The ability to understand and model the celebration of the diversity within our communities.
In the United Church of Christ we believe that everyone is welcome as part of the body of Christ. It is the same for me in my work as a Chaplain Resident when I minister to a patient or their family. Pain and suffering do not discriminate; neither does the love of God, nor should I. I am called to be in community with everyone no matter where I should meet them. When Jesus said to “love your neighbor as yourself,” he did not place a side note that read, “Only if they look like you, think like you, or believe like you.”
My calling to ministry is to walk alongside my brothers and sisters right where they are, in the here and now. I firmly believe with the UCC that “no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcomed.” I am not to sit in a seat of judgment but rather I am to sit in a seat of acceptance and love. I am to see past color, race, gender, sexual orientation, social economic class, and religious beliefs to simply love and accept everyone as a beloved child of the still speaking God. My work as a chaplain gives me the chance to live into this ministry. Daily I was blessed to minister to individuals of different beliefs and faiths. My life over this time was richly blessed through the chances I had to sit and discuss the similarities and differences between my beliefs and others. My heart was opened to welcome this new and enriching conversations while helping me to become more welcoming of different views. I also come to understand that often their faith journey was not much different than mine.
While on this journey I have had a few challenges in dealing with individuals who are not as accepting of others as I am. In my chaplaincy residency while encountering welcoming individuals, I also met with individuals who would challenge me. I often found that to be difficult in the moment yet hoped that even in the difficulty they were still able to see the love of Christ in me. In my Christian Ethics class at Candler School of Theology I had to write one of my papers from another perspective than my own. This was a difficult exercise, yet rewarding experience that challenged me to take a deeper look at someone’s beliefs that are the total opposite of mine. As a married gay man, my topic was to write on “traditional marriage” (in this case meaning a marriage between a man and a woman). I received an “A” on my paper along with praises from my professor, Dr. Ellen Ott Marshall, and the paper gave me a deeper understanding of the view that is held by others (click here to view the paper). I now have a tool in my toolbox of knowledge that allows me to open myself up to fully understanding others and their beliefs, even when they are unlike my own.
Although this class was in my final semester at Candler, the process of understanding and accepting other people’s views began while I was a student intern at Kirkwood United Church of Christ. While walking in the Gay Pride Parade, I noticed a group of protestors standing along the parade route in the blocked off area assigned to them. While they had all rights to be there and to speak their opinion, I noticed something else. A large group of individuals from the United Methodist Church’s Reconciling Ministries were blocking them from full sight with very large colorful pansies. While the groups walking in the parade began to cheer them for their efforts to block them out of sight. I began to wonder, if we are not wanting them to point a judgmental finger at us, why are we doing it back to them? The following Sunday, even as nervous as I was, I preached on this topic. (Watch video on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OaFV0aGQIsY). In both my ethics paper and in my sermon, I felt my journey to open myself up to others began. With my whole heart and being I feel this is how I am to show the love of God to all. I am to walk with others no matter who they are or what they believe. Scripture tells in Philippians 2: 12-13 us all to work out our own faith.
“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both too will and to work for God’s good pleasure.”
If I am to take these words to heart and to live them out in my ministry, I see that I am not to judge others in their journey of working out their own salvation. My role as a minister or for that matter another child of the still speaking God is to simply love everyone in full acceptance and respect. In the body of Christ as the Apostle Paul tells us, there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female; we are all the body of Christ.