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by Quest Hunter, member of the Reconciling Committee of the Desert Southwest Conference

Happy Pride Y’all! Happy Pride to the United Methodist Church’s Reconciling Ministry’s members for their tireless efforts to educate. As a ministry, they work towards the goal of understanding and acceptance of LGBTQI people in the world and church. Happy Pride to the work of white abolitionists who seek to teach and heal their own communities as they know that it is in their own healing and self-acceptance that will allow People of Color to lift the yoke of their oppressors’ pain. This Pride, I would like to honor the lives of the countless Black trans women who face the highest murder rates of any other LGBTQI identity.  An acknowledgment is due to the white men who struggle to love themselves as they face the highest suicide rate of any other demographic, many of them gay. To the many queer and transgender young people who didn’t believe that things do in fact get better and took their own lives. This article is for all LGBTQI lives and their witnesses.

In honor of the Stonewall Uprising each June, many Americans and countless people around the world celebrate LGBTQI Pride Month. If you have never been to a Pride celebration, imagine a utopian community under the bruises of riots, honoring their truth and self-acceptance. Imagine the spirits of the oppressed living lives of freedom and pride within themselves and without the struggle of shame and hidden authenticity.

In the book of Philippians 1, we find Timothy and Apostle Paul. Paul is sending salutations to the people of Philippi in a letter, thanking them for their support during his imprisonment. Paul expresses his confidence in the people of Philippi, their courage, and steadfast faith in sharing the Gospel. The people of Philippi continued the good work of Paul, despite his imprisonment, the persistent ridicule from the community, and the real danger of government persecution. The Philippians have carried the torch thus far for Paul but had fallen victim to minor setbacks and thus, have now become complacent.

To address this complacency, Paul in a prayer states, that the Philippians need to distinguish between the things that truly matter from that of those that do not. What truly matters, is the advancement of their communal purpose to spread, teach, and live out the Gospel. What truly matters is that those who are lost, find and develop a spiritual relationship with God. What truly matters, is that their faith doesn’t need permission from society to love or make the Gospel a real experience for all people.

On February 19th, 2019, I, like many of you, witnessed the United Methodist Church deny openly identified LGBTQI persons the right to be ordained or married once again. Upholding the question of worthiness based on sexuality. On that day, I received countless messages from friends expressing their love for me and their disappointment in the church. As a Black Queer American born and raised United Methodist, theologically trained at Candler School of Theology of Emory University and a domestic US-2 Missionary, I cannot deny that I did not see this coming, nor can I deny that the United Methodist Church must now reap what they have sowed.

Through the Christian Supremacy lens, the UMC has taught, spread, and practiced the colonization within the United States with the Native Americans, throughout the many countries of Africa and Philippine nations. To which made up the majority of opposing votes to maintain the discipline. Largely impacting the gap against the reformation of The Book of Discipline’s law.

In reading the many Facebook posts, blogs, and articles, I acknowledge where the UMC has contributed to the influence of Christian Supremacy. For those who do not know the term Christian Supremacy, Christian Supremacy is the connective tissue among different systemic acts of violence and domination that use the language, capital, and power of Christianity to gain power.

It is here at this divide that the church stands. This alone has brought us here.  The 2nd largest Protestant Church may split once again. Due to lack of acknowledgment within the church. A disregard for the issues that have persisted to this very day. Unfortunately, we have all contributed to the Christian Supremacy that lies within the colonization. Colonization that only further denies the ethnicity, traditions, and gender identities of people, all of which God made.

To quote Audre Lorde, a black civil rights writer, and activist,… “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.” To reach and achieve genuine change, an apology is, in fact, necessary. Have you ever been in a dispute with someone and the very next time they see you, they fail to acknowledge the situation or apologize? How did that make you feel?

Well, I believe, to recognize the needs of the LBGTQI within the Church, we must first acknowledge, address, and apologize. The stigmas enforced by Christian Supremacy on race, sex, immigration, mental health, the impoverished, and sexuality all have deep toxic religious roots. These intolerances remain sources of our societal disparities and affect our daily social and political lives. Christian Supremacy supports and denies women’s access to reproductive healthcare; allows men toxic authoritative control that equates power to dominance; denies transgender children and adults access to unashamed psychological wellbeing, equitable medical care, and spiritual community. The negation of these human rights has refuted your own faith to grow, as we limit the power of God’s love.

