Instead of your shame you will have a double portion, And instead of humiliation they will shout for joy over their portion. Therefore they will possess a double portion in their land, Everlasting joy will be theirs. For I, the LORD, love justice… – Isaiah 61:7-8a

There is an on-going joke at my church about the “double portion” chunk of communion bread we receive from our pastor, that we then feverishly try to chew and swallow so we can sing, as is our tradition, “Bind Us Together.” The portion is a bit too big, but the point is made. No one is given crumbs; all are worthy of God’s double portion-sized good gift of love and grace.

The quote from Isaiah reminds me of this mouthful and the heartfull I have taken from Gather at the River.

I found a comfortable spot in the center of the last row of the balcony at the Travis Park UMC, so I could take in the diversity of God’s kindom* that surely seemed like a foretaste of God’s kingdom, which I am reminded is within reach, or right on our doorstep (Luke 10:8-9 MSG). The hope of our faith is that we know the final chapter, the last page, the real good news, and our place as God’s dearly loved hand-crafted authentic children! And we know that our LORD loves justice – the kind of generous justice that gives us a job in the vineyard, even as the sun sets and we’d nearly lost all hope of being hired at all. Hired, and as if that was not enough, given the undeserved pay equal to those who had labored for the entire day (Matthew 20).

In regards to my authentic self, knit together by the Creator, I had suspected even before attending Gather at the River, that I was a passionate ally. With a bit more confidence, I am now proud to consider myself among the self-avowed practicing supporters of our LGBTQ siblings struggling, for good reason, in and with The United Methodist Church. I want to be on the margins, where the institutional church has pushed people, and where I believe Jesus is. I want to wade into the river, which feels a little more risky than staying comfortable on the shore. I want to call discrimination in and by the church what it is – the sin of harmful discrimination. I want to remember that John Wesley instructed: “Do no harm.” I want to help make the world a better place for my children and the church a place where any of my friends are fully welcomed and fully included. I want my pastor to be free to decide which couples he marries by considering his heart, rather than by considering the Book of Discipline. And I don’t want the Spirit-guided decisions of UMC clergy, to put their vocations at risk.

I want to proclaim with my love, that intolerance and hatred are incompatible with Christian teaching.

Perhaps there is a little rainbow stole wearing rabble-rouser in me somewhere, but for the most part, I’m a quiet, emphatic, practically life-long Methodist, who didn’t ask for this conviction. Unless by “ask for this,” you would consider my heartfelt prayer: “let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God” (credited to Bob Pierce).

That prayer, combined with the stories of those who bravely shared at Gather at the River, have made this my issue. I listened to the stories of those who have not been nurtured and have not found the love and support that I have found in The UMC. I felt their pain, as they described being emotionally brutalized, penalized, and sent running out of traditional ministry and worship services in an effort to protect their deeply wounded hearts and maintain some type of love for God and neighbor. My eyes were opened and my heart was broken, as the beloved children of God described “hiding” in less visible positions outside church, such as in hospice care or chaplaincy, or being told that their ministry was “not needed.”

If I truly love God, I cannot sit idly by while God’s heart continues to be broken and God’s LGBTQ children, created in the Divine’s own image, continue to be humiliated, shamed, and traumatized by the institutional church.

At Gather at the River, I reaffirmed my baptismal covenant, recommitting myself to “accept the freedom and power God gives” me “to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” Our United Methodist LGBTQ siblings feel oppressed by our church and are harmed by discriminatory language, policy, words, attitudes, and actions. The Jesus I know and love, came to heal, restore, and repair brokenness. May we find the power to do the same. The verses and stories, I’ve heard all my life resonate with a new clarity–they will know we are Christians by our love and by our fruits. May we risk loving God and each other, with our hearts wide open. May we honestly examine the fruits that we produce.

May we show all God’s children the double-portion sized love and grace of God that we seek for ourselves.

*”kindom” denotes a world in which we are related, as kin in God, working to build relationships of love, peace, and justice with all of creation (credited to Jan Richardson, Sacred Journeys).

Betty Sayner

Betty Sayner works in social services for people with developmental and intellectual disabilities and is a wife, mother, and certified lay servant / lay leader at the Waterloo Village United Methodist Church, a Reconciling Congregation, in Byram Twp., NJ.
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