Justice Is A Divine Attribute of God
By Rev. Dr. Pamela Lightsey
The statement last week by the Council of Bishops requesting Bishops Wenner and Wallace-Padgett file a complaint against retired Bishop Melvin Talbert for officiating a ritual celebrating the same-sex marriage of Joe Openshaw and Bobby Prince is indicative of a leadership falling apart at the seams and grasping at straws to maintain archaic law. At worst, the council, with the exception of some very courageous dissenters, issued an attack decree against a prophet of justice, at best it admitted nothing new: the bishops and the members of the United Methodist Church “are not of one mind.” As I reflected upon the statement, I thought to myself, “Well if you all are now of the mind to encourage complaints, then get your pens ready for there are many of us!” In solidarity with Bishop Talbert and the many other clergy who have gone through the complaint process, faced church trial, been reprimanded or defrocked to ensure the rights of LGBTQ persons prevail, I share this blessed experience.
In May I was invited to co-officiate the wedding of Mary Ann Kaiser and Annanda Barclay. I had read a few months earlier about their plans to marry at the Reconciling Ministries biennial convocation, entitled “Churchquake,” and had thought at that time that I would certainly love to be present. Little did I know just how “present” I would be. On August 31, 2013, there I stood, with Annanda’s pastor, Rev. Joseph Moore (PCUSA), officiating their wedding ceremony. Prior to that, from May to that day in August, this couple committed themselves to marriage counseling, which, by necessity, included serious reflection on the bigotry that would be launched against them. Neither Mary Ann nor Annanda were or are naïve. They are very much in love with each other and God. Unfortunately, the laws of Texas would not permit their marriage. Convocation being in Washington, DC, presented the opportunity for them to both be legally married and to do so surrounded by a loving community of friends.
In many ways, I believe it the work of the Holy Spirit that led to my co-officiating their marriage. Leading up to the 2012 Presidential election, I had written a petition asking Black clergy and scholars to stand with President Obama in his support of marriage equality. This was written to thwart the National Organization for Marriage’s strategy to gain the Black vote for presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, which they thought possible by leveraging existent homophobia within the Black community against President Obama. Before drafting that petition I had been very clear that if asked I would gladly officiate a same-sex marriage. Indeed, I was one of those clergy who signed a pledge to perform same-sex marriages right after General Conference 2012. As an African-American lesbian who grew up in the 60s, I feel the United Methodist Church prohibition against officiating same-sex marriages and the laws against “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” represent simply another era of bigotry for which the church will invariably be crafting yet another “Service of Repentance” in years to come.
I agreed to co-officiate because I am an ordained clergyperson who believes this ministry of the church should not be limited to a few. As an elder, the decision to officiate a wedding is both my right and responsibility. The decision was mine to make and the consequences that come from that decision are mine to bear. I made the decision to co-officiate Mary Ann and Annanda’s wedding after a period of counseling and after being convinced that doing so was the righteous thing. That is to say that I practiced biblical obedience with a perspective of the righteousness of blessing the civil marriage of two women who are very much in love, because this conferred legal status allows these two baptized members of Christ’s body to enjoy a host of rights and protections in this nation. Justice is a divine attribute of God. I believe it is was the right thing to do to give witness – for Mary Ann and Annanda – to that state-approved act of justice . Essentially I blessed as holy and righteous the same-sex marriage that our government also accepted as a civil right when the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act. And most importantly, I blessed the love of two persons whom our church has called persons of “sacred worth.”
White, Black, male, female, lesbian, straight ally, United Methodist, Presbyterian, Southern and Northern. There we stood representing so many levels of diversity. It was a reality not lost to my reflections on that day. When the ceremony was over, the congregation burst into a spontaneous singing of “Let There Be Peace on Earth.” How appropriate. I thought to myself, “Lord, let it be in our souls, come what may.”
Pamela Lightsey is the Associate Dean for Community Life and Lifelong Learning at Boston University School of Theology and a member of the Northern Illinois Conference of the UMC.
We Did is a project of Methodists in New Directions (MIND) dedicated to making visible our ministries to LGBTQ people and encouraging others in the UMC to transcend the institutional requirement to discriminate and make their ministries visible, too. It is part of the Biblical Obedience movement sweeping across the United Methodist Church. You can read all the We Did stories here. We invite you to submit your own story to We Did.