An apology can be found in the Philippines Pentecostal Church.  A group of Pentecostal Christians showed up at Pride to apologize for their homophobia. They held signs that read, “I used to be a Bible-banging homophobe. Sorry.” The picture featured apologizes for….

…..hiding behind religion when really I was just scared.

….I’ve looked at you as a sex act instead of a child of God.

…I have looked down on you instead of honoring your humanity.

…I’ve rejected and hurt your family in the name of “family values”

I challenge us as ministers, leaders, and all who hear, to imagine what Paul’s prayer would be for us today. I believe that the Message translations of Philippians 1 make it clear as Paul says in 9-11, “So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush.”

Learning to love takes a sincere, acknowledgment that love will only take us so far.  As it should be paired with a shakeable faith that pushes us outside of our comfort zones to speak. Appropriately, acknowledging our wrongs, to take deliberate actions, that shows love and solidarity for all those who suffer. We can have all the “Kumbaya” moments, hold hands and sing “We shall overcome.” To suggest that we have “Open Doors, Open Hearts & Open Minds” but if you don’t speak up and actively support the unification of the suffering our time, we will forever be divided and the church’s message will remain sentimental gush.

Your faith doesn’t need permission to call out bigotry or to have uncomfortable transforming conversations that address these social ills.

We just need to do it! To speak even and when your voice shakes. To be an accomplice in the fight for what is just, right to which will eventually make room for all to be at the table of God. We just need to do it, ask questions when you don’t understand. To google it, and not rely on those with queer identities or people of color to constantly teach or explain themselves. You must speak because if we don’t speak there will be no left to speak for you.

Thus, we must make room for people who grow our faith, Paul writing continues at verse 8: “Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus would be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.” Make room for people who grow your faith. Transwomen, [men who transition from male-to-female,] I feel have grown my faith and I feel give are the greatest example of faith and belief in a God that loves them just for them. For a trans woman, to walk down the streets of America, you have to be brave and have faith pushing through the fear of others, to live a life of personal truth.

For example, Marsha P. Johnson was a Black transwoman, best known as an outspoken advocate for gay rights, and was one of the prominent figures in the Stonewall riots, an uprising that sparked the gay liberation movement. It was a social and political movement of the late 1960s through the mid-1980s. Urging LGBTQI to engage in radical direct action, and counter societal shame with gay pride. It was Johnson’s witness and testimony that broke the first bottle that shattered social bigotry sparking the riot. Making way for the modern-day movement for inclusivity. I know for sure that Jesus would be proud of her because as a Black Trans Woman she was able to look beyond her suffering and say “No Pride for some without liberation for us all.”

To end, the month of June Pride is celebrated all over the world. As we are a mere two weeks in the shadows of Pentecost Sunday, know and be reminded that the Holy Spirit is working. Giving people the courage to use their privilege to address and amend the wrongs of the past. To build a future where all can live authentic lives without shame or doubt. In 2019, the NYPD police Chief James P. O’Neill publicly apologized on behalf of the force during a safety briefing related to Pride month at Police Headquarters. Saying, “I think it would be irresponsible to go through World Pride month and not to speak of the events at the Stonewall Inn in June of 1969,” O’Neill said. “I do know what happened should not have happened. The actions taken by the NYPD were wrong, plain, and simple. The actions and the laws were discriminatory and oppressive, and for that, I apologize.” If the New York City Police Dept can apologize and repent, Why Can’t the Church?

It was the strength of Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Harvey Milk,  Brent Hawkes, Linda Ann Bellos, and countless other Gay activists that fought to liberate us all. Creating safe spaces, organizations that encourage us to not deny our truths whatever they may be, as none of these truths can separate us from the resurrecting power of God’s love that was given to us all. May the grace of God fall upon our lives to be aware enough to alleviate the suffering of others so that our own chains of fear, personal judgment, and shame may be broken. In the name of Jesus our liberator.  Amen & Ashe

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