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You Cannot Work Here

Next week is Cooperative Baptist Fellowship’s General Assembly, the annual gathering for those affiliated with moderate and progressive Baptist churches, the group that famously split with the SBC 25 years ago. 25 years ago CBF formed as the Baptist that supported women in ministry and upheld historic Baptist principles. Next week in the midst of the 25 year celebration, there will also be questions and conversation about the future of CBF.

Young Baptist are asking where there place is in an organization that is on the cusp of having its founders retire, but whose founders can’t quite retire because of lost income and retirement in the split. CBF is in a holding pattern waiting to land while the next generation of CBF looks up at the leadership circling overhead awaiting a chance to pilot CBF into their future. Part of that future has to include a conversation about whether CBF will remove its discriminatory hiring policy excluding members of the LGTBQ community from working at CBF. This conversation is even more important for supporters and allies of the LGTBQ community in light of the Orlando shooting.

In October of 2000, the Coordinating Council of the CBF adopted the following policy on homosexual behavior related to personnel and funding:

Because of this organizational value, the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship does not allow for the expenditure of funds for organizations or causes that condone, advocate or affirm homosexual practice. Neither does this CBF organizational value allow for the purposeful hiring of a staff person or the sending of a missionary who is a practicing homosexual.

CBF’s stance barring openly gay people from working at CBF has caused some to boycott the CBF and others to question whether CBF will survive without changing this hiring policy. Those of us who have been told that they cannot work somewhere based on our gender or sexual orientation and not our qualifications, work experience, or education are anxiously waiting to see what CBF will decide.

Our hope is that we will not leave our annual meeting as our Methodist brothers and sisters did with the admonition to keep putting our lives and our very selves on hold.

A Mass Shooting and Spiritual Abuse

Yesterday, the alternate reading for the lectionary was Psalm 5:1-8:

Psalm 5:1-8
5:1 Give ear to my words, O LORD; give heed to my sighing.
5:2 Listen to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to you I pray.
5:3 O LORD, in the morning you hear my voice; in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch.
5:4 For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil will not sojourn with you.
5:5 The boastful will not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.
5:6 You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful.
5:7 But I, through the abundance of your steadfast love, will enter your house, I will bow down toward your holy temple in awe of you.
5:8 Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies; make your way straight before me.

I was drawn to preach this psalm this week even though it asked me to wrestle with the misinterpretation of an Old Testament God who is full of wrath and encounter an Almighty God who does not delight in wickedness and hates all evildoers. Even as I preached this psalm and reflected on the mass shooting in Orlando, I knew what was going to happen. I grew up in a community of faith that turned passages of scripture into justification for theological dogma regardless of their historical or literary contexts. This community of faith did the same with current events. Nothing would shake the dogmatic teachings they believed in, not even death, not even 50 deaths, not even the deadliest mass shooting in American history. I knew even as I preached that there would be people who would take to social media and spread their message fueled with spiritual abuse to anyone who would hear it, disregarding the lives lost and the families mourning. I knew there would be people who claimed that those who had been murdered somehow deserved it because of their sexual orientation.

This is spiritual abuse.

Clinging so tightly to dogma that it prevents compassion, grief, and love in the midst of death does nothing to spread God’s love and bring the kingdom of God here on earth. Instead it excuses us from loving our neighbor or welcoming those who have been systematically discriminated against and numbs our hearts and souls to the point of reducing human life to a lesson to be learned. This kind of biblical interpretation frees the believer from any action and encourage hate-filled judgement recited like a trained parrot.

But even in the midst of this spiritual abuse that tries to claim that these lives lost were worth nothing, there are voices rising up, voices full of creativity and love, full of the resurrected Christ that offer new life. May I be one of those voices that proclaims loudly that those 50 people held the divine breath within them as a creation of Creator God. May I continue to wrestle with my own dustiness that threatens to convince me that this life is too fleeting to offer any real change or hope to the world acknowledging the divine breath within my own soul that promises transformation if I but breathe deeply.

Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies; make your way straight before me.

Do We Have to Welcome and Affirm All?

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As the conversation about gender and sexuality is more prevalent in American culture, the question, “Do we have to welcome and affirm all?” is circulating in churches.

Some churches are responding to these conversations and this question by expressing their rights as religious institutions to express condemnation and judgement. Some churches are responding to these conversations and this question by expressing that it seems like churches are being asked to be politically correct and not faithful, even calling on people who have been saved from homosexuality to speak out. Some churches have even decided to identify as welcoming, but not affirming, but have found grave difficulty in the practical implementation of this theological tenet.

Yesterday, as I lead worship at Transitions with Ministrieslab, I was struck by the reflections of those gathered about being homeless and how people perceive you. “I know this sounds crazy and most people won’t believe me, but homelessness is the best choice I made because I chose a life away from addiction and constantly being in that environment. This is my new life.”

