Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, MaryAnn McKibben Dana is curating a series on the Sarasota Statement, which we unveiled a year ago and continue to promote for use in our congregations and communities, along with the accompanying study guide. You will hear from a variety of voices and contexts throughout March, reacting to phrases in the statement, and sharing ways it is being used. How have you used the Sarasota Statement? What is your reaction to these phrases? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!
by Angela Williams
“…whose expressions of faith we have refused to hear.”
– The Sarasota Statement
For most of my life, I have refused to hear even my own expression of faith and expression of self. When I was first engaging with the Presbyterian Church at the denominational level, it was as a Young Adult Advisory Delegate to the 221st General Assembly. In that role, I voted to create marriage equality in the PC(USA), not knowing that my push of the button would affect my own potential future marriage.
Seven months later, I cried out for answers and heard only silence. In that void, I heard God’s response, and it terrified me. My gut already knew who I was, and the Spirit offered no other commentary. I did not seek the silence, but the silence greeted me and reflected my identity as a bisexual cisgender woman. In that long, dark night, I wrestled with God. Of course I supported other people’s expressions of their gender and sexual identities, wherever they may lie on the spectrum, but that did not apply to me.
It took many months of struggling and bargaining to accept and love this newly unfolding part of me. It was even longer before I decided to share that side of me with the world. While I tiptoed in and out of the closet, only revealing my bisexuality to certain confidants, fear made a home in my gut. This fear was the strongest motivator in hiding my full identity. Fear of the injustice I could face. Fear of rejection. Fear of the church. Fear that I would lose relationships. Fear that this part of me would jeopardize my ordination process. Fear of not finding a job in ministry. Fear that I would not be fully embraced as part of God’s beloved family.
Perhaps fear is why we, the church, have refused to hear some expressions of faith. If we truly listened to the stories of those crying out for justice, then we would be convicted to act. If we looked to the silence, perhaps God would not respond, leaving us to wrestle with our gut instinct that something is not right.
Oh, how we are called to change if we truly seek justice, if we actually offer hospitality, and if we fully embrace as part of God’s beloved family those whom the church has harmed individually and systemically. I imagine that in living out that gut feeling, that Spirit nudging, the church would find it difficult to maintain the status quo. How beautiful would the church be if all were loved, welcomed, and protected, no matter the trauma they have experienced.
Still, that process of transformation must begin with those of us in the dominant culture observing silence. In our silence, may we create space for the marginalized and historically silenced to share their stories of injustice. Then, we in the dominant culture must believe them. The Spirit is in solidarity with those stories and moves within hearts and souls to enact justice in this world. Welcome Her movement into your relationship and gut. Wrestle with Her for a while. Then use your voice and privilege to follow Jesus and stand with and for those who are unjustly marginalized and oppressed.
The Sarasota Statement offers wisdom and rich guidance for the church in 2018. While it is both confessional and aspirational, I find space in it where I can wrestle with my own privilege, as well as feel comforted that I am embraced as part of God’s beloved family. Upon reflection, this document encourages me to seek out silence and listen for other expressions of faith in my self and in others that I have refused to hear. Whose expressions of faith have you refused to hear? How can you start listening for their stories?
Angela Williams is training to be a community organizer and a pastor at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary and at the University of Texas School of Social Work in Austin, TX. She finds life in experiencing music, listening to podcasts, and exploring creation.