Sixteen years ago, I kept a journal of my first year in ministry. At the end, I remember pasting an illustration of a man who was white and naked, and was being pulled apart by different hands. It was almost as if he were on a medieval torture rack, except fingers stretched him. The drawing, I felt, perfectly illustrated my first year as a pastor.
Rev. Frank Schaefer is an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church where he ministered for 20 years. In 2013, he was tried by a highly publicized United Methodist church court for officiating at his son’s same-sex marriage. He was defrocked on December 19th, 2013 when he refused to uphold the Book of Discipline in its entirety, which would have meant to denounce gay marriage rights.
My daughter and I drove up the driveway of the Mercy Junction Justice and Peace Center to pick up my husband, Brian, from work. The Justice and Peace Center is housed in a beautifully dilapidated hundred-year-old Methodist Church, which closed. Now it’s full of artists, non-profit workers, musicians, activists and a new worshiping community in Chattanooga.
If you know me or have heard me speak, you’ve probably heard this story. I have told it hundreds of times. I grew up Southern Baptist and attended Moody Bible Institute. I felt a call to go into ministry, but I was frustrated because the only ministries that seemed open to me were teaching the women’s Bible study or playing the organ.
I’m re-reading Man’s Search for Meaning. The last time I read it was when I was in seminary. I skimmed it for a course. It had a profound effect on me then, but it’s been good to soak it in this time around.
We have a culture of nice that allows bullies to flourish. I have watched as this culture allowed certain people to take over a church. Then the group placates that person, and even asks the person who stands up to the bully to sit down, in order to maintain peace. This dynamic can and does kill churches.
Recently a friend came to me for financial advice. I was stunned, because... well... we don’t have money. We have a home. We have equity. We have retirement savings. We have a plan to send our daughter to college. But, our day-to-day lives are lean. There have been a couple bountiful years here and there, but for the most part, we have to be careful.
So, I realize I’m using the Royal "We" here. Obviously, some people like Donald Trump, because he’s polling quite well. As the days go on, he keeps managing to be resilient through one political disaster after another, and it’s getting a little scary.
Just as it is the cable news network’s job to keep the fear-mongering ratings up, it is the job of religious leaders to remind us to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. It is our job to make sure that we keep up our interfaith dialogue. It is also our job to inspire people to forgive.
There is a prevalent idea in culture that pastors are money-grubbers. I think I have met one of those. Maybe. But, for the most part, we hate asking for money. The majority of church budgets go to salaries, and we feel bad about that, even if we make less than a third of the average person in our congregation. So we can get embarrassed during stewardship time.