I can’t help but feel the same way. As a woman called to preach, coming out as a woman preacher was the best decision I made. It caused me to cut ties with a past of spiritual abuse and step into a future full of resurrection.

But my story, the stories of members of LGTBQ community, and the story I heard at Transitions challenge the church that has created discriminatory membership practices that teach some people are welcomed and affirmed by God and others aren’t. As churches and denominations continue to debate whether they should welcome and affirm all, those of us who have been rejected, silenced, and treated as outsiders will continue to gather, continue to worship, and continue to tell our stories.

And once churches and denominations have settled on this question, they just might find themselves without members as the rest of us work to bring the kingdom of God here on earth by partnering with organizations who are busy helping rather than busy debating.

To Love is to Call By Name

I’ve just recently finished re-reading Walking on Water by Madeline L’Engle. I’ve had the experience of having the book mean something completely different to me during this time of my life. That’s the power of words, isn’t it? They can change and transform you again and again as you meet or re-meet them at different point in time.

L’Engle writes:

It seems more than ever the compulsion today is to identify, to reduce someone to what is on the label. To identify is to control, to limit. To love is to call by name.

Her book was published in 1980, so “today” for her didn’t include the discussion about the NC bathroom law or the Marriage Equality Ruling and yet her words ring true for today’s discussions and debates.

We reduce people to labels of sexuality and of gender when we want to generalize and ostracize. We reduce people to labels when we want to oppress. We reduce people to labels when we want to maintain power. We reduce people to labels when we repeat the rhetoric that includes labels rather than people.

I’m finding this to be even more true as we minister to the community of people as ministrieslab.

Oh so you are ministering to the homeless?

No, we are ministering to Lee and Adam and Melanie and Rhonda and…

To love is to call by name, not label.

Thanks be to God for visionary writers who write words that challenge how we minister and how we love.

What White Males Don’t Have to Ask in the Pastor Search Process

Recently, Baptist News posted an article that provided some key questions ministerial candidates should ask during the pastor search process. They were good important questions and in some cases tough questions, but as I read the article, what overwhelmed me were the questions that the author didn’t have to ask in the pastor search process.

He didn’t have to ask if the committee was seriously considering him as a candidate because of his gender, something that his female colleagues always have to ask. In fact, female candidates even have to wonder about whether they are being considered for their merit or for grants and incentives like those offered by Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Missouri. Yes, you read that correctly, churches can get paid to interview a female candidate for the pastor position. They don’t have to hire a woman, just interview her. The idea is to help female candidates get their foot in the door since many, many female looking for senior pastor positions don’t even make it to the interview phase of the pastor search process. What has happened instead is that the incentive program opens the door not  for more opportunities, but for more theological and spiritual discrimination.

Perhaps instead of asking questions about the issues of race, gender, and sexual orientation the author should have advised white males to risk their position of privilege and power in the pastor search process by asking whether the committee was considering candidates from these groups who have been and are being systemically discriminated against.

After all, we have to.

If we even make it to the interview phase.

Why I Ask the Awkward Questions Others Won’t

I was recently being interviewed and in the course of our discussion, my interviewer remarked:

“Well, you have gotten the reputation of talking about hot button issues, people usually don’t want to talk about.”

I laughed, but after the interview was over I thought a little more earnestly about that statement. Why did I ask those awkward questions about hot button issues that many churches, ministers, and lay people get nervous even mentioning?

Why did I feel compelled in a recent gathering of ministers and lay people to bring to light sexist and patriarchal language? Why do I write in this space about how churches need to have the difficult conversation around inclusion of the LBGTQ community? Why can’t I appreciate the heart of a message and forget about the racist, sexist, and privileged subtexts? Why can’t I keep my mouth shut around touchy topics that make people uncomfortable?

Perhaps it is because there have been so many times I haven’t said or done anything, but instead have tacitly condoned discriminatory language, practices, and patterns through my participation and silence. Perhaps it is because I hope that by challenging men who tell me at professional gatherings that it “looks like I’ve lost all that baby weight,” I am trying to expose sexism so my daughters might not have these types of experiences as professional women. Perhaps it’s because when I do speak up, I hear voices of others who wanted to say something, but thought it was just them who felt the sexist and racist subtext of the conversations. Perhaps it is because I am beginning to understand my own privilege and how it impacts others when I make decisions haphazardly without analysis or reflection.

Unless we are willing to fight against discrimination both systemic and unintentional in our language, in our worship, and in our churches, we are perpetuating the belief that Creator God is only available to some types of people and not all people. When we allow discriminatory patterns, habits, and language to enter our sacred spaces, we miss the opportunity to hear of the power of God working in the lives of God’s people. We miss miraculous evidence that God is still transforming lives. We miss the glimpses of wholeness and hope and healing in the midst of brokenness and hurt and pain.

