Greater NW Pride: Re-Hearing the Magnificat as a Gay Pastor
Re-Hearing the Magnificat as a Gay Pastor
This coming Sunday, Dec. 23rd, is the fourth Sunday of Advent. The Gospel reading is Luke 1:39-55, in which the latter part of this reading (vs. 46-55) is the famous Magnificat. The passage opens up with Mary setting out and, “with haste” makes it out to a Judean town in the hill country, where she has fled to the house of her relative, Elizabeth. These two women—both outsiders to the dominant culture because of their gender—share joy in their respective pregnancies, with the child within Elizabeth, John, leaping for joy with the sound of Mary’s greeting. This is a young Mary, who, to say the least, was still probably a little amazed, scared, poor, pregnant, unmarried, obedient 15-year-old young woman, rather than the one who resists the major powers of those days and becoming a spokesperson of justice. This is the Mary I grew up with in my life in the church: Mary, humble, meek, and mild.
Mary’s personality and importance in this Jewish-Christian narrative then expands in incredible ways as we read the portion which we call today the Magnificat—Latin for magnify—and take in the longest speech of any woman in the Bible. After focusing on being overwhelmed by the goodness of God, Mary’s song erupts with justice and righteousness for all: “for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is God's name…God has shown the strength with God's arm; God has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. God has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; God has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
As writer D.L. Mayfield wrote: “Throughout history…poor and oppressed people had often identified with this song. Oscar Romero, priest and martyr, drew a comparison between Mary and the poor and powerless people in his community. Dietrich Bonhoeffer… called the Magnificat ‘the most passionate, the wildest, one might even say the most revolutionary hymn ever sung.’ It is also viewed as dangerous by people in power. Some countries—such as India, Guatemala, and Argentina—have outright banned the Magnificat from being recited in liturgy or in public.” (Artist Ben Wildflower said that) she is a radical who exists within the confines of institutionalized religion.” This is Mary with her fist raised to the sky. “Mary is no longer just a silent member of the nativity, or a holy womb for God…she has helped me understand the true magnificence of how much God cares about our political, economic, and social realities” (Washington Post, Dec. 20, 2018).
Yet here is the one thing that D.L. Mayfield failed to realize: the past tense of this passage. In other words, God in Christ, through the ongoing presence of the Spirit, has, is, and will be doing something truly revolutionary and radical in the past, the present, and the age to come. The change is already afoot, which is what scares those in power, who fail to walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8). The seeds of justice, and mercy are already planted and bearing fruit. As an out gay Presbyterian pastor, who spent much of my life as an ordained PCUSA minister in a closet, as one without power, lowly, vulnerable, hungry and thirsty for safety and equality with my non-LGBTQ+ clergy colleagues, who lived long enough to witness the radical re-envisioning of ordination standards in my denomination, I draw hope from the Magnificat. I draw hope because I witnessed the overturning of power, raising up the lowly, vulnerable, and hungry, namely LGBTQ+ Ministers of the Word and Sacrament, Elders, and Deacons in the PCUSA. This is the same hope that I bring with me in my work within the UMC as the LGBTQ+ Advocacy Coordinator, in which my sisters and brothers who are either closeted or out-LGBTQ+ clergy are still without power, and are considered the lowly, vulnerable, who hunger and thirst for equality and safety within and among their other non-LGBTQ+ UMC clergy colleagues and members. But a new day is coming, around the bend, in which those who are proud and powerful, who think they are able to stop the inevitable march towards justice and equality in the UMC, will, sooner or later, be broken and scattered, sent away empty. For God’s Spirit of love, mercy, peace, and justice, among LGBGQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ members is clearly moving within the UMC today. After all, this, too is in the Bible.
So, as we go into this last Sunday of Advent and into the season of Christmastide, celebrating the birth of the Holy Child, let us remember that we serve God who has already helped “Israel, in remembrance of God’s mercy, according to the promise God made to our ancestors, to Abraham and Sarah, and their descendants forever.” As their descendants, let us join the Holy Spirit as we strive for justice and equality among LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ clergy, lay leaders, and members in the UMC in 2019. Amen.