I regularly see clergy memes1 expressing a desire for the marginalized to feel loved. These memes include promises to speak for racial justice, perform services for the LGBTQ+ community, and answer the phone in a mental health crisis. They promise to undo years…decades…centuries…millennia of damage and harm the Church did to the marginalized (incidentally the exact folks Jesus shows the most compassion to).
I understand the motivation and find myself tempted to post them, too. We should absolutely stand up and make it well known and public our policies on showing love to God’s creation and our attempts to remove the limits to showing love and compassion within the Church. We must speak out against injustice and proclaim love, even and especially when showing love comes at a risk and a cost.
And for people to find the safe spaces that will welcome them, they need to hear and see the invitations.
But every time I find myself tempted to post one of those memes proclaiming my willingness and ability to show love on that level, I stop. I know the height of my willingness, but my ability to love nonjudgmentally, freely, and in a way that centers the recipient of love and not me has never had to stand up to a test.
I even question wearing my “This Pastor Loves You” shirt in public despite knowing that I do.
I would have left this in the realm of my crippling self-doubt and silent questioning the motives of other pastors (my confession) if two things had not happened, and in such short time that I had to link them.
First, an LGBTQ+ friend who has worked to make their denomination much more inclusive to the LGBTQ+ community from however inside they can get themselves posted an admonition to church people proclaiming inclusivity without have the scriptural knowledge to back it up nor the awareness of their own communities the know when they worship and live in an unsafe community for LGBTQ+ people. I (silently) cheered his admonition, thinking I had already heeded this admonition while patting myself on the back.2
Second, I offhandedly mentioned something about weddings and “serve your husbands” and “head of the household” to my newish barber, and he started going on about how “that’s what scripture says” and “isn’t it a bigger ask to love your wife than to serve your husband?”
And I could not respond. I will not apologize for how I think — I do not typically debate because I think slow, long, and methodical — but I opened the door, thinking he would feel the way I did and clearly did not, and he preached circles around me in that moment. In normal circumstances I would have grabbed a Bible, a few books, read and read until I had a response ready, but in the moment, I just started shutting down while the wave of knowing guilt and shame started washing over me.
I confess I failed, I confess I judged a whole lot of people for sins I commit, and I confess that I love judging other clergy.
In the time since that haircut, I started to think about what makes me question the posting of those memes by clergy and why I never post them. Occasionally my self-doubt comes from a place of truth, and, truthfully, I am an inadequate ally in every way (if I even deserve the title of “ally”). I still do not have a good queer or inclusive understanding Ephesians 5:22-28 (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=ephesians+5%3A22-28&version=CEB) even despite knowing unintentionally bringing up that passage made me more harmful to the LGBTQ+ community and CISHET females than just remaining silent. I have failed in the past, I failed that day, and I will continue to fail.
If I do not center myself in expressions of PRIDE, racial equalities movements, or social justice efforts in general, then I have no reason to publicly proclaim, without any sort of real risk or demand for proof, how great of an ally I am. I can just try and, when the opportunity presents itself, love fully and inclusively.
I will try. I will fail, but I will do better today than yesterday and tomorrow than today. I will try to love you fully and inclusively, and I invite you to admonish me when I fail to do so.
Because I really do love you.
1 I really hate that every imaged posted gets called a meme now, but also we do not really have a better word, so I will just sit here and stew about it while I used it.
2 I anonymized this person, but I’m not sure it was the right decision. It may change after I post it (or if they happen to read it and want credit).