- by Jarell Wilson -
“Jarell we judge couples when one half of the couple loves the other and the feelings are not mutual. Why would you stay in a Church that doesn’t love you?” my friend Taylor asked me. My response then was feeble and undeveloped. “It’s not that the Church doesn’t love me, it just that it hates one part of me, much like a woman hates her husband’s snoring.” Since then I have had a lot of time to think over why I choose to remain within the United Methodist Church. I have to take you back to when I fell in love with the United Methodist Church.
[Flashback] Suzanne Rabb visited and gave a mini-sermon at my home church in Austin and she was telling us about her experiences doing mission work within China. Then she went off on this beautifully elaborate speech about why she loved the United Methodist Church, as a “non-denominational” person at the time I was opposed to denominations, until she spoke about the UMC. She spoke about how when she drives around Texas and she comes to a city she has never been to before, she feels at home when she sees the cross and flame logo of the UMC, which for her stands for the sacrifice and the life of Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit. She said not only does she feel at home when she sees, but she gets excited and pumped up, that she is a part of this journey of faith in which God has entrusted lowly sinners to carry the gospel to the world. She receives the strength she needs to tell about how God is not angry, God is shouting at the world, “I love you please, come home!” It brought tears to my eyes, and I too fell in love with this denomination.
[Fast-forward] I’ve always known I wanted to be a pastor. Other kids were playing Pokémon, and I was trying to decide who really wrote Hebrews. I loved learning Bible facts, and pretending to preach the Word of God to my fictionalized congregation. I always volunteered to pray, I sang the loudest in Sunday school, I knew all the hand-motions, and I greeted first-time guests. Then in the summer of 2006 I felt the call to full-time ministry, I knew then that God really wanted me to preach the gospel. Fast-forward to 2010 as I am falling in love with this crazy, mainline, Protestant denomination, and my crazy lead pastor tells me, “You should consider being ordained through the UMC. They need young people, and you would make a great pastor.” Little did he tell me of how long it would take, the sweat and blood and tears that would be shared. And that is just to get started in the possibly decade(s)-long process that is ordination within the UMC. Another thing he didn’t warn me about was the Book of Discipline, and that one specific line ¶161.F, Social Principles, Human Sexuality; “All persons are individuals of sacred worth...The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching”.
[Back to the Future] Yes, there is a chance that I can fall in love with a heterosexual woman and make Methodist babies, and be “normal”; there is also just as much of a chance that I fall in love with a man, and want to start a “non-traditional” family with him; and because of that possibility I risk being “incompatible with Christian teaching”. I discussed my dilemma with friends at the Wesley Foundation, and one of the ministers told me, “Jarell if the Church isn’t willing to love you for who you are, it doesn’t deserve you.” Which is true, the Church doesn’t deserve me, I love it unconditionally, but it adds conditions of whether or not it will love me. Yes, the Church does not deserve my love, but it does not deserve the love of Jesus either, yet Christ loves freely and I decided long ago to follow Christ’s example. The Church along with the rest of the world rejected and killed Him and yet He still loved, He so loved the Church that He gave up His life for her. Who am I to say to the Church: “You won’t love me so I’m leaving”, when Christ said with His life, that He will keep loving the Church, no turning back.
There are denominations that would love me and allow me to be fully-included, the Presbyterians (PCUSA), the ELCA, the Episcopalians, almost every other mainline denomination in fact. But I think to myself, the Church did not leave me to myself when I was lost. I doubted my faith, “How do I reconcile science and faith”, and my brother Rob Bell was there for me. I wondered, “How do I justify my economic status, my country, and my faith”, and my brother Shane Claiborne came to my rescue with his book Jesus For President. I had all of the answers of the faith, and my brother Dr. Roger Olson’s book Questions to All of Your Answers, put me in my place, questioning and growing again. I think of my sister Rachel Held Evans and her book Evolving in Monkey Town how she showed me how faith grows, and the power of a woman faithful to her God in a world of Christian men that say women should remain silent. Then I think of all of the LGBTIQ kids within the UMC, those that will leave because they don’t feel loved or accepted; and I think I could be that brother in the faith that encourages them. I love the UMC not because it first loved me, but I suppose because it first loved Christ, and in its journey toward Christ, the Church has had many stumbles, such as slavery, racism, sexism, and now homophobia. Through each and every one of those stumbles it has had women, men, teens, and even children that have helped guide her in the way she should go. It was not easy, but it was worth it, and because of it the Church grew and flourished. Now she is going through another time of stumbling and growing pains, and I could leave her in her hour of need, but instead, I want to be there to encourage her and help her change her ways. I may fail miserably and not get ordained at all, or be ordained and placed in the middle of nowhere, but I will know that I have been faithful. After all I have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back.
I love communion at the UMC because the minister always says “This is not my table, or the United Methodists Church’s table, it’s God’s table and it is for everyone”, what the UMC and the Church universal needs to say is: “This is not my Church, it is God’s church, and it is for everyone.” Amen.
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Jarell Wilson is a 21 year old senior undergraduate student majoring in Sociology. A recent inductee to the UMC, he has dived head first into this church and plans to seek ordination as an elder. He is a lover of books, music, and Dr Who. He also tries his hand at blogging & tweeting @Singingforjoy.