Advent and the General Deliverance

Donkeys in the snow
Photo by Martin Alargent on

O Come, thou Dayspring, come and cheer
Our spirits by thy justice here;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death’s dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice, 
Emmanuel shall come to thee,
O Israel.

—O Come, O Come Emmanuel, originally in Latin, 8th or 9th century

I have always said that I have an Advent soul. It is the liturgical season that resonates most within me. I have joked that it’s because I was baptized during Advent, as if the season we are baptized in was some kind of Zodiac calendar that dictates our spiritual personalities. (No, no. Unless??? Nah.)  Still, there is something about the season that stirs my soul in a way that none of the other church seasons, not even Christmas or Easter, begins to touch. 

My Advent playlist has seven versions of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” on it. Other people may start Christmas carols as soon as the weather starts to change, while I patiently wait for Christ the King Sunday to pass so I can listen over and over again to those dulcet, somber, haunting tones singing out “rejoice” while praying for Christ to come again.

If my soul had a song to sing to God, it might just be “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Come, Lord Jesus, come. It’s likely why I get a little bleary-eyed during The Great Thanksgiving when reciting the mystery of faith: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again. Yes. Christ will come again.

This is the faith of my soul, that directs my life: Christ will come again. Emmanuel, God-with-us, will be with us again. And, joyously, this is not my faith alone. I do not cry out this prayer by myself. For generations, Christians have looked toward that day when Christ the Lord will reign over a new heaven and new earth where all wrongs are made right; where justice will roll down like water and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream; where the wolf will lie with the lamb. 

In Advent all the church sings with my soul: Come, Lord Jesus, come!

Advent looks toward that day when every relationship is made right, made whole. Between Creator and created and between all of creation. When Christ reigns again, enemies will lay down arms that in turn will become instruments of new life, of the harvest. Families restored. Borders erased. People from every corner of the earth become kin on God’s holy mountain.

Humans, however, are not all there is to God’s creation. As much as we can know of the heart of God, I believe that God must truly want to see all of God’s handiwork redeemed. Where I live, the weather turns cold and gray for months on end. “In the Bleak Midwinter” seems like an apt description of Ohio winters, if not so much Israel-Palestine. Advent reminds me, however, that creation is not dead. It is just lying in wait, still. If I quiet my mind, focus my heart, and turn my attention to God, I can almost sense creation singing, praying, groaning with me.

In Advent, all of creation sings along with all the church and my soul: Come, Lord Jesus, come!

Romans 8 tells us as much: “The whole creation waits breathless with anticipation for the revelation of God’s sons and daughters. … We know that the whole creation is groaning together and suffering labor pains up until now.”

Indeed, we do not cry out this prayer alone. All of creation prays it with us. Listen, do you hear it? That breathless anticipation that all God’s handiwork shares. All of creation saying together: O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Come, Lord, Jesus, Come. Christ will come again.

The vision given to us in Isaiah 11 portrays not just humans but wolves and lambs, leopards and goats, calves and lions, cows and bears, snakes and serpents. Given the Biblical evidence, it is not too wild of a speculation to say that one of the wrongs that will be made right at Christ’s return is the hierarchy and status of non-human animals within creation, their relationships with each other, and humankind’s relationship with them. 

Indeed, Romans 8 also says: Creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice—it was the choice of the one who subjected it—but in the hope that the creation itself will be set free from slavery to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of God’s children.

We can find evidence for the redemption of all creation not only in scripture but in our Wesleyan theological heritage. In his sermon, “The General Deliverance,” John Wesley affirms that God hears the groans and cries of all creation and that brute creatures will have deliverance, not annihilation. We all await with bated breath for the day of Isaiah 11 when all creatures will live peaceably together and be redeemed. Many Christians have surmised that creatures would be released from their carnal desires, carnivores turned into herbivores, violent wildness turned tame. Wesley, however, speculates that God may take it a step further so that all creation may be made what we are now. Wesley writes with hopeful conjecture in his sermon: 

May I be permitted to mention here a conjecture concerning the brute creation? What, if it should then please the all-wise, the all-gracious Creator to raise them higher in the scale of beings? What, if it should please him, when he makes us “equal to angels,” to make them what we are now—creatures capable of God; capable of knowing and loving and enjoying the Author of their being? If it should be so, ought our eye to be evil because he is good? However this be, he will certainly do what will be most for his own glory.

In essence, in the New Creation, all the animals will be redeemed, restored, raised up to the capacity of knowing, worshiping, and loving the One who created them. The answer isn’t just “all dogs go to heaven”—it’s all dogs (and cats and birds and cows and snakes and sharks and pigs and platypuses and horses and squid and, and, and…) will have the human capacity of reason and be able to consciously love their Creator alongside humans. 

To take this one awesome step further: at the day of the general resurrection, in the hopeful knowledge that Christ plans to release all God’s lesser creation from their bonds and elevate them, why would they then be excluded from the resurrection? Indeed on that day it will not just be the beasts of the wild, the farm, and tamed household pets that worship the Lord alongside us, but all that which has become extinct: the mammoth, the megalodon, the tyrannosaurus rex, the black rhinoceros, the dodo, the brachiosaurus, the Rocky Mountain locust, and, and, and… From dinosaurs to beetles, every creature God has ever created is precious and loved in God’s sight and if it should so please the Divine Creator of the universe, God will resurrect and elevate all creation to know, worship, and love God.

In this already-but-not-yet season of Advent, if we pay close attention to the planet and all its animal inhabitants, we can catch glimpses of what is to come, of what will be when Christ returns, of all relationships between God, human, and animal restored. 

Glimpses in listening to the pulses of the earth praying with us: Come, Lord Jesus, come!

The realization that this is not just my prayer, not just the prayer of the church, but the prayer of all creation gives me pause this Advent season. I am far from treating all creation like the precious handiwork of God that it is. I confess that, yes, I do eat meat. No, I don’t always recycle every piece of plastic. I try not to think about where those disposable diapers from my little one end up. When I reflect on the general deliverance, my aim isn’t shame or guilt—there is more than enough of that to go around in our broken world. 

Instead, my goal is to marvel with reverent wonder at the glory, power, compassion, and love of our God. To be lost in awe at how all-encompassing and complete God’s redemption will be. To live my whole life in anticipation of the New Creation to come and sing with all the more breathless conviction: O come, o come, Emmanuel! Come, Lord Jesus, come! Christ will come again.

And also, I hope to challenge myself and others in Christian community to be better stewards of the earth and all within it. To live into the promises of Advent, that Emmanuel, God-with-us, will come and be with us again, means that we are called to live into the “already” of the already but not yet. How can I already treat all created things in a way that gives honor and glory to their Maker? In a manner that reflects God’s love? That looks toward that day when they too shall be capable of loving God as we do?

This will look different for everyone. I am starting with the realization that it is not just my voice and the voices of church choirs singing for Christ’s return, but the music and song of all creation. This Advent, I am practicing listening more to the world around me: the winter song of the birds, the deer sprinting across empty fields, the cats meowing at the bedroom door to be fed, the fish deep under frozen lakes, the ground still and frozen—not dead, just waiting. Waiting for spring, waiting for Jesus, waiting for redemption, waiting to be made whole. I aim to listen so that I may hear their song, their groans, their labor pains, that together, we await Christ’s return.

O come, o come, Emmanuel. May it be so, sings my soul, the church, and all of God’s creation.

Allison LeBrun

Allison LeBrun

Allison LeBrun (she/her) is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. An alum of Vanderbilt Divinity, she is back to serving in her home state of Ohio. She spends her days pastoring a congregation, wrangling a toddler, and drinking copious amounts of tea.

Waiting for New Life

Baby Jesus
Photo by Jeswin Thomas on

 “’Tis the irrational season, when love blooms bright and wild;
if Mary’d been filled with reason, there’d have been no room for the child.”

            Madeleine L’Engle

Twenty-seven years ago, I entered the season of Advent nine months pregnant. 

That year, 1994, as this, 2021, the lectionary texts that I preached beat a tattoo under my ribs with every kick of my soon-to-be-born daughter. “The time is coming, declares the Lord!” It was easy to read and hear those words from Jeremiah applying specifically to me as my due date crept ever closer. “Stay alert at all times” was biblically granted permission to consult my What to Expect When You’re Expecting book with each Braxton-Hicks twinge.  Malachi’s refrain, “Who can endure the day of his coming?,” was not only the reading for the second week of Advent, but my refrain after every Lamaze class, as I reckoned with the inevitability of the pain of labor. 

As the Advent season wore on, the texts were less about enduring the day of the Lord and more about the wonder of bringing new life into the world. I happily lingered there, as those words perfectly described the soul journey I was taking. That my body was capable of growing new life was a wonderment to me. That this baby was being knit together inside me, miracle and mystery both, never ceased (or ceases) to amaze me. As the weekly psalm reading gave way to the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise, I understood in new ways the place of deep strength that anchored that song: “In the depths of who I am I rejoice in God my Savior. God shows mercy to everyone, from one generation to the next.” This had been my daily prayer for over ten years: May I be granted the opportunity to tell of God to the next generation. Mary would soon be bearing down with all her strength so that she could bring this child into the world. Bring? Or send? Even in my ninth month of pregnancy, I was not so uncomfortable that I was ready to release my baby away from me into the world. Stay here, I secretly hoped, where I can protect you, keep you warm and safe and fed. How could Mary’s words give me encouragement to bring forth my own child into a world both beautiful and cruel? 

Each day of Advent brought me closer to meeting my child. I had formed my own opinion of her as the months went by, of course, based partly on my hopes that she would get the best of both her parents and my fears that she would get the worst. Though I knew that personality is nurture as well as nature, I also knew there would be things about her that were and are simply her way of being alive, of life living itself in her. 

Christmas came on a Sunday that year. I preached the morning service (one instead of the usual three), came home, and began my maternity leave. Jesus was born! Now to get my own baby here. Eight weeks to focus not on preaching, pastoral care, administrative duties, but to bond with my baby, soon to join us. I put myself on the couch, opened the What to Expect book, and counted the number of kicks to reassure myself that all was well.  

When the time eventually came, her birth did not go according to my plan. Three days of labor and an emergency C-section were not on the birth plan I had worked out with my midwife. But when she took her first breath and cried her first cry, sounding for all the world like a little lamb, the process of getting her here paled in importance. Later that night, after everyone else had left and I could hold my newborn baby, I counted fingers and toes. I traced the double whorl of her hair and began to memorize the way her features were arranged. I marveled at each breath, rejoiced in each sound she made (Is that a hungry cry? They said I’d be able to tell the difference).

