What's been in my heart and in my mind is an experience my husband Terry Frye & I had 3/28/04 in church. The senior minister of our very large Raleigh United Methodist church read Bishop Edwards' letter of condemnation of the jury in the Karen Dammann heresy trial to the congregation during the worship service. This is the legalistic letter that reviews and supports all the hurtful, excluding statements in the UMC Discipline and the Social Principles regarding homosexuality. Despite a few words near the end, it is not a loving letter reminding us of any of the words of Jesus or calling all to the table together in prayer for God's guidance.
Someone who had been to the early service who was as upset by the lack of respect for a duly constituted UMC jury as by the reading of the letter during a service of worship told the Sunday School class we were attending that morning that the letter was to be read again at the 11:00 service. After class, I was pressured to go by another person who felt that not going would be "avoiding the hard parts". I don't go to this minister's services any more because of his repeated exclusionary statements, not just about homosexuality, as I am not able to focus on worshipping. I do do plenty of "hard parts", but I had to confess that the real reason that I didn't want to go that PARTICULAR morning was that I knew that I would cry through the whole thing and that I WOULD NOT be able to just sit there in the pew and cry, that I would have to do something - stand up - and that I was too chicken. Terry & I discussed it alone, and he said that if I wanted to go, instead of standing during the reading, he would go to the altar with me and pray.
The bulletin listed the Bishop's letter as one of the first items in the order of worship. The minister began to read the letter forcefully in a loud, stern voice, making clear his agreement Terry & I walked, weeping, to the altar, wept more while we prayed, and finally went back to our seats, weeping. It was very hard to let the huge congregation see the pain I felt, but that pain has to be seen, as Bishop Tuell, an authority on UMC law who testified at the trial, says in a letter I read two days later.
At the altar, I didn't howl out loud, but I howled in my prayers. I prayed over and over not to hate our minister and the Bishop, I prayed for all the people being hurt by the reading, for the mothers and the fathers of gay children, for the teenagers keeping secrets who had to hear it, for all the little gay children who heard what he said. I prayed to be less of a chicken, I prayed for help for all of us, I prayed for the UMC, and then I even heard myself pray to be able to LOVE THE MINISTER, which I did not want in my prayer, but it got in there somehow, so I prayed that, too. Then I heard that I should stop talking & listen, so I did. I heard, "I will take care of all these people and I will take care of all this pain".
I didn't know what to think about what came to me, so I didn't THINK. I felt wonderment and immense gratitude. I felt free. And I am still crying. I have never had a problem with PDA's, public displays of affection, but I am not too keen on my own personal PDP's, public displays of pain, and here I am, the Tammy Faye Baker of my church. And I'm still a chicken, scared to death. The hurt I feel is only for others - I am not gay, and my child isn't gay, and neither my mother nor my father nor my sisters nor my brother are gay. But there are many, many people love who are gay or who are the loving family members of other gay people. I hurt every day for what my CHURCH has done to my gay patients. Somehow, it feels like I hurt for Jesus more than anyone else, for his spidt at having to witness these things happening in His church, in His name.
Always, it seems that the biggest log in our eyes, mine, too, is the willingness to judge, to pretend to be God ourselves, while we're so busy trying to remove the speck in someone else's. We pay attention to everything BUT what Jesus said, remaking God in our own judgmental images any time we're not comfortable. There are so many things that are mysteries to us as humans, and we are grandiose enough to think that if WE don't understand them, there must be something WRONG with that which we don't understand! The history of Christianity, the history of science, the history of history is replete with examples. Why is it so hard for us to admit that we just don't have to understand everything, that it's not our job to have the answer to every mystery? For myself, as a physician, I am fully aware of current scientific findings that sexual orientation of any kind is not a choice. But all I really ever needed to understand to know what to do with my questions about homosexuality is that Jesus said to go to the street comers and invite ALL who would come to God's banquet, not just these or those, not just to the appetizers, but to the whole banquet. I am really scared when I have to stand up and walk, but it feels like the smallest thing to do when I remember with whom Jesus stood up and walked.
It seems that it is the United Methodist Discipline that is incompatible with CHRIST'S teachings. I am still crying, and I am still praying.
Jean Aycock, M.D.