Sacred Soil

On why Methodist clergy blessing same-sex couples are amazing…
November 15, 2013, 6:56 pm
Filed under: Weeds

115I don’t remember the date we were “unioned” in Illinois. It was sometime in June of 2011. It was a lovely little picnic for us, but nothing big and extravagant. We’d had our fantastic wedding. And it was fantastic. I’ll have to tell you about it some time. But that wedding was back in 2004, and so, the process of signing our civil union paperwork was just that, paperwork. Well, for us at least.

I’m a pastor, and my partner is a pastor, and at the time we lived in seminary housing, and all our friends are and were pastors. We were overwhelmed by the number of dear friends who could sign our paperwork, and we couldn’t figure out how to choose. So, we decided that we’d opt for the Biblical method of casting lots. We invited the eligible folks to put their name in a Solo cup, from which our daughter would draw a name.

For the Lutheran and Episcopalian pastors that day, writing their names was easy. Even joyful. They giddily vied for better luck, all hoping to put their names down on our meager paperwork. The Methodists though, well that was a different story. Writing their names on a little slip of paper meant risk. For some of them it meant risking their whole career on some sort of strange lottery, where the cost of winning was very real. Too real.

We tried to make sure our Methodist friends understood we didn’t expect them to put their names in the cup. In the Methodist tradition it is possible to be brought up on charges for presiding at union or marriage of a same-sex couple. The consequences range from suspension to de-frocking. The Lutherans and Episcopalians had nothing to fear, and indeed in our area, there might have been a bonus prize rendered in bragging rights. There were plenty of clergy around to sign, and we wouldn’t have received their lack of participation negatively. We didn’t want to ask anyone to pit their careers against our paperwork. But, they all did. And clearly, they’d all thought about it, prayed about it. This wasn’t meager paperwork for them.

And so each friend pridefully wrote down their names, trying to fold the paper in such a way that a 2 year-old might prefer their slip of paper. And then we handed the cup to our daughter, who pulled out a name. She drew out a Lutheran.

And our Lutheran friend was joyful and celebratory. She was excited, and we were pleased. I might even say relieved, relieved that our Methodist friends were able to offer their willingness, without having to endure the risk. I thought it was the best possible outcome.

That is until I looked at the face of the one who took the most risk by putting in his name. I don’t actually know what he was thinking, but I saw in his face a look of disappointment and sadness. He quickly rallied to the joy of the moment, because that is what we do at these events. But, I must say that I was extremely touched by that act of love, that act of risk, the willingness to lay down his career, his life, for his friends.

I’m glad he didn’t lose his career, because he is doing important and beautiful ministry. It’s work that needs doing. And I know that over and over again he stands up for families like mine. But, that look in his eyes at that moment gives me a sense of the love and the commitment that all the other Methodist ministers have taken on as they married same-sex couples. It is an amazing thing to provide the ministry necessary, especially when the costs are great. It is a profound act of love and generosity to offer up one’s life for the sake of their friends. And it is a rare thing indeed.

And that’s all lovely and beautiful in the abstract. But, it wasn’t abstract. This was my meager paperwork. My marriage. My family. Our dear friend determined that his career was worth the risk to bless us, to stand up for us. He was willing to take on injustice, so that we might have some justice of our own. And even these years later, I still sit in awe of that courage and love. Utter awe.

And so my heart is full, as I watch the other Methodist clergy who are standing up today, willing to take those same risks. This is no abstract act of disobedience. Indeed, it may just be that there is no greater love than this.