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"Being faithful sometimes requires us to break the rules:" A Response to the Issue of LGBTQ Inclusion in the UMC.

“I’d rather be excluded for who I include than included for who I exclude.” This sentence, often appearing on a church sign, shows up fairly regularly on my social media feed, a moving reminder of what the communities of faith are called to be. The Rev. Eston Williams, a United Methodist pastor, said these words in 2016 to a reporter for a story on his rural Texas church’s decision to begin offering same sex weddings. The congregation voted overwhelming to offer the services, even though they are banned by the United Methodist Book of Discipline.

Being faithful sometimes requires us to break the rules.

As Christians, we can look at the ways in which Jesus responded time after time to efforts to exclude people—he repeatedly chastised the disciples for creating barriers to children, women and men who sought him out. He stood up to those who accused him of spending time with the “wrong” kinds of people, choosing to build relationships with all of God’s children. We, too, are called to be people of inclusion and not exclusion, and if the rules bar us from welcoming all, those are rules we must defy. But there is a cost to breaking rules, even if they are unjust and at opposition to what Christ calls us to do and be.

We continue to witness and to grieve with our United Methodist colleagues, family and friends at the ongoing price paid by those who stand on the side of LGBTQ people and those who must serve in silence. Just this past week, Rev. Anna Blaedel has taken an indefinite leave of absence after enduring charge after charge in the church system. Their crime? Telling the truth about who they are. They are just one in a series of people whose callings have been denied or cut short by institutional rules designed to limit ministry by and with LGBTQ people.

What a tremendous loss for the church, an unnecessary pain and separation meted out on God’s people. While I firmly believe that God will continue to work through the lives of those who are forced out, I also know that we are called to be stewards of the gifts that God has placed among us. When we are wasteful with those gifts, when we shut out those called to serve among us, we go against God’s wishes.

The United Methodist Church, of course, is not the only one in which this is happening. LGBTQ people in churches around the world continue to struggle for recognition of the simple fact that God created us as we are, in God’s image and likeness. So much suffering has gone into this movement that asserts the simple fact that God loves us unconditionally as we are. But the United Methodist Church is in the spotlight these days, behind some communions in recognizing the equal calling of LGBTQ people but ahead of others.

We rejoice at the many ways in which congregations and people are speaking out about their decisions to embrace all in their communities. We grieve for the price they pay. We stand in solidarity with all who yearn to speak freely about who they are and who they love. We affirm the faithfulness of those who stand for love and inclusion. We celebrate the vocations and ministry of LGBTQ people. And we remind ourselves and one another that we are following Jesus and many other prophetic voices from around the world when we say, “I’d rather be excluded for who I include than included for who I exclude.”


United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities Open and Affirming Statement:

United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, with our roots in the United Church of Christ and our practice of embracing the full diversity of faith expressions and understandings, is a generous and welcoming seminary where all—trailblazers and traditionalists, questioners and yearning spirits, people of every faith background, race, age, disability, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and expression, marital status and family structure, economic and social status—come to explore the boundless possibilities and create a loving and beloved community.

 

Justin Sabia-Tanis

Rev. Dr. Justin Sabia-Tanis is Assistant Professor for Social Transformation and Director for Social Transformation at United. He earned his PhD from the Graduate Theological Union in Interdisciplinary Studies, focusing on sexuality, art, and religion. In addition, he has an MDiv from Harvard University and DMin from San Francisco Theological Seminary. As a pastor, he served congregations in Boston, Honolulu, and San Francisco and as Director of Leadership Development for Metropolitan Community Churches; he is now with the United Church of Christ. Justin has a long history with grassroots activism, including AIDS advocacy in the 1980s and serving as spokesperson and media coordinator for the Hawai’i Equal Rights Marriage Project in the 1990s. Justin directed communications at the National Center for Transgender Equality and for Out & Equal Workplace Advocates. He served as managing director for four years of the Center for LGBTQ and Gender Studies in Religion at Pacific School of Religion; he now directs their communications and resources. He is currently active in humanitarian efforts with migrants in Southern Arizona. Justin teaches at Iliff School of Theology, Pacific School of Religion, University of Arizona, and Pima Community College. He is the author of Transgendered: Ministry, Theology, and Communities of Faith (Pilgrim Press, 2003; Wipf and Stock 2018), which was a finalist for a Lambda Literary Award, and is a contributor to the forthcoming Transgender: Four Views (Baker Academic Press, 2019). He has also contributed chapters to the Queer Bible Commentary, Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible, Transfaith: A Transgender Pastoral Resource and a forthcoming book, Unraveling Systems from Within.

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