“The Baptismal Covenant is God’s word to us, proclaiming our adoption by grace, and our word to God, promising our response of faith and LOVE.”
In this time, I encourage any United Methodist or Christian struggling with how to love, self or neighbor, in the wake of the decision made at the Special Session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church (GC19), to take a moment and remember your baptism. While many were baptized as little ones and may not have tangible memories of the event itself, I invite you to remember the sense of God’s love and grace that has pervaded your life since that moment. Maybe they are small moments, maybe they are everyday moments, maybe they are the mountain top experiences you have had where you felt the true Awe and Power of the love of the Creator God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. Maybe there aren’t very many of them, but I know they are there in some small corner of your mind, ready and waiting to be remembered and cherished.
“God’s grace has taken the initiative and is already at work in the lives of [those wishing to be baptized]…the Christian community responds to God’s grace by claiming and incorporating this new member of Christ’s holy Church…baptism celebrates [the act of or anticipation of the act of personal Christian commitment] and the grace of God that has made it possible…grace…grace…grace.”
As I reread the introduction to the Rite of Holy Baptism in the United Methodist Book of Worship, one word kept popping out at me. Grace. The Grace of God. It is woven in and out of this introduction and the guiding principles behind the rite, as well as the rite itself. In the eyes of many, there has been very little, if any, grace directed at the LGBTQ+ community both within and outside of the United Methodist Church. As a voice for Queer Methodists, Queer young adults, and Estes Park United Methodist Church, I want to personally extend God’s grace to those who are hurting, and particularly the LGBTQ+ community, in this dark night of the soul. I see you, I love you, God sees you and God loves you. You were made in the blessed image of God and God knew you as you were knit together in your mother’s womb. God knew you before you knew yourself and loves you as a Beautiful, Bright, Beloved Child of Creation.
When we people called Methodists baptize anyone into our Church, we ask the following questions:
“Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?”
“Will you nurture the children in Christ’s holy Church, that by your teaching and example they may be guided to accept God’s grace for themselves, to profess their faith openly, and to lead a Christian life?”
We then affirm our commitment to the spiritual health and wellbeing of the baptized individual with the following statement:
“With God’s help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround these persons with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their trust of God, and be found faithful in their service to others. We will pray for them, that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life.”
When we affirm and claim that we will ‘live according to the example of Christ’ many may ask what this means. What does it mean to live into the example of Christ? If we are to believe that Christ is the fulfillment of the law and prophets, then we must turn to his commandments for his community. A couple of verses from Mark 12 come to mind. When asked what the most important commandment was, Christ responded saying: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
First and foremost, as Christians we are called to seek after God and love Him/Her/Them with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. The only way to do so is to be able to embrace the fullness of our being so that mind and soul are not separate. As science continues to progress and garner more understanding of things like sexuality and gender, we are coming to understand that people are made this way, it is not a choice. This goes hand in hand with the second part of the Great Commandment. To be able to love your God and your neighbor, as yourself, you must be able to embrace that full, authentic self! We must be empowered, and in turn empower others, to live into the authenticity of ourselves. For some of us, this means being empowered to embrace and love the parts of ourselves that the fundamental Church has deemed as impure or improper and in many unfortunate cases simply disgusting; our queerness.
Through all of this, we must constantly seek out God’s grace, both in relation to ourselves and each other. Through remembering our baptism, we can remember that We are called to love one another and lift each other up through the grace of God, not divide our communities and ourselves in the name of outdated purity codes and fundamentalist demands for a strict adherence to a heteronormative white hegemony or power structure. Jesus was constantly found standing with those in the margins. If you cannot see yourself standing in the margins with the Christ you claim to follow, how can you call yourself a follower of the immigrant born in a manger and crucified for rejecting the religious power structures of the day?
Many of us are in the darkness of the tomb, feeling the pain, rejection, and even the pangs of death from a denomination and institution that we were either born into and raised in, or discovered on our own because of the sense of welcome by local communities, the drive for justice at the very foundations of the Methodist tradition, the idea of the balance of Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience. We feel betrayed, angry, lost, and weary after GC19. But the guarantee of being in the darkness of the tomb is that the stone WILL be rolled away, and New Life WILL be found. Yes, we are broken and hurt, but the promise of life in Christ is that if we seek after his example of expanding the love of God and those welcome at the table, we will find a more expansive life and form of love than we have ever known.