I don't think I really understood exclusion from the church until I sat with some of my gay friends at the Georgia Baptist Convention meeting in Macon in 1999. I had experienced exclusion from ordained ministry because of my gender, but I had never been taught that, simply because of who I was, God didn't love me. I have had people leave a worship service when I got up to preach (because of my gender), but I have never been asked to leave a church because of who am. Ever. When the raucous crowd of 2,000 cast their vote to "disfellowship" our church because of our commitment to welcome everyone, the trauma of exclusion got real for me. The looks on my friends' faces said it all: If the church doesn't welcome you, if God doesn't love you, where else can you go?
Less than two years after the "disfellowshiping," I was being installed as pastor at a United Church of Christ congregation. What a welcoming place the UCC is! Our Congregational forebears ordained an African American man in the 1700's and a woman in the 1850's. We ordained an openly gay man in the 1970's. The movie, Call Me Malcolm, follows the call, education, and ordination of a transgender person. In 2005, we were among the first mainline denominations to affirm gay marriage. After experiencing exclusion on various levels in my "denomination of origin," it's been refreshing-life-giving-to be part of a denomination that is so welcoming and affirming of people regardless of race, gender, gender identity, or sexual orientation.
But now the Episcopal Church-the Episcopal Church!-has affirmed ordination of openly gay and lesbian people and are now fashioning a liturgy for same gender weddings. As proud as I am of my own denomination-and I am proud!-to be joined on this particular journey by another mainline denomination? It's beginning to feel as though on the issue of sexual orientation and faith, more of us are beginning to see things more inclusively. And somehow, it feels like we're a little bit closer to realizing the kin-dom of God here on earth.
Thanks be to God!