Advent is about giving us time and space to prepare for a future we cannot ultimately plan or control. We are told to practice waiting, to look for signs and wonders. We’re told at the beginning of the season to prepare for the worst, for the sign that all normal things are disappearing. Certainly, everyone preparing to welcome a baby into their lives knows something of the fear and panic that accompanies the news that someone new is on the way.   By the end of the Advent season, we’re joining Elizabeth and Mary in their songs of joy for the children about to be born. Elizabeth rejoices in becoming pregnant after waiting such a long time (like Hannah before her, her culture taught her to feel shame at her condition), and Mary rejoices that she of low status will nevertheless be one through whom God will do something amazing. That is the future none of us can plan—the thing God will do through us, even us, we who cannot imagine being a Theotokos (God-bearer), who often cannot imagine God wanting to do something in us, through us, for us, with us, to be part of the gospel story of scattering the proud, lifting up the lowly, and filling the hungry with good things.

Advent is about learning to hope that when God comes among us, we too will be caught up in the wonder of being Theotokos with Mary, willing to give thanks and praise for the labor, willing to step out from shame and loudly proclaim that we are the ones through whom God will do a new thing. 

The night my baby was born, after adoring family members had left to sleep, I was alone with my newborn daughter for the first time. I did what my arms had been longing to do since I first knew she was on the way: cradle her and sing Away in a Manger to her. I saw the stoplights at the entrance to the hospital through my window. A car was sitting patiently with its blinker on. I wanted to lean out the window and shout, with Mary, “Don’t you see that the world has changed? My baby is born! God has done a new thing!” 

  1. Madeleine L’Engle, A Cry Like  A Bell:  Poems (New York:  The Crown Publishing Group, 2000), p.58.
  2.  Jeremiah 31:31
  3. Malachi 3:2
  4.  Luke 1:46-56

Claire Clyburn

Claire Clyburn

Claire is an elder in the North Carolina Annual Conference, serving as the senior pastor of First United Methodist Church of Graham. She is a regular contributor and co-creator with the Wild Goose Festival and co-founder of Raleigh Beer and Hymns.

Advent Against Apocalypse

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I remain confident of this:
I shall see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.

Psalm 27:13 (NIV)

Happy new year! The season of Advent is upon us, which begins the liturgical year. We light our candles, sing our hymns of preparation, and begin our Advent calendars. We decorate our homes, gather together, and make our favorite treats. We yearn, deeply, for it to be Christmas, to capture the magic of Christmas and pass it on to the next generation. 

And yet the season of Advent does not quite match the Christmas side of the holiday season. The readings for Advent are strongly apocalyptic. “Repent!” screams Advent. “The day of the Lord is at hand! Make a straight path for the way of the Lord!” Since we are never sure we know how to repent, we practice by fasting and restricting ourselves. 

But why should Advent be associated with apocalypse? After all, it is a season where we prepare to celebrate the incarnation of God as Christ—is that not the opposite of the end of the world?

I confess that the past couple of years have, at many times, felt like an apocalypse. And I think most of us are beyond tired and beyond ready to see the end of the apocalypse we have been living through. We are beyond tired of hearing stories of loved ones saying their last goodbyes through a video screen. We are beyond tired of hearing stories of families broken apart, by disease, by the pressures of work, by the trials of migration. We are beyond tired of paying taxes into a system that wields death as a weapon of racism. We are beyond tired of being trapped in a system where boycotting products that harm the ecosystem would simply and literally mean our death.

Scripture tells us, though, that this is not unique to us. People around Jesus thought that his coming meant that everything would soon collapse. Though they did not live to see that collapse, they were right: first Jerusalem was sacked, and then all of Rome fell. But that was not the end of time and it was not the turning point of God’s story in the world. Rather, it was Jesus himself who was that turning point, and not in his death but in his birth and his life. God was not content to stay in heaven, on the other side of death, waiting for us to get it right. God was so desperate to be near us, and for us to know that God was near, that Christ became Jesus, first in the body of Mary. God did not wait for everything to collapse before God reconciled everything to Godself. Even in the midst of ordinary people living through ordinary turmoil, God chose to be part of our lives.

I have sometimes heard that the reason apocalyptic films are so important in our culture is that “it’s easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.” The fact that, even in scriptural times, people sensed that society was fragile and on the verge of great change and even collapse, makes me suspect that apocalyptic imagination is part of the human condition. We seem to feel a collective uneasiness about the fragility of society. And we are right to do so—society really is fragile. Even with our advanced technology, our society is still being undone by distrust, selfishness, and the last-minute nature of resource distribution in today’s capitalistic landscape. 

From ancient times, people have imagined that the time of collapse that they lived through would give way to greater collapse. The Book of Daniel attests to this thread in the imaginations of the faithful, and it runs through scripture, into the Book of Revelation. John the Baptist was often taken to have had an apocalyptic message, and the Apostle Paul was said to have spent at least half of his life believing that he would live to see Jesus return from the place to which he ascended. This apocalyptic thread has continued through the ages, and still there are people who calculate the date and the time of the apocalypse.

But if we were to believe everything needed to collapse before we could see the fullness of God, we would be liars in confessing that Jesus Christ was fully God. Because Jesus was not born in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, with zombies roaming the Earth. Jesus was not born in a time of total destruction of everything. He was born in a little backwater of Rome, in circumstances of nearly comical poverty, and he continued to live. He was raised by parents who loved him, in a community that knew him. Jesus’s birth was not the beginning of a total unraveling of society. God does not have to wait for an apocalypse to be fully present in our world. And through the grace of the Holy Spirit, God is present in our world even now, just as fully as when Jesus walked on Earth.

We come to Advent with a question we learned to ask from John the Baptist: how can we make a straight path for the Lord? And because we are only human, we struggle to imagine how to change all the things that are wrong in this world, unless there is a total collapse of every sinful system and we get a chance to start over from scratch. We ask, Lord, tell us the signs of the apocalypse. Show us what we must dispose of to fully embrace the apocalypse, to fully prepare ourselves for all the collapse we will live through, so that in the space that remains we can see you clearly.

But instead of answering our prayers with destruction and death, Jesus answers our prayers with birth. We ask, “When will we be done with all this pain and finally be safe enough to hope?” Instead of answering that, Jesus answers why it will be worth it to endure the ravages of this sad old world.

It’s all going to be worth it because we will see God at work in our world. It’s all going to be worth it because we will learn how to love more deeply, more fully, less selfishly. It’s all going to be worth it, because we will see things so beautiful that we had no way to even imagine them. Perhaps all of us and everything we have built will pass away. But the goodness with which God created the world will not pass away. Maybe we will die the old-fashioned way, or maybe I am wrong and we will truly live to see a great unveiling, where the heavens will be opened and all souls will depart from this earth. But it will still have been worth it to follow Jesus through our little lives. Because there will be such great joy, here and now, that when all illusions are stripped away, and we meet God face-to-face, we will already be familiar with God’s great glory, because of the great joy we saw in this life. All of this is already true, because God chose to come to us as Jesus.

The day is coming when The Lord is going to make all things new. If we live through a time when God is showing us what needs to change so that the world can be more like the kingdom Jesus proclaimed, that’s a gift of greater closeness with God. But change does not have to be death, because God does not just stay in heaven, and neither does our hope. God is not content to simply wait for us beyond death, safe in the future where we don’t have to think about it. God does not wait patiently on the other side of apocalypse, but rushes headlong into the world, vulnerable like a baby, navigating individual relationships with us like a child. 

The greatest gift is this. God was so desperate to be one with us, to show us that our lives were meant to be full of hope and joy, that God became Jesus Christ and taught us how to live as if God was present always. Because God is present, always. The telos of our lives is not death, and the telos of the world is not apocalypse, with God on the other side. The telos of our lives is toward God, here in the land of the living; we know this because God became Jesus. And the incarnation of Christ doesn’t live in the past but is ongoing, every day, every hour, every moment. Even here, even now. God lives and moves and works among us, here and now, in our bodies and in our reality. Every bit of this life is Spirit-drenched.

In a time of waiting, in a season such as this, it can feel like we don’t know what we are waiting for, and that the best we can hope for is that on the other side of all this misery, God is waiting. But that is not the best we can hope for, because we serve a God who came to us incarnate. Though we may struggle to imagine a reality in which goodness comes to us without collapse, God promises us that we will see God’s work on this side of death. We serve a God who shared our humanity, so desperate God was for us to know and understand, and sense that God was with us. 

If we do not have to wait for an apocalypse, then why a season of waiting? Because we need to learn to imagine that God’s promises are true. We are only human, so we are easily persuaded to imagine the end of the world, rather than simply the end of oppression. God invites us to spend a time training our senses. The season of Advent is a gift that lets us practice imagining that we will see God’s hope, God’s peace, God’s joy, God’s love, here in the land of the living. 

God is not waiting for the apocalypse to begin working in the world. God’s justice, God’s peace, God’s love is already being born here in the world. In the season of Advent, we are invited to learn to look for it. 

Cat Clyburn

Cat is a student at Duke Divinity School, working on an MDiv with a concentration in Food and Faith. They are from rural North Carolina and have an abiding passion for growing a connection to land, as a way to anchor an understanding of racial justice as we work towards reckoning with history.


Sand mound with Wish you were here written into the side
Jenna DeWitt

Homesickness is a funny kind of illness. It sort of hurts all over. In your throat when someone asks the wrong question at the wrong time. In your lungs when a reminder of what you’ve lost takes your breath away. In your core when there’s the gut-punch of knowing what you long for may never come to pass. There’s a desperation to it, when hope and grief intertwine into an ache.

Someday, we know, someday, as our seasonal songs tell us: “The blind will see, the deaf will hear, the dead will live again.” Another tells us, “Chains shall he break, for the slave is our brother! And in his name all oppression shall cease!”

Luke 21:25-36 tells us to be on guard, for your redemption is drawing near. But we wait, we long for the time when all shall be made right, when there will be no more tears or death, no more oppression, or haves and have-nots, no more pandemics or natural disasters or injustice… when the upside-down Kingdom of God comes on earth as it is in heaven.

