I am a woman blessed. I have a loving family with a new addition due to arrive in July, as well as a church family that surrounds me with love, support, encouragement, and guidance. I have friends, old and new, who share my interests and concerns. I have a job, as a part-time college instructor, that allows me to teach and be taught by people who are powerfully motivated to change their circumstances, while giving me time to spend with my precious little boy. I am often overwhelmed with gratitude for all that I have in life.
In 2009, shortly after embarking on my dream career as a teacher, I was laid-off from my position as a reading teacher in an affluent suburb of Chicago. It was devastating to feel so unwanted, particularly because I saw my job as social justice work. My philosophy is that a literate, expressive person is an empowered person, and I felt that it was my job to empower young people. Clearly, my district didn’t see value in that at the time. I struggled with depression over what I saw as my failure to prove my worthiness. It was my church, very new to me at the time, which brought me through that difficult time . . . by, of course, putting me to work! I served as chairperson of our Leadership Council for about two years. This surprised no one more than myself. As a person who had only begun attending church regularly two years before, I saw myself as ridiculously inadequate for the job.
It was during this time that I began to see how much work and struggle lies before the church as a whole today. Poverty. Immigration and refuge issues. Human Trafficking. AIDS. Hunger. So many problems affecting so many lives. And not one had a simple answer. . . except (as I thought at the time) LGBTQ rights. I thought to myself, “This one is easy, right? I mean, it’s so obvious!” But for many people it is not obvious. For many people, it is a great struggle to accept that LGBTQ people are God’s beloved people, just as heterosexuals are.
I realized that, for me, the fundamental issue at the core of all those problems is a lack of love for our brothers and sisters, and that nothing exemplifies that issue as clearly as the issue of LGBTQ rights, both within the church and in society. Before we can say who deserves food, who deserves citizenship, who deserves medicine, who deserves dignity, who deserves freedom, we need to answer the more basic question: Who deserves our love? Christ’s answer was “everyone.” I see this as the true reconciliation that our church needs so badly today. We need to make ourselves right with God by making love our top priority in all arenas. How can we tackle the very complex problems of suffering throughout the world when we can’t follow Christ’s very uncomplicated command to love one another? How can we extend our love and help to the suffering people of the world when we can’t extend our selves to the gay couple next door?
But this issue is about more than just a first step toward giving ourselves over to the love that Christ envisioned. It is also about justice and truth. In his letter from Birmingham Jail, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Similarly, we cannot say that we love our neighbors while denying and excluding our homosexual brothers and sisters. To continue to fail to love and accept them is to deceive ourselves and to invite the threat of injustice and bigotry into our church family. We all know that to continue to degrade our brothers and sisters is unquestionably wrong. How can we claim to “act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with” God while perpetuating a doctrine of exclusion? This is the kind of moral contradiction that is planting seeds of distrust in the hearts of members and friends of The United Methodist Church, not to mention those seeking a spiritual home. Therefore, I can’t think of anything more important to the survival of the church than to bridge this divide.
I am still, after four years of membership in a Reconciling Congregation, just now learning how to put my beliefs into action. I have signed petitions, I have endorsed same-sex union ceremonies in the church, and I have walked in the Pride parade. But there is so much more to be done. I joined the Reconciling Ministries Network as an individual to help me learn where to start.
Back in 2009, I lost my job and, in a way, my sense of purpose. But I see now that I was just being redirected. I’m still teaching and I’m still learning. But I feel more useful to my brothers and sisters than I ever have before. What a blessing!
I have great hope that this will be the year that we will remove the discriminatory language from all our church guidelines. But, more than that, I hope that this will be the year that we can stand together as a church, united in love, and show that we are not just talking about loving our neighbors, but we are doing it. That won’t be easy for many of us. But with support and guidance, I think we can all learn to let go of those biases that we were taught and go instead with the message that Christ brought to us, even on the cross: that while not one of us can “earn” it, we are all blessed with God’s love.
My resolve in any area of social change is always focused by my son, and, more recently, by thoughts of the new little one to come. I think about the world as it is today and I think about the world I want them to grow and blossom in. I ask myself, “If my son is gay, can I stand by and allow him to be excluded from my church? If my daughter grows up and loves another woman, does God love her less? If my children shun or bully another child because of his or her orientation, am I okay with that?” The answer to all of these questions is a loud “no.” I am energized by the thought of a world where parents no longer have to ask themselves these questions and where children don’t even realize that these questions ever troubled us.
- Reconciling United Methodist Profile: Jess Mahoney, Chicago, IL - March 1, 2012