all called to be midwives for God, helping to bring about the kingdom of God and to live here in this community as if that reality is already here in its fullness. We are all already set free to do this justice work. In Christ, we have been made one family: neither Greek nor Jew, slave nor free, male nor female (Galatians 3: 28)… Which does not mean Yeah, we’ve treated one another poorly in the past but Jesus fixed all that. Nor does it mean that the church has already arrived. Evil pounds on these doors, too. And sometimes, as in the culture at large, we can’t hear it or we call it by other names like “law” or “custom” or “how it’s always been” or “what the bible says.”

            We are set free to live radically loving, rule-breaking, decree-defying, justice-flowing lives – and we are called to start from exactly where we are without much time to plan and with whatever tools we have on hand. Right where we are in the birthing room, the board room, the lecture hall, the barista counter, the cookout, the family dinner, the school PTA meeting…

            Without Shiphrah and Puah and the women who took the ball after them, we might have an entirely different story. It’s the same here in Charlottesville and in our country right now.

            We’ll be writing history, one way or another. One step at a time.

            All you have to know right now is which direction Love is.

            Thanks be to God!

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Photo © Woody Sherman, used with permission.

Oh, UMC. A Lament.

Last weekend I had the honor of serving as celebrant for the wedding of two recently graduated alumni.  I’ve known both the bride and groom for their entire undergraduate careers, and their wedding brought three reception tables’s worth of Wesley students and alumni to town.  After they were married at the church, we spent a gorgeous early summer evening, sun descending, shadows gathering, on a luscious winery estate lawn, sipping drinks and enjoying the company and the occasion.

Late into the evening, as shadows gave way to stars, and it couldn’t get any more delicious, Meredith* said, “Can I ask you a question?”

I was sitting next to my husband, flanked on one side by an alumna from last year and on the other side by Meredith, who just graduated in May and who will be coming back to grad school in a year.  It so happens both of these alumnae are gay.

Wesley students visiting the Center for Civil and Human Rights, Atlanta, GA.

Wesley students visiting the Center for Civil and Human Rights, Atlanta, GA.

Meredith said, “I know you can’t do a wedding for me and, obviously, it’s a ways off because I don’t have anyone in mind, but at this point, I don’t have another minister.  You know me best and you’re still my minister.  Even if you couldn’t be the one to marry me, would you do my pre-marital counseling?”

I have known Meredith her entire undergraduate career and, before that, her sister.  I am booked to be the officiant for her sister’s wedding next year (to yet another Wesley alumnus) and was about to meet with that couple for their first pre-marital meeting this week, which is partly why Meredith was asking.

She told me she’d spent two hours on the phone with her sister earlier in the week, talking about how excited she was to start planning for her wedding and marriage.  Meredith, who grew up in the church just like her sister, and who did the hard work of making space for a faith community during college (just like her sister), and who is determined to keep growing in her discipleship into her adult years and her future relationships, including marriage (just like her sister) – this beautiful young beloved child of God did not even ask me, her pastor, if I’d do her one-day wedding.  Even her question was trimmed down to size for compliance with our current UMC Discipline.  All she asked me is if, even though it may not be possible for me to be the celebrant at her wedding one day, could she please spend time with me preparing for it?  Meredith, whose discipleship and faith community has been as similar as possible to her own sister’s for their whole lives, and who learned well the Church’s own teaching about the importance of having a pastoral spiritual guide and a gathered community of faith for life’s passages, didn’t even ask me for what she really wants and needs.  And deserves.

It sickens me to say she learned those other lessons our Church is teaching, too – that not all of what we do and say is meant for her.  I feel sick to my stomach and teary just writing this.

Imagine how difficult it was for me on that beautiful night, in the midst of our beloved gathered community, to hear Meredith ask for such a small crumb from the children’s table (Matthew 15: 21-28; Mark 7: 24-30).

Now imagine how hard it was for her.

