“Love is not what you say. Love is what you do.” I’m glad this quote is posted in the youth hall men’s room for our teenagers to see during the Valentines season. These young men need to know that words of love mean nothing without a commitment to actions that make space for others to flourish, even and especially when that costs something (for this is why St. Valentine was martyred). These young men need to think very carefully about telling someone they love them if they aren’t willing to embody that love. These young women (I assume the same poster is hanging in the ladies room?) need to learn to only believe the words “I love you,” when their partner shows them the kind of fidelity and care that love really is.
But I also hate this poster. It makes me angry. What we say matters. Words break trust and wound souls. Words dehumanize. The nursery rhyme is a blatant lie: Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will cripple me far longer than physical injuries.
It is also true that what we don’t say matters.
I am proud of the many beautiful, thoughtful, courageous responses to the Illumination Project’s short-sighted conclusions and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship‘s discriminatory policy that prohibits the hiring of LGBTQ persons for any missionary assignments or key leadership positions. With all of the Facebook comments, blogs, and articles, and sermons, I’ve wondered “What else is there to say?” And so I’ve said nothing.
In an Ethics Daily interview with the Illumination Project Committee, Suzii Paynter makes the point that what is most important is not the hiring policy of our denomi-network, but the love and care that LGBTQ persons receive in CBF congregations, even in congregations that are not welcoming and affirming. In one sense it seems that Suzii and the Valentines poster are right: actions speak louder than words. This has been the message of many pastors and churches I’ve served over the years. I’ve been encouraged to work for what I saw as justice slowly and gradually behind the scenes, being careful not to speak too loudly and offend people, especially if they have money. This approach has been framed as balancing “the pastoral” and “the prophetic” or described in a favorite phrase of the Illumination Project as, “meeting people where they are.”
But I now see this type of voice as a voice of privilege and this type of love as incomplete.
I now see that not saying anything is only pastoral for part of my community. I now see that speaking out prophetically is in fact the fullest expression of the pastoral office when the people I love are being excluded by the baptist family they hoped would be their home.
I will no longer be silent.
I will not personally attack any individual or organization, but I will speak up forcefully for and with the ones I love. I will speak up with my gay friend seeking ordination. I will speak up with the woman who stood in my kitchen with tears of joy as she gave thanks that her and her wife could finally worship together in a Baptist church. I will speak up with one of the most gifted preachers I know as he receives rejection letters from search committee after search committee. I will speak up with my future adoptive son’s adoptive”guncles” whose wedding I look forward to planning. I will speak up with the couple who loved my aging grandparents, helping with groceries and doctors appointments, and becoming the sons they never had. I will speak up with all of the LGBTQ people who have invited me into their homes and into their lives, teaching me more about love and grace than I ever could have known without their friendship.
I love the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The CBF has financially supported my education, created space for me to discern my calling, opened up opportunities for employment, and brought me friends who have sustained my ministry over these last ten years. I am proud of the CBF’s courageous efforts to elevate the voices of women, work for racial reconciliation, and respond to God’s work outside of traditional institutions with new church starts. I truly believe that this is a movement that is seeking to follow the Holy Spirit.
I love the CBF enough to speak up when I believe that they are choosing to be less than God has called them to be. I love the CBF enough to speak out when I see them choosing less than the fullness of God’s image, as they say “no” to the LGBTQ lives and the unique gifts they offer. I love the CBF and my gay friends enough to lean into the tension. I know not all of us can or should walk this path any longer, but I will stay and speak up.
Who are the other lovers out there? How will you speak up online or in person? How will you speak up in Dallas? With acts of protest or resistance? With rainbow pride? With motions on the floor of the business meeting?
Love is not just about what you do, but what you say.