i am sitting on my couch in my home, the home that i am so amazingly blessed to own with my wife, watching the clouds disperse outside my living window. the sun is beginning to peek out and shine brightly. it’s early evening, almost 8 pm, and no where near sunset yet.
birds are chirping and singing. i sigh a deep, long, satisfied sigh. one that comes from that personal inner space of peace and harmony. and i give thanks for this life that i live. for this home that i have. for the journey and experiences and adventures and challenges that have led me to this very moment.
i am proud of my journey. there is not one thing i would change.
and there is a specific part of my journey that i want to share tonight. a part of my story that is at the core of who i am and who i intend to be.
you see, right now, as i write this and reflect on my life, there are a few thousand people gathered in portland, oregon. faithful people, gathered because they believe in love. i truly do believe that. even as they have differing opinions on many important issues, the one thing they agree on is Love. love that they, and i, call God.
of course, when i say god, i am not sure that i still “fit” into the traditional expression of god. but, that’s a whole other story. i will say, at least, that i do believe in a divine being. that is found in every religion. the same one. that is not outside of us, but within us. and that in the ground of its divine, energetic, unifying being is simply LOVE.
back to the people in oregon: the people gathered are representatives of the united methodist church, a global denomination, found in countries all over the world. the denomination and faith expression in which i was raised and worked for many, many years. so very much of who i am comes from this foundation.
in fact, this faith was so profound and inspiring in my life that i even received a master’s of divinity degree and was on the path to ordination as a clergy member in the united methodist church (umc). and i was proud to feel called to serve as an ordained minister/pastor.
however, i was never ordained.
and why i wasn’t ordained is exactly what is being discussed at the conference in oregon right this very minute.
literally, right now, as i am watching the live feed while i type this story to you, the people at the conference (ordained ministers and lay people) have been charged with the task of sitting at their tables and sharing their own stories. whatever that story may be. but specifically stories of exclusion and faithfulness, and how these intersect.
right now, it is time to be heard. and to listen.
all of this is in an effort to try to find a way forward through a 44 year divisive issue within the umc: the ordination and full acceptance of all LGBTQ people in the church.
i know that for some of you, as is for me, this is a no-brainer. of course, everyone should be included. but, it has been a huge struggle that the umc has not had the balls (in my opinion) to deal with. and i can tell you, from my own experience, that not having the guts to stand up and make a change hurts people. it devastates people. it crushes people.
so, right now, as i sit on my couch in sweden, i want to tell all of you my story. i need to be heard. yes, i’ve told it before, but i need to tell it again. and again. and again. until it never happens to another person. until i heal from the pain and wounds and disappointments that i felt.
will you listen?
// i grew up in the united methodist church in north carolina, and am still a member. though, not active now.
// my granddad was a methodist minister, and i wanted to be just like him. he has always been my inspiration.
// the methodist church has always been a church that focuses on grace, love, and social issues, leading civil rights issues in the 60s. i felt at home here. my values + beliefs were born out of my faith.
// i learned about love and justice and equality from my faith.
// i learned how to listen and accept and question and move forward and include.
// so, i decide to pursue this crazy calling that i felt to serve + work as a minister, and was offered a job in a church a long time ago.
// i worked as a minister in a united methodist church (umc) for a total of 10 years.
// during that time i studied theology and ministry at an african methodist seminary – an amazing, life-changing, world-opening, theology-busting, soul-filling experience.
// i planned on being ordained in the umc – like an ordained minister, pastor, preacher kinda person.
// so to recap: i worked as a minister (unordained) for 8 years. i had a master’s of divinity degree. i jumped through all the hoops over all the years to become an ordained minister. i felt called to this, from deep within my soul. i was ready.
// i met an amazing woman & fell in love.
// soon, we got married and i was happier than i’d ever been. yes. woman + woman = love.
// when i got married i was in my last step of ordination = i had completed the 4 year process of seminary, plus all of the paperwork and approvals by various groups & committees.
// at a final committee meeting to approve to send me to the last committee before ordination (provisional is the fancy term), i mentioned that i was moving to sweden.
// no problem, they all said. the umc is in sweden so i could still complete my process.
// the problem came when i said that i was married. and used the words “wife” and “lina”, indicating that i was married to a woman.
// the meeting abruptly stopped and i was asked to leave the room due to the fact that i violated a rule in the book of discipline (the rule book for the umc).
// the rule, you ask? the umc will not ordain anyone who professes that they love and/or are living with someone of the same sex because it is “incompatible with christian teaching.”
// after some time, someone came to get me and the committee gave me 2 options:
- since i had said that i was married to a woman out loud, and that is against the rules = no lgbt person can be ordained in the methodist church who says they are in any lgbt relationship, then i could pull my candidacy and quit the process myself. OR
- i could continue to say that i want to be ordained, follow my calling and what i feel is right for my life, and leave my fate up to the committee to decide = make them de-certify me as a candidate for ministry and say that i am no longer fit or worthy to be ordained.
// guess what i chose? yep. 2. there was no way in hell i was giving up and quitting. they would have to force me out and deny my the right to be ordained.