She made it easier on me than she should have.  Both she and the other alumna were kind and generous in the conversation we had, but that moment dampened the evening for me – not that she brought it up, but that she had to at all.

There is no amount of forethought and hypothesis that can predict what you’ll actually do, given the right situation.  Though this is still where I stand, I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep standing here.

Oh, UMC, don’t make me do this!  Don’t make me choose you over God’s own children.  Don’t make me choose the Gospel over you.

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*Meredith gave me permission to use her name and to write about this, and said, “I hope the UMC can get it together by the time I want to get married.”  Me, too.

Conference Conversation

It’s easy to gripe about Annual Conference.  Too easy.  Uncomfortable seats, long drives, longer hours, the Bishop can’t see people standing up waiting to speak at the microphones, the drums are too loud, there aren’t enough drums….  I am not immune to the complaining.

I often imagine a wonderful retreat-like locale, where we could spread out in time and space and really be together.  I picture walking across a green campus to a dining hall for breakfast and I wonder how the tone of our annual gathering would change if we were “there” when we got there — no more driving in long snaking lines out to lunch and dinner, no more traipsing back to the hotel dead tired late at night then rushing to get a parking space in the morning.  If we held our Annual Conference at a place like Lake Junaluska, would we hold it differently?  Would it be less of a Christiany business meeting with pre-planned entertainment and stunts?  Would it be more spacious and leisurely and would we actually participate in the holy part of holy conferencing?

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So much better than a convention center. A girl can dream, right?

One of the most-anticipated parts of Annual Conference each year are the resolutions.  These are submitted in advance and are usually pleas for our church to make a statement about something like fracking or predatory lending.  They often anticipate an upcoming General Conference (the international United Methodist gathering every four years) and they are aimed at changing our polity or our church’s stance or statement on a particular issue.

As with much of the church, our corner of United Methodism is in constant conversation about sexuality issues.  One of this year’s resolutions was about same sex marriage, though we never talked about the resolution itself.  We spent the measly half hour allotted to discuss whether or not to discuss it right then or put it off for a year.

At the opening of Conference our Bishop announced a series of conversations that will be held during this next year, opportunities to delve prayerfully over time into issues around sexuality and the church.  When it came time for resolutions, someone made a motion to put off talking about the submitted same sex marriage resolution in favor of the prayerful conversation model being put forth by the Bishop.  That’s what we spent our half hour deciding and that’s what passed:  we will engage in conversations throughout the conference and throughout the year.

I’m not going to complain about that decision or about the way we handle resolutions generally.  I want to talk about conversation.

We have an opportunity to get to know one another better and to listen to the pain and promise in each other’s stories.  How do we prepare ourselves to listen well, faithfully, lovingly?  How do we listen when we don’t like what we are hearing?  How do we listen without immediately, simultaneously,  making ready our response?  When we are certain of the ethics and theology, how do we listen to contradictory views?  When we are in conversation with someone who is undecided, how to we engage with her as a person rather than another number to win to our side?

I don’t envy those who will organize and moderate these conversations.  It’s a tough job that deserves to be done well.  They are long overdue so people on all sides are raring to go, or at least to speak.  I wonder how the moderators will approach the process.  Are we trying to get one another to agree or to agree a little more?  Are we merely trying to “take the temperature” of this corner of United Methodism?  Will we report on the tenor of the conversations in order to assess where we are or are they meant as preamble to the one we put off and may have next year at Conference?  How will we encourage people to participate?  How will we facilitate deep, prayerful listening without shutting down passionate and pent up emotion?

I know where God has led me on these issues and where I hope our church will eventually go.  I don’t know how to get us there and I don’t have many answers for the questions I’m posing here.

I do have a few suggestions on how to proceed during this next year in Virginia:

Hold at least one conversation in every district of our conference.  It should be easy to get to a conversation nearby.  Allow and encourage folks to attend any/all that are convenient for them (not just the one(s) in their district).

