“Has your pastor been talking about me lately?” That’s what I asked my dance friend who goes to First Baptist Church in uptown Charlotte. His pastor has spearheaded the introduction of Amendment One in North Carolina, which says that the only people in domestic partnerships with any legal rights are those who are married. Of course, it’s intended to make it pert near impossible for gay folks to ever legally marry in our state, but lots of others would be hurt if we vote to add this amendment to our constitution, as well.
So, my dance friend informed me that his pastor had indeed been talking about me from the pulpit. Well, not me specifically, but people like me, people who are out there working against Amendment One. He referred to us as “The Fringe.”
The Fringe. Isn’t that something you’d say about people who are kooky? Seems to me that it’s a good way to dismiss them so that you don’t have to take them seriously. So, my first reaction to being referred to as The Fringe was to get all bristly over it.
I don’t know that I’ve ever been called The Fringe before, so I’ve been turning it over in my mind for a couple of weeks now. Am I The Fringe? Hmmm. If I lived in New York City, or San Francisco, I would never be considered a part of The Fringe. I’d probably be more middle-of-the-road. Heck, in Asheville, North Carolina, I’d be somewhere in the center. But in Charlotte, North Carolina, I’m The Fringe. What does this mean?
Well, I’ve decided that I like it. People on the fringe of society are the ones who are living just on the edge between being in and being out. And, this seems to be exactly the place where Jesus himself chose to live.
Is being part of The Fringe the same thing as being marginalized? I don’t think so. When you’re marginalized, you’ve been forced out of the circle by the people in the center who find you unacceptable. You aren’t on the edge between in and out. You’re just out. I may have experienced being an outsider from time to time in my life, in minor ways, but never enough to consider myself truly marginalized. Certainly not the way half the adults in my congregation have experienced it because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
I’ve grown in my understanding of what it means to do ministry with the marginalized over the past seven years. Back when I interviewed to be pastor at Holy Trinity, I told the search committee that I would not be stepping up to the microphone at a synod assembly and advocating for the full inclusion of LGBT people in the life of the church, nor would I publically speak out for the rights of gay folks in the community. I would support them, and encourage them, but I was never going to be an activist; that just wasn’t my thing.
God only knows why they called me to be their pastor. But, of course, since coming to Holy Trinity, I have done everything I said I would never do. All my preconceived ideas about what I would and wouldn’t do changed when I realized that the ones being marginalized by others are the people I love. I can’t throw them words of encouragement from a distance or text- message support to them from a remote location. I have to join them where they are-- in the margins.
But it seems to me that there’s a difference between being forced into the margins and choosing to go there. When you could live in the center, but choose to do ministry with those in margins, out of love, maybe that’s what it means to be a part of The Fringe. As a follower of Jesus, I can’t see any other way of being in the world. I’m not sure if it’s a group I’m worthy of claiming as my own, but it’s certainly where I long to be.
God, keep me on The Fringe.