I have a question for you. You, my friend or colleague or family member who is elated (relieved, maybe) at how things turned out at General Conference last month. (Yep, it’s a #GC2019 post.) We have been over so many angles of what happened there, what may be yet to come, but one thing has been weighing ever heavier on my heart and I just…I just have to ask you.
What do I tell your children?
Many of you have or are expecting children, or grandchildren. They represent the treasure of God’s promises to us, the possibility of new life as yet untainted by the struggles of walking in God’s light through the messy, broken, beautiful world we inhabit. Think of baptizing those children, or of standing up at their baptism and making covenant with the church universal. We practice infant baptism as a sign of God’s grace going before us, acknowledging that that grace flows into and around us before we perceive it, before we begin to understand it, before we are ever asked to accept or reject it.
Think, moreover, of those other baptisms that you have observed and in which you have participated as the fellowship of faith, the commitments you have made to children not of your own loins but who are welcomed into the same body of Christ that has re-membered you. We all, as one clergywoman put it beautifully, loved these children first. We recognized God’s grace on them and covenanted with them to draw them into deeper relationship with God before knowing anything about who they truly are.
And now, some of those children know that they have been created as LGBTQ. And they have heard what you say about queer people, “the gays,” anyone who falls outside the boundary of your understanding of creation. They can read “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” They can see how the same-sex couple whose child they played with in Sunday school isn’t around anymore, and they can hear the whispers–they left because Pastor said gay people can’t serve in leadership.
They may have heard worse. Maybe they know that you think being queer is a choice, a willful sin rather than a difference in their being. Maybe they’ve tried to broach that conversation with you, or maybe they keep silent for fear of what you will say…of what you won’t say…if you find out.
What do I say to your children? What do we say to your children when they ask us to unbaptize them, because God obviously doesn’t love them for who they are? How do we respond when they ask if their baptism counts because it turns out that the pastor who baptized them doesn’t believe in their full personhood? In a tradition that values and encourages the ongoing conversation of a non-literal Scriptural canon with continuously developing reason, tradition, and experience, what do we say?
What do we say when we encounter your children in our ministries with homeless and transient youth, because they no longer feel safe or welcomed in the home where they once felt love and acceptance?
What do we say when your children recoil from us because “pastors” and “church” and “Jesus” are not invitations into loving community, but rigid boxes and closed doors?
What can we say that will heal that harm?
As long as you continue to prioritize a need to be right over a need to be loving, we will continue to fumble through the answers to those questions.