Hold them on different days and in every month between now and our next Annual Conference.  Do not make assumptions about when people have time off or time to fit this in.  Again, if should be easy to make it to at least one conversation.  Hold them on Saturdays and weekdays.  Hold them during the day and in the early evening.

Require all members of Annual Conference (clergy and laity) to attend at least one conversation.  If we achieve an amazing conversational turnout (like half of all United Methodists in the Virginia Conference) but only half of those folks actually attend Annual Conference next June, we still aren’t having the same conversation.  If this is important enough to spend the year on, make it a requirement for attending Annual Conference as a member.

Publicize the conversations themselves (when and where) and some of what’s coming out of them.  Make it a media blitz and one of the communication strategies for our conference in the coming year so there is no excuse for being unaware of or uninvolved in this.  Use the email lists, conference website, Facebook, Twitter, e-Advocate, and The Advocate (to name a few) to consistently hold this up as something we are spending time on together.

Arrange the Bible study sessions of Annual Conference around this topic.  Our Book of Discipline makes it clear how we as United Methodists read scripture This doesn’t mean we will all understand every passage in the same way but it does rule out some lazy scholarship and incendiary off-base “readings.”  Help us, as a group, to read together in the context of this ongoing conversation.  Give the gathered body this grounding so that when someone veers off course, the Bishop or another moderator can gently guide them back with authority and in the context of an explicitly shared understanding of scripture.  At the very least, then we’d all be talking about the same thing when we talk about “what the Bible says.”

Pray.  Without prayerful and open hearts we won’t get anywhere.  We need more than our own experiences, theologies, and interpretations — no matter how faithful and hard won.  We need God’s Spirit to breathe in us and inspire the conversation.

Part of me dreads this conversation because I’ve been having it for more than 25 years now.  But I’m going to practice patience and listening and engage in it as well as I am able…Take a deep breath.  Listen.  Take part in the conversation.  May the Breath of God disrupt our usual conversations and inspire every moment.

 

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photo credit:  “Lake Junaluska,” © 2010 by justinknabb, CC BY-SA 2.0

Where I Stand

A friend asked me recently, commenting on the news of United Methodist clergy celebrating weddings for same-sex couples, “Where do you stand?”  Specifically, she wanted to know what I would do if a same-sex couple came to me to celebrate their wedding.

It’s not a short answer.

Our church’s fights over sexuality are part of why it took me so long to be ordained.  If I’m honest, I was hearing God at least as far back as college but was still resisting the call even during seminary.  Besides a Jonah-like stubborn streak, the sexuality wars were part of my resistance.  Some of the people who inspired me most in ministry, who gave me a vision for what it could be like to serve in the church, are gay.  I watched as they switched gears into other careers and callings.  I went to seminary with some who would be much stronger clergy then I am, but who don’t have that option available, based on their God-given sexuality. 

logo for the Reconciling Ministries Network

For too long I thought accepting God’s call to ordained ministry meant accepting everything the United Methodist Church currently states in its Book of Discipline.  (Here’s the section called The Social Principles, where our positions on most cultural issues are found.  We currently do not ordain “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” nor are clergy permitted to officiate or churches permitted to host same-sex ceremonies.)  I knew I couldn’t do that with integrity and it held me back.  I didn’t exactly have to spend time in the belly of a whale, but through years of wrestling and running I came to understand it differently.  I realized I need to be able to articulate the church’s current positions but complete agreement on non-doctrinal matters was not part of the call.

During the Jonah years, during the long-awaited ordination process, and during my ministry I have not been quiet about my disagreement.  In my preaching, teaching, conversation, writing, witness and pastoral care, I have not been quiet.  But let me be crystal clear:  love is love; I fully support LGBTQ people, marriage equality, and ordination regardless of sexuality.  I think our church is wrong on this and I’m inspired by the rumblings and protests and what feels like more and more energy in the right direction.  I am rooting for change and I am trying to help enact it.

