Sunday, October 6, 2013

letter 105

Bishop Mark Webb
Upper New York Annual Conference
324 University Ave., Third Floor
Syracuse, NY 13210

October 4, 2013

Dear Bishop Webb, my Brother in Christ:

"My hands are tied."

How often do we say that in life? When conflicting goods rally for our allegiance, we do what we "must," because our "hands are tied."

In the matter of the Rev. Stephen Heiss, who has put his ministry and the security of his future on the line on behalf of justice for his LGBTQ brothers and sisters, it is easy to say: My hands are tied. He has violated the Book of Discipline, which calls homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching. He must live with the consequences.

I serve as a Teaching Elder (pastor) in another mainline Protestant denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA). We too lived for many years with clergy and laity alike believing our hands were tied.

I was one of them.  I couldn't come out in fullness of integrity to my congregation, lest I lose my job, my ordination, and my future as a Presbyterian minister. My hands were tied.

Then a friend, who had paid the price of coming out by lifelong estrangement from her Baptist pastor father, asked me, "What if there is a queer kid in your congregation? A kid who is struggling with his sexuality. And you are outed, and that queer kid draws the conclusion: 'She was ashamed. She knew it wasn't right. She knew we are worthless.' Are you willing to live with that?"

In the face of that possibility, could I say any longer, "My hands are tied?"

In the end I chose to come out to my congregation, in 2009, and to share the truth of my life and love with them. And they responded with grace upon grace-- even though many of them had been raised to believe that homosexuality was incompatible with Christian teaching, even though they knew the denomination might indeed seek to remove me from their midst. They chose to act in faith as if their hands were not tied. They chose to stand alongside me and claim me as one of their own.

Can you claim Rev. Stephen Heiss as one of your own? Can you choose to say, "My hands are NOT tied" and offer him your support and affirmation? Can you choose to stand, not only with Steve, but with Jesus, who uttered not one word on homosexuality, but many, many words on love, acceptance, and the slowness with which we ought to judge one another. Can you stand with Jesus, who never ordained anyone, but sat at table with tax collectors, sinners, and religious scholars; who touched and healed lepers and the blind and the disabled; and who apologized to the Syrophoenician woman for trying to withhold blessing and healing from her child?

When asked to join in covenantal love those who wished to be married, Steve did not say, "My hands are tied." He chose to stake his career and even his life for his conviction that God's grace is wide, wider than we can fathom, so wide we have not caught up with it yet. He chose to stake his life on the conviction that God is love.

Can you, Bishop Webb, do the same?

Grace and peace to you my brother. You are in my prayers.

Pat Raube, Pastor
Union Presbyterian Church
Endicott, NY

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