We wait. We hope. We long, with the deep groaning of the Spirit within us when words fail. It hurts, God. Life hurts so much.

Sometimes what hurts is that we know we don’t belong here, not forever. We were made for the Garden, for full communion with God, but here on earth? It’s easy to wonder if God is real at all. And if he is, what are we doing down here? Sometimes we look around and we see so much wrong with the world and feel so disconnected from the people in it, we might feel like we’re almost aliens, that we don’t belong here.

I know what it feels like to be deeply rooted in a place that just doesn’t feel like home. I know what it is like to be new in town, to not know a single soul in my city, over and over as I have moved across the country. I know what it’s like to be Too Much or Not Enough, to feel like an outsider. As a queer woman, I know what it’s like to wonder if I’m the only one or if there is someone out there like me, to be different in a room where everyone else fits in, to have people disagree with unchangeable parts of my identity. To be told I don’t belong and never will.

Those places don’t feel like home. Those places can make the world not feel like home.

These old places promise they will feel like home if only we change who we are, if only we turn away from God’s call on our lives to be more palatable, to be their definition of successful or holy or perfect. Drunk on our own power and consumed with the worries of this life.

It is a lie. The harder we try to be something we’re not, the more the ache grows.

And yet! And yet, we’re not idle in our waiting for the coming of our Lord. Our homesickness doesn’t freeze us into inaction. We move forward, serving and befriending, loving and being loved. Creating a makeshift home for the homesick.

We stand as greeters at the exits from those aching places, instead ushering all who long for true belonging out into the wilderness, outside the strict boxes for what constitutes “fitting in.” If you are done contorting yourself to fit in, if your homesickness is eating at you, longing for a better world, come. Come to the tables in the wilderness and join the preparations for the feast of anticipation.

And so we wait, homesick for a place we have always known but never been, filled with the ache of longing, but lonely no longer in the communion of saints before us and with us and to come. We are not alone in our waiting.

Our hearts may break as we look to the empty skies, and we cry “How long, Oh Lord?” but our homesickness, our grief intertwined with hope for a coming day, doesn’t keep us from calling out to our fellow misfit neighbors to wait with us in the wild places, the places we can belong as our true selves, in a hint of the freedom and glory that is to come. We are called into belovedness, into Kingdom-belonging. Take a stand and raise your heads! Our redemption, our King, is drawing near. 

Jenna DeWitt

Jenna DeWitt (she/her) is an aromantic asexual Methodist. She lives in sunny Southern California. Jenna earned a bachelor of arts in news-editorial journalism from Baylor University and has over a decade of experience working on Christian magazines.

Wesleyan Community for the Dispossessed

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John Wesley’s contribution to Christian history is not primarily located in any particular doctrine or treatise, though he wrote theologically. Rather, John Wesley’s greatest gift to the Christian churches is perhaps the Wesleyan approach to community formation—with its attention to the whole human being and to every human being, however socially marginalized. Methodism began not as a movement of separatists nor as a movement of institutional reformers. Wesley brought about a movement of reformation and renewal by creating new forms of community among “the people” themselves, rather than by lobbying for change from within the Church of England’s hierarchy.

For churches in the contemporary United States who trace their heritage back to this 18th-century pastor, Wesley remains relevant because of his courageous willingness to innovate ways of bringing the gospel, the pietist method, and God’s mercy for the suffering and oppressed directly to those people most excluded by the church, notwithstanding the formal and informal barriers erected by existing ecclesial institutions.

Wesley did not emerge on the religious scene of early 18th century England as a fully formed thinker or leader. His approach to ministry, like his theology and interior spirituality, developed gradually over the course of his life. Methodism’s “first rise,” during Wesley’s time at Oxford as a student and fellow, arose as a consequence of his own spiritual seeking, in companionship with his brother Charles and a few of their friends. From the beginning, this group of friends combined a disciplined practice of personal and communal piety with frequent outreach to the suffering poor in their community. They began with visits to the county prison, then the city jail, eventually adding visits to elders and children in the area. Wesley’s journal from 1731 records a daily visitation schedule to these incarcerated and impoverished community members, reflecting the centrality of outreach beyond existing institutions in the origins of the Methodist program. 

Another development in Methodism that reflects Wesley’s willingness to move beyond existing institutional norms is his eventual embrace of field preaching in the late 1730s. He was originally skeptical of the practice, due to its association with itinerant dissenters, and he was loyal to the Church of England.

Wesley changed his mind, however, after observing George Whitefield’s effectiveness and noting the preaching practices of Jesus himself as recorded in the Gospels. His acceptance of open-air preaching signified more than flexibility regarding location and format. It also indicated a willingness to, in his words, “become more vile”; in other words, to identify himself more publicly with the lower classes and to open himself up to greater association with the dissenting sects.

Wesley never struck out as a radical, and until his death, he never left the church of his birth. However, as David Hempton describes, “there is a profound ambiguity at the heart of his opinions on religious establishments.” He did not hesitate to lambast the bulk of Anglican clergy for their corruption and worldliness, and he prioritized the growth of Methodism over strict adherence to Anglican sensitivities, to his peers’ consternation. Theologically, he distinguished carefully between ecclesial institutions and the community of believers, with the former existing only to serve and expand the latter. Thus, in his posture toward his church of origin, he was a “reluctant rebel.” His overarching goal of spreading the gospel, piety, and mercy far and wide brought him into sympathetic relation with the lower classes, into conflict with the vested interests of the stagnant state church, and into novel forms of community formation that provided spiritual access for those otherwise excluded, including women, the poor, and the incarcerated.

The contemporary Methodist church neither can nor should attempt to strictly imitate John Wesley nor the 18th-century movement he ignited. However, early Methodism stands out in Christian history because it did not begin with a radical ideological departure, not with a list of theses or a novel creed, but with a radical change in social orientation: away from the upper classes and the existing holders of institutional power and toward the lower classes and those without a secure place in the formal church. As the United Methodist Church looks toward a fractured future, this question of posture and orientation—for whom does this institution exist?—should take central place for leaders seeking to carry forward the Wesleyan legacy.

What would a Methodist Church oriented away from white holders of institutional power and toward the priorities of Black, immigrant, and other communities of color look like? A Methodist Church more committed to fellowship and solidarity with the impoverished and the incarcerated than to the aesthetic norms of its middle-class membership? A Methodist Church willing to “become more vile” by taking the way of Jesus to the spaces where young people are already living and gathering—online? A Methodist Church willing to risk association with dissenters and heretics if that is what it takes to disrupt and renew the ecclesial status quo? A Methodist Church where LGBTQ+ people experience neither avoidance nor mere tolerance, but a genuine haven of safety and belonging? These are Wesleyan questions.

  1. Richard P. Heitzenrater, Wesley and the People Called Methodists, 2nd ed. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013), 46.
  2. Heitzenrater, Wesley and the People Called Methodists, 47.
  3.  Ibid, 109.
  4.  Ibid, 109.
  5. David Hempton, The Religion of the People: Methodism and Popular Religion c. 1750-1900. London: Routledge, 1996), 83.
  6. Ibid, 84.

Luke Melonakos-Harrison

Luke Melonakos-Harrison

Luke Melonakos-Harrison (he/him) is a master of divinity student at Yale, socialist tenant organizer, Bible nerd, and relatively new Methodist. Now a member at First and Summerfield UMC, he aspires to pastoral ministry and new church planting/organizing. Originally from San Diego, he currently lives with his spouse, Lana, in New Haven, Connecticut.

Aromantic Jesus

Broken bread

(previously published in miniskirt magazine)

never meant to show signs at a wedding
always meant to save until later
but oh how it made his mother smile
when the clear water overflowed into rich red wine
when there was abundance, a renewal of flowing fountains.
it was there that celebration came to be
it was there, between beloved creations
be-loving each other
that he saw such love up close in real time
he was there, drinking his fill,
miracles no longer waiting.

Aromantic Jesus
retreats from the crowds,
holds fast to faith in solitude
refills his cup before greeting the fishermen
takes a shaky breath at the speed the crowds
find him, hail him, press up against him
how fast they will befriend,
and then how fast they will go
how fast the romance calls, love of the way things are
how fast he holds them, regards them,
dear people, how quickly it all goes—
oh to stop the rivers of time, the drink from emptying
to command stillness from the tempest,
and sleep in this boat, gently rocking.

Aromantic Jesus
walks the straightforward path to the well,
sees the beautiful Samaritan woman
he knew before she was woman born.
how she stares with startled, skeptical eyes,
how she puzzles over his proximity.
how their voices soon exchange into
bridges and gateways and the natural
reaches of light, heavenly organic light.
through her, he confirms,
humans indeed have hope.
through her, he finds himself.
later, they gawk as if he’d forgotten the rules
of their journeying.
I have food you know nothing about,
he says, not missing a beat. He never forgot the rules.
They forgot the goodness.

Aromantic Jesus wonders—
not regrets, but wonders—
if he had chosen to come formed into flesh
that would respond, into a body that felt
the pull of the tide into sparking favorites—
would he have more time, then?
Could he linger, cling to the earth longer
with all the trivial hormonal distractions
loving one and then another, unfocused on the world?
But he so loved the world, and he so loved his kin
that here in the fields under the stars,
while foxes have their dens and birds their nest,
he had nothing but his eternal love nothing
but his soul and the world
and a cup not taken from him.

Aromantic Jesus
looked at them and loved them—
the late night whispering against
midnight chill with questions of old,
the earth-smudged souls
resting, alive, in flowering fields, their created splendor
the men who dared drop their nets
to follow, the women who dared
against all question to touch him,
the wilderness, garden, and city as one.

He breaks the bread, sobering:

I have food you know nothing about
feeling the chill in his throat
This is my body, broken for you
he cannot himself heal—
This is my blood, spilled
anticipates the solitude—take it
the piercing, tumultuous,
passionate starvation of —remember me
Love to come.
This is my body.

He tries to ground this moment,
to nail it into the history of the world.

Ellen Huang

Ellen Huang (she/her) is an aroace queer christian. She writes fairy tales, spec fic, ace horror, and lowkey spiritual blog posts about how she sees God in the movies. She reads for Whale Road Review and has work published in miniskirt magazine, The Oikonomist, Lucent Dreaming, Resurrection Mag, Sword & Kettle Press, From the Farther Trees, Quail Bell Magazine, Amethyst Review, Diverging Magazine, Wrongdoing Magazine, and more. Follow if you wanna: 

Another Advent

Photo by Top 5 Way on

Advent begins in the dark, 

in the licking of wounds, 

amidst the echoes of “No!” and “Go away!”

