By Rev. Peter K. Perry, Olympia First UMC
Last Sunday we had over 50 people walking in the annual CROP Walk from First Olympia, raising funds and awareness of local and global hunger and poverty. At the end of the day, after a busy morning in church followed immediately by the 10K route of the walk, I had 22,000 steps on my pedometer and my feet were really sore. It was a “Hey, you aren’t 35 years old anymore, old man” kind of sore.
My discomfort was temporary. The discomfort of the hungry is more persistent.
I was feeling sorry for myself until I remembered one of the slogans Church World Service has used over the years for CROP Walks: “We walk because they walk…,” a reminder that in third world countries people must walk great distances for water and for food. A little physical discomfort for my first world feet seems a small price to pay to make a bit of difference. My discomfort was temporary. The discomfort of the hungry is more persistent.
In church that morning, we observed an “Ask the Pastor” Sunday, when church goers write questions on index cards for the pastors to answer during worship. We’ve come to anticipate that at least some of the questions each time we do this will be about LGBTQ concerns in our denomination and here at First Olympia. Sure enough, we received those questions on Sunday and Ruth and I responded that our First Olympia welcome statement has been a good and faithful start, but that our local church needs to put flesh on the bones and find ways to match our words with our actions.
I acknowledged, sadly, that not everyone in the church is of one mind on the matters of LGBTQ inclusion, and especially noted this month’s General Conference gathering which will once again be debating the interpretations of scripture that are at the root of the dispute. Raising the subject in worship is uncomfortable for many. It is uncomfortable for me, for I know that every time I do, I risk offending someone. But my discomfort is temporary.
After the service, an older member of the church came up to me and thanked me for sharing the issue forthrightly. He had tears in his eyes as he reminded me of his gay son, raised in the church, rejected by the church, who took his own life in despair decades ago. My heart breaks for his broken heart, a break that time will never heal. After this brief encounter between pastor and parishioner, I wiped a tear from my eye as I wondered if his son would still be alive if the church had been more inclusive in the past. My friend lives everyday with the persistent sadness of his loss, a sadness we continue to inflict on other fathers and sons, other mothers and daughters, other brothers and sisters, other neighbors and friends.
My discomfort doesn’t matter anymore. Not when so many people in pain remain hurting because the church puts boundaries on God’s boundless love. I join with the increasing number of clergy and lay people in the United Methodist Church who proclaim that it is long past time for the church to remove the painful language of exclusion from the Book of Discipline. It’s time to change the church and become fully inclusive of all of God’s children.