Friday, September 27, 2013

After the Protest - Raw Thoughts

We had an amazing protest at school today, protesting giving Rev. Eddie Fox a distinguished alumni award, because he has been a voice against LGBTQ inclusion in the United Methodist Church.  Rev. Fox was not available to be at the awards ceremony, but this was our way to voice our disagreement with giving this award to a man who has worked to keep hurt in the Book of Discipline.  We stood outside during the awards ceremony with signs, chants, and songs. There were stories of hurt and stories of hope shared. We were bold in our statements against the award.
After the awards ceremony several people who were inside at the awards ceremony came out and thanked us. One elderly man in particular came out and told us to keep up the good fight.  He was from South Carolina and had lived through the civil rights movement there.  He told us that when protests and marches were going on in his community, there were many people who didn't understand why people were upset and wanted them to just calm down.  He told us to fight on.  I will always remember him and love him for his words of inspiration.
I know that things will quiet down for a while now.  The award will still be talked about and agonized over, but there isn't another protest planned.  There is also less urgency now that this protest is over. But I don't want anyone to think that this is finished. Because for some of us who were affected by this, it won't be over for a long time.  And I personally will never be okay with this award.  I will never just get over it.   
I left the United Methodist Church voluntarily about a year ago because I knew that being queer jeopardized my chance of ever being ordained, and I couldn't imagine never being able to preside over the table at communion, never being able to teach and preach, never being able to help parishioners in their times of deepest need. It is what I'm called to and what I dream of spending the rest of my life doing. 
I also needed to be fully myself to be fully present to the people I was to help.  I couldn't compartmentalize my life, because it wasn't going to be healthy for me and was going to hurt my ministry. I just want to be a whole me, with all my eccentricities, because I believe that somehow God can use all of me to help spread the gospel. 
So I left the UMC, and I came to a church where I can be myself.  I love where I'm at, but I also had not quite gotten over the hurt I felt at the UMC's Book of Discipline. Then I heard of Rev. Fox receiving this award and about how he has worked hard to keep the wording in the UMC's Book of Discipline that made me leave the denomination. I could feel a piece of my heart break.  My school hurt me, bringing all this stuff that I had been slowly working through to the forefront of my heart. 
If Rev. Fox hadn't been nominated for a distinguished alumni award by Candler, I could have probably worked through stuff and been able to appreciate the UMC for their strengths and occasionally go to services.  I would never become United Methodist again, but I wouldn't hold any grudges.  It was my decision to leave, I was never hurt by anyone, and I had actually been supported in becoming a certified candidate. I had to leave because I didn't feel that I was called to fight within that denomination, I was called to another denomination.
But this Rev. Fox debacle stirred up stuff inside me, and the more I heard about how he worked at General Conferences to keep the wording that is hurtful within the Book of Discipline and the more I delved into the logistics of his work, the more disgust I felt.  It's strange, but a distinguished alumni award given by my seminary made me unable to even consider stepping into a United Methodist Church in the near future.  I can't do it, even if it is the most reconciling and gay friendly congregation in the denomination.  I can't even go to our seminary's chapel services right now because they are too Methodist.  There is something inside me that broke, and I may never be able to walk into a United Methodist Church again.  The wounds of the words of the Book of Discipline run too deep, and I've learned too much about the battles at General Conference and how steep of a hill the Reconciling Ministries Network has to climb before the denomination will be fully inclusive.
I will carry a scar on my heart for the rest of my life because of this award. It cut me in a way that a lot of people can't understand, and I can't fully rationalize myself. 
All I can do now is pray and work for Candler to become more inclusive.  I want them to make policies that ensure that people who hold stances against the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people will never receive another award from our school.  We would not give distinguished alumni awards to people who are racist or sexist, we need to ensure that we would not give an award to someone who is against the equality of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. 
This has hurt our community.  I love my school, but I will certainly never be the same now that my school has given this award.  I have been damaged, and that is not okay.  It will never be okay. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Letter to Eddie Fox

