Freedom is the Theme
“Have you ever performed a same sex marriage?”
I was sitting at a table of my AME ministry colleagues, at a meeting of the Southern California Conference. The subject of the meeting was whether or not I should be allowed to return to the AME denomination, after I had left because of the AME position on LGBTQ rights. I had left to go to the only denomination where total equality was affirmed at the polity level, the United Church of Christ, but it didn’t feel like home to me. I agreed with the political stance of the UCC, but I missed the fellowship, the worship, and the connectional support of the African Methodist Episcopal Church where I had been ordained.
I delivered my proposal to the Conference and Bishop John Bryant called for this Inquisitional panel to examine me. The people seated around the table were all beholden to the bishop to appoint them to their churches. One was running for bishop, and would of course need the support of the sitting bishops to make that run. And so I, like countless individuals over the course of history, was seated at a table of judges who were company men including one woman.
A couple of them were friends of mine. One friend sat at the end of the table rocking and sort of intoning or moaning a prayer. He is no longer in the AME Church I might add. But the rest of those assembled played their roles of inquisitors for purity with attitudes ranging from true discomfort and compassion to outright blood lust (from the one woman).
I won’t belabor the rest of the proceeding. I answered yes to their question. Yes, I had indeed blessed several same sex unions, as their marriages were illegal in California. One sweet man said “Hmmm, so we are on the horns of a dilemma.” I almost laughed and then I saw the serious pressure they were all under to convict me and to get me out of there. I heard myself saying aloud, “If I had known this meeting was to be a burning at the stake, I would have taken a pass.”
Wow. Where did THAT come from?? Me. A witch. A woman, a healer burned at the stake for staying true to her beliefs. I didn’t even know that archetype was in my psyche! As we all left the Hall of the Inquisition at some anonymous California hotel, I made it to my car, burst into tears for about one minute, and then went to Macy’s for a sale. I knew, in that moment, that I was free.
I had done what felt like the hardest thing for me to do at that time. I had spoken out for my brother Rev. Paul Mowry – the first duly ordained, openly gay, Presbyterian minister – and for what I knew was right. I had tried to be a voice of conscience for my AME brothers and sisters. I had sat before a whole table of people whom I knew to be good people. I watched them have to look at me and listen to me and ultimately deny me. I had spoken truth to power. And I had lived.
The AME Church is meeting this week in Nashville for their General Conference. First Lady Michele Obama is delivering the keynote address. The many dedicated LGBT members in hiding of that body, which historically stood for civil rights, will be in attendance, singing in the choirs and serving on committees. And maybe the question of entertaining inclusion of all of God’s children will come up. And probably it won’t.
I actually once fell in love with a woman. I discovered it was not my primary essence. I am far too heterosexual despite all the complications of that life for an independent woman. I learned from that experience, however, that love is just love. If it is necessary to define oneself by a label, I am a heterosexual woman who once fell in love with a woman – to my own surprise. Loving outside my own norm made me more sensitive to what it must feel like to love someone and have to choose between them and God.
I have traveled many miles since that Inquisition session in Southern California. I have faced the fear of stepping out alone, with no formal fellowship to support me. I have endured sleepless nights of deep grappling with my own self doubt and with fears about what the next day would bring. But I have never truly been alone. I have felt the reassuring Presence, even in the darkest hour.
And then last Sunday, I was honored to march in the NY Heritage of Pride celebration in New York City, along with members of the congregation I love and was honored to found as well. Sanctuary NYC- an inspiring Inter-spiritual/Inter-Faith community of artists and scholars and healers and brave people- was really in the house. And honestly, the day was exhilarating.
As I hold the AME Conference in prayer this week, I am reminded of an old song:
“Oh Freedom, oh Freedom. Oh Freedom over me. And before I’ll be a slave, I’ll be buried in my grave. And go home to my Lord and be free.”
Take a risk to be your true self today, to speak your truth, to allow the music of your soul to sing.
See you Sunday at 2 pm.