We miss the opportunity to bear witness to God’s work in and among us.

And I don’t want to miss that.

We Don’t Believe That

This Sunday, I told my story to a faith community I had never visited before. As I shared about the moment I shared my call to ministry and received in reply, “We don’t believe that,” I saw some of their faces cringe. It’s a story they have heard, and they have experienced personally.

Now, years later, I can understand what that minister was saying to me. He was actually saying that my voicing a call to preach as a woman was not something that fit into the theological take out box that the church wanted its members to carry out into the world. But what it felt like he was saying to me was, “We don’t believe you. We don’t believe you’ve heard a call to ministry because women don’t hear a call to preach if they are following God’s word and God’s will. We don’t believe in you.”

There’s a lot about the current state of our country and our world that I would like to respond to and say, “I don’t believe that.” I don’t want to believe that 46.7 million people in US are living in poverty. I don’t want to believe that my home state has the highest rate of violence against women. I don’t want to wrestle with the the fact that 1 in 5 girls and 1 and 20 boys are sexually abused in the US or deal with the the fact that 1 in 6 women have been the victim of attempted or completed rape, but just because I don’t want to believe these things doesn’t deny their existence.

In our current church context that upholds the mantra that if you trust God, you will be blessed, the number of people living in poverty and who are victims of violence and abuse doesn’t fit in. The church can deny the existence of the reality we are living in and keep preaching a message that disregards these realities, but the church will continue to see church attendance, church membership, and church contributions decline.

Churches can continue to say, “We don’t believe in that” to the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender, and queer community, to women in ministry, and to those who are in grave need of food and for a way out of abusive situations, but we who don’t fit in your box will continue to say, “Here we are. We exist.”

After I heard, “We don’t believe in that,” from my home church, it took me a long time to find my voice. But now that I’ve found it, I can say confidently, “I don’t believe in your oppressive, dogmatic theology. I believe in the transformative power of the Risen Christ who brought the kingdom of God to earth welcoming all people and loving all people.”

The LGBTQ Question

When I was approached by a member of our church to perform the wedding to her girlfriend, I wasn’t surprised or shocked. Since I started classes in seminary, I knew that this would be a part of my ministry as a pastor of a church and as a minister. We studied and discussed the LGBTQ question in each of our classes because our professors knew the world we lived in. My classmates and I didn’t always agree on how the church or a minister should respond to a request to perform a same-sex marriage, but we all knew as individuals, as ministers, and as churches we were going to have to address the LGBTQ question.

In my ordination council, I was asked how I would respond if someone asked me as a pastor to perform a same-sex wedding. I wasn’t surprised or shocked by this question in my ordination council. I knew this was going to be a part of my ministry as a pastor and as a minister. My response was the same as it would be if anyone asked me to perform a wedding. I wanted to sit with the couple and engage in counseling and after we sat together, we would work together to plan a ceremony or work together to continue to work on their relationship.

But after I was called to pastor and I began to talk to my pastor colleagues, I was shocked and surprised to hear that many of them weren’t planning on addressing the LGBTQ question in their congregations. They just didn’t think it would come up. Actually, they hoped it wouldn’t come up.

If it did come up, they were planning to decide what to do as ministers in a staff meeting or have a small committee decide and then inform the congregation of the church’s stance. I was shocked and surprised because in our discussions and conversations in our seminary classes, making a decision without a guided conversation with the entire congregation was the recipe for disaster. It meant that the church as a whole didn’t have the opportunity to work through the issue.

I slowly realized the disconnect that was taking place. In many cases, the pastors and ministers who were avoiding the conversation about the LGBTQ question or restricting the conversation to staff meeting or a small committee weren’t prepared for the question. These pastors and ministers went to seminary in a different day and age. Their classes and discussions didn’t mention or discuss the LGBTQ question at all.

We are at a transformational period in our churches. In light of marriage equality being upheld by the Supreme Court, which overruled individual states making laws to ban same-sex marriage, churches are going to have to address the LGBTQ issue in 2016. There is no way that churches are going to be able to avoid the issue.

The way churches and pastors handle the conversation around the LGBTQ  question will greatly impact the future of the church. My hope is that pastors and ministers invite their young colleagues who have studied, discussed, and trained for this question in seminary to take the lead on these conversations because these young colleagues will be the ones who are responsible for leading and guiding the church into the future. My fear is that the pastors and ministers who weren’t trained for these conversations and are three to five years from retirement and who would rather not address the LGBTQ question at all will try to rush through the discussions and conversations surrounding the LGBTQ resulting in divided, broken and hurt congregations. These congregations will be left for their younger colleagues to try to reunite and reconcile into some kind of semblance of church. Please don’t leave us churches like this while you enjoy your retirement.

