“Do not get weary little children. God is not done with us, yet. So keep praying, stay focused and keep the main thing the main thing.”
These words were written by Rev. James E. Swanson, Bishop of the Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church, in response to the Judicial Council’s recent ruling to rescind the ordination of Rev. Karen Oliveto as a Bishop because she is a “self-avowed practicing homosexual.”
As a Black woman, ordained as an itinerant elder in the Mississippi Conference of the United Methodist Church, who advocates specifically for people of faith who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ) in sacred spaces, I find these words both appalling and offensive.
May 2nd was my birthday.
I am 45 years old, and I was born in 1972. One of the hallmarks of the year of my birth is that it is the same year the United Methodist Church officially started the conversation at the intersection of faith and human sexuality.
For 45 years, the United Methodist Church has repeatedly excluded LGBTQ people of faith from the Lord’s table…45 years! I am not a child, and decisions that continue to harm LGBTQ people of faith, declaring them unfit for God’s Kingdom as members of the clergy are anything but childish.
To suggest that resisting the injustices LGBTQ people suffer at the hands of the United Methodist Church is not the main thing on which we should focus is appalling. Fighting the good fight of faith for equality, embracing every human as God’s divine presence among us, celebrating God’s gifts evidenced in those called to ministry—this is the main thing.
On what else would Jesus focus?
“Do not get weary,” says Bishop Swanson, evoking the words of the apostle Paul in Galatians 6:9. The Bishop directs these words to us, the people of the church. Interestingly, the Bishop omitted the rest of Paul’s phrase (in well doing). The beginning of the verse reads “Let us not get weary in well doing.”
In that case, the United Methodist Church should be tired because it’s not doing well. The United Methodist Church should be tired of fighting the move of the Holy Spirit toward full inclusion, tired of having to create ways to sidestep the pouring out of the Holy Spirit on ALL people, tired of defending the letters in the Book of Discipline while negating the spirit of the Bible.
As a Black woman, I am baffled at the audacity of members of oppressed populations to oppress others.
As an ordained itinerant elder, I am embarrassed that some of my colleagues stand on God’s word to exclude God’s people from God’s church.
As a United Methodist, my soul grieves at the number of people to whom we deny access to the Cross because they are different from us.
As a community pastor, I am hopeful.
To every LGBTQ United Methodist person of faith and allies, be encouraged. We are standing on the right side of history. In the days ahead, hold on to these words, also attributed to the apostle Paul:
“We have this treasure from God, but we are only like clay jars that hold the treasure. This is to show that the amazing power we have is from God, not from us. We have troubles all around us, but we are not defeated. We often don’t know what to do, but we don’t give up. We are persecuted, but God does not leave us. We are hurt sometimes, but we are not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:7-9, ERV).
God loves LGBTQ people of faith and created you just the way you are. Jesus affirms LGBTQ people of faith as His siblings. The Holy Spirit sustains LGBTQ people and allies.
Together, we wait for the manifestation of the victory that is ours to claim.
We have already won!