These are the words I spoke to my sleeping daughter upon returning home from Birmingham, Alabama, this weekend after witnessing the marriage of Joe Openshaw and Bobby Prince, performed by Bishop Melvin Talbert.
Dearest child of mine,
I wish you could have been there yesterday, as I sat in a church and witnessed history in the making. You see, when your father and I stood there at your baptism and the whole community of our local United Methodist Church promised to be with you through all aspects of your life, I had to ask myself if the Church really meant it.
I have known too many stories of heartache—stories of The United Methodist Church turning its back on its own beloved.
The Church does this when God’s children want to follow their call to ordained ministry in our beloved United Methodist Church, or when they want the Church to be present with them as they covenant their life to another—all because they identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer.
But this weekend, something happened. Instead of a church leader hiding behind a few harmful lines in our Book of Discipline, Bishop Melvin Talbert stood up and declared the words of our constitution that “all persons are of sacred worth” (Book of Discipline, ¶4).
Instead of allowing a few sentences meant to silence him, a leader finally stood up and was true to his promise to- “relate [himself] in ministry to all persons without regard to…sexual orientation” (Book of Discipline, ¶330). Instead of putting exceptions around what we mean when we declare that all people are created in the image of God, a leader stood up and said yes to God and all of God’s children.
I sat in the back of a church as Bishop Melvin Talbert blessed the holy matrimony of two wonderful men—Joe Openshaw and Bobby Prince.
These are faithful loving men I have had the joy to get to know over the last year. When this couple asked the bishop whether he would be willing to ensure that our United Methodist Church had a presence at their holy day, Bishop Talbert only had one answer he could give to uphold God’s call on his life: “of course.”
Why wouldn’t the Church want to be a part of one of the most important days of Joe and Bobby’s life? Why would the Church appreciate their prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness to their local church but then turn them away when they covenant their lives together? Why would the Church want to deny our commitment to them as the Body of Christ, when they have been so faithful to us?
So, my child, this weekend I was in Birmingham, Alabama, to witness history and seek to change our church. I want The United Methodist Church to be a denomination you are proud to have been baptized into. I hope that we are a church where you can bring your whole self—no matter who you grow up to be. But, more than that, I want everyone who is a part of The United Methodist Church today to be honored and celebrated for who they are. I want every clergy person who believes in equality and justice for the LGBTQ community to say “enough is enough.”
We will no longer allow the Book of Discipline to speak for us—to silence voices that believe in justice for all of God’s children.
Instead, we will listen to The Book that should take precedence in our lives, that book that calls us to “do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8). We will follow the words we speak at communion to be “one in ministry to ALL the world.”
These are not statements or promises we should ever take lightly, but I feel that we as clergy have allowed the Church to limit our view of God’s beloved kin-dom. I hope Bishop Talbert’s witness will allow us all to realize that the one we answer to is God and Scripture—and not anyone else who tries to limit our ministry and our calls.
So, Harper, I’m sorry I missed the trip to the park and seeing you bright and early this morning. But please know that I was honoring my call to ministry from God. I was witnessing what justice looks like.
And, this weekend in our church, that justice looked like a beautiful couple joining together as one in the presence of God and God’s people.
And, I promise—we’ll make it to the park tomorrow.
Photo via Rev. Laura Rossbert