This is where the spirit speaks

in a hope that does not come 

to the well-adjusted 

but only to those who sprint through

the woods in search of living water 

knowing that life is short 

and the world is not yet what it always

has been on the transfigured plane

beyond right-doing and wrong-doing

where a hidden family of unseen seers 

set up camp in order to watch the sky 

for one like a son of man though 

everything tells us he’s already here. 

Did he not say I abide in you and you in me?

When I am crucified with you, 

are you resurrected into me? 

But we need someone else to say it; 

we need a gardener to call us by name 

so we can say Rabboni and kiss you weeping. 

We need you to appear this time 

without imperial vestments

or patriarchal leather binding.

We need you to show us 

the lamb you promised. 

“Can you please keep it down?“ 

The world says, 

“There’s other people here too.“



Starchild is a poet, artist, and pastor. Their work focuses on the intersection of the prophetic Christian tradition and the expansiveness and queering of love. Stream their new spoken-word album, Bloom!

Facing The Limitations of Our Bodies: On Embodiment, Disability, and Being Human

Two wheelchair users play giant Connect Four in a pub with friends.
Photo by ELEVATE on

People are often uncomfortable considering the reality they might become disabled at some point in their lives. As we navigate living through the pandemic, we have yet to know and grasp the long-term consequences this will have for our world. I anticipate the rise in numbers of disabled and chronically ill people after surviving COVID-19. The Biden Administration is already recognizing people living with long COVID as a group within the disabled community. As people of faith, we lack the ability to talk constructively about the reality of our mortality and finite bodies. We are uncomfortable confronting the limitations of our embodied experience.

Regardless of ability, we all confront the reality of embodied limitation. There are things that our bodies cannot do or once could but now cannot. We are constantly renegotiating what our bodies are able to do. Second, we all face the reality that someday we will die. Our finitude can be uncomfortable to grapple with as we make sense of what it means to be human. The embodied realities of disability and chronic illness are othered rather than perceived as a part of the normative spectrum of human experience. Often the embodied, lived experiences of disabled persons, whether in antiquity or the modern era, have been set aside as tragic or rare. During the pandemic, many people grappled with their own embodied limitation and finitude. Fear of the unknown consequences of long COVID on health and body is valid. Finally, the experiences of disabled persons—which may include wearing a mask, social isolation, and an awareness of bodily limitation—were a part of life before and will be long after the pandemic.

The word disability is an umbrella term that encompasses various physical, mental, cognitive, or neurodevelopmental conditions. People are born disabled. People may become disabled because of an illness or accident. People may lose the ability to do tasks and skills they once did because of aging. The lived experiences of disabled people include a variety of symptoms, conditions, and experiences. Disabled people and their bodies represent the spectrum of what it means to be human. Through the lens of disability theology, we are invited to rethink how we understand our bodies, limitation, and human experience. Disability theology allows us to challenge normative constructs of how bodies look and the perception of disabled persons. We must consider the embodied experience of disabled persons past and present. In Disability and the Christian Tradition: A Reader, John Swinton offers this definition: “Disability theology is the attempt by disabled and non-disabled Christians to understand and interpret the gospel of Jesus Christ, God, and humanity against the backdrop of the historical and contemporary experiences of people with disabilities.” Some theologies do not celebrate, recognize, affirm, and empower the bodies of indigenous, black, female, poor, queer, and disabled persons and their personhood. The embodiment lens of theology challenges the Greek dualistic understanding that bodies, minds, and souls are separate. To carefully unravel how we talk about bodies, we have to become aware of how bodies are perceived.

Nancy Eiesland in The Disabled God: Towards A Liberatory Theology of Disability provides a constructive way to develop a liberatory approach to talking about Christ’s body after the resurrection.  Jesus models for us a ministry of embodied solidarity in which his very body and self become like that of the “other.” He transfigures his body to mirror what is perceived as undesirable, “other,” beyond binary or norm. Eiesland writes, “The disabled God repudiates the concept of disability as a consequence of individual sin. Injustice against persons with disabilities is surely sin; our bodies are not artifacts of sin, original or otherwise. Our bodies participate in the imago Dei, not despite our impairments and contingencies, but through them.”[1]

In John’s gospel, Jesus newly risen appears before Thomas and the disciples to show them his disabled, wounded body. Jesus’ woundedness is a reminder that he has died, yes, as the scars of the crucifixion still on his body show. The body remembers trauma, and what Jesus has been through is traumatic. His body is not the same as before. His wounded body is imperfect, disabled, injured. It is neither a sign of divine punishment nor requiring healing. His injury is a part of who he has become, the wounded one. His brokenness is an essential part of this story. He shows the disciples the wounds: marks of nails in his hands and feet, a hole in his side.

Here is the good news: We are created undivided, whole beings in which we are both bodies and minds. We are bodies, and perhaps that phrase makes you unsettled to think about its implication both bodily and theologically. In the Creation narrative, God created all living things and called them good. Our bodies are inherently good, even bodies that are broken, scarred, and imperfect. Disabled bodies are good bodies. Disability is not the result of sin or divine punishment but a part of the human experience. Jesus as disabled shatters social expectations of what bodies look like. We are our bodies, and God cares about what happens to our bodies. And Jesus’ disabled body might even look like your body.

[1] Nancy L. Eiesland, “The Disabled God,” in The Disabled God toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1994), p. 101.

Sara Martin

Sara Martin is a seminary student at Saint Paul School of Theology and a local licensed pastor serving in the Oklahoma Annual Conference. She frequently writes from her perspective as a disabled person, pastor, and aspiring theologian. You can find more of her informal work on disability advocacy on Twitter under the username @GenZPastor.

Welcome at the Table: Latinidad in Methodist Churches

A group of people pray over dinner at a table full of food.
Photo by Nicole Michalou on

In this interview with Yet Alive, Alfredo Santiago—a social worker, 2021 graduate of Wesley Theological Seminary, and active participant in Latinx ministries in the Baltimore Washington Conference—discuss the unique gifts the Methodist church brings and challenges it faces in offering a welcoming table to all. The interview covered many topics, but Alfredo’s commitment to honoring the richness of Latinidad and his love of Methodism were clear dominant themes. We have tried to capture those loves in these excerpts from our interview.

Yet Alive: Can you talk about your background and religious history and tell me how you ended up in the Methodist church?

Alfredo Santiago: Interesting enough, it was connectional. I have a friend who’s a Methodist pastor, and he was doing community work in the Highlandtown area, a neighborhood of Baltimore, and we met through a mutual friend that he knew as a social worker. So we went into this community event that they were doing for Christmas. And I was impressed to see all the people volunteering. An all-white church, mostly elderly, and they were serving all these Latino immigrants.

Then he invited me to come back to his church to visit, so I visited. I would go to Catholic mass in the morning, and then I would go to his church to visit in the evening. So that’s how I started going to a Methodist church. I liked both experiences.

Then I remember when I went to a United Methodist communion Sunday. The pastor, the Rev. Dr. Giovanni Arroyo, proclaimed that everyone was welcome to the table. And he said it one more time, very firmly, “Everyone is welcome to the table.” And when he said it, I believed it. And it spoke to my spirit. So after that, I received communion. I walked back to my seat in tears. I was a little bit embarrassed to be that person. Because I believed it, that there was nothing keeping me away from the Lord, from his table. And that all of me was welcome.

YA: Was that different from what you had experienced previously?

AS: You know, I was born Roman Catholic, and I’m not gonna complain about Roman Catholicism, but if we haven’t confessed to a priest, we’re not able to receive communion. And we have mortal sin and we have venial sin, so it’s like, am I in mortal sin today, venial sin today, do I have to go to confession before I can receive communion? So sometimes it wasn’t so clear whether I was worthy. That causes conflict with an image of a loving, merciful God—am I worthy to receive communion today?

YA: After you found the Methodist church, why did you decide to stay?

AS: [laughs] I think I liked the fact that it’s not just worship on Sunday, but it’s also doing love in action. I’m a service-centered person; that’s why I’m a social worker. I hope to become an ordained deacon, to be a servant leader. What I like about the Methodist church is that it really is community-centered. At least the way I perceive it, the way I want it to be, the way I try to live it. I like the connectional aspect to it, and they have that also in the Catholic church by the way, but it’s just different.

What I came to understand about why I became a Methodist is I need community. When I moved to Baltimore, I did find a Spanish-speaking Catholic church. And I would go to Mass, but when I would leave Mass, that was it. Nobody would invite me over for dinner or out for coffee. It was just like, “Okay, I guess I’m going home now.” I did go to a young adult group and it was nice, that hour that we had before Mass, but I always felt lonely, and meanwhile I was part of this congregation that had hundreds of people.

I’m in a different space now, but it’s also, I’m very intentional about spending time with people. Joining people for meals, sitting down and trying to get to know one another. It has a lot of value to me, beyond the church walls.

YA: How would you say your faith has changed over the decade or so that you’ve been part of the Methodist church?

AS: I felt a calling years ago, since I was young, to be in ministry. To be a priest, or maybe a friar. And [in Methodism] it’s obtainable, because there’s support around that, from men and women, from ordained ministers and from laypeople. I definitely want to continue that spirit of service, and I know that if I pursue that, other people will join me. And it won’t be like, “Oh, this is a great idea.” It’ll be like, “Let’s sit down and talk about that. Let’s make it happen. Let’s see who we have to connect with to make it happen.” That always brings me a lot of joy.

My Christian walk is very service-based. If I’m in church too much on Sundays, I start getting uncomfortable. You know, why aren’t we going outside? What are we doing wrong?

YA: So it sounds like it wasn’t really about your faith changing; it was more about finding a community that supported you in the things you were already passionate about?

AS: Yes. And already bought into. I came and [it wasn’t like] “Alfredo Santiago brings all this energy.” No, the energy is already there; I just join it. And when I say energy, again, the need to serve under-served community members.

YA: American United Methodism is overwhelmingly white. What unique things do you see people of Latine descent bringing to the dominant church culture?

