Transforming NOT Transformed

0 Comments 27 June 2015

This has been an epic week for high court decisions. The Supreme Court upheld key provisions of Obamacare and it ruled in favor of same-sex marriage making it legal in all states across the nation. As an African American queer lesbian ordained clergy of the United Methodist Church it is the latter decision that plumbs my imagination regarding the days to come for my denomination.

Within moments of learning about the decision, United Methodist LGBTQ and affirming clergy posted pictures not only of themselves officiating same-sex marriages but also of they and their spouses. Social media lit up with their smiling faces showing the sheer joy of love unbridled. With the ruling now etched across the legal landscape of every state in America, their “outing” typified a people willing to defy the unjust rules of the denomination.But I did not feel such a level of joy.

On my Facebook page I posted this comment: “As a queer lesbian I truly celebrate this decision. I promise you I do. However, there is a part of me that wishes the SCOTUS would have withheld this announcement until Monday. It leaves me feeling so very torn. It makes me feel the burden of being Black and queer lesbian. I feel like my mourning has been stepped on and my ability to celebrate denied its fullness.Now you all say whatever the hell you want to say about this post but it is truly how I feel. And I hate that I feel guilty by the mixture of these emotions. Oppression is a motherfucker!! (Straight no chaser)”

Admittedly, whereas I felt I could not celebrate, several of my colleagues expressed the need to have a respite, a moment of celebration so as not to be overwhelmed by the horror of the murder of the 9 members, including the pastor, of Emanuel AME Church. Still, the very need still points to this truth: Oppression really is a motherfucker which we must continuously seek to reveal and eradicate.

There was no more revealing reading for me than those from within the UMC. Reactions to SCOTUS ruling in the UMC included concerns about tensions between state and church law such as this excerpt from a UMC article: “I think it will have bearing, and I think it will put a lot of people in the middle,” said the Rev. Sky McCracken, a district superintendent in western Kentucky. He will be part of the Memphis Conference’s delegation to General Conference. “I think it will be difficult because people will have a hard time deciding between what the law of the land says and what the doctrine of the church is.”

This is why knowing our history as a denomination is so important. This is not the first time delegates and leaders of our church have had a major clash between secular laws and those recorded in our Book of Discipline.

Rev. PENNELL COOMBE, of Philadelphia at the 1860 General Conference of the Methodist Church: “He called attention to the fact that the question before them was not as to the morality of Slaveholding. On that question there was no difference of opinion in the Methodist Church. The question at issue, therefore, was, whether the Discipline should be changed, as it at present exists, so as to forbid the holding as well as the buying and selling of slaves. …Do the majority intend to say that the Church should place herself in a position of defiance to the State, and require our members to do what the laws will not permit to be done? If so, do they expect the State to protect the Church in that position? After the 4th of June next the law of Maryland wilt absolutely prohibit emancipation. It is nearly so now. What will you do with your new rule then?”

The result was that the chapter regarding slavery was only advisory and “the following passage was stricken from the Discipline, in order that the book might be made to conform in all its parts to the new chapter: “Provided, nevertheless, no slaveholder shall be eligible to the office of an Elder or Deacon, when the laws will admit of emancipation and permit the liberated slave to enjoy freedom.”

Thus the denomination bowed itself to state law permitting its clergy to continue slaveholding.

When it comes to honoring the lives of Black people, the United Methodist Church then and now has been shrewd, flatulent, and even despicable. Our Council of Bishops has had nothing to say about the Voting Rights Act being gutted and took nearly a year to issue a pastoral letter regarding racism though two of its Black colleagues had been in the forefront on the matter (Bishop Warner addressed the subject at their meeting in Berlin and Bishop Gregory V. Palmer called for the Council to issue a pastoral letter).

Law of the land, yes. But miles to go within the United Methodist Church. A thought I simply could not bear yesterday.

Yesterday I needed to sit with the sorrow and worshipful celebration of Rev. Pinckney’s funeral. It was not a perfect liturgy – so much more I desired and will not speak of in this blog – but it gave me room to grieve, to weep, to rock back and forth and to raise my hands in praise. It allowed me to feel my wholeness as a Black woman, as a minister of the gospel, as a scholar, as a vocalist, as a mother, as an activist and as a queer lesbian. Death has that way of reminding us of the work of our mortal bodies and not just our temporalities. Homegoing celebrations remind us of the significance of being bodies in communities. The eulogy speaks to the living, encouraging us and is – when done well – an exhortation that prompts us to carry on the good work of our loved ones now gone to glory. I received that from President Obama’s well-crafted and delivered eulogy. I needed to be reminded again of the power of grace.

No truer words were spoken by President Obama than these: “But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.” Having felt the burden of being the brunt of so many “isms” I needed to be reminded of the enormity of God’s gift of grace and to be comforted as I realized that my labor to eradicate all oppression than stands in opposition to God’s grace given to all humanity, that the work that I am doing is not in vain.

Nine people died while they were in church studying about God and God’s amazing works of grace. That was where my heart and attention rested. All of it. All of raw emotions to that encounter alone. Nothing else would do. Let alone a celebration that I must still fight to bring to fruition amidst a community – LGBTQ – that is still too plagued by racists.

So today we may marry. That’s cool. Really it is. And today I will celebrate this phenomenal turn of events. But as a Black woman I simply must temper my celebratory mood with the cautious perspective of one who knows well the ongoing struggle both in the church and the LGBTQ community to end racism.

Pops collar and sPOTUS at AMEips merlot.

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