Yesterday, a little more than 24 hours after my Master of Divinity Synthesis, I got a text message while walking Seward Park: “Irene, shit is going down.” Now this particular message could have gone several ways, so I found myself on the phone hearing the news from the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference (BWAC). Before General Conference, the BWAC’s Board of Ordained Ministry (BOOM) and the New York Annual Conference both declared they would not ask questions about sexual orientation.
“Both the New York and Baltimore-Washington Boards have decided to not inquire about the sexual orientation of their candidates. We believe that we can do so within the current strictures of the Book of Discipline and that it is the right thing to do. We invite other Boards within our connection to claim their authority on this matter as well. It’s time. It’s past time.”
During the clergy session at the BWAC, they vote on candidates for commissioning and full-connection. The BOOM had fully recommended these individuals as possessing the gifts and graces for ministry. It’s usually a courtesy vote, but for one candidate it wasn’t. TC Marrow was (I pray still is) up for commissioning as a Deacon. During the clergy session, it was not her gifts and graces up for discussion, it was her sexuality because TC Marrow is married to her partner, who happens to be a woman. To be commissioned she needed 2/3 of the vote of the clergy, she was 19, or 20, votes shy. It is heartbreaking. A “progressive” annual conference whose body (BOOM) exists to discern who is to be commissioned and ordained couldn’t prevent this act of spiritual violence upon a beloved child of God, made in the image of God. Denying her calling, the affirmation of her calling by BOOM, and the countless others who have nurtured and supported TC Marrow’s journey of discernment.
Where does this tie in with my synthesis? How do I make sense of this heartbreak and more news of this sort over the next month of annual conference and jurisdictional season? The pastoral leader that I am, and evolving to live into, is a public (and highly practical) theologian rooted in social justice that is fueled by grace to be an ally, advocate, and agitator who walks with others as they recognize and grasp their God-given agency. Because I am United Methodist, I cannot walk away from the injustice TC Marrow and others like her experience. Because I am a public theologian I cannot be silent.
My theological framework of my Holy Trinity: God, Creation, and Spirit lead me to mutuality and relationship between God and Creation. Where this mutuality of the Spirit leads humanity to set an open table, for all to experience the wonderful love of the Divine. When one person hurts, collectively as creation, we all hurt through the mutuality of the relational Spirit. As we deny the calling of TC Marrow, she is denied access to our open table by our institution. But, as the institution denies her, the Spirit acts through people like myself decry this injustice and will seek justice. The Spirit moves us towards mutuality and action.
The Spirit also moves us towards the journey of lived grace. Grace that is abundant! I stated in my presentation, this is why I am still United Methodist; grace is as integral to my faith as air is to my body. This is something I had to fall back on as I reminded myself to breath and unclench my fists as I walked in anger after the phone call. Grace, Wesleyan grace, is how I was raised and how I model my life. Wesleyan grace is in my life, in my faith, and in my way in the world. I am Wesleyan at my core, and so are the millions of other progressive Wesleyans like me fighting for the full inclusion of LGBTQ+, that’s why we cannot and will not leave and/or give up. God’s freely given gift of grace is abundant and open for all.
My personal Creed of Grace is:
Grace leads to relationship with the Divine.
Grace leads to walking with.
Grace leads to living like Jesus.
Grace leads to seeking justice to bring forth the Kin-dom of God in the world, now.
Grace leads to public theology.
Grace leads to systemic agitation.
Grace leads to unconditional love because the root of grace is God’s love of Creation.
As I distill and further synthesize my time at Seattle University’s School of Theology & Ministry, I fall into my Creed of Grace. As much as the definition of my pastoral theological guides me, I am fueled by grace, grace that moves me towards the mutuality of Divine and Creation.
Grace leads to relationship with the Divine: Grace opens up the metaphorical and literal communion table. This relationship with the Divine is something that we choose and define as we make our journey of grace during our lives. Moving forward, I will continue to ally, advocate, and agitate that the table is open, no one can block someone’s access to relationship with the Divine.
Grace leads to walking with: Just as God walks with us, we must walk with others whether it is in the midst of joy, love, and/or suffering. To be a presence of lived faith, that walks with and listens until they are restored. This allows us to advocated and journey while seeking justice. Moving forward, I will continue to ally, advocate, and agitate as I walk with those seeking justice.
Grace leads to living like Jesus: Just as Jesus did and taught us the Beatitudes, we must walk with the Blessed. He actively sought justice for all and grace fueled his ministry in our world. Moving forward, I will model my ministry as I ally, advocate, and agitate just as Jesus did.
Grace leads to seeking justice to bring forth the Kin-dom of God in the world, now: “Learn to do good; seek justice; rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.” Isaiah wasn’t waiting around on the Kin-dom, Jesus wasn’t waiting around on the Kin-dom, and we certainly shouldn’t be waiting on around for the Kin-dom to cometh. Moving forward, I will continue to ally, advocate, and agitate to bring forth the Kin-dom of God, now, not tomorrow.
Grace leads to public theology: Theology is faith-seeking understanding, and our understanding of God cannot be just within the church, it needs to be outside in the public sphere where injustice meets us at every corner. We must undo the systemic bonds of society that oppress, we cannot be confined in our church building and/or institutions. Moving forward, I will work to undo the systematic bonds of society to embolden the oppressed to be free in the public sphere through my lived faith of being an ally, advocate, and agitator.
Grace leads to systemic agitation: Jesus turned the tables, but before that supreme agitation, he challenged the system of his time. Just as Jesus shook the core of church and society, I am called to do as well. Grace leads us to action, actions that I have already participated in, planned, and will continue to do. Moving forward, I will ally, advocate, and agitate in ways that bring systemic change, it may not be table flipping, it will be slow and steady building mutuality and trust.
Grace leads to unconditional love because the root of grace is God’s love of Creation: Love of our neighbor, love our ourselves, love of creation, and the love of God. Moving forward, I will love through being an ally, advocate, and agitator, but love through seeing everyone as God’s beloved.
My theology of grace leads us to love, is something that I have to cling onto today. I fall back into the arms of the Spirit as I despair on the state of the church that I love with my whole being, yet despise the oppression we choose to sweep under the rug. Synthesizing my faith, impacted greatly by my Master of Divinity, leads me back to who I am as a pastoral leader: I am a public (and highly practical) theologian rooted in social justice that is fueled by grace to be an ally, advocate, and agitator who walks with others as they recognize and grasp their God-given agency.
Today as I sit reflecting in anger, others are grasping their God-given agency to shake up the church. As I wrote this reflection, Patrick James Dupont who was up for commissioning in the Upper New York Annual Conference withdrew his name for ordination as a radical act of solidarity for TC Marrow. Patrick James Dupont is living grace; he is showing himself as an ally, advocate, and agitator. God’s grace is abundant and God is good. I have hope for the future, and have enough grace to be sustained in seeking justice.
The United Methodist Church (UMC) really likes initials and acronyms to a fault.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed that conversion could happen anywhere so the UMC’s theology of Communion is one where the table is open to all. The one requirement is that you are open to the experience, or to experience God’s love.
Isaiah 1:17, NRSV.