This Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Homosexuality, poverty and struggle in the United Methodist Church

I write this as a child of Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglas.  I write this as a distant relative of the thousands of men and women who were snatched from the comfort of their West African surroundings only to end up on blocks of auction where they will be brutally beaten, humiliated and unfairly and permanently separated from spouses and children.  I write this as a child of those who were psychologically damaged and raped by a nation that devalued their humanity and attempted to cripple their walk from upright to bent to white supremacy.  I write as one who can still feel the aftershock of this horrible, racial, 200-year-ago earthquake.  I write as a son of Harry Hoosier, Richard Allen, and the slave owned by Bishop James Osgood Andrew’s wife that created a denominational split in 1848 lasting almost 100 years.

I’ve been told now and then, to let that slavery talk go as it is not helpful to anyone to recall it.  Yet, I can not.  I don’t recall this to take a historical stroll down memory lane or to increase our embarrassment and shame around it.  I recall it to remind myself that “stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod, felt in the days when hope unborn had died.”  I recall those days to instruct me in how to exist in a world, where to this very day some would attempt to keep me in my place by suggesting that challenging power is dangerous, political suicide and inappropriate.  I write this as one who lives in a world where diversity is still awkward and the voices of the poor and disenfranchised are still silenced and ignored.

I often reflect on how do I do ministry in a world and in a church where division is thicker than ever before and conflict is at an all time high as America grows up in a way where those that make the majority are no longer one race, but many.  How do I serve while many angry white citizens are determined to complicate a presidential administration by humiliation and disrespect?  How do I serve when even the Black community is no longer as homogeneous as it once was and is finding its own challenge in seeking its identity in a new day with new opportunities and challenges?  How do I serve in a denomination with a southern base that is threatening to vacate if Disciplinary language is overturned or where there is a Western and Northeastern determination to make room for insubordination, even at the expense of setting church law aside to accommodate those that break it?  How do I serve in a denomination where this is a newer global voice rising from the African nations in particular, that is bewildered by this conversation altogether even to the point of saying public, cruel and insulting things from the floor of General Conference?  What is my affirmation of ministry in the midst of all of this?  Here it is:

I do not allow homophobic comments from my pulpit.  I will not sign any petition against gay marriage.  I will not ex-communicate you because you don’t agree with me, or I with you. I will defend and cover EVERY gay person that is in my congregation and affirm their struggle. I will not violate clergy relationships and collegiality to prove a point or exploit an issue.  I will remain loyal to the Book of Discipline, because I promised I’d do so, even if I don’t agree with some of its content.  I will not pressure my bishop or tell him/her what to do, what to say and how to say it as I depend on that bishop to lead from their heart and not from my agenda.  I will not attempt to corner a bishop and put that bishop in a box of which anything said, will be contradictory.  This conversation by its very nature IS contradictory.  It is not black and white, no pun intended.  It is dialectic in nature and one or two statements will never be broad enough to cover the magnitude of this painful issue.  I will not compare any social justice issue with that of the African slave trade/civil rights movement anymore than I would compare any experience with the Jewish Holocaust, as this is being historically irresponsible and as every movement of justice has its own nuiances and particularities and deserves its own march toward resolution.  I will not define the United Methodist Church by its weakness or its strength, but rather, its willingness to go on toward perfection and conference with one another until we arrive at the place where the Spirit leads us.  I will not assume I have all the answers (or all the questions for that matter).  I will not abandon deep seated issues of poverty, predatory lending which often leads to gentrification, racial inequality, unemployment, classism, low reading scores among children of color, and homelessness, over one issue.  I will not abandon impoverished people, of spirit and resources, to join an argument largely held in wealthy circles.  Lastly, as a preacher formed in the prophetic preaching tradition, I will not be silenced and I will not allow the church to forget that the struggle continues in every “hamlet and every corner.” I will not fall asleep by thinking that while we are in a post-civil rights era and while the White House is occupied by someone with a similar color of skin as mine, that there are no longer conditions to overturn.  I will fight for your self-worth.  I will not preach a gospel or teach a class that will cause you, regardless of your age, sexual orientation or gender, to question God’s love for you.  I will try my best to stomp out discrimination, hatred and exclusion wherever I find it.

