On Why I Do This
by Laura Ralston
That’s me in the corner. Hoping that there won’t be pictures taken and that if there are, they won’t be public. It was the Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors worship service at the United Methodist Student forum in 2004. This is the day I wore a rainbow stole for the first time. When I returned home, I promptly hid the stole in my closet, a fitting metaphor for the way in which I remained closeted for almost the next 10 years.
As I prepare to head to Portland on Monday for General Conference, I’ve been reflecting on my baptism. Of the promises made by my community of faith. The congregation is asked, “Will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and life and include these persons now before you in your care?”
And the congregation responds: “With God’s help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround these persons with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their trust of God, and be found faithful in their service to others. We will pray for them, that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life.”
Before coming out, I am certain that the congregations that I have worked in and with would affirm that they stayed true to their commitment to uphold the vows they made in my baptism, but after I began to come out, there were doubts and questions in my life about where my support system was. The cross and flame that had long been a source of hope and a place I called home began to feel very distant, a sort of mirage where I didn’t quite know where I had been and I certainly didn’t know where I was going.
In the midst of my coming out process, I was blessed to have people in my life who walked beside me especially when I wasn’t sure I could take the next step. Those people surrounded me with love and forgiveness and reminded me of the vows made by the United Methodist Congregation over 30 years ago. Many of those people who walked alongside me didn’t have a relationship with the church or had left long ago. Some were connected with other denominations, and just a few shared the same United Methodist heritage that I claim. During this process I spent time in spiritual direction, determining how I might keep hold of my faith in the midst of my uncertainty about the church’s love for me. During that process, I determined that continuing to life my life as a lie was a barrier between God and I, and I needed God more in that process than ever before.
As I worked to embody that conclusion, I was approached to be a member of Love Prevails. Julie Todd had been a professor of mine and was one of those few United Methodist people who walked alongside me in the midst of my coming out process, reminding me of that United Methodist heritage and the fact that there is grace abundant in this world even when we may not believe it. I’ve never been the most outspoken person in groups, and I had never engaged in direct action, but I knew that joining Love Prevails in 2013 was what I needed to do as a next step in reclaiming my call in a denomination that categorically discriminates against me.
My commitment to engaging in nonviolent direct action at General Conference terrifies me, but I know that it is the right thing to do. I must engage in action because I have made the same promise that was made for me in 1982 at my baptism for countless children throughout my life. I do this for them. I do this for me.
You do it for me and Michael, too. Imagine us standing there next to you in Portland. With love from Illinois (for a little while longer), Kristen