We aren’t scared of these conversations because we know this is part of our ministry and our calling. We have prepared to lead our churches and God’s people through this transformational period, but you have to let us in. You have to call us to be your senior pastors and your youth ministers and your children’s ministers. You have to ask us for our guidance during staff meetings. You have to invite us to the table.

We’re ready.

Why Being Kicked Out of the Convention Isn’t Just Theological

Recently, First Baptist Greenville and Augusta Heights Baptist Church in Greenville, SC have been asked by the SC Baptist Association to back down from statements and actions in support of people in the LGBT community or face disassociation from the SC Baptist Convention:

The South Carolina Baptist Convention has called on First Baptist Greenville to recant its LGBT nondiscrimination policy or face the possibility of being disassociated from the group of more than 2,000 churches.

Greenville Baptist Association messengers voted unanimously Oct. 22 to dismiss Augusta Heights Baptist Church after the church’s pastor officiated at a same-sex marriage.

The marriage service was not held at the church, but Augusta Heights’ pastor Greg Dover performed the Oct. 10 ceremony with the approval of his deacons, said Al Phillips, director of missions for Greenville Association.

 

I grew up in a Southern Baptist Church in SC and grew accustomed to language associated with these debates including, “Well, these churches didn’t really want to be a part of the SC Baptist Convention, anyways. They don’t agree theologically with the Southern Baptist Convention, so it’s not really that big of a deal for them to be disassociated or to be kicked out.”

It’s an easy bandaid of justification for the people who are deciding the fate of these churches, and maybe it’s partially correct; however, the decision to kick out or disassociate from a church is much bigger than theological issues. When a church is no longer associated with the SC Baptist Convention, the staff and ministers at the churches who have been kicked out often face the pragmatic issues of having to find new health insurance as well as fight for accrued retirement. This isn’t merely a theological debate or decision. This is a decision that impacts ministers, staff, minister’s families, and staff families. But you won’t hear about these other ramifications because the debate and the decision get boiled down to theological differences rather than care or concern for other baptist ministers and their families.

When I answered a call to pastor and preach, there was an individual disassociation from my home church, which meant scrambling to find scholarships and make connections to churches and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in order to help alleviate some of the costs of a three-year commitment to seminary. This is a journey that started as soon as I began seminary over four years ago, and one that still proves difficult as I’ve had to figure out how to procure my own health insurance, dental insurance, and retirement plan. Although I was able to secure a seminarian’s health insurance plan while I was in school as soon as I tried to transfer my account from a student to a minister’s account, my plan was terminated because the church that called me wasn’t the right kind of baptist church. Since I was serving a small church as a bi-vocational minister, there wasn’t a health insurance plan available through the church either.

Our church is a church plant, so its history doesn’t include association with Southern Baptists at all, but for those churches whose history and benefits system for their ministers and staff and their ministers’ and staff’s families are tied to their association with the Southern Baptist Convention, being kicked out or disassociated will send them on the same journey of having to start anew in how they provide for their ministers and staff.

And trust me, it’s not an easy journey.

As my male colleagues embark on this journey that their female counterparts can’t help but be a part of when they answer a call to minister, I hope it will make our commitment to welcome and affirm all, yes even those who ostracize and exclude, even stronger.

Because we know that it’s not just theological debate.

It’s a way of living in relation with one another and caring for each other whether we agree theologically or not.

 

Walking in Washington

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This summer, we got the opportunity to walk in Washington, DC with our girls. When I say we walked, we walked over 10 miles in a day as we went to the Air and Space Museum and the Natural History Museum and the National Museum of American History, toured the capital, and saw the Lincoln Memorial and the Vietnam Memorial. It was a great chance for us to spend time together with each other as a family, but also for us to remember that we live in a culture that is bigger than just Columbia, SC and remember that we are a part of a bigger culture and community as citizens of the United States of America.

Just by chance, we were there at the same time that we the Marriage Equality Act was passed. As we talked about it with our girls who are 7.5 and 5, we realized that this was a historic moment for us and for them, but in completely different ways. Sam and I would always remember the debates and discussion that lead to this act being brought before the Supreme  Court, but for the girls, it is different. They haven’t ever lived in a world where they don’t know kids who have same-sex parents, so as we tried to explain to them what the Supreme Court had decided, they looked confused. In their world, there are already families who are families with two moms or two dads. We explained that there were families that already existed, but there were other places where those families couldn’t be families across our country.

These are the moments for me as a parent where I realize that the world is changing because the world I knew growing up isn’t the world they now know. Their perspectives and their views will determine where the world will go, not mine.

And suddenly, the most important work I can do is to walk with them in Washington and as they grow up.