Make no mistake, I will stand along side you with bloodied hands and tired arms as we struggle to uncover this challenge and find our way.  To you, my brother and sister colleague, perhaps those whom I will never know or meet, that openly struggle to defend your humanity often in an environment that is hostile and mean spirited, I will stand with you, I will pray with you, for you and clinch my fist with frustration as I watch your removal from our ranks.  It is like watching a sibbling being snatched from the house in the middle of the night while we watch in horror, helplessly. I often think that I too should be removed from this order, but for the grace of God.  We are all flawed and we will NOT be the same without your presence in our order.

But, I will also remind the larger body, that there are so many places we must go as a people and a church who deeply desires to spread scriptural holiness across the land.

I will do so because I am a Christian who is a Methodist.  This is the Methodist way; to go house to house, issue to issue, even if those houses are in dangerous neighborhoods, where crime and car theft is at an all time high.

This is where God and Methodists can be found.  In the thick of it all, fighting and wrestling ’til the break of day.  In Revelation, God promises that he is “moving in the neighborhood.”  Jesus instructs those who will carry out his ministry to “go to Jerusalem the city and tarry, until you receive power.”

So, meet me in the neighborhood or let me meet you there, in the slums of the city, where the blood of victims from senseless violence still fills the streets, as mothers weep and cry over lifeless bodies of their children.  Let’s meet up, working with families who just lost their homes because their resources were not enough to make it in a city like DC where you need at least $86k a year to just get by.  Let’s meet up at the funerals of those who died because they didn’t have proper insurance to cover their illness(es).  Let’s meet at congress, write letters and house illegal immigrants who hold crying babies through the night as they worry about being deported to a place of unbelievable poverty where the baby they hold will have very little of a promising future.  We should be where Jesus went and calls us to go.

And when you arrive, don’t bring your digital camera and don’t leave with a t-shirt suggesting you’ve been there.

This kind of revolution of which I speak will not be televised.

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~ by bkevinsmalls on December 20, 2013.

6 Responses to “This Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Homosexuality, poverty and struggle in the United Methodist Church”

  1. Pastor, how do you balance sharing that homosexuality and gay marriage is not the will of God while maintaining the message of God’s love?

    • Good question. I am convinced that the gospel I preach is useless if it is not laced with a I Corinthian 13 kind of love. So, if homosexuality is not the will of God then I guess I’ll treat that subject the way I would the rest of the human condition by pretty much saying, that while you may be a murderer, (back slider, hormonger, theif, hater, gossiper, lier, non thither, challenged by jealousy, lack of a forgiving heart, denial of Christ in some scenarios, fornication, grieving the holy spirit, turning ones back on the poor, not visiting the sick, not caring for children as Jesus required and not living into the will and call God gives us) God still deeply loves you beyond your imagination and this human condition we are wrapped in is loaded with sin, whether we are gay or straight, we would still be in the same boat, if we weren’t gay. That for me is the STRIAGHT truth.

  2. Let’s meet at the next marriage between a loving same sex couple crying out for blessing. Let’s meet in the parsonage around the table of our sister pastor and her faithful female companion. Let’s meet in the prison. Let’s meet in solidarity with the poor workers – a solidarity that is so strong that it causes some of the lukewarm and comfortable to leave the church. Let’s not just pray and raise a fist and return to silence. Let us go and be with.

  3. Bravo, Pastor. I speak as a child of Ohiyesa, Nancy Ward and Sitting Bull, and we are still wondering when our genocide, followed by “the paling of genes” will be even recognized, much less admitted and dealt with. I speak also as a child of the South who has come through the crucible, been redeemed and became a real person able to see beyond “classifications.” I write a column for a small local weekly; I have continued to address all the ways we seek to divide ourselves and how little “like Jesus” that practice is. Overcoming generations of “we’ve never done it that way before” is terribly difficult in a congregation of less than 50 members in a town that has no traffic light. My beloved neighbors next door are a gay male couple and teach me new tolerance every day. They are not opposed to those homosexuals who want to get married, but they say they know “who they are” and are “married” anyhow. I could go on and on, but I have to leave for work. If you reply, I’ll see it later today. God bless all you do. Kay P. in Georgia

    • God bless you Kay and sorry for taking so long to reply! I appreciate your story and hopefully one day we will give reverence that is so due the Native American Community!

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