Last spring I signed An Altar for All.  I really wanted to sign the first option, that I would officiate at same-sex weddings.  After thought, prayer, and a long conversation with my husband, I signed the second option, which is “clergyperson supportive of others officiating same-sex ceremonies.” 

Of course I wanted to sign option one.  Of course I want to be able to say yes when students, alumni, and friends come to me asking to be married.  I want all of them to know they can come and I can say yes.

We’re not there yet.

The problem with taking a long time to answer God’s call to ordained ministry is I had plenty of time to get really clear on what I was answering.  The call is from God and my deepest allegiance is there, which is why I understand and support clergy who feel called to act in defiance of our current Book of Discipline (a document that is by its nature changeable, edited every four years at General Conference).  But for reasons I still don’t fully understand, God called me to ministry in the United Methodist Church and I believe God is still calling me to ministry in this church. 

When my husband and I discussed this and the dynamics of institutional change, he said, “Not everyone can be the point of the spear.”  Some are called to this.  Some are called to work more incrementally, from within the system as it currently exists.  I would love to be the point of the spear.  My ego wants that.  But being a Christian means God’s call takes precedence over the way I would write the story. 

I still hear God calling me to ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church.  And I believe God is working in the church and transforming individuals and the institution.  I hope the work goes quickly and I am trying to be part of that work – because I believe the church is better with me in it.  That’s not always a comfortable or ego-pleasing place to be, but it’s the place I feel called to be.

I don’t know what will happen in our church.  We seem to be gaining momentum, at least in the United States.  I don’t know if we’ll be tempted to split or if we’ll give in to that temptation.  Maybe, if we do, it won’t be temptation but yet another call.  I can’t tell from here.

All I can tell you is that, for now, I would have to say no to officiating at a same-sex ceremony.  Even as my heart would want to scream yes and even as I continue to work for change in the institution.  Even as it breaks my heart that we’re still here and still stuck.  Even as I would be unable to serve as a juror in a clergy trial because I’d never find someone “guilty” of officiating a same-sex wedding.  Even as it would be both a huge victory and a huge embarrassment to have the Commonwealth of Virginia “beat us to it.” 

But the end of the story is never where we think it is with God.  We worship a wily and confounding God who is surely stirring hearts and minds as She blows through this institution, messing with our ideas, allegiances, sacred cows, and callings.  So I keep attentive, keep listening, keep hopeful.  And I keep working for change, for justice.

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Photo credit:  Reconciling Ministries Network

Fence-sitting and Pastoral Boundaries

Our church is fighting in public.  Again.  This month – this week in particular – it’s a church trial in Pennsylvania.  Rev. Frank Schaefer is on trial for officiating at the wedding of his son, who is gay.  public domain image_black and white picture of throngs of Dartmouth students sitting on a fence

Currently our United Methodist Book of Discipline, in a feat of fence-sitting “balance,” considers every human regardless of sexuality to be an individual of “sacred worth” but maintains that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.”  We do not allow people to be clergy if they are “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” but we hold fast to (most) civil rights for LGBT people and unequivocally condemn violence against them . Our churches are not permitted to host weddings for same-sex couples, neither are our pastors permitted to officiate at these weddings. 

It’s an uncomfortable fence and we have been straddling it for a while.

The basic details in the Schaefer trial are this:  His son asked him to officiate at his wedding and Schaefer agreed.  The pastor told his district superintendent but not his congregation.  Life and ministry went on.  Over 5 years later – in the month when the statute of limitations would have expired for this “offense” – a member of Schaefer’s church filed a complaint.  The member, Jon Boger, was by this point living in another state and not involved in any church congregation but his membership was still on record at Schaefer’s church.  Boger’s mother worked at the church and had recently been fired.

