The number one question I’ve received in the past year is, “what happens to the work for LGBTQ inclusion after marriage equality is achieved within the Presbyterian Church?” I am grateful for this question. It demonstrates the excitement and hunger to continue to be a light in the world for LGBTQ people. I believe the answer to the question “what’s next” isn’t just a series of to-do’s to check off a list or a series of policy changes to implement.
Over the past two years, traveling to More Light congregations as an openly transgender man called to serve the Presbyterian Church, I’ve come to see some of the challenges with focusing solely on welcome as the locus for change in the denomination and in our world. We are living in a moment where we need a new theological foundation from which to base our work.
Last year, while working on the ratification of Amendment 14F, I visited a More Light congregation celebrating it’s 25th year anniversary. One of the elders of the congregation recounted the history of the congregation’s journey to become a welcoming church and said, “well first we welcomed gay people, then lesbians, and then we learned about bisexual people and now transgender people?!” He threw up his hands in semi-exasperation and said “what’s next?!” With a sigh almost too deep for words, I realized that the founding hope of the movement for LGBTQ inclusion had run its course. When we include one identity at a time into the kin-dom of God, it could lead to this frustrated exasperation: “Who is next? What DON’T we know yet?”
The continuing act of revelation of who to include as a child of God at the beginning of this movement was toward further recognition of who to include in the umbrella of God’s welcome. The radical, founding notion of the movement to welcome LGBTQ persons into the life of the church is that gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer persons are created in the image of God; a counter to the prevailing assumption that we were an abomination in the eyes of God. The hope then was that LGBTQ people would be welcome in the life of the church just like any other sibling in Christ. What a revolutionary statement, that we are all God’s children!
And yet, we are so much more than we can ever hope to name. In the beginning of the welcoming church movement, we were just beginning to say out loud for the first time the words gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. We only knew how to welcome one identity in at a time. The trouble is, welcome started to be expressed as a series of “ORs:” bisexual OR transgender, straight OR gay, and not the fullness of “AND.
I believe we must refocus on who God is as a way to understand the fullness of what God is calling us to next. The creation story in Genesis describes God as Elohim, as a plurality of aspects “we.” God comes to Moses as YHWH “I am who I am.” The Psalmists describe God as a potter, as a knitter forming us in our mother’s womb, as a creator of life and destroyer of enemies.
I grew up in a church that did its best to try and not limit who God was but still called God “He and Him” without much variation. Naming and describing God has perhaps been the project of religion since the beginning. We as a people called to follow God have attempted for 5,000 years to describe who God is. We are God’s creation, and as the prophet Isaiah says “called by name by God” and so by our virtue of being alive know something of who God is. Although we must avoid the temptation to create God in our image.
In the very first episode of “The Cosmos,” which if you haven’t seen, it was a science documentary on the nature of the universe, Neal Degrass Tyson demonstrates just how vast our universe truly is. He starts us on Earth and then zooms into our solar system, and then to our galaxy, and then beyond our galaxy to other galaxies and finally talks about how even with all this vastness the universe is expanding even further still. Suddenly I caught a glimpse of how vast God, the creator of the universe, is. It had never hit me like this that God is much, much bigger than we can ever imagine.
It dawned on me that, we are created in the image of a God of abundance, of limitless possibilities and expansion.
One possible response seeing a glimpse of an abundant God might cause some people to batten down the hatches in fear of the vastness. Although, I believe God calls us to confront abundance with awe and wonder, not just at who God is, but also who we are as God’s creation.
We are so much more than any one identity could describe. We are gay and Black and from the south; we are a grandmother and an ally and white. We are abundant because our creator is abundant. In Romans, Paul describes creation as waiting with hope for “our bodies to be set free.” This doesn’t just apply to LGBTQ people; this freedom is for all bodies. So we hope for a world where all respond in awe and wonder to the fullness of God’s abundance and welcome the abundance of who God creates us to be. This is the hope that calls us forward toward more light.
So, “what’s next?” We, at More Light believe it is time for a renewed theological vision of the world we are co-creating with God.” Kallistos Ware, an eastern orthodox theologian, says “God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder.” So, the task of Christianity is to make us progressively aware of the mystery of God’s abundance. Grounding ourselves in a theology of God’s abundance clears a new path for the the next chapter of ministry. The next 40 years of the LGBTQ faith movement call us to refocus on who God is as a way to understand what God is calling us to do in the world. Moving forward we must ask ourselves: “How do we respond to God’s abundance through our acts of justice and welcome in the church and the world?”