|Rev. Dámaris E. Ortega, Pastor|
Ever since I decided to come clean with myself and others in my life, to accept who God made me to be, and finally understanding that being gay does not get in the way of my calling to ministry, I have had to seriously re-think my whole belief system and the tenants of my own personal faith. For one, being a Christian and gay have been in conflict in most of Puerto Rican churches and denominations. The idea of exploring the intersection of both in conversation and study has been out of the question. Even relating in public with someone out of the closet presents a huge threat to others. They are afraid to be labeled as gay too, by association, so needless to say, I have lost many so called “friends" in the process. It has been a lonely ride. Yet, my faith, doubts and questions, and my own vocation for ministry has taken me to a journey of exploration of what could be a place for me, where I can feel in sync, in harmony and in complete peace that there is a place for me and other Christians like me in Christianity.
The answer is that I no longer allow mainline, traditional, conservative Christians to define what it is to be a Christian, or how is my faith journey going to look like.
This is why I have found a little niche, or place from where I can question, challenge, explore, discuss my faith with the lens of Progressive Christianity. This personal journey has also been informed or shaped by my chaplaincy training in the Army and in Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), which taught and encourage me to value religious pluralism. Understanding that God does not fit in one box, in one religion, in one particular group of people. Therefore, I would necessarily had to revise my own believes about “salvation" and the role of the Christ in human lives. Can Progressive Christianity Theology offer any hope? Eric Alexander says:
"One of the questions I often hear is once you make it optional to believe the Bible as an inerrant instruction manual from God, and once you make it optional to subscribe to a substitutionary brand of atonement, what hope is there in Jesus anymore? He goes on to say that Progressive Christian thinkers have an opportunity to change the future, with the following three key ideas:
One, if there is such a thing as an eternal meritocracy (which most people call Heaven) There’s probably not much reason to be stressing about it, or whether it even exists. Because if we instead focus on the here and now, and put love first, eternity will come with the package (in whatever form it might exist).
Two, the Bible offers “next steps” (via parables, writings, and stories) about how to live a better lifestyle, and we humans need and want next steps when we go through life changes. Therefore, “progressive” communities can meet and converse with others in various stages of growth, and learn from the Bible in context, but certainly not idolize any book, or any institution.
Three, we can use limited human language to describe a similar “equation” toward life change, but at the same time take the focus off a standard set of required beliefs — which means moving beyond a literal interpretation of the bible (or even one that gives the Bible any special authority at all) — less obsession with heaven and hell — breaking down the contentious battle lines of who’s in and out — much more open mindedness to science — and going beyond judgement toward others who have different beliefs or lifestyles.
There can still be a similar and beneficial path toward positive life change (and world change) that can help the world via progressive Christian theology."
This is what I’ve personally have found in the United Church of Christ; a community of stewards in covenant, walking together in all God’s ways. Just like in 2 Corinthians 3:5-6a says "Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit…" – I believe that God allows us to be stewards and administrators of everything that has been given to us, which is why during this month of November, we will continue to reflect on who we are, what we believe and how can we do our very best in the administration of that that belongs to God. That is stewardship!
The United Church of Christ comes to existence as a denomination through covenant. That is the glue that holds us together. Our Constitution says: “Within the United Church of Christ, the various expressions of the church relate to each other in a covenantal manner. Each expression of the church has responsibilities and rights in relation to the others, to the end that the whole church will seek God’s will and be faithful to God’s mission... Each expression of the church listens, hears, and carefully considers the advice, counsel, and requests of others. In this covenant, the various expressions of the United Church of Christ seek to walk together in all God’s ways.” – Article III, Par. 6
This is our perfect intention, our free choice, the “better way” we choose to live out our commitment to God in mutual relationship. That, my dears friends is part of being blessed to be a blessing. Amen.