Bishop Webb UNY Conference
Dear Bishop Webb:
I am writing in support of Rev. Steve Heiss, and so that you may better understand why I feel it is so vital for our UNY conference, and our United Methodist church, to take this opportunity to stand for equality and inclusivity. We live in a culture (dare I say, a world?) that has taught many of us lessons on how to hurt and hate each other. We know how to injure with language and behavior, such as sarcasm, racism, sexism, ageism and many other of the “isms” that are rampant in our world. We know how to build hierarchies and maintain structures and systems that continue to keep people oppressed and in poverty, which is necessary in a free market, capitalistic system. We know how to hate each other as depicted by the rapidly expanding membership in such organizations as the KKK and the Skinheads. We are also taught how to fear each other, especially those whom are perceived as “different” than us. These are lessons that are so embedded in our culture, so inherent in our daily living that we learn it well, often without even realizing it.
What we do not know quite how to do is love each other. We do not know how to love each other enough to take a stance for those who are oppressed, or victimized by the “isms” that we live with. We do not know how to love each other enough to overcome the hate and violence that runs rampant in this world we share. We do not know how to love each other enough to speak or sing songs of love to each other. We have no idea how to dismantle the power structures of the empire, that we have helped to build and create, in order to bring about a more equitable and just society. We have no idea how to help build a world that is economically stable and free for so many in countries we have capitalized and oppressed. We do not know how to teach our children to love and to fight against hatred and violence, or to dialogue with and learn to celebrate each person for their unique place in God’s creation.
However, there is a source of hope. In the midst of this harmful, hurtful environment we find the opportunity, when we listen deeply for the call to work towards God’s Kin-dom of Love. We hear the call of Jesus on our hearts, asking us to follow him to new places that we have never even dreamed of visiting. In the midst of disharmony and broken relationships, God’s Love is trying to break through and offer healing to a wounded world. We, in UNY and in the UM church, can become a source of that healing love flowing, if we but open ourselves to allow God to work through us. You previously stated we are in a spiritual crisis. Continuing to marginalize and block others from full access to serve as God calls them to, and from full access of sharing in the fullness of God’s love is a symptom of spiritual crisis.
I appeal to you on many levels as one hurt by the structures and systems that keep people oppressed in many ways, because I have experienced the oppression they create. As a woman, I have experienced sexism. As a person with Native heritage, my family has endured the pain of racism. A grandmother of a child with special needs, I watch my children deal with the effects of parenting a child who is viewed as “different.” As a daughter of an elderly woman I have seen the effects of ageism. As a mother of a Lesbian Woman, I understand the pain of discrimination in ways I wish I never had experienced. My daughter has lost much and would love to turn to the church for comfort and healing, yet she cannot because she is not accepted for who she is. I come to you as someone deeply wounded because several people I love deeply are unable to be themselves, but feel they must spend their life hiding for fear of being abused and targeted. The wounds are deep when you cannot be accepted for who you are.
So, I find myself in a dilemma, struggling with the issue, for I serve as a pastor in a denomination that does not accept the very family God blessed me with, nor some of the friends in the community of love God has encircled my life with. I find myself struggling with the fact that the UMC continues to perpetuate the concept that we have no gay clergy, which is dishonesty. The reality is there are, and always have been, gay clergy and gay couples who are members. God already knows this. The only ones we are trying to fool, by continuing to pretend this is “not acceptable with the discipline”, is ourselves. I have struggled with whether to remain in service working to bring about equality, or to walk away from a system that refuses to acknowledge and accept those I love.
I implore you to think of your children, Bishop Webb. Can you imagine the struggle as a parent watching your child be harassed for something like the color of their hair, or eyes, or skin or their sexuality, all of which they were born with? I would ask that you put yourself in my shoes for a moment. How would it feel to watch as your son became the victim of deep hatred and marginalizing for some aspect he was born with, and not be able to help him find his way to the church for comfort, because the doors were locked against him? Can you imagine the pain of those I serve who want so much to be married to their partners in the church because of their love of God as they stand at doors that are closed and locked to keep them out?
I do celebrate that for many of the youth of today, this is not an issue. They are more open and accepting, as are the public officials of many states. It is the church that remains closed, and is a major reason of why so many young people, and more than a few older ones, are walking away from organized religion. If the UM church, and the UNY conference, are serious about reaching out in love, we must be as radical as Jesus and take the steps to do so.
The UM church recently advertised the “open minds, open hearts, open doors” slogan, which may have been a catchy phrase, but sadly is not the reality. Several other denominations have opened their minds and doors, but the UMC is not one of them at this point. The open doors are only open for certain people who fit an image of who we want sitting in the pews next to us. Sadly the doors are closed to the marginalized that we perceive to be “less than” us.
Jesus was very radical because he broke down those walls and crossed all those boundaries the society he lived in established. He sat inside Samaria talking with a woman. He reached out and touched the lepers. He talked with all manner of people, never once requiring them to change before he interacted with them. All those that were deemed as “not good enough” and marginalized are the very people Jesus reached out to in miraculous, generous extravagance through God’s inclusive love for all.
Jesus met people where they were, as they were, and loved them for who they were, and I believe he calls us to do the same. I would ask the UN conference do the same, so we can all celebrate our journey toward God together, inviting LGBTQ people into the pews, into the pulpit and into the sacred covenant of marriage. What a vision of God’s Kin-dom of Love that would be.
Sincerely and with deep love for the One who bears the Hope for all of humanity – Jesus, the Risen Christ.
Susan Shields, Pastor Harpursville and Ouaquaga