Saturday, April 29, 2017

A Wounded Heart

One week ago today, I was sitting in the John Glenn International Airport in Columbus, OH waiting to board a flight to Chicago where I would catch a connecting flight to Newark, NJ. It was my birthday. I’d already spent the day up until that point working, and I knew that I would be spending the rest of the day in the air or in airports, getting into Newark just before midnight, but I knew that I was flying to join friends, comrades and colleagues in the struggle for full inclusion within the United Methodist Church. Full inclusion, such a nice sterile way of saying that I wish my church would stop wounding those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, non-binary, and anyone else who doesn’t fit within the crosshairs of cisgender hetero-normativity that the church holds as the only acceptable way of being in the world, as if they have the right to look at Creation and say that what the Creator has made is not good.

A few days after my arrival, the United Methodist Church’s equivalent of the Supreme Court, the Judicial Council, would be ruling on the constitutionality (according to church law, not real law) of the election, consecration, and appointment of Bishop Karen Oliveto as well as the rights of the Boards of Ordained Ministry in Upstate New York and Northern Illinois to choose to not include sexual orientation as criteria for a person’s a relevant criteria for candidates for ordination. Right now, the United Methodist Book of Discipline doesn’t contain any language directly aimed at persons who are transgender or gender non-conforming. I’m sure that the denomination, which laughably boasts as its motto, “open hearts, open doors, open minds,” will remedy that oversight at some point.

I’m really trying to pull my thoughts together in some way that is hopeful, or even helpful. It is a struggle at this point.

I was flying into New Jersey a few days ahead of the public portion of the Judicial Council meeting, which was held on Tuesday, April 25th.  On Sunday and Monday, I would be in meetings with other members of the Affirmation Council. Affirmation is the oldest LGBTQ+ supportive organization in the United Methodist world. They are the organization that created the Reconciling Ministries Network, and they maintain a sibling relationship with other progressive organizations that have organized together under the umbrella of the Love Your Neighbor Coalition. I connected with their current understanding of their mission, which is essentially that of chaplaincy for those who have been hurt or wounded by the actions and discriminatory policies of the United Methodist denomination. It was great being able to spend two full days with this small group of people, engaged in discussions about how we can best devote our time and resources to caring for those who are hurting.

Very early on Tuesday morning, I arose, got ready, and packed my luggage as I would be heading to the airport to return home as soon as the public oral arguments were concluded. When we arrived at the Hilton near Newark Penn Station to get in line for tickets in hopes of being able to be in the room where Judicial Council was meeting, I saw many faces that I recognized from the past two General Conferences and from Reconciling Ministries Network convocation events. I was among friends, which was comforting, but I couldn’t help but wonder. Where were those who thought differently? It is clear that there are those who oppose full inclusion. Otherwise, this fight would have been over a long time ago. Didn’t they care enough to show up to show support for their beliefs? Apparently, that was not a priority for them. It makes sense that many of them were probably preparing for ‘We Believe in the Church,’ a conference held by the Wesleyan Covenant Association, a group of conservative, evangelical United Methodists who have banded together to resist any efforts aimed at the inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons in the denomination. Of course, as their new president and counsel for the South Central Jurisdiction in their complaint against Bishop Oliveto Keith Boyette will tell you, they support LGBTQ persons being included in “all aspects of the church.” I about fell over when he said this in the hearing room as his definition of “all aspects” clearly does not include marriage, the pulpit, or the episcopacy.

As I am currently in my final semester of grad school, I am currently working a part-time retail job in order to put some cash in my pocket as I finish up an internship. I was at that job last night. I had read from multiple sources throughout the day that the Judicial Council probably would not deliver its ruling until Saturday, today. As I took my 15-minute break last night, I pulled out my cell phone. As soon as I began scrolling through my newsfeed on Facebook, I felt as if the wind had been knocked out of me. The ruling from the court had been announced. The election of Bishop Oliveto was declared to be illegal, and people across the denomination were hurting. I read as much as I could before returning to work, but a feeling of numb emptiness would be with me the rest of the evening. I forced on a plastic smile and resumed interacting with customers, masking the hurt that I was feeling on the inside. At the end of my shift, I sat in front of a computer in the store’s storage room and clocked out. I sat there for a few minutes more, scrolling through more and more expressions of hurt from so many people. I finally managed to get up and walk to my car where I, again, sat reading even more before I finally put the phone down and started the engine.

With Bishop Oliveto in Newark, NJ
Today, I am still feeling the hurt and wounding. As someone who has experienced deep hurt at the hands of religious institutions, this is not going to be an easy one for me to get over. I keep reminding myself that I attend a progressive church in a progressive city with many other progressive churches. For me, my life will not change much. I do feel called to ministry, but my calling does not require ordination as my calling can be walked out with a state licensure in a counseling office. I won’t lie. It has crossed my mind that maybe this is where I cross my red line. Maybe this is where I call it quits with the church. That thought is met by a sarcastic rebuttal from within myself though, a voice that says, “Oh. What a privilege it must be to be you?  Go ahead. Protect yourself. Just walk away while others are hurting.”

I am not leaving the church…yet. I have no immediate plans to do so either. Part of me is excited to possibly be witness to the formation of something new, a new inclusive denomination or other progressive religious structure, some new wine skins for our new wine. I am also hopeful for the work of the Commission on the Way Forward. I am also encouraged by the fact that, as of today, Karen Oliveto is still a bishop in the United Methodist Church, and, regardless of where events take us from here, she will always bear the honorific in my heart.

If you actually made it to the end of this, thank you for listening to the outpourings of my wounded heart.

~ Culbs

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