Today we continue a series of letters to the General Synod of 2016 from LGBTQ+ people and allies affected by the votes this year. The author of today’s letter is the Rev. Jonathan Vanderbeck, M.S.W. (he/him/his) is believed to be the first openly-gay, person-of-color ordained in the Reformed Church in America, ordained to the office of Minister of Word and Sacrament on Pentecost Sunday, 2016. Rev. Vanderbeck serves the First Reformed Church in Schenectady, New York as Community Minister, focusing on outreach to local college students and working with those with mental health needs. He is passionate about good coffee, Korean food, and the radical inclusion of LGBTQ people in full life and ministry of the church.
To the delegates of General Synod 2016:
I write this letter to you in order to clear my conscience. Had I not gotten these words out, I could not say with integrity that I had done all that I could to stand in solidarity with my LGBTQ friends and family.
You see, when I took my vows to become a Minister of Word and Sacrament, I made a promise. A promise to pledge my life to preach and teach GOOD NEWS.
To free the enslaved.
To relieve the oppressed,
And to comfort the afflicted.
What I heard at General Synod 2016 was not good news for my LGBTQ sisters, siblings, and brothers.
No. What I heard was hurtful, denigrating news. News that the Reformed Church in America was to continue its dehumanizing, bigoted march towards pushing out all LGBTQ people in its midst.
There was no call to free the enslaved – instead, LGBTQ people were threatened with being bound by discriminatory and bigoted practices that make it even harder to simply exist; being told that there was no room for those whose love does not reflect heteronormative standards of morality.
There was no call to relieve the oppressed – instead, LGBTQ people suffered in silent agony as we were referred to as a “cancer” from the floor; rather than the beloved children of God that we are.
And there was no call to comfort the afflicted – instead, rather than acknowledging how homophobia and the like that the church is complicit in lends to hate crimes like the Pulse Nightclub shooting, delegates passed blame to “radical Islamists” and refused to change policies that would eliminate such teachings in our churches.
You, delegates of General Synod, have broken your vows.
So let this letter be your notice. I will do everything within the power of my queer being to live into my vows. I WILL work to fight for LGBTQ people in the Reformed Church in America and beyond, to let them know they are BELOVED. That WE are BELOVED.
You see, this is MY church. I was baptized into it on June 9, 1991 – as one who God knew and loved… and was gay. I will fight for all those beloved LGBTQ people to whom this church also belongs. We are here. I will not abandon my LGBTQ sisters, siblings and brothers. And I will not break my vows.
Until there is room for all,
The Rev. Jonathan Vanderbeck
Ordained Pentecost Sunday, 2016.