Many have noticed the unusual timing of Boger’s complaint (many years after the wedding but just in time to cause trouble) and his own anger and presumed retaliation over his mother’s job loss.  It certainly explains a lot. 

Unfortunately, it doesn’t explain why we went ahead with a trial clearly forged out of anger and vengeance but that just happened to have an actual complaint wrapped up in the middle.  If the Council of Bishops has “discretion as the chief pastors of the church over the manner, purpose, and conduct of any supervisory response and just resolution under ‘fair process’” then they have missed a golden opportunity to exercise that discretion – especially given the retaliatory nature of the so-called complaint.  To make it even plainer:  If Boger had expressed his true complaint (i.e.,” You fired my mom!”) and this wouldn’t have gone to trial, why did it proceed?  A genuinely contentious and heartbreaking issue has been hijacked to serve another purpose and the Council sat by while it played out.

Something else bothering me throughout conversations about this trial is the well-meaning but theologically insubstantial point that Schaefer did this wedding for his own son.  This line of reasoning seems to posit that since it was a family matter, charges, punishments, and what’s at state theologically and pastorally are different.  Indeed, Schaefer may be speaking in a mixed way about both his duty as a father and his duty as a pastor – and who could blame him?

But for those of us observing and praying and talking about this from a few steps back, I find it dangerous to talk about pastoral-priestly actions clergy take within their own families as somehow separate from their vocation and ordination “to the rest of us.”  I am a pastor all the time but it is dangerous to think of myself as a pastor to my husband, for example.  That is not my role in that relationship.  This doesn’t mean we never officiate at funerals or weddings or baptisms within our own families, but it does require greater clarity on the part of the pastor as to her motivations and role in those moments. 

In the terms I hear Jesus using (“Woman here is your son”; “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?”), he more often points us outside of our intimate and familial circles to those unrelated by blood, even those we don’t yet know or like or understand.  In theological terms, “he was doing it for his own son” seems to hold less water than “he did it for a church member” or “he did it for a person from the neighborhood who he didn’t know previously.” 

I say this not to diminish Schaefer’s actions but to ask all of us to consider the terrain more closely.  The argument that the church should go easy on him because he “just” did this for his son is a weak argument and not theologically sound.  The body of Christ forms us into a new family, creating brothers and sisters where before there were strangers.  The body of Christ does not call us to close ranks and minister to those closest to us but rather to extend the good news of Christ’s gospel to people and places where we are uncomfortable, challenged, or even afraid to go.

It seems clear to me Schaefer was acting both as a loving father and a minister of the gospel when he agreed to officiate at his son’s wedding.  He has said, “I did not want to make this a protest about the doctrine of the church. I wasn’t trying to be an advocate.  I just wanted this to be a beautiful family affair, and it was that.”  His ongoing concern for where his congregation is on these issues, even as he sought to minister to his son and respond to the call of the gospel, strikes me as pastoral (not cowardly or culpable as Boger and others might imply).  Schaefer has also said, “I love the United Methodist Church. I’ve been a minister for almost 20 years and there are so many good things about the United Methodist Church except for that one rule.” 

I support what Schaefer did, along with the actions of Bishops Swenson and Talbert and the group effort of solidarity earlier this month elsewhere in Pennsylvania.  I want our church to get off the fence and I want us to match our actions and our Discipline to the radically inclusive and norm-breaking love of Christ.  Of course, I want us to get off the fence in one particular direction:  full inclusion of all people in the full life of the church. 

I have no idea if this will happen or when.  But I write about it and I pray for it.  And I pray we United Methodists will remember both Jesus and John Wesley, who said, “As to all opinions which do not strike at the root of Christianity, we think and let think.”  The sexuality issues we are fighting about are not at the root of Christianity.  But to refuse full inclusion in the body of Christ to our brothers and sisters chops right into the root and threatens to sever it.  It’s a refusal to see Jesus for who he is (Matthew 25: 31-46).

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photo credit:  public domain