Series Introduction: Last year a large number of former students and professors of Asbury Theological Seminary signed a letter urging Asbury leadership to repent of their treatment of LGBTQ+ students and the ways in which Asbury has supported the discriminatory treatment of LGBTQ+ people in the United Methodist Church.
Alongside that effort, a group of former students/professors are now sharing their stories of how they have individually journeyed to the affirmation of LGBTQ+ people. Each week during the next couple of months, one person will share their story as part of the project, Journeys to Affirmation.
These are their stories, shared each Tuesday.
Journeys to Affirmation 04: Love Transforms
In the late 80’s and early 90’s my experience of evangelicalism was a loving one. An evangelical was a person who wanted to share the gospel through word and deed. When I was a student at the University of Maryland and was part of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship evangelism was relational. It was more about building relationships with people and listening to people instead of just preaching to people. Any transformation would come from God and it was our role as Christians to love people, unconditionally, whether they became Christians or not. Our community then was very diverse and yet we had a deep love for each other. Many of the people I knew in Intervarsity I am still friends with, so many of them have gone through the same theological journey I did.
This tied in well with my understanding of United Methodism. Methodists were people committed to both personal and social holiness, which to me, is summed up with the need for both of personal transformation and social transformation. It meant feeding the poor and loving your enemy, comforting a friend and praying daily, reading the Bible and living out the words of the Bible. This means building relationship with sinners, overturning the powers, healing the sick, and bringing life to lifeless places.
My church was a traditional experience: we sang hymns from hymnals and were guided by a bulletin instead of a pamphlet. The Methodist church nurtured me since I was a child. My parents and other grown-ups loved me and nurtured me in the faith. Being introduced to evangelicalism in that context was jarring, the preaching and music were so different. The evangelical message at that time emphasized personal transformation without social transformation. As nurturing as my church experience was, the business of running the church was secular for some people as egos got in the way and arguments flared over petty things like carpet color and choir robes. I longed to see the personal transformation of my evangelical friends.
I got my calling my junior year of college. After college I went to a United Methodist seminary where there were teachers who didn’t think Jesus was real and taught the Bible was a myth. Most of all, the behavior of some of the people who I went to school with really pushed me away from traditional Methodist education. I wanted the transformation I saw in my evangelical friends. When I started to share my feelings, I was labeled an evangelical. During my time in Intervarsity, no one ever used that word. The closest category to evangelical that would be used was “born-again Christian.” So, I left that seminary after a semester (I started seminary in the Spring) and started at Asbury in the fall. I loved my experience at Asbury. My friends, the staff, the professors and even Wilmore itself helped me grow a lot as a person. I have no bad things to say about Asbury and hold no ill will, but I have found that the real world awaits with challenges you cannot fit well into theological boxes.
I have been a pastor and a Navy chaplain and I am currently finishing up a Ph.D. in counseling. I have found pastoral ministry to be challenging as real people have profound issues. While the church is a community where most people know the rules, sing the same songs, listen to the same sermons, and we share in the same gospel story, being a chaplain completely challenged me as I was out of my church cocoon. It was the most diverse environment I have ever been in. I found many service members who did not believe me simply because I could point to something in the Bible or offer an eloquent prayer. Many service members I came into contact with were people with little or no faith background. I found I had to love them and be non-judgmental to win people over.
Chaplains who tried to treat the military like they were still in a church would fail miserably. So, while I was in the military and Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) was still policy, I found that, even with confidentiality, many LGBTQIA service people were too scared to talk to a chaplain. Trying to suppress the truth about peoples’ sexuality ended up preventing real and open relationships with LGBTQIA people and it often prevented them from getting help.
Religious people are good speaking about ideas. Some ideas and values are worth fighting for but Jesus always did it on the context of love. Love of God, neighbor, and self. The United Methodist Church’s view on LGBTQIA people has hurt them. They have felt excluded from God, legally discriminated against by their own siblings in Christ, and have been forced to live with a lot of internalized self-hatred. Some people who call themselves Christian still exclude their own gay children. I have known too many of these children who beg for years for God to make them straight and those prayers go unanswered.
This abuse of our LGBTQIA siblings has created great harm and has harmed the witness of the church. I saw this when I was outside the church and could look in. More young people have moved away from the faith because Christians are more identified by what they hate than who they love. I am glad I became a safe place for LGBTQIA service people to share their stories. Many of them have a deep love for God but way too many have given up on faith altogether.
Currently, I am working on getting my Ph.D. in counseling, focusing on researching the damage that conversion therapy has done to gay people. It is sad to see the incredible damage that has been done. I am happy for my chaplaincy. Being a chaplain has made me a better Christian. I was forced to step out of the Christian bubble and renew the love I have for people; the same love I learned from my childhood church and Intervarsity ministry in college.
The greatest ethic of the Bible is love. God so loved the world that God gave and continues to give. Our churches get hung up in issues of orthodoxy which, in the end, focuses on a few verses of the Bible taken out of context. However, in the creation of Christ’s beloved community ALL people are welcome, especially those previously marginalized. That is the good news we are to proclaim, which seems in our context today, entirely relevant as we witness environmental collapse and a lack of moral leadership in the highest positions in secular and religious life. We are called to a radical obedience characterized by a radical love. I pray that we can look at each other with the eyes of love that Jesus sees us with.
Anthony Carr is a doctoral candidate at University of South Carolina in Counselor Education. He served 8 years as a pastor in the Baltimore-Washington Conference and 10 years at a Chaplain in the United States Navy. Anthony currently resides in Columbia, SC and graduated from Asbury Theological Seminary with an M.Div. and M.A. in Youth Ministry in 1995.
About this series: Journeys to Affirmation is a group of people affiliated with Asbury Theological Seminary who are sharing their stories of how God’s grace moved them from non-affirming to affirming of LGBTQ+ people. New stories weekly, click here for all entries in the series.
Thank you to these Asbury Theological Seminary students, alums, and staff who share their stories. Inspired to write your own? Contact the curator Bill Mefford @ Fig Tree Revolution.
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