“I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment…So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:21-37
For those of us who believe deeply in our hearts that God created LGBTQ people and that God has a place for us in the church, the past thirty years have been cause for some deep and righteous anger. There have been the big, obvious places like church trials for ministers who have officiated same-gender weddings, removing ordination credentials for ministers who come out while serving the church. There have been countless times people who would have been incredible gifts to the church have been denied and dismissed on account of their sexuality or gender identity. And then there are the more subtle occasions for anger: working with people in power in our denomination who refuse to discuss LGBTQ people, who still aren’t convinced we are fit to serve the church, the invasive questions that get asked as we move through the ordination process.
The temptation in hearing or reading these words of Jesus is to get fed up and think, “Gosh Jesus, now you’re telling me I can’t even be angry?!?” The good news, for all of us who have experienced feelings of anger at one time or another, is Jesus ISN’T saying that suddenly anger is forbidden, but rather that anger is a feeling that offers us the opportunity for transformation and reconciliation. Our anger is that feeling in our gut alerting us to something being off, it gets our spidey-senses tingling that something, someone, some system needs to be changed. Notice here that Jesus chose to talk about anger, not hatred, as offering the possibility for transformation.
Audre Lorde, a black lesbian writer and poet delivered a keynote speech at the 1981 National Women’s Studies Conference on women’s responses to racism (later turned into the essay, “Uses of Anger”). Her distinction is one that rings in my ear frequently: “Hatred is the fury of those who do not share our goals, anger is a grief of distortions between peers, and its object is change. Anger between peers births change, not destruction, and the discomfort and sense of loss it often causes is not fatal, but a sign of growth.”
Lorde distinguishes between destructive, fatal, toxic hatred, and anger, particularly between peers, which is fodder for growth. In response to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Audre Lorde might want us to further question, WHY are we angry at our brother or our sister? Are we angry because our brother or sister hasn’t lived into his or her full potential? Are we frustrated because we can see them spinning their wheels? Are we angry because he or she have hurt us, broken our trust, our bond, or our community? Are we angry at our state for restricting access to voting rights, same-sex marriage, teacher’s pay? Are we angry at our churches for not supporting LGBTQ people enough? For not living in to the extravagant welcome Jesus wants for all of us? Are we angry with our Presbyterian denomination for denying the gifts of those it has raised and nurtured? For failing to live into a value that celebrates the love of all committed couples who desire to be married?
Four years ago, I was on the brink of leaving the church. I was so angry that my beloved denomination was continuing to restrict openly LGBTQ persons from serving the church, and that many whom I loved within it were content to sit in silence until the problem either went away or wasn’t as contentious. I didn’t realize it at the time but I had let my anger become a blockage. I started distrusting others in the church, assuming they couldn’t ever hear the call towards inclusion, and beginning the process of shutting the church out. In truth, I have never felt further from God than when I let my anger become a righteous impediment to living in community with others.
What brought me back was the opportunity to call hundreds of ministers across the country during the effort to help our denomination fully adopt amendment 10A, which allows LGBTQ people to be ordained. Most of the ministers I called hadn’t made up their minds, most were kind, most just wanted the opportunity to be in conversation with one another about what this might mean for the denomination we both loved. I remember an email I received from a minister in Louisiana whom I had called. Our conversation was challenging and I hung up wondering what good our chat had done. After the vote in his Presbytery, this minister emailed me to say “you’ll never guess that I voted to change our denomination’s stance on ordination. Thank you for the conversation.”
M. Scott Peck defines community as the “coming together of a group of individuals who have learned how to communicate honestly with each other, whose relationships go deeper than their masks of composure, and who have developed some significant commitment to rejoice together, mourn together, and to delight in each other, and make other’s conditions our own.”
It sounds a bit like the best of what church can be, doesn’t it?
Yours on the journey,