What's to prevent us?
By the Rev. Keith D. Ray II and Stanton Adams
What is to prevent me from being baptized?”
asked the Ethiopian eunuch after hearing the good news of Jesus from Philip in Acts 8.
The answer, of course, was plenty. There was plenty to keep the Ethiopian eunuch from baptism and Philip knew it. Indeed,
the Hebrew Scriptures were quite clear that this man did not qualify to be admitted into the worshiping community (Deut. 23:1)
and, therefore, while he was allowed to worship God in Jerusalem, it would have always been from a distance. He was a eunuch,
rendered unable to engage in sexual activity, and was considered inferior, incompatible with full inclusion in the worshiping assembly.
Further, he was from Ethiopia, not the particular geographical boundaries of the country we know today, but a term representing
the farthest point known by the people of the day. In other words, he couldn’t be from a place farther away, and he was
marked by his physical condition, making him a clear outsider. “What is to prevent me from being baptized,” the man asks Phillip.
Scripture and tradition said, “Plenty.”
But just as soon as religious institutions demarcate insiders from outsiders, the Spirit of God moves as it will in ways that reduce
boundaries to rubble. Indeed, the most significant character in the Book of Acts is not Peter or Paul or the newly constituted
12. It is the Holy Spirit, an untamed power of Gospel-love, that even allows for the baptism of eunuchs, the full welcome of
Greeks and the expansion of the church in ways that some found troubling and even offensive.
The same Spirit moves today in the
church, albeit not without resistance. The
Spirit is at work calling persons to the tasks
of ordained and licensed ministry today.
But sometimes we have limited the Spirit by
our own regulations of who can or cannot
be accepted into the work of representative
I, Keith, am aware of the tension that
exists when beautiful, gifted, committed
persons of deep Christian faith hear that
they are not eligible to enter into ministry in
our beloved United Methodist Church.
“Yes, I see the Spirit at work in you and I
believe you have the gifts to be an effective
pastor in the church” a pastor says to one
of her people. And they ask, “What is to
prevent me from being ordained?”
And the truth comes out: “You are LGBTQ+
(lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender,
queer/questioning and others), and unless
you commit yourself to a life of celibacy, you
will not be approved.”
Shortly after I was born in January 1994,
I, Stanton, was baptized at First UMC,
Clover. During the Service of the Baptismal
Covenant, the pastor placed his hand on
my little forehead and called on the Holy
Spirit, saying, “The Holy Spirit work within
you, that being born through water and the
Spirit, you may be a faithful disciple of Jesus
Christ.” After speaking this blessing over me
and welcoming me into the family of Christ,
the pastor commended me into the love and
care of the congregation, that they might do
everything they could to increase my faith,
confirm my hope and perfect me in love.
I spent the next 18 years of my life completely
immersed in the ministries of the
UMC. As a child, I went to Sunday school
nearly every week because I couldn’t wait to
get to church and learn more about God’s
story. When summer came, the one thing
that I was most excited about was vacation
Bible school (especially the craft time).
What I loved more than anything, though,
was singing in the children’s choir. Though
some of the other kids really hated it, I loved
standing in front of the church and singing.
When I got to middle school, I was able
to get involved with the youth group, something
I had always dreamed of doing. As
soon as I was old enough, I hit the ground
running. If there was a youth event on the
calendar, I was there. I loved it so much that
I wanted to be even more involved than I
already was, so I signed up to be a part of
the Youth Council, the leadership team that
planned and organized all of our United
Methodist Youth Fellowship events.
One time, I got so carried away with
wanting to be a leader that I wrote an entire
retreat curriculum in my spare time. My
youth director at the time was so loving,
gracious and supportive of me and my (often
excessive) enthusiasm that she took the
curriculum and actually used it on our fall
retreat that year.
In summer 2010, she took me to my firstever
Youth Annual Conference, and my life
changed forever. I spent the week engaging
with youth from all over the state of
South Carolina, learning more about being
a young leader in the church and following
God’s call. One night during worship,
I heard my call. “Stanton, there is a reason
that you love this so much. This is what you
were made for,” said the voice.
My heart was ignited with passion to lead
the church as it shared the Gospel with the
world, and I was ready to go wherever God
was calling me. When I got home, I became
more involved in the church than ever
before. I was appointed as a young adult
representative to the church council, got
involved in forming a youth praise band and
helped to restart a contemporary service
at our church. I served on the Rock Hill
District Council of Youth Ministry; the idea
of bringing youth together from all over our
district got me even more excited.
