In our continuing posts during Pride month, one of the most distinct voices in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – Nicole M. Garcia – has agreed to share some of her personal story, along with frank discussion of personal theological back-story. A trans-latina pursuing ordination into the ministry of word and sacrament, Ms. Garcia shares how “we are commanded to love the Lord our God and to love each other as Jesus loves us, but love is just the beginning—not the end,” and what this means for a church that often struggles to be as accepting and inclusive of difference as it says it is. Read, comment, and share!
Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”
Love, acceptance, and inclusion are three concepts I have talked and preached about for many years. In Matthew 22:37-39, Jesus boiled down the Ten Commandments into two easy to follow instructions, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Actually, I prefer John 13:34, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (NRSV). I must stress, however, my use of these few verses is not the be all and end all of Scripture. One verse or one part of a chapter of any gospel is not definitive. Anyone who quotes one verse of Scripture to justify their actions are wrong for we must read and read and re-read Scripture individually and in community.
We have to pray and meditate and ponder the immensity of God’s message to us, and then start all over again. We glean something new each time we read Scripture because God is creating and re-creating the world we live in each and every day.
Yes, we are commanded to love the Lord our God and to love each other as Jesus loves us, but love is just the beginning—not the end.
It is through the lens of love that we begin our journey as Christians.
I have worked for more than a decade for the inclusion of the LGBTQ community into the life of the ELCA. In other words, God’s love knows no bounds and Jesus preached about love for all, especially those who have been pushed to the margins. The most incredible worship service I can remember was in Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis on the Wednesday evening after the Social Statement on Human Sexuality was adopted at the 2009 ELCA Churchwide Assembly. Tears of joy streamed down my face for two hours as we celebrated an incredible achievement—a public statement by the ELCA that all means ALL.
There has been change in the church since 2009. Dear friends who were ordained through Extraordinary Lutheran Ministries have since had their ordinations recognized by the ELCA. I was a co-chair of the board of directors of Lutherans Concerned/North America when we re-branded and is now doing business as ReconcilingWorks: Lutherans for Full Participation for we believe in reconciliation. More congregations have become Reconciling in Christ because there is the recognition that the love of God is infinite. Many more LGBTQ individuals are entering seminary and many have been ordained because of the 2009 decision.
I was granted entrance to candidacy in 2013. I earned an M.Div. from Luther Seminary on May 20, 2018. Honestly, I never dared to dream of actually being ordained in the ELCA, but sometimes dreams do come true.
I am on the threshold of joining the ranks of clergy, if I can find a church who will dare to call me—a transgender Latina who speaks the truth and demands change.
I demand the inclusion of the LGBTQ community in the leadership of the church and demand the barriers to ordination and consecration are torn down so more people of color are given the opportunity to earn the privilege of wearing a clerical collar.
I demand the church stand up and cry out in a loud voice against the unjust and discriminatory practices the United States government is taking against individuals who are fleeing from violence and oppression.
We in the LGBTQ community know what is like to be ostracized and marginalized. We have earned a place at the table because we are imago Dei and we must continue to do the work of justice inside and outside the church for when any marginalized community is attacked, we are all attacked. History is very clear—the rich and powerful must have a segment of the population to segregate and persecute in order to maintain their base of support. The current administration utilizes nationalistic furor and white supremacy to galvanize their core. There have been many comparisons of our current political climate to the rise of the Nazi party in 1930s Germany.
We must remember the six million people murdered because of their Jewish faith. We must also remember the six million people put to death because they were branded as undesirable: people with mental and physical disabilities, people in the LGBTQ community, the Roma, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and German political opponents and resistance activists.
One of the German political opponents was the Rev. Dr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a man with power and privilege who paid with his life because he lived out his devotion to Jesus Christ by speaking and acting on behalf of those being persecuted.
In our time, individuals are fleeing the violence in Central America and seeking shelter and safety in a nation of immigrants—the United States. They are being met by a militaristic force and herded into detention facilities.
Their children are being ripped from their arms. Their children are being put in cages because the parents are branded “illegal.” The children have done no wrong and the parents have not been convicted of any crime, but our government has built concentration camps to hold the undesirables; a comparison to 1930s Germany that sends shivers down my spine.
Public pressure forced the signing of an executive order stating the separation of children from their parents would be halted, but only time will tell if there will actually be a significant change in how refugees and those seeing asylum are treated by our government.
It is up to us, as leaders in the church, to speak out. We have to take action. We have to call our legislators and write emails and letters to voice our disgust at the way human beings are being horribly treated. We must show up at rallies and march in the streets. We must demand our government treat our neighbors as the Lord commands us—with respect, with dignity, with love.
I am trying to complete the last requirements for candidacy and part of that process is looking at many different ministry settings in the synod. This process has caused me to wonder if I truly belong in the church I love dearly. I am a member of the ELCA because I fell head over heels in love with Lutheran theology, but I wonder if the whole church is ready to stand up and demand justice?
We, as Lutherans, believe the gift of grace is given to all those who are made in the image of God but is the church able to change fast enough to keep up with an ever-changing world?
When I march in Pride Parades and waive rainbow flags, I remember the sacrifices of so many individuals who suffered indignity and insult because they dared to proclaim one can be LGBTQ and Lutheran. I want to be a part of a church that proclaims inclusion in the sanctuary and takes concrete action. There is no exception for all are given the gift of grace and as leaders in the church must do something. We must demand unjust laws be changed and we must demand all our neighbors be treated with respect, dignity, and love.
I am a member of the ELCA for the Holy Spirit has created a place at the table for me and all my siblings in the LGBTQ community.
It is time for us to build a bigger table.
Nicole M. Garcia (she/her/hers) is an out and proud transgender Latina of faith. Nicole has a Master of Arts in Counseling from the University of Colorado Denver and is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Colorado. Nicole is a Candidate Preparing for Word and Sacrament in the Rocky Mountain Synod. Nicole has a Master of Divinity from Luther Seminary in St. Paul MN.