Dear Reverend Fox,

You will be hearing soon about students at Candler School of Theology who are protesting your reception of an alumni award.  And yes, it's because of your stance on homosexuality.  You've been a voice strongly in opposition of those of us who aren't straight but have been called to ordained ministry. You've helped to ensure that many of us who felt called while members of the United Methodist Church leave the denomination.  In my own case, I know that I could have stayed and been well supported by people in my conference who know me and know my call.  But in the end, I would have to stand against the Book of Discipline, and I couldn't bring myself to break the rules.  I don't self-identify as homosexual, but that's not really the heart of the rule, is it?  The point of the rule is to weed out those who aren't straight, and the good Lord knows I am not a heterosexual.
I left for a church where my sexual orientation was about as relevant to the ordination process as my skin color.  I must say, I am a more complete individual becuase I made that decision. I don't have to worry about the gender of the person I'm dating, because in the end, it's not relevant to how I live out my call.  I understand that we are all first and foremost Children of God, given full membership in the church through our baptisms, and sent out to do God's mission through our confirmations.  If it is God's will that one should seek ordination, why should one's sexual orientation be a barrier?
There are two groups of people I wish you could meet.  And I mean truly meet, without your biases leading you to judge those around you at the table.
The first are the people like me who left the United Methodist Church because of the statements in the Book of Discipline.  And it's not just gay people - there are plenty of allies too, who could not serve in a church that denies ordination to certain people based on their sexual orientation and does not allow pastors to perform same sex marriages.  Many have turned away from the homophobia that is inherent in the statements found in the Book of Discipline.  We're all doing ministry as God has called us to.  Some of us are ordained or seeking ordination in different denominations and some are lay leaders.  We're all serving the body of Christ, prayerfully working to help others deepen their discipleship.
The second group are the people who stay and fight.  You know some of these people already - they are the people you work against.  But I think if you sat at the table with them, you would find people who are just as passionate about the United Methodist Church as you are.  People who care about the global mission of the church and don't want to impede its growth in Africa, but cannot with good conscious allow their church to endorse homophobia. They are working for a better United Methodist Church, just like you are.
I think you could learn much from these groups.  I know if you sat at a table with me, you might be surprised at how much we agree on.  I want to ensure that people have a clear understanding of the Bible and the tenants found within it. That's why I don't hang my hat on seven prooftexts that can easily fall when you look at the cultural context and the language in which they were written.  The ancient authors of the text didn't have words for homosexuality, and the way the texts are used to endorse discrimination against homosexuals is a modern creation, brought about in the 20th century.  Instead, I chose to focus on what Jesus told us to do.  I agree full heartedly that we are to follow the Ten Commandments which point to the greatest commandments as given to us by Christ: Love God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.  I believe that in order to fully love God, one must be disciplined, ardent in prayer, and serious about Scripture, constantly searching for God's Word in the world today. I don't think that the church can be boiled down into humanist ideology either.  There are certain things that the church should take a stand on, things the church shouldn't endorse.  These are things that devalue God's children and make them feel less human than others.  This is also why I cannot be a part of a church that does not give full inclusion to people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
I know you're worried about division and the idea that your denomination could split over the issue of homosexuality. You are trying your best to keep your church together in the way you think is best.  But you are clinging to a statement that devalues the callings of many children of God and claims that they are less able to live out their callings to ministry because of the gender of the people they are attracted to. How can you truly love these children of God as your neighbor if you hold such a stance?
I have to stand in opposition to your being awarded an alumni award because of these views.  Candler School of Theology admits many children of God such as myself who have been hurt by these kinds of statements, who have been told by some denomination or denominational statement that they are less than others because of their sexual orientation. I cannot support someone who upholds those doctrines.

Zebulun Treloar
2nd Year MDiv Student
Candler School of Theology