Excerpts from Melanie May

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The following direct quotes are excerpted from Melanie May’s writing. Italicized paragraphs are from her book A Body Knows: A Theopoetics of Death and Resurrection, NY: Continuum, 1995. Page numbers are indicated in parentheses. Other paragraphs appeared in ‘Breaking Down the Dividing Wall, Ending the Silence about Sexuality,’ in The Ecumenical Review, 501, Jan 1998, 41-47. [Used by permission.]

“I think I have always been a theologian. I have, as long as I can recall, been asking why we are at all? and for what we are created? I have been relentlessly wrestling to name the One whose Presence has forever been faithfully palpable: ‘Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?’ (Ps. 139:7, NVSV) (99)

“My body and mind and spirit were intimately rooted in the earth of the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia…. My theological musings were also nurtured, as I accompanied my mother when she preached, and then as I preached, up and down the Shenandoah Valley and all through the surrounding hills and hollows. (99-100)

“These early years of my theological formation were characterized by a sense of community. Growing up in the Church of the Brethren was like growing up in an extended family. For better and for worse, I grew up knowing that I belonged to a people of God…. (100)

“Indeed, my formation in the Church of the Brethren first taught me about relinquishment, about letting go for the sake of life abundant…. In short, it was in the Church of the Brethren that I learned my earliest lessons about connecting and letting go, about finding and loosing. (100)

“I learned these lessons in a painful way as well. And so I must confess…that my experience of community has often manifested Parker Palmer’s characterization of communities as being created by acts of exclusion. At the end of my college years, I attempted to escape from what I felt to be the cost of being in, not out; the cost of conformity, theologically as well as personally. And having returned to work on the national staff of the Church of the Brethren after my doctoral study, I felt and feel the price to be paid for belonging is even higher. My people have become more and more acculturated to the culture….(100-101)

” …[on] the national staff of the Church of the Brethren, …I served in several positions, specifically Director of Program for Women, Ecumenical Officer, and Associate General Secretary for Human Resources, for tenures of varying lengths over a period of six years. I longed for the theological words I had written to become flesh. I imagined incarnation…. (34)

“I was not, nor am I, among the throngs mourning the… disestablishment of so-called mainline Protestant churches in the United States…. I mourn as I see churches building higher walls rather than breaking down walls that have divided and excluded God’s people for decades and centuries. (35)

“…binding and loosing is biblical language for what I write about in language of connecting and letting go. (40)

“Binding and loosing, as connecting and letting go, is a rhythm of reckoning what is life-giving and what is death-dealing. This is a rhythm that insists I live with my own sense of authority, that insists I live unbound by the external expectations erected as confinement in earlier times of my life…. (40)

“I believe this rhythm is also constitutive of the church as the risen body of Christ. I believe this to be so not only because I believe that what we know to be church dies and rises to new life as long as the church is Christ’s risen body rather than a whited sepulchre testifying to fear. I also believe this rhythm is constitutive of the church because the church as the risen body of Christ is always gathering and dispersing.(40-41)

“…I believe the church is first and finally a communion of persons, not a bureaucratic institution, a denomination, or a voluntary association. The church is a communion of persons who participate, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, in the very life of God. And as participants in the very life of God, all are ‘changed into the same image from glory to glory’ (II Cor 3:18, KJV). (41)

“…For more than 40 years I have lived with a ‘dividing wall’ (Eph 2:14) at the heart of my life. On one side of the wall, I have been a theologian and leader in church and ecumenical bodies. On the other side, I have torturously come to terms with my sexuality, with the emotional and physical passion I have always felt in relation to women. This wall tears through the heart of me. It is a wall made of stones carved in silence so severe that self-hatred haunted my days and nights for years and years.

“This silence has been most deafening in the church. I grew up in the Church of the Brethren and was ordained as a minister in 1984. On one hand, the Church of the Brethren nurtured me and called me into leadership. On another hand, however, the fullness of my being was unacceptable to my formative community of faith. The price of my membership and ministry in the Church of the Brethren, therefore, was silence about being a lesbian. It is a price paid by most lesbians and gay men in most churches…. a price I can and will no longer pay.

