Rev. Andy Oliver
Lectionary text from Philippians 1:3-6
I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.
“Why would people want to change the Discipline?” At that time I thought it was perfectly reasonable for my church to say that gays and lesbians were people of sacred worth, even if their behavior was “incompatible with Christian teaching.” I was 19, in college, and asked this question in my United Methodist campus ministry office.
Pam looked up at me from her administrative work and said very plainly, “Andy, not all Methodists believe homosexuality is a sin.”
This began in me a 15 year journey to where I am now, with many people shaping my convictions along the way...
- Pastors like Rev. Tom Price who told me when he was young he was quite convinced gays and lesbians were living in sin, but the older he got, the less certain he was of such things. And like Rev. Bill Yeager who asked me if I really thought it was God’s plan to create gays and lesbians in God's image and ask them to live a life void of intimacy with the person they love.
- Theologians like Justo González who taught me that when we fail to listen to minority and oppressed voices we miss the fullness of what God has to say.
- Bishops like Melvin Talbert who told me I have a moral obligation to be obedient to the Bible, even if that means ignoring unjust, discriminatory laws of my church.
But most of all, it has been the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer people in my life who have shaped my reading of scripture…
- Seminary colleagues like Chase Bannister who asked me quite pointedly, “If you are empowered in any way whatsoever and believe injustice is afoot, would you stand trial on my behalf—in the service of my ordination (and one day, my marriage)? Would you speak so boldly that you're censured, dismissed, or defrocked? If you live in fear, why do you still live there? Would you stand trial for me and my kindred?”
- Like clergy who faithfully serve and seek to serve our churches—living and loving in secret, prevented from their full humanity by the fear of being outed and persecuted. Some named, some unnamed, many more silently walking away from a vocation they were called to by God.
As I have wrestled with how to read scripture, the extra canonical stories of these people’s suffering has shifted my lens. As I have sought to practice orthodoxy (right belief), their witness of love and orthopraxis (right practice) has shaped my ministry more than anything else.
LGBTQ people have taught me what the unity of the church really looks like… a commitment to life together, even with people who disagree, so that we might all see, hear, feel, and taste the fullness of God’s love. I have continued to be made into a disciple of Christ in that I have found Christ in the suffering, hope, and resurrection living in the lives of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and queer people in The United Methodist Church.
I have seen Christ more plainly in two specific gay men: Robert Jackson and Tim Leslie. Individually they have each taught me so much about loving others, and together, in their love for one another, they have shown me what God’s love looks like for the world.
So for the unity of the church, I will continue to bear witness to how their love has changed my life, and in turn, I will stay committed to showing others how wonderfully inclusive the fullness of God’s love really is. I am committed to unity, even if that means ignoring unjust, discriminatory laws of my church to do so. When the story of our church is told, it is those abolitionists who fought to undo an institution of slavery, it is those who kneeled in protest of a segregated church, it is those women who continued to preach yes to a church who told them no to their call—it is these people who are the true builders of unity. Unity is built more by those who do the right thing, serving as midwifes to labor our church into a new future God is constantly re-creating.
I am committed to unity, which is why I will officiate weddings for all couples ready to together be a living, outward, and visible sign of God’s love. I am committed to unity not to protect a broken institution called The United Methodist Church, but because it is the best way I know how disciples are made and moved on into perfection—in life together, one with another. I am committed to unity so that oppressed, rejected, Christ-occupied people like BJ and Tim can continue to make disciples of us people who think we have it all figured out.
And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.
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Rev. Andy Oliver serves Reconciling Ministries Network as director of communications. He has two children: Liam, 5 and Evan, 2. He is an elder from the Florida Conference. Andy received his B.S. in Public Relations from The University of Florida and his M.Div. from Duke Divinity School. Connect with him on social media at www.andyoliver.me.