By Rev. Jenn Tafel
It is important to share my context before I jump into blogging. I am ordained in the Swedenborgian Church of North America. I grew up in this tradition/denomination and the lineage on my father’s side can trace its ministerial roots in the tradition back to the early 19th Century—this tradition is in my DNA. It’s also in my RNA since there was a minister in this tradition on my mom’s side in the early 20th Century as well. The theology, while rich and complex, has evaded the current mainstream definition of Christianity, but Christian we are. In my tradition, we speak in a language referred to as “correspondences.” This language speaks to the spiritual root of nature and is at the core of Scripture. This means that we have a different understanding of the Bible. My understanding of this theology is that it emphasizes the healing and redemptive power of Christ. It is with this understanding that I choose to use my faith as a driving force for being an ally and advocate for the LGBTQ community.
I get asked the question, “Why would you intentionally put yourself (and career) on the line as an ally for the LGBTQ community?” I suppose for many people it doesn’t make sense. I’ve received hate mail and I sometimes stand alone at meeting after introducing myself as the religious advisor for a queer Christian campus ministry/student organization. These instances are few and far between, but they happen. They remind me not to lose focus on the purpose or core of my calling.
The story from Scripture that I’ve been meditating on lately is the parable of the lost sheep (Luke 15: 1-10). As I meditate on this story, I see how the vision of my call to ministry has shifted from when I was first ordained. When I was ordained (2007), I was in the process of helping a group of local Swedenborgians in the Lansing area become recognized as a ministry or society within the Swedenborgian denomination. Since that time, the group has shifted along with the programming of the ministry. Our current focus is on youth ministry and the campus ministry. The focus is different because the people and needs are different.
The people who participate in the congregation and campus ministry may not consider themselves “lost sheep” and I would be the last one to use labels. As I mentioned earlier in defining my context, I read Scripture through a different lens than most. This parable references a touchy subject, “sinners” in the text. There are plenty of definitions used to define “sinner.” However, on a deeper level, the inner meaning of sheep refers to the state of innocence at our core and the lost sheep is specifically referencing our affections or loves (not talking about relationships) that reflect this innocent state. An example of this affection or love could be the desire to help others or the desire to be creative. One interpretation is that the lost sheep speaks to the lost affection of innocent trust of the Divine.
With this understanding of the parable, I see my role as ally-clergy as providing and/or maintaining space for those who seek to reclaim this innocent trust in God. Many of us can identify with this lost innocence. We live in a culture that often doesn’t support it since we can’t openly share our belief in God (from whatever religious context) in our daily routines. Though, many of us would use the language of “being led” to people, situations, careers, schools, etc. At the same time, there are many in the LGBTQ community who are not welcome in worship settings, able to become members of a church, are turned away from the Sacrament of Holy Supper, and are unable to be married or ordained. Where can the innocent trust in God be nurtured in such environments? It is in safe-space that we can find community, meditate, sing a new song, give praise to a loving God, pray, love the person I am called to love, seek and receive wholeness, and reclaim what needs to be reclaimed.
The biblical passage used for the charter of the group is Romans 8:38-39, “For I am certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, neither heights nor depths—nor anything else in all creation—will be able to separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus, —our Savior.”
It is my desire to lift up the healing and redemptive power of Christ also known as Christ-consciousness, to create and maintain safe-space for reclaiming our wholeness as created by God, and remove any form of separation (both real and perceived) from God who loves us. It is through the passages from Luke and Romans that highlight and emphasize my calling and renewed vision of ministry. It is in this context when asked the question, “Why would you intentionally put yourself (and career) on the line as an ally for the LGBTQ community?” that I answer, “Why wouldn’t I?”