An Open Letter to Michael Palmer:
Dear Pastor Palmer,
I am a former Nazarene, now attending an Episcopal church in St. Louis, studying at Eden Seminary and WashU for a joint MSW/MDiv degree. Many of my colleagues, friends, and professors are LGBTQ, and it is important to me that the Church is not just inclusive of those who are LGBTQ, but also belonging to those who are LGBTQ.
While I appreciate the sentiments behind your post “A pastor’s apology…” I find that it falls flat– it is disappointing to me, and reminds me of why I find it difficult to attend a Nazarene church.
For several reasons:
1) The rhetoric of forgiveness, while rife with good intentions, is unsatisfactory to those not looking for “understanding.” What LGBTQ people need is not verbal recognition of their humanity, but actions, policies, societies, and cultures that grant their liberation.
2) The apology, by demanding forgiveness and detailing the reasons why fear of LGBTQ folk persists, conveys a victim-blaming tone. I.e. “You have to understand, your existence is confusing, so please forgive me for not understanding.” Guilt and sin are not absolved by LGBTQ folk granting forgiveness. Guilt and sin are addressed and remedied by the Church turning its course, by helping to create a world where diversity in Creation is appreciated fully and honored as sacred.
3) Examine the pronouns: “…you have a place in my church. You have a place at my table. My church welcomes you.” Paradoxically, these pronouns make a seemingly welcoming invitation reinforce the idea that church and table are /not/ for LGBTQ folk, but instead, are granted by heterosexual/cisgendered folk toward LGBTQ folk.
This, to me, goes against the body of Christ metaphor outlined by Paul in 1 Cor 12, which asserts that Jesus movement communities are made up of many types of people in many types of roles, none more important than the other. If anything, greater honor is accorded to the parts with less honor so that greater unity might be achieved and people might live in solidarity with one another (1 Cor 12:24-25).
The LGBTQ agenda, if anything, is one wherein LGBTQ folk can live and thrive, without being killed, without being neglected by the healthcare system, without being denied housing and employment, without suffering from police brutality and assault by fellow civilians, and without chronic stress resulting in chronic health conditions. LGBTQ folk have not become an agenda– they were and are people through and through– it is the oppression of heteronormativity and cisnormativity that has dehumanized them.
So, it is especially important that the table become just that: the table, the common table, the place where Christ is made known. It cannot be “my table.” It must be “our table” or “the table.” The Lord’s Supper is conflated with the Passover meal by gospel writers, suggesting that Jesus’ death at the hands of (Roman) Empire has much to do with liberation from (Egyptian) oppressors. The table, then, must be freeing, and cannot merely reinforce existing oppressive social structures. It is a place where existing hierarchies are turned upside down, as they are in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 11:17-34), when the wealthier, well-fed Corinthians are encouraged to eat at home so that there is enough food for those who have fewer resources. The Corinthians are admonished for turning the Lord’s Supper into an ordinary banquet meal where the wealthier and higher status take their place, and those who are poorer and lower status are shamed.
May the Church not make the same mistake with people who are LGBTQ. What would it look like if the Nazarene church did not shame LGBTQ folk, but instead elevated them so that they might preside over the table, /our/ table? So that they might be pillars of the Church, /our/ Church?
I understand that written correspondence is not the best way to dialogue around these issues. Please feel free to email me at karenlynnyang[at]gmail.com so we might set up a Google hangout or phone conversation.
To those in the LGBTQ community,
I suppose I should first offer an introduction. My name is Michael, and I’m a pastor.
Because of my role as a pastor I’ve witnessed, over the past few days, conversations responding to the recent Supreme Court decision that are anything but Christlike (read: Loving and compassionate).
You see, the reality of this situation is my fellow church-folk are struggling with this issue. Compounding this problem, as Christians we’ve often come from a place of legalism, and in many ways, even as I write, we’ve not broken free from this law-first theology. Because of this theological reality, we have almost no practice dealing with something as controversial and emotionally/physiologically complicated as same-sex attraction.
Really, this is bigger than same-sex marriage. The Church has historically done an extremely poor job of dealing with sexuality in general.
And so, it’s from this…
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