Below is the letter that I sent to my bishop in the Southern Ohio Synod regarding Trustworthy Servants. I have great trust that she will receive it and consider it seriously. I also know many of my colleagues across the church do not have the same trust in their leadership. Therefore, I share this publicly as a matter of record, particularly for those who feel their concerns have not been heard. You're welcome to critique and to share as you see fit.
Good morning, Bishop Dillahunt,
I’m joining my voices to the others with feedback on Trustworthy Servants.
First, let me share my affirmation that (1) such a document is appropriate because (2) it is proper for us to have clear guidance and specific expectations of rostered ministers, particularly because (3) people offer church professionals, particularly pastors, deacons, and bishops, rarified authority, as does the church in the processes of ordination and consecration.
In general, I found Trustworthy Servants itself an improvement upon V&E, though it’s notable that references to sex and sexuality outpace references to financial and physical health, which are aspects of wellness Jesus spent much more focus on in his teaching and healing ministries. I’m not suggesting a necessary decrease in conversation about sexuality. Rather, if sexuality requires that much attention, then we should certainly increase and clarify our attention around other aspects of wellness that receive specific attention in the Gospel manifest in the person of Jesus.
It’s also entirely possible that I find this a generally amenable document because I’m the picture of privilege in our church: white, solidly middle class, with no education debt, cisgender and male, with all the authority given to a pastor who serves in one of the rarer calls in our church, college chaplaincy. Other perspectives, especially those from minoritized and marginalized voices, have already detailed more specific issues with the content of Trustworthy Servants, and I commend all of those to you as worthy of consideration.
My most immediate issue is that V&E became a weapon of abuse toward the LGBTQIA+ community, something for which the bishops took responsibility and offered apology. I am encouraged by that move; I am disheartened that, with the exception of one out member of the LGBTQIA+ community who is a member of the Conference of Bishops, it appears that no other queer folx were involved in the creation of Trustworthy Servants. How can we fix a problem of oppression if we do not inherently include, from the earliest stages of the process, multiple perspectives of those folks who were harmed by the dysfunction of the earlier document itself and its application? I contend we cannot.
So, even though my sense of Trustworthy Servants is that it could be a helpful tool, I encourage you and the rest of the Conference of Bishops not to recommend it for consideration by church council. Instead, I ask that you, alongside the Domestic Mission unit, publicly incorporate LGBTQIA+ representatives in either (1) the editing of Trustworthy Servants if possible, or (2) the creation of a new document, if necessary. Some might argue that the product is more important than the process. Others would argue that the process is more important than the product. I contend, rather, that the process is the product. A process that lacks expansive inclusion of LGBTQIA+ perspectives cannot and has not produce a document worthy of use in a church that purports to include LGBTQIA+ people. Therefore, until we produce a product that includes many minoritized and marginalized voices from the start, including but not limited to multiple representations of folx from the LGBTQIA+ community, I cannot in good faith commend Trustworthy Servants as document worthy of our church, our people, or our rostered ministers.
I am open, if you would find it helpful, to further discussion.
I am thankful for your service as our bishop in Southern Ohio and am grateful for your continued ministry among us.
Grace and peace,
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.