AS: What we bring is that we come with faith already. We’re not being evangelized. Actually, we’re doing a lot of evangelizing to people, in the way that we live, in the way that we want to have a worship experience. I think that most Latino worship services are livelier. It doesn’t mean we have more Spirit, by the way, because you can be a conservative liturgist and the Holy Spirit can move in that way also, very quiet and peaceful. But I think we bring a liveliness, and we are not ashamed of that. We don’t tone it down. And because a lot of our folks are marginalized, we pay attention to the poor and marginalized. Because for some people it’s their lived experience right now, but they don’t want to just focus on themselves; they want to focus on others. 

I think that there is a paradigm shift. A lot of times Latinos and other immigrants were seen as people that had to be ministered to, evangelized to, and the dichotomy is changing in that we are now in co-ministry together. There is a challenge in that. It’s nice to see that our church is universal, connectional, but when that starts to become a reality, sometimes there’s a little bit of pushback in that. Because you start getting into that conversation about “Oh, this is the way that we do it. This is the way that we’ve traditionally done it. This is how our church does it.” And I’ve sensed that in my church, but I’ve heard that same kind of theme in other churches also. It’s like, let’s try something different. We don’t want to erase that, but add something else to it or something new. And the Spirit keeps moving. It’s the same Spirit, but it gives us creativity. Let people use their gifts. But it’s almost like the added flavor is not always welcomed.

YA: That leads me to my next question. What do you think people, and congregations in the UMC in general, need to be doing better to allow the Spirit to work in our communities in a way that integrates Latine people?

A: English curriculum and English liturgies get translated to Spanish, but why don’t we find liturgies that were in Spanish and then get translated to English? Or find theologians who are Spanish speaking, Latino, and quote from them? There’s a richness in Methodism, by the way, and there’s a richness in a lot of theologians beyond our denomination who are south of our border, you know, Central and South America, [and] here within the United States. So giving them a voice…

A lot of times when we lead worship and say “Let’s have a bilingual service,” it’s always English, and Spanish echoes the English after it. It’s always the echo, like the afterthought. And the cultural sensitivity there would be “Let’s follow the Spanish speaking. Let’s respond to the liturgy in Spanish with English. So that we’re the echo versus that they’re the respondents.” We’re not always the ones that are on the receiving end of it. We’re not leading worship; we’re following worship, responding to worship, but we’re not leading worship. 

I know some people actually get bothered by having bilingual services. It makes them uncomfortable; they don’t understand; they lose something. But I never hear a Latino person say that. I never hear them say that. And I hear that often from my English-speaking brothers and sisters. I appreciate that they come. But they always say that there’s something about it that doesn’t sit well with them. I think that has a lot to do with White privilege. That everything has to be smooth. Well, you know, people are uncomfortable. How about when people come from another country and they want to be part of your worship service, and they don’t understand the language, but they know that there’s something good happening so they keep coming back? 

YA: It sounds like what you’re saying is it’s not enough to just welcome somebody in; you have to be willing to de-center yourself.

AS: That’s a wonderful way to show humility. And it takes discipline and humility to do that, to say, “I don’t have to be the center of worship. I don’t have to be the worship leader. It can be someone else, and I have an experience. Maybe they can provide a message.” Or even for our folks who are undocumented, who can’t go to seminary or there might be some polity in place that will block them from going into leadership, to become a full elder. Maybe they can become a local pastor. But how about letting some of your lay people be the worship leader because he or she has gifts. They might not have a theological education, but you can tell they have a strong Christian base. Give them some space for them to give a message.

If you need to get an interpreter because you don’t understand them, then invest in one. Get some interpretation machines or have somebody come and [interpret]. People make those adjustments all the time. 

YA: If a church is looking to take a first step to being less Anglo-centric, what do you think that should be?

AS: First of all, I wouldn’t say “less Anglo-centric,” just be inclusive. If White Americans are the majority in the church, it’s going to have a certain kind of culture. If it has more African Americans, it’s going to have a certain culture. We’re not saying to mute that, just let us complement it. And not just Hispanic Heritage Month. Give us space throughout the course of the year.

YA: Yeah, that makes sense. The thing that we have not talked about is that being a person of Latino descent is only part of your identity, and there’s a whole lot else going on in the Methodist church in terms of inclusion and hospitality. I’d be interested to know, specifically coming from the intersection of an LGBTQ+ Latino background, how does that shape your faith, and how has that impacted your experience of Methodism?

AS: I’ll go back to the start of the conversation. When I heard everyone was welcome to the table, really, the whole person without exception, regardless of my sexual orientation, besides the fact that I’m a social worker, besides the fact that I’m bilingual, like all of me can come to the table, with no shame and just pride—I say pride as in dignity, as in human, right. 

It’s interesting, politically speaking I’ve never had to “act up.” And that’s no disrespect to that group that was [acting up] in the ’80s and the ’90s. But I never felt like I had to come to church to be militant about being a gay man. But it seems to be a hot topic in our church right now and will cause unfortunate division. And it saddens me as a person who just joined this denomination that sexuality will separate the denomination. 

I stay because I’ve been welcomed, and I’ve had positive experiences. I’ve heard a few people who [say things like], “it’s sin” and where would they stand with that, but for the most part, I feel very welcomed. I hear more straight allies talking about LGBTQ situations and they’re up in arms and angry for us and I’m like “wow.” So that’s love in action. Thanks for being an ally, and not just being an ally but being an advocate. That’s different from being raised Catholic. We went to confession for homosexuality; we felt guilty about it. Again, can I receive communion today or not? You know, those kinds of questions. So I don’t come in and try to be like a militant gay man who’s Methodist. I come in as a man who’s gay, social worker, bilingual. Like, it’s a part of my identity, not all of my identity. 

Yeah, it’s just interesting. Are we going to be allies or not? Are we going to be able to sit next to each other in the pews or not? And for the most part, I think that people for years already have [been allies], so I’m like, so what, because they want to change a few words in our denomination, you know, that might split the whole denomination? But I’ve had a good experience, to be honest with you. It pains me, though, to hear about the split. To tears, it pains me. Because I like unity. I’m family-oriented, so anytime there’s a divorce, separation, I internalize that. But again, personal experience, I want to be a good Christian man, but there’s a lot more involved in this description of me. It’s multifaceted, my personality, and I don’t want some of my personality to be frowned upon and some of it to be celebrated. I think we’re all created by God, so we all need to be celebrated.

Q: What do you think the church needs to do, specifically for LGBTQ+ Latine people, to be more welcoming?

A: Welcoming [should] be intentional, [and intentionally state] that everyone is welcome here. Whether you’re White or Latino, whether you’re a citizen or undocumented, or you’re straight or you’re gay, whether you’re single, married, divorced, living together, like, everyone is welcome here. Be very intentional about saying it out loud: “This is a welcoming table.” Be very specific about what that means. That you over there, a gay man or lesbian woman or transgender person, you are welcome here to be in co-ministry with us. Not just to sit quietly. You have to be very intentional about that and let people know that. 

I see people that have, like, rainbow flags outside the church. That’s nice. My church doesn’t, doesn’t mean it’s less inclusive. I don’t need that. I need to hear it. That you’re welcomed. 

Q: Coming from your position as a social worker and someone who cares about immigrant rights and undocumented folks, are there other things Wesleyan Christians can be doing in the world? 

A: You know, it might be wise for people who don’t have the experience of being from El Salvador, or from Honduras, or from Ecuador, where our folks are coming from, go and visit if we can. Do a mission trip. Evangelization can be just that, evangelizing, a revival and Sunday we finish with a big bang, or it could be that we go and help build a local hospital or a local school, that kind of mission work. We dig in the trenches and build a well. Know their experiences. Where are they coming from? People are saying they’re leaving their country because of violence; their lives are being threatened; their family members are being killed. Do I want to do a mission trip to those places? No! No. Would I, if I lived in that type of environment, want to leave? Yes! So show some compassion to people who are coming here. You’re saying “Why are those people here?” Well, sit down and talk to them and ask them. Individually, and not so hostile. Or go to their countries and find out. From a place of Christian love. Let’s go find out. And hopefully support, on that side of the border, and on this side of the border. A lot of us have the resources to do that. If not, we can find the resources. The Methodists are very resourceful. We support one another. That’s where the connectional part comes out. 

And we talk about Latinos, but I would love to do a mission trip to Kenya. There’s a school there where the girls are orphans whose parents died of HIV/AIDS. That connection where we Latinos can be global also, not just thinking south of the border, but that we’re thinking on a global level because we have the social media that allows us to do that. We can join in ministry beyond south of the border. 

Specifically about being welcoming, understand. Understand, and let’s have conversation; let’s go visit. And not just Taco Tuesday. 

Alfredo Santiago

Alfredo Santiago (he/him) is a licensed clinical social worker and candidate for deacon’s orders in the United Methodist Church. After being raised in a charismatic Roman Catholic tradition in New Jersey, he moved to Baltimore where he is a member of Salem-Baltimore Hispanic United Methodist Church. He is a recent graduate of Wesley Theological Seminary and a passionate pursuer of justice for all people. He lives in Baltimore with his foster sons and their beloved dog, Chuck.

Conversion and Radical Love: The Goal of Christian Antiracist Work

Protestors hold up signs saying Black lives matter, White silence is violence, and Get up, stand up for your rights, don't give up the fight.
Photo by Shane Aldendorff on

Any religion that professes to be concerned with the souls of men and is not concerned with the slums that damn them, the economic conditions that strangle them, and the social conditions that cripple them, is a spiritually moribund religion in need of new blood.

-Martin Luther King Jr.

What is the goal of Christian antiracism? Specifically from my own context, I ask: What is the responsibility of churches that contain white people to shape those white people[1] toward real Christian antiracism? It is important to address this question at least in part because in some circles, people tend to think that antiracism is only interested in critiquing or tearing down the negative aspects of our current world. While this is an important aspect of antiracist work, the goal is the creation of a new society, and ultimately a new world, where the human dignity of each person is recognized and respected. The problem that we encounter in striving for this new world is that certain systems and structures—anti-Black racism and white supremacy, for example—are incompatible with a world that allows for the human flourishing of all people. So, in constructing the new, some of the old must be done away with.

