As I’ve been thinking about Wisdom in this time between the anniversaries of the Pulse massacre and Stonewall, I am haunted by a conversation I had many years ago. It wasn’t the first or the last such conversation, but it has been on my mind because it was one of the first times I was asked to justify my identity face-to-face. It was a hard conversation, as they all have been, and one the left me angry and worried about the future of the church, or at least my future as part of the church.
Anyway, several years ago, a woman came into my office to talk with me because she had “concerns” about me being a pastor and being married to another woman. Her stated goal was to understand what I thought being a Christian meant. She was convinced that I had to be under the influence of Satan in order to be ordained, married to a woman, and not have children. I don’t know if she placed these “sins” in an order of severity, but she wanted to talk because she had been a life-long member of the church I was serving. The conversation was lengthy and difficult. I don’t remember all of it, but a few bits stand out in my memory.
She started in by questioning my claim to be an ordained minister. I told her that women had been ordained in our denomination (United Church of Christ) since 1853. Surely God would have made any objections known in the intervening years. She didn’t like it but took a breath and went on to her next question. It was kind of a trick question because she had hoped for a different answer.
“Why don’t you have children?” She really wanted me to say that it was because I was married to a woman. She was unprepared for the truth which was a painful struggle with infertility. I was in my mid-thirties and could not seem to get pregnant. (I later learned that I would never be able to sustain a pregnancy.) She was silent for a moment or two, fishing around for something to say to alleviate the awkwardness of the situation or prove her theory about me, which was more likely the case.
Her face lit up as she hit on what I knew was coming. She told me that my “barrenness” was God’s punishment for my sinful “lifestyle.” I told her that I really didn’t believe God worked that way at all. I carefully explained that I thought God was more about loving us and encouraging us to love ourselves and each other more than about seeing that all our sins were punished accordingly. She paused for a moment before suggesting that maybe God was just testing my faith and when I showed God true faith I’d be rewarded with a child.
I again told her that God didn’t work that way. God knows my heart and doesn’t need to test me through cruel adversity. She didn’t know what to say to that so just plowed ahead.
“Do you believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?” I assured her that I did without bothering to explain that I might have a different understanding of what those words meant.
“Do you believe in God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?” Again, I assured her that I did and kept my understanding to myself. Her face said that she did not believe me. She scanned my office as if looking for clear evidence of my heretical status.
She practically jumped out of her seat when she came up with her next question. “Do you believe that the Bible is the word of God?” I surprised her by saying that I did. So she fumbled around until she basically asked if I believed that the Bible is the inerrant word of God and no other revelation from God exists (I don’t remember her exact words). And I finally gave her what she was looking for when I said no. She declared that she knew I was a “tool of Satan” and that people like me would destroy her church.
I didn’t respond well to her pronouncement, unfortunately. I suggested that one of us might indeed be under Satan’s influence, clearly indicating that I didn’t think it was me. She left my office telling me that she would pray for my salvation and I assured her that I would pray for hers as well. She slammed the door on her way out. She did, however, show up in worship the next Sunday. Our relationship continued to be contentious during my tenure at that congregation.
Honestly, I think this interaction is on my mind because I keep hoping that the church will change. I keep praying that we will leave behind the need for certainty of our own righteousness of doctrine and practice and, instead, embrace the mystery and majesty that is God. Yes, we need language to share our beliefs and strengthen our faith communities. At the same time, we need to understand that the language is limited and God is far more than we can speak (or write).
Proverbs tells us that Sophia, Holy Wisdom, cries out everywhere we go, yearning for us to share God’s delight in the whole of Creation. Where God creates beauty and oneness, we seem to respond with fear and division. God invites us into community, into sacred relationship, and we react by building walls and isolating ourselves from those who are different from us.
I’m tired of having the kinds of conversations where I am condemned for being a woman who is ordained and married to a woman, and for believing in a God of Love above all else. There’s enough anger, violence, and hatred in the world without the Body of Christ perpetuating or participating in these things. God’s ways are about unity and sanctuary. Human ways are about division and (false) security. It’s time we respond differently when Sophia calls.
RCL – Year C – Trinity Sunday – June 16, 2019
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31
Photo: CC0 image by Stefan Keller