The Gospel of Love…and other reasons I probably won’t get a ministry job in the South ever again…

I served in a Quaker meeting as the Director of Christian Education fresh out of my undergraduate education. I was blessed to be in ministry with some awesome people and got to pretty much start from scratch in the ministry setting with fresh new ideas from my Christian Ed. degree. It was awesome, mostly because I was naive about working in a church and tried all kinds of new things, messed up a bunch, and with the grace showed to me even when I didn’t deserve it, got back up and kept at it. For the most part I was free theologically to do and teach whatever, if only because the two pastors “supervising” me were mostly retired and trusted my leadership (though, looking back, I don’t know why) and the whole Quaker “agree to disagree” thing (which really isn’t so much of a thing because in the South most Quakers are Baptists anyway).

It wasn’t until I hit my second church (or, rather, it hit me) that I became aware that you weren’t really supposed to talk about things like homosexuality or racism in the church. I had “liked” something on facebook that apparently pissed off some people, and I was so disgusted with their response to me about it that I resigned, setting off a domino affect on certain people that I still don’t quite understand but that I believe to be a good thing.

For them, at least.

For me, the experience pushed me into a type of shell that four years later I’m finally coming out of.

I served for two and a half years in a congregation where the conservative voices were the loudest and where my understanding of the Gospel of Love that included everyone (read: EVERYONE) was not so easily followed. I felt like I had to be sneaky in my teaching and in my relationships, hinting here and there this whole LOVE thing means, like, those people whom the community we live in demeans and ostracizes. Now, to be fair, I can’t necessarily fault anyone in the church for hushing my voice, because in that particular area, people just “assume” that if you are Christian then you are Republican and conservative. And I didn’t necessarily set anyone straight. But I did feel like, if I had spoken up more loudly about my beliefs, I would no longer have a job. So there’s that.

Fast forward a few years later, and I’m currently serving in a Reconciling Congregation in a much more progressive setting, where the journey of exploring faith has more value than the end result. The community I work with is very affluent and mostly white, but very religiously diverse. Even in our own congregation we have such diversity in what people believe and how they practice their faith, that the youth are forming their faith in a very open environment that encourages dialogue and exploration over dogmatics.

While it’s not the most perfect setting (i.e. lack of ethnic or economic diversity), I am very blessed to be in a setting where I am pretty free to express my beliefs and opinions without harsh criticism or judgement. I am encouraged to keep thinking, keep forming, keep engaged in reading and learning and dialogue. And I value that very much.

So, two things happened today that led me to post all of this. One, the World Vision announcement about hiring policies which prompted a response from Rachel Held Evans which I then posted on my facebook page. Two, I saw notices through email and facebook of at least six full-time youth ministry positions open back in NC/SC.

They tell us clergy/ministry folk to be careful what we put out there. They tell us to set appropriate boundaries so as not to dishonor our congregants who may not feel as we do on certain issues. I even have said I wouldn’t want to post anything that would keep certain people from hearing what God has to say through me about the Gospel of Love as an excuse for not being prophetic about certain topics. But what about being prophetic? What about our covenant to proclaim the Gospel? What about Isaiah 61:1-4, that says:

The Lord God’s spirit is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me.
He has sent me to bring good news to the poor,
    to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for captives,
        and liberation for prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
        and a day of vindication for our God,
    to comfort all who mourn, to provide for Zion’s mourners,
    to give them a crown in place of ashes, oil of joy in place of mourning,
    a mantle of praise in place of discouragement.
They will be called Oaks of Righteousness, planted by the Lord to glorify himself.
 They will rebuild the ancient ruins; they will restore formerly deserted places;
    they will renew ruined cities, places deserted in generations past.” (CEB)

Jesus wasn’t sneaky. He boldly proclaimed the Kingdom of God at hand. A Kingdom where the lowly were exalted, where all were invited to the banquet table. He called the Pharisees out on their misguided ritualistic following of the law and reoriented them to the law of Love. He loved in a way that transcended death itself.

Aren’t we called to do the same? To be willing to lose our life for the sake of the gospel? And yet how many of us fall into the trap of complacency and our comfortable lives to where we are unwilling to sacrifice our security (most of which is only financial, anyway).

I am a provisional clergy member of the United Methodist Church. I am in covenant to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Not to keep to myself, secluded in fear of offending anyone. The Gospel of Love that Jesus embodied and proclaimed is a “love so amazing, so divine [that it] demands my soul, my life, my all.”

I’m done with being sneaky.

I tell my youth to own their identity as children of God and to not conform to the pattern of this world, but to be transformers! To make a difference! To not hide their light under a bushel!

So away with the bushel. I’m gonna let this light shine.


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