At the beginning of October, I was invited to Clifton United Methodist Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, to be the guest preacher and to be the recipient of their 2021 Bishop Melvin Talbert Reconciling Ministries Award. Wow!
In 2012, Bishop Talbert began the Biblical Obedience movement in The United Methodist Church (read our coverage at the time here) that declared upholding the Scriptural values of inclusion and love for all people was a higher value than upholding the letter of the Discipline that discriminated against LGBTQIA+ persons. Clifton UMC began a yearly award named after Bishop Talbert (and he was the first recipient, of course) to focus each year on individuals that contribute to the ongoing work of LGBTQIA+ inclusion in The United Methodist Church.
You can view the worship service that included the award ceremony here. The presentation begins at 20:50 with a mind-blowing introduction by Dr. Leland Spencer, and there was Q&A at the end of it. The following is my prepared “acceptance speech” during that service.
Four Notes of Gratitude
I want to thank Clifton UMC for allowing me to join the cohort of great people in this award’s lineage, several of whom I call friends. This award is a great way to focus each year on the monumental task of LGBTQ+ inclusion, and to point a spotlight briefly on part of that good work so that all of us can be inspired to join in. I’m thankful to Pastor David Meredith for his leadership for the good people of Clifton.
I want to thank my family. The blog began in 2008, and my labor of love that kept me up late into the night shifted into a different pattern when my daughter was born four years later and she was the one keeping me up at night. My spouse is the reason and enabler that I’m able to turn ideas into pixels on the screen, so I wouldn’t be here at all without her support and my girls’ curiosity and Disney obsession which turns into blog posts on Frozen and Moana.
I want to thank the guest contributors to the blog. In the first 1000 posts that started in 2008, 140 were from guest contributors. The site was a clearinghouse for progressive Christian content, and in the early days when starting a platform wasn’t as easy as it is now, many writers got their start or found new audiences by using my channels.
I’m grateful because their contributions and ways of thinking and living things out that were outside of my experience helped me be a better advocate. To put yourself out there requires a degree of humility which allows you to be transformed. Because of these contributors and the community and even, yes, the comments, I moved out of my comfort zone into topics where I have no lived experience driving the interest, but I began to be more vocal in supporting gender equality and LGBTQIA+ affirmation and celebration, even while serving in rural Oklahoma.
At times, events have silenced me while I sit and listen. When I don’t have the lived experience, I try to make space for the sources directly: guest articles by demographics other than my own, sharing their works directly on my airwaves.
I’m thankful for these contributors because odd things happen when you hear and read about the American church experience from the margins or from the international context. You start doubting conventional wisdom, the way we’ve always done it, and question long/held assumptions. While the status quo can be upheld in bumper sticker slogans and bible prooftexting, the real work of dismantling and defragmenting and reconstructing takes long reads, deep dives, and persistent focus, which is harder and harder in this attention-deficit world. It takes time and relationships to respond to the church rather than just react. Thank you for drawing me nearer to that work.
Finally, I want to thank the person who googled my name in 2008, found my local church, and left a threatening message on my church answering machine, which led to the 70 year old church secretary to ask “what is a blog and why are you wrong on it?” You taught me that there is a real-world cost to writing, speaking, and challenging. I needed that lesson in the first year of being online under my own name.
It told me one place where I can lead is that it is safer for me, with my privileges, to poke the bear. There are times when it is safer for someone of privilege to tick off people than those who are more vulnerable to retribution. The NRSV translation of Hebrews 10:24 reads “Let us know how to provoke one another to good deeds.” Let’s be clear: Antagonizing and snark does not often lead to good deeds. You don’t irritate people into relationship, you don’t troll people into transformation. But for others to see a level of engagement is possible creates space for others to use the content in more relational ways. So my hope is that you are taking what progressives and inclusive Methodists write and use it in your relationships. Take the good, leave the rest, make it your own because you know how to connect with people. Sharing a blog post doesn’t transform. Taking something from it to a coffee conversation does.
This last year of the pandemic has slowed me down, as being a partner, parent, pastor has taken more of my time than provocation. But being here with you reminds me that as we enter a critical year where our technology, our future, our church, need voices to speak, to share, to advocate and agitate. Thank you for the reminder, the boost, and may we all bring who we are to the table in advocacy.
You can learn more about Clifton UMC here, and their terrific ministry they are doing in Cincinnati. What a great, hospitable community that I was thrilled to be a part of for a few days and I highly recommend their worship in-person if you are local, or online if you are out of town.
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WOW! YAY! This is so great. Way to go , Jeremy. Way to follow your heart.