This vision of a renewed world was called the Beloved Community by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who dedicated his life to making it a reality. I draw on King because I believe that he exemplified the need for simultaneous construction and destruction, as well as understanding the need for both theological complexity and theology put into practice.[2] 

Antiracism is more holistic and comprehensive than simple colorblindness. The idea of colorblindness is, in essence, that the best way to address racism and inequality is by attempting to treat everyone the same, regardless of their race. While this approach may sound appealing initially—and is supported by some well-meaning individuals—it ultimately serves to entrench racism and inequality rather than addressing them. As Montague Williams, professor of Church, Culture, and Society at Point Loma Nazarene University, states, “To be clear, color-blindness is not a Christian virtue… [it] maintain[s] racial injustice by claiming the recognition of race to be unconstitutional, anti-American, and immoral.”[3] 

Rather than ignoring the problem of racial injustice, King called for a radical restructuring of our internal lives, interpersonal relationships, and the fundamental value structures of this world—what I refer to as radical love and conversion.[4] One of the main obstacles that King faced in attempting to instantiate this alternative reality, the Beloved Community, was what he referred to as “the white moderate.” The white moderate is one who is so ensconced in the status quo that even if you convince them that white supremacy exists and change is required, they will be unable or unwilling to imagine a different reality. King’s frustration with the white moderate Christian leads him to cry out in his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God?”[5] King could clearly see that following Christ involved tearing down systems of oppression and building a humane community together, but the vast majority of white Christians either denied the existence of oppression altogether or counseled King to be patient and allow oppression to resolve on its own.

As Christians who discover ourselves in a world where colorblindness is often assumed to be the definition of antiracism, we must soberly confront the issue in order to form each other in real antiracism. We have to confront the issue so that white siblings in Christ are not misled from the mission of Christ into a false antiracism.

In short, King calls for us to become members of the Beloved Community. In the Beloved Community, each member works to recognize and properly value the humanity of each other member, and God’s love reigns as the overarching principle. Though this kind of talk strikes many as naively utopian, King believed that he was being eminently practical, and following in the path of Jesus, who King argued was fundamentally a realist. In his sermon “Loving Your Enemies,” King states,

Yet far from being the impractical idealist, Jesus has become the practical realist. … Instead of being the pious injunction of a utopian dreamer, this command [to love our enemies] is an absolute necessity for the survival of our civilization. Love is the key to the solution of the world’s problem, yes even love for enemies.[6]

As we see here, King saw that without a community based on the all encompassing love of God, society was doomed to implode, either through conventional means like political infighting or apocalyptic ones like nuclear co-annihilation. King often spoke in prophetic terms about how America and the world were doomed, or were going to be sent to hell, if we humans could not figure out how to love one another with the love of God.

However, it is important to note that, for King, love is not what he derisively called “emotional bosh.” Rather, love is tapping into the power of God to bring about change in the world. Love, in this divine, radical sense, participates in the power of God to reshape and redeem our world. Indeed, King argued that love could not be separated from power, stating,

One of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites. … What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic. … Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice.[7]

Given this understanding of the necessary connection between love and power, we can begin to understand what radical love means to King. Radical love is not sentimentality or even feelings of affection for other people; King tried to love everyone but freely admitted he did not like everyone, especially the people oppressing him and upholding the status quo.[8] Love entails wanting what is best for everyone, even if what is best for them is back-breakingly hard. This brings us to the concept of conversion.

Speaking at the legendary Highlander Folk School, King stated that the goal of the nonviolent demonstrations he led was to “leave [white people] glutted with [their] own barbarity; you will force [them] to stand before the world and [their] God splattered with the blood and reeking with the stench of [their] Negro brother.”[9] King spoke of the demonstrations he led as dramatizations of the plight of Black Americans, which were intended to wake up white people to the reality of oppression in which we were and are complicit. And by encouraging white people to rid themselves and the world of that which stands in the way of their communion with their fellow humans, King was also attempting to rehabilitate white people’s communion with God, whose love is the source of true community and authenticity. In other words, King was hoping to bring about a conversion in white people.[10]

This conversion is difficult, even painful. Indeed, one way of speaking about it is to say that King hoped that white people would suffer. What I mean by this is that King desired that white people would come to see themselves as intimately connected with their fellows—specifically Black Americans—and would come to experience something of the suffering of Black people. This is similar to what Frederick Douglass desired for white people. Douglass recognized, on the one hand, that no one could fully understand what it was like to be another person, which was especially true when there were significant differences between the people in question. Yet, Douglass believed that the effort to see from another person’s perspective, and feel what they feel, produced an “ethical intersubjectivity,” or, in other words, made a moral community possible.[11] These efforts make community possible because the members of such a community value and try to understand each other’s perspective. King often stated that “what affects one directly affects all indirectly,” which entails that when one person is suffering, all people suffer as a result. All suffer because we are not fundamentally individuals but what King at times called persons-in-community. Our ability to be individuals comes from our human community.

In his final address, which has come to be known as the Mountaintop speech, King speaks to these ideas of community and suffering: “Up to now only the garbage men have been feeling pain. Now we must kind of redistribute that pain.”[12] Note King’s use of the word “feeling” here. He does not say that only the garbage men have been affected but that only they are aware of it. In fact, everyone is damaged due to the injustice King names, but some privileged (primarily white) people are unaware that they are being injured because they have neglected their duties to other (primarily Black) people in their midst. Thus, King desires that this pain be felt by all not out of a sense of vengeance or a desire to do harm to others, but rather so that those who are complicit in white supremacy will come to see not only its detrimental effects upon others but also the harms it is causing to society at large and their own ability to lead a flourishing life. This kind of suffering is redemptive because it leads to love of others and love of God, which is the sort of conversion King was interested in.

This willingness to embrace the suffering of others can be understood as part of the eternal call to model our lives on that of Christ. One constructive perspective is provided by AJ Maynard, an author at Conciliar Post, who argues that white supremacy can be understood as a kind of original sin. He states:

Institutional racism is the world we live in; it is our Original Sin. You and I may not personally believe black individuals are, by nature, inferior to white individuals. But we nonetheless live within, and benefit from, a system built and maintained by people who did. Because of this, every white Christian should now consider not if, but rather how we are racist, which will require “… nothing less than renovation from the inside.”[13]

Maynard’s suggestion is helpful because it points out that, while we will likely need to struggle against white supremacy both internally and externally for the foreseeable future, we also can be redeemed by God through conversion, just as we are redeemed by conversion from original sin.

Theologian Matt Jantzen, in conversation with the founder of academic Black Liberation theology James Cone, argues that this conversion “is not a human achievement but a divine gift.”[14] Conversion is something that we cannot do ourselves, but through which we are empowered by God’s grace to participate in the divine plan to bring down all systems of oppression. Jantzen notes,

The destruction of one’s whiteness does not happen in a heroic moment of personal reinvention, but requires the literal destruction of the material manifestations of whiteness in the world. … It is both an individual and communal phenomenon.[15]

So, drawing on Jantzen, conversion from whiteness is both a moment of divine grace and a working out of divine grace in the lives of people socialized as white, to break the power of white supremacy in spiritual and material ways within the context of community. Or, in the terminology of King, it is working to become members of the Beloved Community by radically loving ourselves and others in ways that break down systems of oppression and make way for loving community with God and our fellow humans. This path is not easy. Indeed, by ourselves it is impossible. Yet, Christian hope lies in the impossible, in the lion lying down with the lamb, in the great empires being brought low by a Galilean peasant, and in the resurrection of the dead to new, transformed life. So, in closing, I hope you will join me in praying for and working toward the impossible: the dissolution of white supremacy and all systems of oppression, and the full realization of the Beloved Community.

[1] It is more accurate to say “people racialized as white,” because whiteness is a historical, social construction. That is to say, it is not natural in a genetic sense nor something that is a part of the essence of a person. However, social constructs like whiteness have very real consequences for both those racialized as white and those excluded from whiteness. And, as I will argue in this article, it takes far more than ignoring race as a social construct to do away with its devastating effects.

[2] This emphasis on praxis is something shared between King and John Wesley. Wesley, reflecting on the relationship between doctrine and praxis, stated “I believe the merciful God regards the lives and tempers of men more than their ideas.” (John Wesley, “On Living Without God,” Wesley Center Online,

[3] Montague R. Williams, Church in Color : Youth Ministry, Race, and the Theology of Martin Luther King Jr,  Baylor University Press: 2020, p. 47-50.

[4] One of King’s best speeches on this subject was given to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967, titled “Where Do We Go From Here?” However, the idea of a radical restructuring is found throughout King’s works. If you wish to read King’s address “Where Do We Go From Here?” it can be found here:

[5] Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” University of Pennsylvania African Studies Center,

[6] Martin Luther King Jr., “Loving Your Enemies,” King Institute,

[7] Martin Luther King Jr., “Where Do We Go From Here?” Civil Rights Movement Archives,

[8] Martin Luther King Jr., “Loving Your Enemies,” King Institute,

[9] Martin Luther King Jr., “A Look to the Future,” in All Labor Has Dignity, Beacon Press: 2012, p. 8.

[10] This does not mean that King thought that Black people had no work to do. Rather, I mean that the work that white people have to do with throwing off white supremacy, both from our own minds and our society, is different from the work Black people have to do fighting off the negative effects of white supremacy and racism. White and Black people can and should work together to oppose these demonic systems, but the work that they have to do is different because of the different ways that Black and white people are situated in the world.

[11] Nick Bromell, The Powers of Dignity: The Black Political Philosophy of Frederick Douglass, Duke University Press: 2021, p. 67.

[12] Martin Luther King Jr. :I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” King Institute,

[13] AJ Maynard, “Reclaiming Original Sin in the Face of White Supremacy,” Conciliar Post,

[14] Matt Jantzen, “Neither Ally, Nor Accomplice,” Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics 40, no. 2, 2020, p. 286.

[15] Jantzen, “Neither Ally, Nor Accomplice,” 287. 

David Justice

David Justice is a PhD candidate at Saint Louis University writing his dissertation on the political theology of Martin Luther King Jr. He is also concurrently enrolled as an MA student in the religion department at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 

The Gardener

White roses
Photo by Christian Krumbholz on

You came to me
in a dream where
we were sitting in
an urban garden

before dawn and you
were smoking a cigarette
and I wanted one just
to wake up and you took

yours out of your mouth
and put it on the trash can
lid in front of me and I
don’t have more than

that right now except for
a few conversations with
homeless men who spoke
with words from beyond

them which made me
think they were you
but all I want is to hear
you say my name one

time when I think all
hope is lost and the
empire has finally
all the way won.

Just say my name
so I will say Rabboni
and find your nail
holes with my lips.

