By Bill Mefford
There is so much noise in the church these days, particularly the United Methodist Church, as debate continues as to whether LGBTQ people have a right to be recognized as people – as children of God even – within church institutions. And the more the debate continues I am more and more convinced that conservative, anti-LGBTQ groups are dedicated to simply creating noise. The louder the noise the more attention is drawn away from the theological truth that the biblical narrative is one that is entirely about liberation. Noise distracts us from what matters and that is the voice of those directly impacted: LGBTQ people themselves.
And so this is what I find so refreshing about a book I recently read and tremendously enjoyed and one I hope you will read as well: Rainbow in the Word: LGBTQ Christians’ Biblical Memoirs, edited by my friend Ellin Sterne Jimmerson. Through a collection of writers that take the reader through Scripture and who personally and theologically reflect on passages, we are reminded of how utterly stupid and futile, yet harmful, the debate about full recognition of LGBTQ people in the church is. It is too late! LGBTQ people are not only our sisters and brothers in Christ; they are our pastors, teachers, theologians, and prophets. Right now the only viable path forward for the church is to listen and learn. Not to do so only creates more harm.
For me, I am listening and learning and Rainbow in the Word is an incredibly helpful tool in that process.
I found myself, as I read this book, looking at the biblical passages that the chapter reflections were based on. It made me hungry for Scripture! And as with all good theology, I found the reflections from this collection of authors (most of whom I have never heard of before, which is so refreshing!) to be encouraging and challenging.
Here are just a few moments from the book that stand out to me.
- Jonathan Freeman-Coppadge’s personal reflection on Abraham building an altar to sacrifice his son Isaac was so vulnerable and powerful as he shared his struggle to live into who God has created and called him to be amidst the unholy condemnation that has sadly sounded through his heart and mind for far too long. But praise God for liberation!
- Likewise, Kenny Pierce, in his reflection on Esther (a book I dearly love) reminds us that sin is the failure to recognize our identity and God’s call upon our lives, especially among LGBTQ people. He writes prophetically and liberatively, "I've come to believe that the great sin on the part of our community - and the larger church and society that would stifle this very nature God has created - is that of silencing our stories." (p. 17)
- Once again Kenny Pierce writes a haunting reflection based on Isaiah and taken from a memory of caring for AIDS patients. It was his personal interaction with one patient who was in the late stages of the disease that uncovered Kenny’s own struggle to look past him; to make him invisible. I was so challenged by this chapter in particular – not to be so busy serving the world that we forget the humanness of those we serve, even and especially when that humanness if difficult to look at. This chapter still haunts me.
- Richard Barham’s chapter on Jesus naming the good fruit and his own journey towards full acceptance of himself and past the harmful compartmentalization that stunted his spiritual growth and acceptance for so long, reminds us all of the power of the Jesus’ call is for every aspect of our lives and not just those deemed acceptable by others.
- Jennifer Hasler identifies her story of transitioning to Mary’s song and story. Like Mary, Jennifer felt fear and uncertainty in transitioning to who God created her to be. And it was because she transitioned that she has found that her faith is not merely an “intellectual pursuit,” but an authentic and profoundly transformative relationship.
- Lastly, Andrew Dykstra’s describes his own liberation when he realized that “Jesus himself did not present as heteronormative…When I finally came to believe that Jesus stands in solidarity with all of us by being like us. I felt like a prisoner set free. By relinquishing privilege, by choosing to be a ‘eunuch for the Kingdom,’ I believe Christ elevates those of us who are non-normative, embracing us who were once excluded.”
Amen. Dykstra rightly summarizes the power of Rainbow in the Word, the voices of those who once had been castigated and marginalized (and tragically, still are far too often) are embraced by Jesus the Liberator.