Monday, July 26

Tuesday’s Temptation: Forgetting

Terri Stewart at Olympia with Lyda Barr

I have a photo of myself from 2004 standing on the steps of Olympia.  I'm the person behind the young woman who is centered (behind and to the left, bowing my head in prayer).  The young woman is Lyda Barr.  She baby-sat my kids back in the day.  On this day in Olympia, I began the first of my outward stands on the full inclusion of LGBTQIA folx in the life of our society and in the life of my church.

I was reminded that this was fourteen years ago because that is the same amount of time since the church trial of Rev. Karen Dammann who was acquitted of the crime of being a lesbian on March 21, 2004.  This stand in Olympia was about a month prior to that.  This was the fifth year of my membership in the United Methodist Church and the beginning of my call to ordained ministry.  I owe Rev. Karen a huge debt for the burden she carried and for the hope that she represents.

At Karen's trial, Lyda was arrested for blocking the Bishop's entrance into the church.  The Bishop, a person she had known her whole life, looked her in the face and then ordered police to arrest folks who were protesting.  If I had known the protest and blockade were happening, I would have stood there.  Unfortunately, I did not.

Rev. Karen was prosecuted because her child called two women, mama.  Her choice was to teach her child not to lie.

Prior to this point, I had discovered the restrictions in the United Methodist polity that declared that "self-avowed practicing homosexuals" were contrary to Christian teaching and that pastors would not be affirmed if they met that criteria.  In many ways, that is a don't-ask, don-t tell policy--"self-avowed."  When I discovered the restriction, I began working at the local level to change the church.  In partnership with folks like Lyda Barr and Debbie Brown, I began the long-slow work of trying to create congregational change.  We created a social action committee and declared that our committee was a reconciling committee within the local church and staked our ground.  We began to go to Pride in Seattle offering communion and blessings.  Before marriage was legal, I blessed a holy union at our booth at Pride.  Two women came to our table, took communion, and asked for me to bless their union even though they were unable to be married.  Even though I was not ordained at the time.

When this photo was published by the AP and on Good Morning America in 2004, a member of my local church called me and yelled at me.  Treating me as if I was his child.

"What are you trying to do?  Split the church?"  He thundered agitatedly.   His wife tried to repair our relationship.  But I am still waiting to hear from him.

But no.  I have never tried to split the church.  I have just never read scripture that says that LGBTQIA folx are outside the grace of God and full membership of the church.  I find it ridiculous that this is a hang-up.  I also was not brought up in the church so I have an advantage at being able to brush off inept interpretations.

I remember all this because it is important for me to claim that I have been working within this movement for one year shy of twenty years.  That makes me weary.  On the blessed side, we have moved on socially so that people are allowed full access to legal and social marriages.  On the dark side, my church is still embattled in this discussion.  Both at the United Methodist level and at the local level.  That church that launched me into the world so many years ago is still not reconciling.  I don't know what they are waiting on.  Well, I do.  They think that the Big UMC will solve their little UMC problem.  Well, I am assuming that is the thought process.

I remember this because in the context of those who have been working for full-inclusion, it makes me very young.  I am moved by those who have stayed in the church since the early days of the fight--since 1972--to continue striving for full equity.  I wish I could remember everyone's names.  Just count them as part of my cloud-of-witnesses earnestly striving forward.  I am grateful.

For some who ask why I stay, I can only say that it is a day-by-day decision sometimes.  Today, I am so very tender after spending nearly a week with my LGBTQIA siblings.  I am also aware that I have spent only half the time walking this fight as those who have been in it since 1972.  If they can do, so can I (I mumble hesitantly to myself).

When I sit with the oft-demonized Sue Laurie and see the gentleness, love, and prophetic witness embodied in her eyes, I feel that I can continue.  (She is demonized by those who would exclude because she won't silently go away).

When I am embraced by young clergy in the UM Queer Clergy Caucus, I feel that generational connection that goes from the early days of Affirmation to today.

When I sit with the board of Reconciling Ministries Network, I feel the energy that comes being connected with others who are earnestly striving.

Remembering is important.  It was very meaningful to me this weekend to hear a history of the movement from 1972 to the present.  Remember who we are.  Where we came from.

All this is to say, it is a danger when we forget whose shoulders we stand on and with.  That is the way towards disconnection and rugged individualism.  Our ancestors save us from thinking that everything we have accomplished is through our own efforts.  Our ancestors also encourage us as we view the long arc towards justice.  It will not all be accomplished by us today.  I know.  I'm a big bummer today.

At any rate, my prayer for you today is that you will remember who has come before you.  You will remember who you walk with.  You will remember what you have done.  And you will remember how powerful and beautifully made you are.



Man in Prayer
Reconciling Ministries Convocation/Washington D.C./2013 
Photo by Terri Stewart

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