When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.
Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”
The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.
Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.
Above my desk hangs a handmade sign: Appalachian in Exile. I made it a few years back for a witness to the Environmental Protection Agency’s allowances for the mountaintop removal method of coal extraction. You see, I come from mountains and valleys, hills and hollers. But for the past 16 years, I’ve lived outside of Appalachia. Some might say by my own choice. I’d point to a lack of economic opportunity and less than friendly environments for queer people (although this is changing).
The words of the psalmist give hope: “Those who go forth weeping, bearing the see for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, carrying their sheaves.” When the faithful were exiled to Babylon, their hope was in a day of great return. Do you know how many faithful have been exiled from The United Methodist Church?
When I survey my friend and acquaintances (a very unscientific survey, but a survey nonetheless), I find at least 150 names of those who have been exiled from the Church. Some transferred to a denomination who affirmed their calling as queer people of God; others simply left Church altogether. There are days when I pray that The United Methodist Church can have one huge welcome back party. Oh, how I hope that “those who sow in tears, reap with shouts of joy!”
But I know it”s never that easy. As an Appalachian in Exile, I know how difficult it will be when the time comes for me to return home. The land, the people, and the ethos are different than what my time in exile has shown me. My friends and family have been shaped by the systems of oppression at play in Appalachia in ways that I have not. And for some, we have traded one oppressor for another.
The same holds true for LGBTQ persons in The United Methodist Church. Some of us have found safety in exile. Some of us have found safety in the systems that oppress us. And others have found vocation as living witnesses to the powers and principalities of a Church that continues to seek exclusion to maintain false unity. It may not be easy for us to return home – to the places and structures we hold dear – but with God’s grace, we continue the work so we can bring the harvest home, a harvest filled with eventual joy and hope and love.
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