by Elizabeth Evans
My first weekend of living in my dorm room at my seminary already involved an opinionated exchange about affirming same-sex relationships. Someone just needed to utter homosexuality for my eyes to shift and for me to fidget and panic. I thought Oh, no! Not now. Not this soon.
I had just said goodbye to my parents hours earlier and felt overwhelmed about starting from scratch and re-establishing myself in this new place. I had wanted to wait a bit longer before exposing myself as the feminist killjoy and relentless LGBTQ advocate. Intertwined with my call to ministry is my passion for affirming same-sex relationships and different gender identities, and I wanted to do justice to this cause.
But my activist comrades now lived nine hours away from me, and I was left alone to stand up for my own beliefs.
Two people made comments about how we should end our dialogue about this social issue and avert focus to the poor. Some nodded in agreement, and others seemed as dumfounded and paralyzed as I felt. I didn’t know how to respond, so I didn’t.
Hours later, I reflected on my place in the discussion and feared I might not belong in seminary. But even though the encounter ended more than ten days ago, I’m not finished with it.
When it comes to the debate over LGBTQ inclusion in the Church, I echo former Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s words: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Because the status quo excludes persons with LGBTQ identities from serving in leadership positions in the Church, ceasing dialogue on the issue only ensures protection of the status quo. In other words, if members of The United Methodist Church leave the conversation in stalemate, LGBTQ persons will not be ordained, and their calls to the ministry will remain denied by the very institution that helped them be known.
I recognize that calls for leaving the conversation arise out of frustration and disillusionment with the constant fighting. Indeed, how can we call ourselves United Methodists without the unity part? Some people claim they just want peace.
But I wonder whether an impasse will bring peace or just more harm.
In any situation, I believe healthy dialogue and active listening are prerequisites to peace. We cannot move forward or feel settled until both sides have felt they were listened to, especially those who have been limited by the status quo. Additionally, peace cannot flow when there are dams of injustice.
And if we want our Church to indeed be United, we need not confuse unity with complacency or homogeneity. Unity does not entail perpetuating the status quo just so we’re no longer quarreling. In fact, unity is love and gentleness in the midst of the quarrel. Unity is not conforming in belief but learning to live into the tensions and disagreements and celebrating diversity. Unity does not mean to allow harm to continue but to come to agreements of reconciliation as the dialogue continues.
But how can we live out the Gospel and fight solutions for the poor when we are bickering about one issue? To this question I raise another: What if the poor people Jesus always mentioned were not just the people suffering from hunger and poverty, but all the people denied the same shot at privileges based on their circumstances or identities? What if the poor people also include people of color in America, women in the work force, and LGBTQ people in the Church? What if the poor people are all those denied a chance to carry out God’s call for them based on who they are or what they have done?
But even if we are speaking in literal terms about the poor, we ignore an important reality when we cease discussion about ending the harm toward LGBTQ persons in order to focus on eradicating poverty: not all poor people are straight. In fact, poverty and homelessness are pervasive issues for people in the LGBTQ community, rooted in discrimination and prejudice in the workforce, in schools, and even in the church. When one considers the interplay of gender and sexual identities with socioeconomic status, one can no longer justify bringing discussions about reconciling with LGBTQ people to an end for the sake of the poor. In other words, our call to minister to the poor is all the more reason to continue discussions of reconciliation and inclusion.
I wish LGBTQ people had the privilege to call off the affirming side of the fight for the sake of unity. I wish LGBTQ people had the privilege to step out of the gay debate and continue following a call not contingent on their identities. I wish LGBTQ people had the privilege to be silent in order to speak up about other pervasive issues. But LGBTQ people do not have those privileges and will be limited by the status quo unless healthy dialogue continues and creates peace.
My God grant us the patience and strength to stay in the tension long enough for the release of peace that I believe God wants us to create.
Elizabeth Evans hails from Wichita, Kansas and belongs to the Great Plains Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church. She is a first-year Master of Divinity student at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. Elizabeth earned her B.A. in English with Creative Writing emphasis from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. In addition to ministry, Elizabeth enjoys social justice, psychology, writing poetry and creative nonfiction, playing guitar, and collecting tea. She blogs at lizxevans.blogspot.com.