To the spiritual refugees from the United Methodist Church
February 26, 2019
To the dearly beloved spiritual refugees from the United Methodist Church; those who bear the image of God in your beautiful, queer selves; siblings for whom Christ died and was raised; those inhabited by God’s own Spirit:
From we who have experienced the nauseating grief of exclusion and expulsion from the churches that raised us; and have experienced the reconciling power of the gospel in this community of belonging in Jesus’ name called Galileo Church:
(Immediate) grace to you, and (eventual) peace, in the name of God our Mother-Father and Jesus our Brother-Savior.
We know what is happening to you. Not just because we’ve been obsessively and prayerfully following the proceedings of your General Conference, but because we’ve lived it. We named our little church after Galileo Galilei in part because he was excommunicated. “Devout and kicked out, just like most of us,” we tweet ruefully on his birthday each year.
To be fair, most of us were not formally excommunicated from the denominations of our youth. But churches have ways of letting you know you’re not welcome. Sometimes they just wear you down by taking endless little bites of your dignity, or the dignity of someone you love. Sometimes they actually vote on your identity, or the identity of someone you love. Either way, you get shoved to the margins, pushed out of bounds, even though you have begged to stay, even though you have spent yourself in service of the institution that now closes its heart to you.
We know. Our hearts are so heavy, with you and for you and alongside you and on your behalf. It is a familiar grief our hearts know well.
But also – listen! – there is a congratulation to be issued from out here beyond their boundary. He has been calling out to you, as he called to us: “Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets” (Luke 6:22-23).
What we have been learning together at Galileo Church is that Jesus has always been out here, on the margins, out of bounds, with the refugees that religious institutions churn out. We thought we were losing him when we lost our churches; we all did. But there came such sweet delight when we stopped struggling to regain what we had lost and instead took stock of where we were: out here where our blessedly othered messiah has set up a table among the outcasts and the losers and the freaks and the queer. Among us!
So we’re writing to say, don’t be afraid. Do take your time to grieve, because what you’re going through really hurts. Do find a therapist who will express shock at the institutional abuse you have endured. Do guard yourself from reading any of the so-called “reconciling” justifications that will be endlessly presented by people with the privilege to still be insiders in days to come. But don’t be afraid. You are about to discover more Jesus than you know what to do with. He’s out here, waiting, arms flung open.
And so are we. And so are any number of little remnant communities-of-belonging-in-Jesus’-name just like us, perhaps even near to where you live. We know for sure there are plenty of spiritual refugees where you live. Churches are in a bad habit of making more of them. Can you find them? Can we help?
At least this: our prayers on your behalf are endless, and are carried to God’s ear by the Spirit that intercedes with sighs too deep for words. Mostly we just mutter, “on earth as it is in heaven,” as a mantra of longing, of insistence, of hope. For that is the prayer Jesus gave to us, we who are starved and parched for justice. It belongs to us now more than ever, out here on the margins. Come on out. Blessed are you.
With love and kinship – the co-conspirators and friends of Galileo Church