A Matter of Life and Death
“Let's do something new. I don’t think we can get to the beauty that is available by a white-led, male-led top down style. You may get a church, an institution, but I think we are aiming for something bolder. I think what we really desire is a Beloved Community of Faith.”
- Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey
If we truly desire “A New Thing,” it can’t be the same system, led by the same people, but just a little different. Our queer family and friends are suffering and dying because of the unwillingness and inability of moderates and many progressives to even acknowledge the real harm and systemic violence that they are subjected to every single day in our UMC faith communities. In a recent study “based on data from more than 21,000 U.S. college students, researchers found that greater religious feeling and engagement was tied to increased risk of suicidal thoughts and actions for participants who identified as LGBQ.” The toxic mix of faith and oppression is literally harming and destroying people. It’s not just the queer individuals. It’s also their families, friends, partners, and more. We are empowering families to oppress and harm their queer children, youth, and young adults to the point that they are contemplating, and sometimes choosing, death by suicide. Why would we want to perpetuate that in whatever comes next?
There is literally nothing more important than the lives and well-being of people. Nothing. Not unity. Not progress. Not the United Methodist Church. Our queer family and friends deserve a fully welcoming, fully inclusive, fully affirming church that greets them with open arms, includes them in the full life of the community, affirms their life commitments, and treats them with the same love, tenderness, and respect as we now offer (or should offer) to our cisgender, white, heterosexual members. As bell hooks puts it, “The moment we choose to love, we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others. That action is the testimony of love as the practice of freedom.” Anything less is not “Something New.” It’s the same evil, immoral system just appearing to cause less harm.
How do we journey toward becoming that Beloved Community of Faith? First, we don’t get there being led by folks who are almost exclusively white, heterosexual, cisgender, and male. We need a coalition of folks to share in leadership who are a variety of races, sexualities, genders, and gender identities. We need inclusive queer leadership, and different ways of leading and making decisions. Here is one excellent example of inclusive leadership: Multi-Party Negotiation. Next, those of us with power and privilege are called to step back from leadership, power, and privilege, and step up to take the heat for those who are presently experiencing this evil, destructive oppression. We are called to stand in the line of fire, as we are led by our queer, African American, Latinx, trans, Asian, undocumented, immigrant family and friends.
Next, we who already have power and privilege, need to stop seeing ourselves as “good people” who have worked out the solutions to the problems in our homogenous vacuums. We need to have the courage and humility to embrace the truth that we are also part of the problem. After confessing this, we must better educate ourselves by almost exclusively reading and listening to folks who are not white and not male, intentionally seeking out resources authored by our queer family and friends. Here are a few great places to start: books, articles and podcasts, UMC faith communities, other Christian organizations, and UM Forward. I cannot say this clearly enough. It is not the responsibility of people who are queer to educate non-queer folks. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves. As we learn and grow, we share it. We start educating folks in our faith communities as well. This work sets the foundation for a Beloved Community where folks who are marginalized are not “those people,” but our friends and family, because they already are. The time for a revolutionary “New Thing” is now. As Rev. Becca Girrell states, “Queer lives are being lost while we try to win policy debates.”
Finally, this work that we are called to in this time and this place is not without risk, sacrifice, loss, and failure. And we are called to embrace them all. If we are not willing to risk our jobs, our security, our status, power, and privilege, then things are not going to change. Many of our family and friends who are queer already risk all those every day, simply by being true to who they are. The least we can do is join them. And even if we do risk it all, we very well might fail. But this is exactly what Jesus calls to us to, and the reason he does is because it’s the best possible life to live. The undivided life. The life of freedom. The life of followers of Jesus. We are called to embrace that greatest love of all, to lay down our lives for our friends. Jesus reminds us, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24 – 25) It’s already a matter of life and death for many of our queer family and friends. Will we have the courage, faith, love, and hope to stand with them?
Max Blalock serves as the Campus Minister at the William and Mary Wesley Foundation. His partner Becky and he have two sons, and two cats, Yogi and Boo Boo. He's a graduate of the Claremont School of Theology. He loves people, animals, laughter, and sarcasm, not always in that order.