// and they did just that.
// all because of who i loved. and because i said that i loved her.
// never mind all the years of work in a church, all the years of studies, and endorsements from others (including some in that room).
// never mind that i was exactly the same person that i had always been, even the same person as 1 minute before i said that i was married to lina. i did not change. i have not changed. i was still me, with all my gifts and passions and ways to help the world & the church. i still had all of the same things to offer. but, never fucking mind.
// that was that. the end. candidacy over.
// ordination was now impossible.
// i was crushed.
// and then i was pissed.
they say that they gave me a “choice”. the committee who was meeting with me did not want to de-certify me as a candidate for ministry. there were many amazing people on that committee, who i know loved me, and were very sad to see the situation come up. they wanted me to decide to back out. to revoke my candidacy on my own. but, i was not about to let the umc off that easy. it was not me that had changed my mind – i still wanted to be ordained. i was still called to this as my life’s work. so, i was determined to force the book of discipline force me out. i was determined to make the committee deal with the issue. and they did. they chose to follow the book.
on the one hand, i understand. but i also understand that there are many who, like me, disagree with certain rules in the book, but still uphold it. and here’s where i am with that now: nothing will change unless we stand up and make it change. if we keep disagreeing and, yet, still keep following the things we disagree with, then we will remain a church that is divided and focused on excluding people because of our need to follow the rules. and our need for “unity”.
i am pretty sure jesus wasn’t too concerned about rules that seemed to be unjust. or, rather, he was concerned with them. but, he blew right past them, ignored them, and taught others that there is a more just way. he stood for something and made a difference, risking even his life for things that no one around him understood.
when will you, umc, follow in the footsteps of jesus? in the way of inclusion, instead of exclusion? when did jesus ever (!!) exclude people?!
so, i am pissed again today. and disappointed. and glad that i have stepped away from the church. and i am perfectly happy with how i have chosen to live my life, to live out my calling by being both faithful to my marriage and faithful to my belief of giving my life to the purpose of making a difference.
yes, i know all about making change and staying in so that change can come from within, but you know what? they wouldn’t let me in. and i am/was not called to be a lay person in the umc. i am/was called to be an ordained minister. so, for now, i have no place there. i’ve been kicked out. and that’s fine.
being stripped of my candidacy happened 6 years ago. and the wounds are still fresh. and every time something like this comes up again in the life of the umc, i have been cautiously hopeful. i hope that there will be a change, that more people will say screw the rules and let’s love the people. but, it doesn’t happen. there are plenty of people who are saying it, but it’s not happening.
friends, there is no more time needed for wondering any more. there is no need to postpone. it’s time to move on. it’s time to move forward. how much more do we need to wonder whether inclusion is what jesus would want?
nope. now is the time for action. to freaking stand up and get some shit done.
but these are just my thoughts, from my experience. this is my story. my history.
of course, my story did not end with my disqualification for ordination.
there are too many other places where i am wanted and needed and able to make my mark. so, that’s what i am doing. and i am doing and being exactly who i am and who i have been called to be throughout my entire life. ordained minister or not.
i serve god. i serve people. and i do my best to use my life to spread love through my specific gifts + presence.
so, no rule, no disqualification, no exclusion stopped me. because somewhere deep within i found the strength on my own. i know that the power comes from within. i continue to follow my calling and i let my unfold as it does… the most important thing to me is to stay true to who i am. to be authentic in how i live my life, regardless of what anyone or any organization says to or about me.
but, my heart still aches. i still miss my church. and i am so. very. disappointed. the church seems to have no idea how this affects people. and on days like today, i am reminded that i am not welcome as i am. i am reminded that, though i did everything right, i fell in love with the “wrong” person (according to the church) and “broke” a “rule”.
and then i get pissed again. because, i am not in the wrong. love is never, ever wrong. listen to me: love is never, ever wrong.
so, tonight. once again, my heart aches. the pain will never heal completely. it will keep getting easier, but there will always be a hole in my heart. it is part of my story. a scar that i now carry with me. but, a scar that i was determined to allow me to be transformed.
all i ever wanted was to give my life to the umc, but they wouldn’t have me.
still, i keep moving on and forward. and leaving this all behind. it’s done. and i will never ever, not for one second, regret being true to who i am, for having the integrity and courage to say that just because i love a woman, does NOT mean that i am not worthy of ministering.
hell, i really don’t need anyone to tell me i can minister or how. i just do it. but that doesn’t mean that the umc doesn’t need to stand up and face these issues. and that i hope from my very core, that they decide to follow the line of grace, inclusion, and love that has always defined this beautiful, socially progressive denomination.
for right now, the umc will just miss out on my ministry. and others whose stories are somewhat like mine. but, god will not. and the world will not. because faith, love, hope, and service are bigger than the united methodist church.
and that’s my story.
thanks for listening.
if you have a story, of any kind, that you would like to tell, then i am right here. ready to listen and accept and love you for exactly who you are.
may the grace and peace and love of god be with those of you in portland, oregon, and with us all.