§ § §
INTRO: Years ago I represented the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists on the board of the Institute for Welcoming Resources, an ecumenical coalition of networks within multiple Protestant bodies advocating for the full inclusion of the LGBTQ community within the life of the church. On the way home from one of those meetings, I began a mental outline of what would become my sermon on Epiphany Sunday. Below is an excerpt.
On the plane coming home I began composing a new sermon or essay—Queer Theology 101—dealing with the unpredictability, the “foolishness,” the queerness of God in choosing covenant partners and the destabilizing effect on all existing political arrangements and established orthodoxies. Here are some of the points it would include:
While Queer theology flows from the historically particular experience of LGBTQ folk, it is not only for them.
The Queer theology I envision points to the insistence of the Apostles Peter and Paul that Gentiles were to be welcomed into the household of faith. I can assure you that that the question was as controversial then as the question of gays in the church is now.
Queer theology references Jesus’ selection of the unclean Samaritan as a model of faith in the coming Reign of God; of pagan astrologers as the first to recognize the significance of that bright star announcing Mary’s birth pangs; of Ruth’s inclusion in Jesus’ genealogy, even though she was a Moabite, a stranger to the household of faith; of a black Baptist preacher, from Georgia of all places—Martin Luther King Jr.—who would come to be recognized among the leading figures in our republic’s pantheon of heroes and the church’s prophetic tradition. The Bible is chocked full of such queerness.
This is the heart of Epiphany’s announcement. Though the news is good, especially for those who have had no place at the table of bounty, those currently managing and policing the table sense the terror of this message. And they will resist it, with vicious propaganda, virulent threats and public intimidation, even with bloody violence.
News of Jesus’ birth, as T.S. Eliot wrote in his Magi poem, will be “hard and bitter agony” for some. And we could find ourselves in the middle of such a struggle.
But already, a week ahead of another birth anniversary of Gospel proportion [Dr. King’s], we can hear the echo of that refrain, begun in the ancient prophets and carried on by enslaved, shamed, and belittled people ever since: How long? Not long. For we shall overcome. Thanks be to God.
INTRO: In February 2019 the United Methodist General Conference reaffirmed its previous ecclesial judgment against affirming the presence of LGBTQ folk in the life of its congregations. What follows below is a bit of my own commentary. Needless to say, Methodists are not the only denominational body being fractured over this matter—only, for now, theirs is the most public schism.
“A humble word of encouragement to my Wesleyan friends: On the United Methodist Church’s General Conference decision to ostracize queerfolk”
by Ken Sehested
Today’s hard news from the United Methodist General Conference made me remember something a friend (and United Methodist pastor) wrote some years ago about another travesty in the Wesleyan tradition.
“John Wesley recognized such violence hidden in the clean and tidy profits of slave traders and owners. He exposed it, addressing them with the fire of a prophet: ‘Thy hands, thy bed, thy furniture, thy house, thy lands are at present stained with blood.’
“He drew the Methodist societies effectively into abolitionism. The ‘General Rules’ [of the Methodist movement] began with the commitment to give evidence of salvation by ‘Doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is generally practiced.’ (‘Doing no harm’ is an 18th century synonym for nonviolence. . . .)
“The founding conference in the US called for the expulsion of any member participating in the slave trade . . . [though] little by little that commitment fell to the temptations of mainline compromise. By 1816, a committee reported to the General Conference that ‘in relation to slavery, little can be done to abolish a practice so contrary to the principles of moral justice . . . the evil appears past remedy. . . .’” (Bill Wylie-Kellermann, “Of Violence and Hope: Death Undone,” Response magazine)
This quote’s purpose is not to make anyone feel better. It’s simply a reminder that days like today are not new—and they will likely happen again in the future. What I am sure of is that, now and in the future, those steeled by Wesley’s courageous gospel vision are resilient and will continue to be troublesome to the wall builders. Today’s evil “appears past remedy.”
But only for a time. Times-up is coming. Attune sorrowful hearts to that melody that can only be heard by storm-stilled attention.
No doubt more than a few will respond to [the Methodist church’s] insult by joining the ranks of the “dones”—as in, I’m outta’ here, done with the church altogether. If so, I urge those who depart to resist the temptation to play solitaire in your spiritual life. Find another community of conscience and conviction, one that actually gathers, whether explicitly oriented to some faith tradition or not.
Too much of the “nones” tradition, of those claiming no religious affiliation, is fueled by the increasing isolationist and narcissistic tendencies that plague modernity in all its forms. The powers that be want to turn us all into consumers. That kind of “freedom” is the worst kind of bondage.
As Wendell Berry says, “It is not from ourselves that we learn to be better than we are.”
The expansive dream of the Beloved Community to which we pledge allegiance is but an empty slogan unless rooted in actual communities that, in one way or another, involve entangling with others. That’s how our choices refine and our voices resound.
Remember one more wise word from Wesley: There are no “Holy Solitaries . . . no holiness but social holiness.”
INTRO: In the middle of World War II, writes Heather Cox Richardson, the US War Department started publishing a series of weekly pamphlets “to help [the personnel] become better-informed men and women and therefore better soldiers.” In 1945, one of those was devoted to understanding fascism. It is worth your while to ponder how our own military leaders perceived this threat to democratic governance.
In a recent post, Richardson surveys this history and outlines three techniques used by fascists to achieve and maintain power:
“First, they would pit religious, racial, and economic groups against one another to break down national unity. Part of that effort to divide and conquer would be a ‘well-planned hate campaign against minority races, religions, and other groups.” —continue reading Richardson’s 30 May 2023 “Letters From An American” post
§ § §
Benediction. “Dedication.” The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus sings in solidarity with victims of the 12 June 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. (Click the “show more” button for more background.)
# # #