“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right…It is so ordered”
~Justice Anthony Kennedy June 26, 2015
As most of you no doubt know, June is Pride Month. I haven’t shared much about that—really nothing specific, not even a “this pastor loves you” post. I’ll be honest, I haven’t said much because I always have trouble speaking publicly on behalf of marginalized communities. It seems (to me) as if everything I have to say comes across as patronizing.
I have long tried to be a safe person for anyone to speak to, especially for members of the queer community. Most of my work in this regard has been in personal or one-to-one situations: offering a safe, encouraging conversation with a person who identifies as LGBTQIA+, or a parent or sibling or child of someone who is, someone who may never have had a pastor offer them anything but judgment or conditional grace. I have been open about my theology and my beliefs, but my activism, if you can call it that, has mostly not been public.
I’m not an activist by nature. I’ve always had the choice to focus on what came more naturally to me, without fear (for the most part) that my status would be questioned. That, to me, is one of the defining characteristics of privilege—being free to choose whether or not to get involved because it doesn’t affect you. It’s not something I’m proud of. I thought all along that being a loving, accepting person and pastor was enough, but it’s not.
And now I am a pastor to our churches, some of which have claimed promoting equality for LGBTQIA+ persons as an important part of their ministry and identity. I’m glad to be able to offer a truly welcoming space in the church, to offer the same inclusive range of ministry to one and all, and to know that many have found here a true safe harbor in which to respond to God’s call on their lives.
One of our churches, Morningside United Methodist, was recently the target of an act of hatred—the deliberate destruction of a Pride banner. It was removed from its spot on the front lawn of the church property and placed on the ground where it was run over, leaving the marks of tire tracks and other scars. This was not an accident.
Members of the church salvaged the banner and have hung it in our worship space where it will remind us of the continuing struggle for equality. I’m exceedingly happy that marriage equality has now been the law of the land for six full years. I truly believe that giving everyone the right to love in this way is reflective of the love of God for all people and in accordance with Christian scripture. Still, I want—I NEED—to be reminded on a regular basis that this is still a struggle. There are countless acts of hatred being perpetrated across our country and around the world and there are countless numbers of people who do not feel safe being themselves in public. The fact that some legal protections have been extended seems to have opened the door for discrimination and hatred to flow more freely.
I am happy that I have found a place to serve in which advocacy and activism are essentially part of my job description, but I’m still learning and have a long way to go. Fortunately, I have met some people who are willing to invite me into their work—people who are willing to teach me and to forgive the fact that I have not intentionally engaged in the struggle in the past. I’ve always tried to offer love and acceptance freely, but through the loving guidance of some very wise people, I have learned that love in a biblical sense is always social: it requires something active of us. There is no way to truly love and allow injustice to stand unchallenged.
Perhaps it’s too little, too late, but to all of you: #happypride!
Pastor John Fleming