The following summer, when I realized
that there was a Conference Council of
Youth Ministry, I got even more excited,
so I joined that, too. Every step along the
way, there was another United Methodist
leader there to guide me and reaffirm God’s
call upon my life. The more that I became
involved, the more I realized how deep my
love for serving the church was. There was
no question to me that this was the place
where God had called me. I was called to
In August 2012, I packed all my things
and headed to Clemson University. Within
just a few days at Clemson, I got involved
with Clemson Wesley. The campus ministry
welcomed me with open arms, and before I
knew it, I was spending nearly every night
of my week doing something with CW—
and, of course, it was United Methodist!
Soon I was leading worship in CW's band,
and yet again, I was affirmed in my gifts for
leadership in ministry.
At the end of my freshman year, I sat
down with some of the leaders of Clemson
UMC at a little Mexican restaurant. Over
lunch, they told me about Clemson UMC”s
dream for a new third worship service. This
service would be a place where modern
music and creative direction would mingle
with the beloved traditions of the UMC, and
they wanted me to be a part of it.
The following March, I officially came
on staff at Clemson UMC. Once again, my
life changed forever. On Aug. 3, 2014, we
launched “The Vine,” the service the people
of Clemson UMC had been dreaming about.
Every time I stepped on the stage to lead
worship at The Vine, I came alive. When
the many voices of our community joined
together in song, I could feel the presence
of God like I had never felt it before. There
was no question to me that I was, yet again,
affirmed in my understanding of God’s call
on my life. I was living out my call to serve
the church, and I had never felt more alive. I
was ready to take the next step in following
my call: to go to seminary and become an
ordained pastor in the UMC.
In my 22 years of life, the UMC has
worked tirelessly to uphold the commitment
made to me at my baptism. Time and
time again you, church, have increased my
faith, confirmed my hope and perfected me
in love. You have shown me that, indeed,
the Holy Spirit has been at work within me.
Because of you, I have heard with absolute
clarity the place where God has called me to
serve—the church, specifically The United
At birth, you baptized me in the name of
the Holy Spirit. Through my childhood, you
told me the stories of Jesus and his radical
Gospel of love and acceptance. In my youth,
you shaped me into a leader, and as a young
adult, you’ve ignited in me a fire that can’t
After years of encouraging me to fully
realize the call that God has placed on my
life, I am ready. What’s to prevent me from
Now, you say to me, “The practice of homosexuality
is incompatible with Christian
teaching...Therefore self-avowed practicing
homosexuals are not to be certified
as candidates, ordained as ministers, or
appointed to serve in The United Methodist
Church” (Para. 303.4, Discipline).
After everything we have been through
together, you have never thought that I
was incompatible with Christian teaching
before. Why would you believe that now?
Keith: “Can we not make a place?”
It’s an all-too-familiar story. And as the
lead pastor of Clemson UMC, I, Keith, am
left now to comfort both a young person
who is uniquely gifted for ministry but
unable to respond to his calling because of
his sexual orientation and a congregation
heartbroken over our loss of a young person
who has led our community to praise God’s
name and pray for the world.
This month, we send persons who are
the only ones among us with the power to
discern a better way. As the General Conference
convenes in Portland, I will continue
to be prayerful for the work of our delegates.
I know they carry a heavy burden as they
gather on behalf of our church.
But as they gather, I pray that the power
of the Spirit will move in ways that may
surprise us all so that clergypersons and
congregations no longer have to say, “You
are a gifted person whose ministry would
strengthen the UMC, but…”
Can we not make a place for such a call?
Not, perhaps, for every church or community
or clergyperson, but for those who see the
power of the Spirit moving among persons
who have been, in earlier years, defined as
“incompatible?” Can we not live more fully
into the vision of Galatians 3:28: “There
is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither
slave nor free; nor is there male and female,
for you are all one in Christ Jesus” so as to
include those we have previously regarded
as outside the boundary of God’s call?
What’s to prevent us from extending the
circle of welcome to these chosen people of
God, filled by the Spirit, regardless of sexual
orientation or gender identity? I hear a lot
of folk say, “Plenty.” But with the help of the
Holy Spirit we might, even at General Conference,
be surprised at how wide and wonderful
the welcome of God can be. Indeed,
the Spirit may show us a path that no longer
forces us to reject the gifts, graces, commitment
and calling of our fellow disciples.
Come, Holy Spirit, come.
Rev. Ray is senior pastor of Clemson United Methodist Church, Clemson, SC. Mr. Adams was on staff there.
Publication: South Carolina United Methodist Advocate;
Date: May 2016; Page: 10