Eric Thomas is a third year seminarian at the Johnson C. Smith Theological Seminary of the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, GA. He is a member of the Rock Spring Presbyterian Church, is under care as a candidate for ordination in the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta and served as a Theological Seminary Advisory Delegate to the 219th General Assembly. Eric is a gay man who has been in a committed relationship for five years.
How has your personal journey to answering a call to ministry strengthened or challenged your faith?
My journey to answering my call to ministry has both strengthened and challenged my faith. I have been strengthened by the amazing amount of support from my church, Rock Spring Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, from my seminary, from my professors, from experience with More Light Presbyterians in the Rochester Conference last September and from Presbyterian Welcome through whom I have been able to fellowship with other LGBT seminarians.
I have been challenged as I prepare for ordination examinations, studying what the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) confesses and its polity. I see the way I can be who I am—authentically myself—within what the church says: “We are the body of Christ united through our baptism, ecumenical, inclusive.” And yet, we seem to be focused on things that break the church down instead of what builds the church up. It takes an additional level of discernment to hear what the Spirit is leading me to do with my gifts in the light of these conflicts.
I am under care of the Presbytery of Greater Atlanta and grew up in New York City, both places generally accepting of LGBT people. Yet I feel that part of my call is to be in solidarity with LGBT Christians and seminarians who are in locations that are not so affirming.
Is there a prayer or meditation that helps you make it through trying times?
My meditation is often founded upon John 3:16-17: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that he world might be saved through him.” That is the promise that the church makes, that all who believe will be saved. It is people—sometimes church people—who put limits on this. That gives me peace. It gives me my charge to nurture believers and my hope.
What is one of the defining moments in your life as a Christian?
I was in Margaret Aymer’s Introduction to Greek class when she began to write the Greek text of John 1:1 on the board and I knew what it was before she finished the sentence. It’s important to me because I have a transformation. I asked myself, “Who am I to be able to translate and interpret this language for myself as opposed to accepting somebody else’s interpretation or translation?” I realized that the person who interprets has the power. I could be the subject of this understanding of Scripture, not the object.
Do you have a story of a person who embodies Christ’s teachings?
I do. I would call that person my great-grand mother. I grew up with three grand mothers, two grand, and one great grand. In my family, my great-grandmother sent one daughter to Spelman College in the 1940’s. Another, my grandmother, worked at Macy’s for 40 years. My great-grandmother gave me my first Bible, paid for piano lessons, went to buy Easter suits and gave me peppermints. It is because of that sacrifice that I, four generations later, have been introduced to God which is what Jesus did.
In your mind, what are the Biblical foundations for LGBT inclusion in the church?
I have mentioned John 3:16-17. The other is John 13:34-35: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Then there is Revelation 21:3-4, and 6:9-11.
At the end of the day, if we, LGBT Christians, keep our testimony of the resurrected Christ and we endure, God will build His temple with His people and weeping will cease and people fro all nations will focus on singing “Halleluia” instead of asking, “Who are you sleeping with?”
What would you say to those Christians who have a different view on inclusion?
We are called to love each other and love God—commanded even. We were not commanded to agree with each other. So it’s okay to have a dissenting opinion, however, it seems much more difficult to preach about a loving God and a resurrected Savior who says, “When you do this for the least of these, you do it for me (Matthew 25:40),” and limit access to that grace and promise.
In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) we all give special place to The Book of Confessions including section 10.4 from the Brief Statement of Faith. This section is one of the things that gives me hope, and one of the ways that I critique the PCUSA:
“In a broken and fearful world the Spirit gives us courage to pray without ceasing, to witness among all peoples to Christ as Lord and Savior, to unmask idolatries in Church and culture, to hear the voices of peoples long silenced, and to work with others for justice, freedom, and peace . In gratitude to God, empowered by the Spirit, we strive to serve Christ in our daily tasks and to live holy and joyful lives, even as we watch for God’s new heaven and new earth, praying, “Come, Lord Jesus!”
It seems that if the Church (and PCUSA in particular) would be the church that it confesses it is, many of the issues before us should be easier to resolve. Are we hearing and acting on the voices of peoples long silenced? Are we truly committed to justice, freedom, and peace, or will we give lip service to it?
What can we do to foster dialogue and build bridges with people with different views on inclusion?
Continue talking, praying and worshipping together while being who we authentically are.