Don’t tell me not to cling
to you this time; you do
not need to go back
to your father any longer.

It’s time to make
Easter flowers bloom;
it’s time to introduce
the world to my lover

who cannot be held in
the tomb any longer
by Bible teachers who
locked him in their books.


Starchild is a poet, artist, and pastor. Their work focuses on the intersection of the prophetic Christian tradition and the expansiveness and queering of love. Stream their new spoken-word album, Bloom!

We Are Yet Alive

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“And are we yet alive, and see each other’s face? Glory and thanks to Jesus give for his almighty grace!”

Charles Wesley, 1749

No hymn seems to cut to the core of the Methodist experience in 2021 quite like the very same Charles Wesley hymn that early Methodists used to convene their annual conferences together. Are we yet alive? Feels like we’re just barely hanging on sometimes. We are rocked by tumult and strife. The American church has been in steep numerical decline not only for my entire life, but my parents’ as well. A global pandemic has ravaged every aspect of our personal, social, and ecclesial lives for over a year and a half. Some churches have yet to reopen, while others are contemplating how to respond to COVID infection rates spiking yet again. Because of the pandemic, the United Methodist Church is in a holding pattern for finalizing a schism that’s been rolling in slow motion for decades. The Connection—that fundamental fabric that undergirds Methodist theology and polity—is threadbare.

We (and I suspect this is applicable for all Methodisms and all Wesleyan churches, not just the UMC) are in an interregnum. The old Methodism we know well is visibly passing away; the structures that once buttressed mighty mainline denominations are dinosaurs from the general church to local church levels, chronically failing to adapt to a changing landscape… not always for lack of trying! And yet a new Methodism has not emerged, outside a conservative proto-denomination whose founding ideal—however they try to spin it—is the maintenance and strengthening of the exclusion of LGBTQIA+ people from full participation in the body of Christ. The lopsidedness is jarring, as the nascent Global Methodist Church has had a draft Book of Doctrines and Discipline prepared for nearly two years now while a robust vision for the future has yet to take hold among affirming Wesleyans.

The reason our team—young United Methodists from across the United States, lay, clergy, and almost-clergy—came together to create this publication is our earnest belief that the Holy Spirit is at work in this moment. We saw in one another kindred spirits who believe we are yet alive, by the grace of God, called to do our part in envisioning and strengthening an emerging church that is simultaneously Wesleyan and unabashedly LGBTQIA+ affirming. And we know we’re far from alone, not only in our denomination, but in the broad Wesleyan family that includes Methodists, Holiness churches, and Pentecostals. We believe the pietistic, Spirit-filled, social justice-oriented revival that John Wesley nurtured among the working class in 18th-century England has not been extinguished, and is in fact perfectly suited for where we find ourselves today. Wesley believed God empowers people across gender, race, and class in the pursuit of holiness and sanctification—and we’d simply broaden the intersectional nature of the project he began in preaching to ragged masses at the mouths of coal mines and training his preachers to bring cutting-edge medical care to the poor.

A new Methodism is coming; indeed, it must come. The way we have done things for nearly two centuries is no longer working. Many of the Millennials and Zoomers among us have the paradoxical blessing of starting fresh, having never seen the church we love operating on all cylinders. Our hope is for Yet Alive to offer a forum to envision the new, to hash it out, to engage in a vibrant and productive holy conferencing that official channels are grievously failing to achieve. The Methodist tradition has always had spaces like this. A major instrument in the promulgation of British Methodism was John Wesley’s own publication, The Arminian Magazine, which served to draw a clear doctrinal picture of God’s love as Wesley understood it and stand against Calvinism in the Methodist movement. The magazine motive, centuries later, offered a radical theological, political, and social vision from the Methodist Student Movement from 1941 to 1972, pressing far beyond the pale of acceptable dialogue for the institutional Methodist (and later United Methodist) Church.

Experience, Community, and the Earthly Work of the Church

Small group in a gymnasium, man with hands raised
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko

One of my favorite examples of this is the experience portion of the Wesleyan quadrilateral. The UMC Book of Discipline says that “Christian experience gives us new eyes to see the living truth in Scripture. It confirms the biblical message for our present. It illumines our understanding of God and creation and motivates us to make sensitive moral judgments.” What that means to me is that what we’re doing here matters. Our lives on earth, our embodied experiences, are significant. Whether intentionally or not, the faith traditions I grew up in tended to emphasize the next life as the most important thing, the end goal. As an anxious overthinker, I struggled with getting excited about an eternal afterlife we don’t know anything about. The affirmation that my experiences are meant to illuminate my understanding of God and help me live right feels like the gospel to me. 

One way I’ve encountered this since joining the UMC is in small group. I grew up in church and stayed very churchy through college, so I’d always done Sunday school and student ministries, but often felt like those spaces existed in a vacuum; they were about being Christians together, not being people together who also were Christians. I had friends, and then I had “church friends.” When I was part of a pilot small group at the UMC church I joined several years ago, I saw for the first time the potential of real, authentic community based on but not exclusively about Christianity. We were already “church friends,” but as a small group, we gathered once a week over chips and dip and wine to recommend TV shows to each other and read books together and laugh and cry and shake our heads in disbelief about, essentially, everything—about our experiences. It was the first time I felt like I could share all of the mess in my head and in my heart safely in the context of a faith community and make room for others to share their whole lives with me, too. 

Not only was this first real small group experience fun, but it was also deeply freeing. Whether explicitly or not, I grew up taking in the lesson that there is a single correct way to interpret the Bible and God’s will, and that I can’t really trust myself to do it. We’re sinful and dirty and constantly under attack from Satan’s forces, and so it is reckless to listen to any voice from within us because who knows whether it’s the Holy Spirit or some supernatural evil or just my own sinful desires? Well-meaning and loving evangelical leaders in my early life emphasized that there is only one truth, and therefore only a narrow set of right theology and right habits and right thinking, and straying too far outside of those parameters is dangerous and even heretical. 

But “experience” in the Wesleyan quadrilateral acknowledges that all of us, including those leaders who taught me to fear heresy, bring our own lenses and biases and cultures to our understanding of faith. My childhood evangelical pastor and my current UMC pastor would disagree sharply on many significant points—in fact, the former would take issue with the latter being a pastor at all—but they are both loving people called to ministry and doing their best to point people to God. One of my small group friends has become one of my best friends period, and we’re not the same gender or in the same generation or pursuing the same life goals, and we are at very different points on the political spectrum, but we are both doing our best to work out our faith in our daily lives and love each other and those around us. We come to different conclusions about how to do that, but we respect each other enough to honor each other’s efforts instead of seeing them as wrong for being different. 

Ultimately, I think this is key to a way forward: honoring each other’s efforts and trusting that while God works all things for good for those who love him, those who love God can also be given space to do good work. When we strive for a lofty spiritual ideal, disembodied from and deprioritizing our messy humanness, we can too easily dismiss anyone’s lived experience that doesn’t align with our vision of the right way to live a godly life. But, by contrast, if we can learn to trust that our experiences help us understand God instead of pulling us away from God, maybe we can find the grace to trust that that same process is happening in those around us—even when we don’t understand it or it looks different than we might expect.

Long before I found myself in a Methodist church, I was approached by a friend who had just A) become a Christian and B) come out as bisexual. They were receiving messages that these two parts of themself couldn’t exist together, and they wanted to talk to someone who could encourage them. To that point, most of my faith leaders would have agreed that my friend was living in contradiction—in sin. But, by the grace of God, my friend stirred my spirit in a different direction. If they felt themselves in love with Jesus and wanted to follow Him, and also they might sometime feel themself in love with someone not of “the opposite sex,” how could it possibly be my responsibility to tell them they were wrong? I don’t remember the conversation we had, but I hope my friend was encouraged. I certainly was changed. I likely wouldn’t have recognized the name John Wesley, but already the experience portion of his quadrilateral was a key part of my theology. 

The legitimacy of our queer Christian brothers and sisters is a hot-button topic in the UMC right now, but this is certainly not the only example of the need to honor experience. If I’ve never been the victim of a hate crime, and I can’t bring myself to see or believe in a Black person’s lived experience or I think it weighs less than my experience (or lack thereof), I put spiritual ideology ahead of real-time justice. If I believe that Jesus alone can heal mental illness, and I try to encourage my friend to pray instead of going to therapy or taking antidepressants (in combination with prayer), my bad advice could have real consequences. If the most important thing about my faith is knowing that I’ve got a ticket to heaven when I die and that everything there will be better than anything here, how tempting is it for me to dismiss the grief of a friend who has lost a loved one or to minimize a neighbor’s chronic pain or financial trouble? 

A familiar Christian cliché is about being so heavenly minded you’re no earthly good. I tend to refer to heavenly mindedness as just wait ‘til you die theology. Sorry about the poverty or the depression or the cancer, but, you know, heaven! Well-meaning Christians can and do inflict such harm with this kind of thinking. Besides, if this is all a crappy rehearsal for finally getting to be in glory in the afterlife—not that that’s not wonderful, but if that’s all there is to look forward to—then why are we here? Why do this part? Why would a lonely God put us so far away for a while instead of just populating heaven with us? Why would a creative God make us with our different features and loves and desires and quirks, in our different times and places, if none of this ultimately matters and we’re really just supposed to wait ‘til we die to come alive? To me, the experience part of the quadrilateral isn’t just about believing and validating each other’s experiences, but about having experiences. I don’t know why God put us here, but I know that God put us here. It’s one of the only things I feel like I know for sure. 

The theology of experience is tied up with the theology of the body. I don’t believe it’s true that we don’t have souls, that we are souls who only have bodies. I believe we’re both; we’re all of it: soul, body, spirit, joy, despair, personal and corporate, in this life and, God willing, in the life to come. We would do well to think less of this life as prologue or rehearsal and more as act one—a significant part of the story, not to be taken for granted. And when our fellow soulbodies share their stories with us, instead of looking for plot holes, we would do well to listen and learn, to celebrate and mourn with each other, to affirm each other’s realities, to revel in the mystery and the clarity of our experience. In Luke 17, Jesus himself renounces wait ‘til you die theology: “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 17:20–21 NRSV). It’s among you. It’s us. What incredible good news, if we let it be.

