It's Complicated: Ordination in the UMC
On the occasion of moving from provisional clergy to ordained deacon today in The United Methodist Church:
Like Jacob, I have been wrestling with God throughout the night.
Nights, actually. Many of them.
In some ways for many, many years.
But in new ways since February, when the denomination re-asserted its commitment to anti-LGBTQ discrimination.
Can I bring myself to climb the steps, to kneel, to be ordained under the blessing of the UMC?
How can I?
How can I not?
But how can I?
So much wrestling.
But after 14 years in the ordination process, unlearning sexist scriptures that first kept me from pursuing ministry in the first place, unlearning spiritual queer and transphobia, rediscovering a liberating faith, enduring two years of judicial council rulings and attempts to remove me from my ordination process in Texas, so many assertions from people in power this would never happen, so many sleepless nights, so many secret meetings about me, so many interviews haunted by the rules of our denomination, so many queer and trans kin who have known worse, so many people we’ve lost, so many companions on the journey and churches that have supported me - I cannot stop short of seeing this through, of letting God’s sustaining hand guide me all the way to the completion of this process.
I am called to be a deacon and if that were not so, this would have ended a long time ago.
But for the sake of peace in my own heart, it’s important to me to be clear about 4 things as I’m ordained.
1. A surprise to no one - I am absolutely a self avowed practicing homosexual in an incredible relationship with Anna Blaedel who is under complaint for also being a practicing homosexual. I’m actually bisexual, but the Book of Discipline cares not how I self I identify, or what is accurate, only that I and others violate its heterosexist norms. But lest there is any confusion, I am a nonbinary trans person in gender and queer in my sexuality. On the basis of my sexuality, the rules of the church prohibit me from being ordained. I celebrate those who choose to live faithfully despite the rules and affirm my call and the call of other queer/trans kin. I have been consistently transparent about my identity and beliefs since I came out in my dcom meeting in Texas in 2013. For me, this transparency and proclamation is the only way I can stay true to my call, my convictions, and the realities inflicted upon my queer kin both within and outside the church.
Loopholes will not save queer lives. And there is no greater priority to me - and I believe to God as well - than the alive-ness of marginalized kin.
The rules of this denomination that reject queerness as a gift of God that benefits the church deserve no honor and LGBTQ people, in every place near and globally, deserve so much more than loopholes.
So I have to be strangely direct about it - or before I know it - I am used as an example against my wishes. The discriminatory policies in our church have destroyed lives and they will continue to and I have no interest in playing coy about how I relate to them.
2.I remain for the sake of what might be birthed. Just two weeks ago, I was at Our Movement Forward Summit in a room full of hundreds of United Methodists not only committed to but hungry, desperate, willing to do the work for the possibility of something new. Something we can build together. Something this aching world could benefit from. Something with the uniting foundation of the belief in the Good News that sets the captives free and liberates the oppressed.
And I’m not ready to give up on that dream. On that group of people. On that possibility.
3. It’s hard for me to feel celebratory today. Not because my call to be a deacon feels any less palpable. Or is any less serious to me. Or because the labor - mine and my companions and colleagues - doesn’t feel worth celebrating. But because I am worried the violence of February’s global decision, instead of changing everything, will change nothing much at all. That anti-queer violence is so normalized in the church, this global declaration against our inclusion is already fading into the background, like every story of every individual we’ve lost, turned away, or harmed. The top priorities of the general conference to discuss LGBTQ inclusion were voted on and clarified as concern with pensions and properties. And I don’t believe, after the traditional plan has passed, that has changed much for most of the church. This worries me, grieves me, and gives me pause in my own celebration and the celebration for other queer and trans kin being commissioned or ordained as we face what’s to come when the new policies go into effect in January 2020.
4. As a deacon, my primary ministry is rooted outside of the walls of the church. To bring the matters of the world into the life of the church is inherently the work of the deacon. And so, I must keep saying what is before us: We are living in a world in crises. The climate issues before us are urgent. The hate and violence - via institutionalized policies and individual acts - are so widespread we cannot even keep up with it.
We do not have time for the same old strategies. If the church, is indeed, meant to be about the business of transforming the world, that means focusing our attention on changing the very things that are destroying it. Climate change. Transphobia. Queerphobia. White supremacy. Patriarchy. To play by their rules in the church does not serve the world, it doesn’t serve us, and it certainly doesn’t serve the gospel. It takes faith to believe we can bring about liberation from the same old destruction, but I think that’s what this whole thing is supposed to be about. Faith.
And so I’m continuing to do what I’ve been doing for years, trying my best to show up to each day open to the question of what faithfulness looks like today. Today, for me, I think it’s being ordained.
Tomorrow, only God knows. But I’ll keep turning towards spiritual kin, and laboring with UM-Forward, and seeking the wisdom of all the saints who went before, daring to believe in the possibility of enfleshing the dreams of God, and trusting in the One who is Justice, Compassion, Truth, and Love.