“This highest, indeed death-dealing, price for me is perpetrating a sin of omission. Silence is a sin of omission. It is a sin of omission not only because silence is dishonesty to others and to my self. What is even more unlivable for me is this: by being silent, by perpetrating the sin of omission, I omit my self from being the fullness of the image of God as God created me to be. I thereby put God’s glory at risk as well as my own being… (82-83)

“…it is precisely within the church that I was taught to respect all persons as persons created in God’s image, as persons God loves. It is precisely within the church that I first heard the call to live the integrity of word made flesh and flesh become word. No cover-up. No deception. Words not empty or evasive. Words not ‘become flesh as brutal or destructive deeds. But words bearing witness to our selves born of flesh in the image of God, whose Spirit is the Spirit of life and love, and of the truth that sets free.’ I affirm that this troubled, tempestuous conjunction-I am lesbian and I am member and minister of the body of Christ-is not of my own making, but was born in me at my baptism.

I still believe the truth sets free. As I affirmed in A Body Knows:

The truth sets me free to be who I am created by God to be. And I believe I am created by God to give glory to God for and as who I am. Put in other words, I am created, not to explain or to justify, but to enjoy and to be joyous being a lesbian, being a lover of women.

” …The present-day focus on lesbians and gay men in the churches’ discussion of sexuality allows them to avoid addressing the fact that all sexuality has been and continues to be problematic for Christianity. It has been only too easy to focus our dis-ease on those who deviate from what has been declared normative or on those who are said to commit a crime against the moral law of nature. This tendency to moralize ‘nature,’ however defined, and to vilify those who threaten reigning assumptions about what is and is not ‘natural’ is a drama played out time and time again in the West….

“For, God’s gift of life abundant does not come to a select few. As long as anyone suffers, all suffer separation and silence; and until all are free, none is free. We may not say, as I have heard it said with regard to human sexuality, especially homosexuality, ‘This issue is not on my church’s agenda.’ Here we must be altogether honest: despite our rhetoric about recognizing one another’s baptism, despite our rhetoric about bearing one another’s burdens and being in solidarity with one another in times of tension and pain and perplexity, we still too often walk away from one another, thereby saying: ‘I have no need of you’ (1 Cor 12:21). We retreat, filled with fear. We view the more and more richly visible and voiced diversity of our churches in terms of transgression rather than in light of the possibility for mutual transformation.

“My concern, therefore, is not to rehearse the issues of Christianity and homosexuality per se. … [M]y concern is whether we can recognize and respect one another as uniquely created in God’s image well enough to engage in conversation-well enough to honor the truth of one another’s stories-in hope that the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of love as well as truth, may move among us. I believe we will thereby be set free to be together the people of God, our life together an icon reflecting and revealing the intricate integrity of God’s life of communion. (85)

“…It is my hope that these reflections will turn us as churches from life-denying adjudication of ‘right’ or ‘wrong,’ ‘moral’ or ‘immoral,’ to conversation that may by God’s grace be life-giving for all God’s people. It is my hope that these reflections will turn us away from vengeful judgment of those we view as transgressors and towards receiving all human beings-all of them created in God’s image and not in the image of our dualistic alternatives attended by dividing walls. It is my hope that these reflections will turn us from preoccupation with the preservation of what has been and to the freedom of God’s new creation in Christ.”

Melanie Mae is Vice President for Academic Life and Dean of the Faculty, and Professor of Theology at Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School. A member and licensed minister of Lake Avenue Baptist Church, Melanie was an ordained minister in the Church of the Brethren since 1984. She is Vice Moderator of the World Council of Churches Faith and Order Commission, and former Chair of the National Council of Churches Commission on Faith and Order. The author of numerous articles and essays, she is the author of Bonds of Unity: Women, Theology, and the Worldwide Church, and A Body Knows: A Theopoetics of Death and Resurrection.
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