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Catey Miller

Self-Love as Holy Reclamation: Using Church Tools to Heal from Church Traumas

Sign next to telephone pole with You are worthy of love written on it
Photo by Tim Mossholder on

“Pivotal to my relatedness to God, on the one hand, and to my neighbor, on the other, is my relationship to myself. Unless I love and accept myself, I am not free to love and accept my neighbor. Loving myself in this context simply means self-respect, a self-regard born of the realization that I am the object of God’s limitless love and mercy, part of his creation. Self-acceptance does not mean uncritical self-approval, but self-understanding, awareness of my strengths and weaknesses, and the blessed assurance that God-in-Christ is working in me and through me towards the perfection of my life.”

Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray, The Second Great Commandment

I have a confession: As a person who grew up in church, I learned to hate myself.

To be fair, I do not believe that my parents, my pastors, and many members of my Christian communities wanted me to hate myself outright. In fact, I believe that they loved me, many of them as much as they were able, and that they ultimately did what they thought was best for me. They used the tools and resources that they could access for what they imagined was my benefit, and they made sacrifices with the intentions that I would be safe and well. I really believe all of that, without a doubt.

Ostensibly though, the collective impact of years with Christian people was that I learned to fear, shame, and hate myself. Here is some context of how that happened.

I was assigned male at birth and expressed a lot of femininity early on as a child. While my father and two older brothers provided plenty of familial examples for modeling masculinity, I remember feeling much closer with my mother and feeling social anxiety about playtime with boys, more so than with girls. My innocent interests in makeup, high heels, and the pink and yellow Power Rangers had to have been obvious giveaways that I was not a typical guy’s guy.

Despite expressing these kinds of interests at home, school, and church, I was regularly nurtured away from them, intuiting clearly that I was supposed to be more like my dad than my mom and that I wasn’t really supposed to act like a girl at all. I eventually became afraid of expressing those interests because of other people’s reactions and figured out that people would celebrate me more when I performed gender in ways that they could understand. By age seven, I committed to being a good son and brother, a good student (I was in fourth grade by this point), and a good born-again Christian. I had a strategy of being good in order to fit in and belong, and a major part of that strategy was staying within normal gender bounds of boyhood.

I patrolled myself and told myself it was goodness, patience, and self-control, the fruits of the Spirit.

By the time I made it to adolescence, I had already internalized a lot of the social, cultural, and spiritual formation of my people’s contexts. While I did grow up seeing several Black women preach, lead, and share power in church spaces, the men were still the models who set the standard. Alongside this subtle misogyny and sexism was a surplus of homophobia and transphobia. My communities of origin taught me undoubtedly that marriage was between one man and one woman and that homosexuality was a sin. Even though I believed Jesus loved me, I did not know how to make sense of my burgeoning sexual curiosities in people while maintaining my concept of righteousness. There was no affirming way to be homosexual and holy.

Thus, I was most certainly earning my way into heaven and proving to others and myself that I was better than good, that I was sanctified and set apart. I continued to overachieve academically, to practice Christianity as faithfully as I could, and to repress my sexuality diligently. Any indulgence in the pleasure my body offered me became progressively drenched in ascetic shame.

I avoided myself and told myself I was “denying my flesh” and “bearing my cross.”

As a young adult, I made it through Duke University, volunteering at my church and other Christian organizations, paying my tithes and offerings, and perfecting the practices of “loving the sinner but hating the sin.” I had developed into an altruistic Christian that was undeniably not heterosexual while also espousing beliefs that only made space for people to thrive in heterosexual marriage. My church, at that time, promoted this concept so much that they were arguably against folks remaining single. Despite the dissonance I really did feel, I doubled and tripled down, gave more sacrificially, and even managed to find a sister-in-Christ who reciprocated my romantic interests. I developed a strong sense of moral superiority in order to make up for a profoundly deep-seated inferiority complex.

While I had managed to accept that I was neither straight nor gay, other Christians sadly punished me for naming that truth and attempting to live into it honestly. I watched them withhold love from me because I refused to continue playing by the rules of the cishetero game, one I could never really win. I carried so much shame about who I was (not) and bitterness about God refusing to grant me the acceptance and affirmation I watched other people securing. I knew I deserved better but was uncertain if better would ever become my reality.

I deceived myself and told myself that this was God’s will and design for my life.

Whewwwww, y’all—the amount of quoting and qualifying necessary to recount my complicated upbringing is astounding. Yet I offer this testimony transparently because I really thought I was digesting milk and meat, but some of that spiritual food was poisoned. I was malnourished, being taught that my intrinsic desires and needs were inherently bad and wrong. Despite all the faithful attempts to relate with God and others righteously, I was mistaking false truth after false truth as absolute, and my spirit and psyche bore the impacts of those death-dealing, toxic theologies.

The journey into my 30s has been an ongoing healing process of deconstructing and decolonizing, or reimagining and reclaiming, of expanding and evolving. Thanks to a handful of people, mostly women, who lead and serve at my current church, CityWell UMC, I have come to understand the utility of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. This particular Methodist model helped me articulate how the various ways that my parents, my pastors, and many of my fellow Christians stewarded scripture, tradition, reason, and experience had taught me to hate myself. They often knowingly and unknowingly weaponized these primary tools of faith, giving to me what they had received, doing to me what others did to them and what they had done to themselves, for better and for worse.

This finally brings me to self-love and to our beloved Pauli Murray.

In case you don’t know who Pauli is, here’s a quick point of reference for this particular hidden figure, especially for those who live in the United States. There is no Ruth Bader Ginsberg or Thurgood Marshall, two of the country’s most notable Supreme Court justices, without thee reverend, doctor, and saint, Pauli Murray. Pauli was a human rights pioneer who left behind a legacy of revolutionary love and creative energy that we still live in today.

That said, Pauli is clear in their sermon: the practice of loving yourself is fundamentally inseparable from that of loving neighbor and of loving God. She reminds us that we don’t have to like everyone but that we also don’t get to choose who we accept and reject either. Pauli exposes our hypocrisy and humanizes the inevitable obstacles and risks that come with negotiating how to love.

Oftentimes, we learn to live into insidious binaries, like the idea that loving oneself is selfish and loving others is selfless. This weighs more heavily when society teaches some to regard themselves as inferior—again, it’s the self-hatred for me. Consequently, we can feel bad whenever we choose ourselves first, and we practice giving up parts of ourselves, parts meant for us to possess with dignity. This lukewarm way of being subtly dehumanizes, obscuring the nuance of how loving oneself deeply connects to how one loves other people, God, and really all of creation.

Learning this lesson was a challenge for me because I had been accustomed to prioritizing others’ needs and opinions over my own and misinterpreting this practice as holy. I focused almost singularly on giving others love because I believed that would make others love me. I had no real practice or concept for loving myself well. I was abstaining from self-love.

The examples of Pauli Murray, James Baldwin, and many other queer people of color whose names are too many for me to count opened me up to understand self-love as an act of good trouble, a holy practice of resistance. I have stopped trying to earn love and offered myself the unconditional acceptance and affirmation that was always mine. I have changed my focus and set new boundaries. I have committed to protecting my energies. I have retired from prioritizing the conflicting opinions of others, and I refuse to compromise my intrinsic personhood. I love myself even when it makes others uncomfortable.

Little by little, the sum total of bitterness, shame, fear, and hatred have been subsiding—thanks be to God. It is much easier to offer kindness to others when I am already offering it to myself and when I no longer always need others to reciprocate. It also makes a world of difference being with people who know how to love me well and being part of imperfect spiritual communities that use our tools of scripture, tradition, reason, and experience to make real peace rather than to keep false peace. And while I still want to be good, goodness now is less about earning and achieving human dignity as a goal and more about practicing human dignity as a given.

I believe now that these tools of faith, when stewarded well, can protect all of us, especially those whom our world makes most vulnerable, and can help us generate processes for restoring and transforming our world, especially when we fall short. We can activate their utility in order to offer ourselves more than just the rigid binaries of absolute pardon or punishment. We can think with sober judgment and give ourselves permission to be imperfect. We can hold each other accountable with the truth in love and without shame and condemnation. We can emancipate ourselves spiritually and heal from the psychic violence we have inherited, suffered, and even caused.

This kind of love can be hard to imagine, let alone offer to ourselves and to others, especially when entangled with all the other toxic, traumatic stuff we have experienced. It can be challenging to lift your gaze beyond the traumas and shift attention to the joy, fortitude, dignity, and wholeness, and I declare it is possible and happening. If, like me, you learned to hate yourself, whether because of your identities or something else, I am here to declare that you are more than that hatred and that you deserve to love yourself just as you are. There is nothing to earn or to prove, no one to make you eligible or qualified. We deserve this kind of love, unconditionally and fundamentally, as part of our communal life together. However you identify, I invite you to love yourself and to love LGBTQ+ people like Jesus taught Pauli. Nationally, Pride Month is in June, but that invitation to love is open year round. It is always the right time to celebrate and commemorate the practices of loving us LGBTQ+ folks well. Join with any and all who choose love and truth, resist abuse and neglect, and use the tools and resources we have collectively for the ongoing work of healing and justice.

Jesse Huddleston

Jesse Nathaniel Huddleston (he/she/they/we) grew up in church participating in worship through song and dance and comes from a family full of ministers, artists, and educators. He has lived in North Carolina since 2006 when he enrolled at Duke as an undergraduate student. They finished in 2010 with degrees in sociology and psychology and later completed a master of science in counseling in 2014. Jesse continues to develop her vocational work for equity and community engagement through the arts in Durham, and she has served with CityWell UMC since January 2017. As a Black genderqueer human, we draw significant inspirations of learning, healing, and joy from our Blackqueer ancestors, Pauli Murray and James Baldwin, and we aspire to encourage all people to resist any human development rooted in shame or control and to pursue healthy, humanizing formation grounded in revolutionary love and creative energy. In their spare time, they bake pound cakes from scratch, tend to their indoor plants, and mind their business. He is often spending time with friends and neighbors, be it over food and drink at home, out at a social or political event, or on a dance floor. You can follow Jesse on Instagram at @huddlespeak.

What We Do

Yet Alive aims to be a church resource that highlights the intersections of pan-Wesleyan heritage with contemporary applications, claiming LGBTQIA+-affirmation, and especially seeking to elevate voices that are historically on the margins of the church for reasons of race, ethnicity, class, nationality, disability, and gender identity. Even among affirming thinkers, Wesleyan theology gives us room for both orthodoxy and exploration, and the publication will lean on this theological diversity to highlight the richness of our tradition.